As excited as they are about the exposure they’ve been getting, Chad Warrix and David Tolliver would just like to relax for a couple days. But there’s slim chance of that for the two guys who make up Halfway to Hazard, the hot new act on Mercury/Stylesonic Records.
H2H (as the act abbreviates itself) finished a long string of opening slots for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s Soul2Soul 2007 tour just in time to start promoting its self-titled debut album, which arrived in record stores Aug. 14.
“We haven’t seen our kids and our wives for a long time — until today,” Tolliver laments in a conference call he and Warrix have set up to chat with CMT.com.
The two are still buzzing about their recent appearance at the Viper Room, the hip Los Angeles nightclub that usually spotlights rock and alternative acts. H2H did two invitation-only shows there: one for film and television representatives and the other as a listener-appreciation event for a local country radio station.
“It was really cool, says Warrix. “Both shows were packed and went really great. McGraw came out and introduced us. He and Faith have a house out there in the Beverly Hills area, and David and I actually got to go up and hang a little bit and check out the view. Poor guys, they’ve got such a terrible view of the whole city from the top of a mountain.”
Warrix and Tolliver’s connection with McGraw runs deeper than merely opening shows for him. McGraw co-owns the Stylesonic label with his longtime producer, Byron Gallimore. He and Gallimore also co-produced H2H’s album.
“We really didn’t know what to expect when we went into the studio with [McGraw],” Tolliver says. “But I tell you what, he was the first person there in the morning and the last person to leave at night. He brought us great musical ideas. He listened to us and we listened to him. After five minutes of being around him, he made us feel so comfortable. He’s like one of the guys. He’s like me and Chad sitting in a room together. … The man’s sold 48 million albums, but he’s willing to listen to somebody who’s sold 48.”
Halfway to Hazard takes its name from the fact that Warrix and Tolliver grew up in communities that were roughly equidistant from that fabled eastern Kentucky coal-mining center. Warrix is from Jackson, Tolliver from Hindman.
Both men came from musical families, and each achieved some local prominence as performers before chasing their dreams — separately — to Nashville in the mid-to-late ’90s. Warrix earned a music business degree from Belmont University, while Tolliver, who had studied briefly at the University of Kentucky, settled in for a four-year run working for a local Applebee’s restaurant.
Eventually the two friends — who had been pursuing solo careers — began playing together in a band Tolliver had founded called Dtox. By this time, Warrix had left Applebee’s for a staff songwriting position at EMI Music.
“[Dtox] was the nickname Chad gave to me when I first moved to town,” Tolliver explains, “because I was not the calmest of human beings. I kind of settled down after I had a kid and got married. I mean, got married and had a kid. Let me put that in chronological order.
“I did that [band thing] for a while, and then Chad and I decided to do something together. For a little bit, it was Dtox, and then it switched to the Redneck Rock Stars. Then we had legal issues and couldn’t use one of those names. … We finally decided on Halfway to Hazard. [The phrase] is the first line in the song [we wrote called] ‘Cold’ — ‘Halfway to Hazard with the rain coming down.’”
Warrix and Tolliver co-wrote nine of the 11 songs in their new album and say they are eager to spread their music through as many different channels as possible. With their Viper Room appearance pitched toward the film and TV markets, they already have one of their songs — “Country ‘Til the Day We Die” — in the NASCAR 08 video game, and some of their music is programmed at NASCAR races. Recently, they visited advertising agencies in Chicago to pitch their songs for commercials.
“We just try exposure any way that we can with our music,” says Warrix. “David and I are proud to see our music associated with any kind of sporting event, movie, television, commercial, anything like that. … It was very cool to be playing NASCAR 08 on the bus and [hear] our song played in the background.”
H2H has been compiling video footage throughout its tour — both onstage and backstage — for use in a music video single for “Countrified.” At about the same time it’s released, the duo will also roll out a conventional audio single for “The Devil and the Cross” to follow their debut single, “Daisy.”
As intent as they are on establishing themselves, Warrix and Tolliver aren’t afraid to step on a few music industry toes. Their “Welcome to Nashville” is about as cynical and feather-ruffling as it gets. The song takes slaps at the current state of country music, the venality of record labels and the parasitism of radio.
“We hope they can take a joke,” says Warrix. “We pick on everybody.”