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Olivia Lane

HALFWAY TO HAZARD

Some things are meant to be.

That certainly seems the case for country duo Halfway To Hazard. Hazard's David Tolliver and Chad Warrix were living similar lives in small towns in Kentucky a mere 40 miles apart—David in Hindman and Chad in Jackson, but it wasn’t until they met in Nashville that their true talent and destiny was realized.

Of course, it was being cultivated well before that. Their respective childhoods were remarkably similar as both grew up in highly musical families that nurtured diverse tastes.

“I had two older sisters and David did as well, and they were a big influence on me just because of what they listened to,” says Chad. “They listened to arena rock. Bad Company, the Eagles, Foreigner. And I listened to pop radio, too, but my mom and dad were really more into a mixture of bluegrass and singer/songwriters like Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan, and old mountain hymns. When we were coming up it was the 80s, so hair metal was big, glam rock.”

David chimes in, “I went through phases. I had older sisters that listened to REO Speedwagon and the Eagles. Then I hung out with an older crowd and they listened to metal, so I went through my metal phase. Then in early high school, I had a rap phase.” “I never had that phase,” Chad laughs.

Where they differ is that David started performing early on. Churches, pageants— “I used to drive around in a Winnebago with Mom and Dad,” he explains. “ We had tapes and we’d set up a sound system. They’d play the tapes and I’d sing to that. I did that for years and years from when I was 10-years-old on.” He even landed a performance at the democratic convention in Kentucky.

Chad, on the other hand, was more interested in motors than music. Dirt bikes and ATVs were his passion until a switch flipped and, on a whim, he picked up a guitar. After that, there were school bands, then garage bands where he started playing high school dances, and then small bar gigs with his parents nearby, he had been bitten by the bug and, as he says, “there was no looking back.”

Living so near each other, with the “city” of Hazard between them, Chad and David heard of each other as they explored their youthful musical destinies. Chad laughs and explains, “These are small towns and word travels quick. Little David Tolliver. Everybody knew of little David Tolliver.” But they still hadn't made that connection, and as David enrolled in the University of Kentucky with an eye on medical school, Chad made a beeline to Nashville to refine his burgeoning songwriting skills.

But some things are meant to be.

ventually, David, who jokingly admits that he didn't want to be around sick people, made his way to Nashville, too. He reached out to his friend,Lori, whom he had performed musical theater with in Kentucky. “I called her and said, 'Hey, I'm coming to Nashville,' and she said, you should go hang out with Chad,'” Chad explains with a laugh.

Yes, that Chad.

David followed Lori's advice and went to the hot spot in the Nashville suburb where Chad and his band had a standing gig. The guys all got along so well that David began traveling with the band to their out-of-town shows. “It was a couple of years of me carrying and tuning their guitars,” he laughs before Chad pipes in, “He just liked being around music and musicians. And we had a good time We had the same sense of humor. It just worked.”

The pair ended up dabbling at writing together, and occasionally at a party, would even sing together. Co-writer Kris Bergsnes pointed out their obvious vocal chemistry during an exceptionally good writing session, but David admits, “We were on different paths.” David was trying to find his place as a solo artist and Chad had become a founding member of rock band Sodium.

But some things are meant to be.

David picked up a gig at Nashville's 3rd & Lindsley and, after Chad's band's record deal began to sour, he invited his pal to come to a show. “He was trying to figure out what he was going to do and I said, 'Man, come sit in with us. We'd love to have you,” remembers David. “He came in and the first night, there were maybe five people there, but as soon as we were on stage together—full band, first time ever—it was like, this is pretty cool.” “It felt right,” adds Chad.” Like it was meant to be.”
Indeed.

David and Chad secured a regular 5:30 slot at the club and their show became an industry hang-out. They went from an audience of five to a packed house rather quickly. Chad smiles broadly and says, “It was the place to be after work on a Tuesday. Agencies, managers, Miranda Lambert, Billy Currington, Lee Brice, all these artists, all our buddies that were nobody at that time were out there supporting us because it was a place to hang out and drink with your buddies. And it was all industry people.”

Very smart industry people. The duo signed with a manager, then an agent, a producer, then...the record labels came courting. David laughs and recalls, “You go from five people to a bidding war over you.” And while every member of the team was important and significant, it was producer Byron Gallimore who brought a real heavy-hitter to the table. Tim McGraw.

