Ryan Hadlock was 8 years old when Eric Clapton asked to borrow his Fender Champ guitar amp for a session. The guitarist had come to his parents' Bear Creek Studio in rural Woodinville, Wash., to record guitar parts for Lionel Richie's 1986 album, "Dancing on the Ceiling." "I remember having to look way up at him and thinking, 'Wow, you look just like my dad,'" Hadlock recalls with a chuckle. "He had the beard and the hair, and he was about the same age."
Today, Hadlock runs the spacious, wood-paneled studio that his parents Joe and Manny Hadlock built on a farm outside Seattle in 1977. The studio still relies on much of the gear they purchased years ago, including the Trident TSM console, Neve BCM-10 sidecar and Teletronix LA-2 amplifier, as well as a number of instruments donated or simply left behind by artists, among them a 1962 Gretsch guitar and a 1977 Steinweg grand piano.
In the last two-and-a-half decades, the roster of acts recording there has included Soundgarden, Foo Fighters, Modest Mouse, Fleet Foxes, Gossip and Brandi Carlile. But Hadlock, who has boundless enthusiasm for everything musical, is best-known as the producer of the Lumineers' self-titled 2012 debut album, which received Grammy Award nominations this year for best Americana album and best new artist. The set peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in January.
Hadlock discovered the band two years ago at South by Southwest and was blown away by its demo. "I just loved them so much," he says. The Lumineers' sessions utilized an array of gear, including a '60s Ludwig drum kit similar to one Ringo Starr played in the Beatles, and Hadlock's trusty Yamaha FG-402 acoustic guitar, which he purchased for $110. The "foot stomps" that can be heard on the hit single "Ho Hey" were created by stomping on the unfinished oak floors leading into what is dubbed the "Big Room." Singer Wesley Schultz also used the large open space (located adjacent the control room) to record his vocals. The result was a warm, nostalgic and very spirited album.
The Lumineers' success has led some to believe Hadlock prefers folk rock. "Everybody thinks that's all I do. But I also like electronic music, and classical music. I've worked on jazz records and pretty much everything else all over the map," he says. "At Bear Creek, we've never really been in a box."