Chilling, soulful and powerful are just some of the words used by audiences to describe The War and Treaty. The husband and wife duo Michael and Tanya Trotter blend roots, folk, gospel and soul, reaching back through their deep-rooted history to conjure up the strength of their ancestors. Their “Down to the River” EP (2017) boasts a sound that’s both stirring and sensual, driven by joy, determination and an unceasing upward gaze. Their current tour shares songs of reconciliation and humanity and takes listeners on a soaring, emotional ride.
In August 2018, Rolling Stone Magazine said of their new album debut release, “Healing Tide,” “Husband-and-wife duo Michael and Tanya Trotter overwhelm with a message of positivity and love…. their gospel-style harmonizes with superb country-soul arrangements and powerful statements of devotion.”
SCMC Executive Director Cathy Holbrook states,“The War and Treaty’s Motown sound with soul and folk roots is sure to ignite a bright fire within our audience’s hearts during their February 2019 concert at SCMC. The War and Treaty are a powerful duo who are on the rise and we are excited to feature them during their 2018/2019 national tour.”
Michael and Tanya took distinctly different paths to becoming The War and Treaty.
After winning a talent show when she was 13, Tanya knew singing would be her life. Growing up in a tight-knit community just outside of Washington, D.C., Tanya had a voice that was already hinting at the force it’d become: honeyed and bold, guttural but angelic. She’d discovered writing, too, and every blank space was an opportunity.
“My mom would come into my room late at night and catch me reading books and writing, with a flashlight,” Tanya laughed. “I used to write on everything––envelopes, everything.”
Michael started writing later, and for different reasons. He spent part of his childhood in Cleveland before moving with his mother, brother, and sister to Washington, D.C. The family spent time in and out of homeless shelters––a limbo Michael would experience again as an adult. He was 19 when his first daughter, Michaela, was born.
“She was the first thing I felt that I’d done right––my little girl,” he said. “I joined the army for her.”
Michael enlisted in the United States Army in 2003, two years after 9/11.
“I didn’t know it was wartime,” he said. “People say, ‘How do you not know that?’ Well, in the neighborhood I grew up in, we weren’t patriotic. No one cared––that’s rich people’s news. Meanwhile, someone I know just got shot yesterday.”
But what Michael did know was that as a soldier, he felt proud––then scared. He was sent to Iraq, where leaders who outranked him saw the fear in his eyes and treated him not as an underling, but as a brother. Stationed in one of Saddam Hussein’s ruined palaces, he had access to a piano that had emerged miraculously unscathed. A captain heard him play and sing with his once-in-a-generation volcano of a voice, and he encouraged Michael to pursue music. When that same captain was killed, Michael sat down to write for the first time.
Officers noticed the tribute, pulled Michael from the front lines and gave him a new charge: write and perform songs for the fallen. Whenever a brother or sister in arms died, Michael spoke to buddies, uncovered the story and penned a song for the memorial. It was a heavy burden that also made him safer.
“I remember, I would walk from one point to another, imagining people were chanting my name––imagining a concert that had nothing to do with death,” he recalled.
“You have to have a deep place of love within yourself to be vulnerable…We’re vulnerable––naked––in front of people, and it’s a chain reaction. It allows them to be vulnerable, too.”
When Michael returned home, he was booked on a festival that also featured Tanya Blount. After his set, Tanya approached him and asked if he’d written his songs. He had. The two exchanged numbers, but Michael, battle-weary, scarred, and daunted by Tanya’s beauty, couldn’t understand why she’d want anything to do with him.
“I threw her number away because I had a lot of insecurities that I still have. I thought, ‘Who would want to be with a guy who went to war?’”
Tanya didn’t wait on him. She called Michael, and the two became inseparable. Today, they’re married and have created a six-year-old son and a powerhouse duo. When The War and Treaty stepped up to fill an ill Buddy Miller’s spot at the 2017 Americana Music Festival & Conference, jaws at the Cannery Ballroom in Nashville collectively dropped. Just as anticipation surrounding Healing Tideis more than high, the music on the record is more than just sublime roots soul. It’s part of a mission.
As The War and Treaty, Michael and Tanya serve up healing and pain robbing with freewheeling joy on a monumental new full-length album, Healing Tide. An original tour-de-force produced by Buddy Miller, the collection swaggers with a confidence only gained by artists who are wholly, proudly, themselves. Funky bass lines, keys, lap steel, acoustic strings, and stripped-down percussion create a swampy Southern soul bed for the couple’s transcendent vocals.
“I hope people see our hearts on this record,” Michael expressed. “I want them to experience freedom. To feel again.”
Michael wrote every track on Healing Tide. Opener “Love Like There’s No Tomorrow” sets the tone both thematically and vocally. Stark tambourine gives way to Michael’s gravelly locomotive vocals, which are joined in an early chorus by Tanya’s soaring harmonies.
“Today is all that matters,” Michael said. “I would say that The War and Treaty’s mission is to embrace the now.”
“You have to have a deep place of love within yourself to be vulnerable,” Tanya said. “With The War and Treaty, we allow people to see two people that are not perfect. We get on stage. We sweat. We’re overweight. We yell. We get ugly, we scream! My hair comes loose. We’re vulnerable––naked––in front of people, and it’s a chain reaction. It allows them to be vulnerable, too.”
The War and Treaty deliver live shows and records that make the hairs on the back of necks stand up. Their music and stories bring tears and goosebumps, but ultimately, more is at work. In the midst of Michael and Tanya’s open, beaming faces and united voices, facades met away. Walls are torn down.
“I want people to feel like we care,” Michael expressed. “When you think about artists, you don’t think about that. But that’s the way I want the world to feel about The War and Treaty.”
The War and Treaty perform on Sunday, February 24 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Cecilia Music Center. Tickets for The War and Treaty are $30 and $35. Click here to purchase. A post-concert “Meet-the-artist” party with wine and beer will be offered to all ticket-holders giving the audience the opportunity to meet the artists and to obtain signed CDs of their releases.