“We didn't know what to expect,” says Chad. “We didn't know if he was just going to put his name on it and we'd never see him but he was totally involved. You could tell he was passionate about it. He wanted us to do well and he put his neck on the line for us.”

Tim, who didn't have the chance to visit radio as a young artist, began making those visits with his new find—Halfway To Hazard. And as if that weren't enough, he invited the duo to hit the road with him and wife Faith Hill. Chad remembers, “Tim was so cool about it. He waited until the house was full and lights were off and gave us the full treatment. It was like magic. And we would capture the audience with two guitars and two vocals.”

From signing a contract with a major record label, to opening for country music's biggest tour, all in less than a month, Halfway To Hazard was on the fast track. Maybe too fast. The wheels began to fall off.

Their debut record was not made available by the label until well after their tour was over. Administrative changes at the label also began to create drag on the duo's momentum. But it was the rapid rise to fame that brought it all to a grinding halt.

David has never shied away from admitting his role in the band's eventual, but temporary, end. Time on the road, or too much time away from his family, was taking its toll. He told Nash Country Weekly magazine, “I drank quite a bit and did just about everything I could to self-medicate. I was trying to numb the pain a little and I was having a good time doing it.” But he also said, “I just figured, let's take a break from music for a while, I think that'll help my marriage. But music wasn't the problem. It was totally me.”

And with that, he left the duo he had helped build. “It was heartbreaking for me when he came to me and said, 'I'm out,'” recalls Chad. Despite his disappointment, he supported David's decision and began playing guitar in bands for his pals Randy Houser and Keith Anderson.

David took a job in the tire department at Sears and began to work on his troubled relationship, but when Jason Aldean, whom Halfway To Hazard had been the opening act for, showed up in the store and said, 'Man, you don't need to be doing this,' David was rattled. Then when Tim called looking for songs for his next album, the fire was reignited. He signed a publishing deal with McGraw's company, but kept his job at Sears and continued to work on his marriage. And while that was not meant to be, Halfway To Hazard was.

Chad and David had continued perform together at their charity trail ride in Crocketsville, Kentucky, and during one weekend's show, it clicked. “It just kind of hit us. 'Let's do this, Let's try it,” says Chad.

“It took a while for Chad to trust me again and it took me a while to trust myself again,” adds David. “My marriage ended. We decided we weren't right for each other. We're still friends though.”

While the first time around Halfway To Hazard shot out like a bullet from a gun, this time around, they were more slow, patient and deliberate. “It's a new outlook on things and I think the music now is more us and better because we're drawing from experiences past, present and, hopefully, future,” says David. “Being back in the studio with Chad is awesome. It feels a lot different.”

Chad agrees. He continues, “It's maturity. It's musical maturity, but it's spiritual and emotional, too. As you get older, you start focusing on what makes you happy and how to get there. And what stresses you out and doesn't make you happy, and how to remove that from your life. When you're young, you have so much energy and stuff, sometimes you don't have time to notice, you just go through it. But as you get older and wiser, you think about taking a different path.”

The first single from the reunited Halfway To Hazard reflects that. “Heaven On Down The Highway” is a song of redemption and, as David says, “It's about ripping off the rearview and leaving the past back there. Because if you dwell on the past, you're just going to be miserable.”

Chad and David's energy and excitement is palpable. Chad admits, “I got tired of talking about the past and why it went wrong and how it went wrong. And even some of the music, I was tired of playing it. It feels so refreshing to play new songs and have new experiences with those songs, with the band, with the fans. Because we have a lot of old experiences and old stories, but I don't want us to be the guys who tell the stories of glory days because I think we still have stuff left and the new music is proving that. I'm glad we're making some new experiences to draw on.”

But because of their past experiences, Chad continues, “Things happen for a reason and maybe all of what happened in the past prepared us for this. This thing could fall apart tomorrow for whatever reason, but it feels good right now. It feels like we are progressing.” And the other half of Hazard adds, “You've got to look out at the future with hope and a great outlook and expectation. If you stay that path, everything is going to work out fine. That's what we're doing now.”


January - 14 - 19, 2017