The War And Treaty Lean Into Country With A Combination Of Soul And Spirituality

The War And Treaty have a new album, Lover’s Game, marking their major label debut, and are currently on the road, opening for country music’s Chris Stapleton. With musical influences rooted in gospel, country, folk, soul and rock, The War And Treaty – married couple Tanya and Michael Trotter Jr. – has long been associated with Americana. But if it seems they are leaning more into country with Lover’s Game (released in March by Universal Music Group Nashville), it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Early on, they became a nearly ubiquitous presence on the Americana festival touring circuit, appearing at the massive Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco; Ann Arbor Folk Festival in Michigan; Folk Alliance International in Kansas City, Missouri; Shaky Knees in Atlanta; New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival; Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee; Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island and many smaller fests in between, all before their debut album, 2018’s Healing Tide, was even released.

Universal Music Group Nashville Chair and CEO Cindy Mabe puts it this way: “They touch Americana, they touch country, they touch soul and they touch gospel. They’re all in there. But that’s also what country music is. So sometimes we end up being one thing at a moment, and then the next train comes.

“And when you can remind yourself of where we’ve been and who we are and all the pieces that have always touched country music, you find yourself saying, ‘We actually are country artists.’”

Whether they consider themselves Americana or country recording artists, it all gets left on the stage in their dynamic live performances.
“That’s our intention as Americana artists and even in occupying sometimes the country space,” says Tanya Trotter. “Our live show is a lot of things, but I think feeling is one of them – it’s energetic and exciting and promising.”

Pollstar recently talked to Tanya and Michael Trotter Jr. about their origin story.

The 56th Annual CMA Awards Show
OUR COUNTRY: Tanya Trotter and Michael Trotter Jr., better known as The War And Treaty, may be singing “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll” with Brothers Osborne at the CMA Awards at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Nov. 9, 2022, but it’s country music that moves their souls. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/WireImage)

Pollstar: Is it correct to say that you are at home in Nashville?

Tanya Trotter: Well, this is a third home. I’m from Washington, D.C., and Michael is from Cleveland, Ohio. Michigan is the place that really helped us find out who we are as musicians and artists.

Tanya, I understand you started early in the music business.

TT: I just turned 17 and I was signed with Polydor Records. I did a show that was called “Big Break” that was kind of like “The Voice” and Natalie Cole was the host for it. I was in high school and I auditioned for “Big Break” and they sent me out to California. I didn’t win, but the next week when I got back into school, we got a phone call from a production company and Polydor.

My principal called me to the office and he said, “We got a call from some record people out of Hollywood,” and they called my mom afterwards. My mom and my dad followed up on it and they offered me a record contract from that TV show.

Were you active in music in your community growing up?

TT: At church, when I was about 8 years old, I would just put myself in talent shows. I was always in the local talent shows in the community and singing at my church. And then stage plays and theatrical things in school. It was really the only thing I wanted to do.

Bob Woodruff Foundation's Second Annual Got Your 6 VetFest
BAND OF BROTHERS: Michael Trotter Jr., who served with the U.S. Army securing Baghdad, Iraq, during the Second Persian Gulf War, performs at the Bob Woodruff Foundation’s second annual Got Your 6 VetFest at Loveless Cafe Barn in Nashville on July 15. (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images)

Michael, I understand you are a military veteran who served in Iraq and started playing and writing music in the service.

Michael Trotter Jr.: That is absolutely correct. I got into songwriting to kind of calm my fears and anxieties.

We were based at Saddam Hussein’s Baghdad residence. My unit did a lot of work there, making the space as safe as possible, before I even got there. But it still had its threats.

Inside the basement, there was a piano. I never played piano for my friends. But I went down to that piano and the guys told me, “Whenever you get overcome with fear and anxiety, go down in the basement and find your way back home, with that piano.”

And that’s what I did. I’d go down there in that basement and tinker around with that piano.

I could hear harmonies and chords. I just didn’t know how to play them. It took some time in Iraq to find my way through it. First I’d play and think about Bill Withers. I would play “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”

Then a song called “Friends,” based off one of the commanders of the unit who was killed. I wrote a song about that moment, and it brought so much human resolution to the soldiers that my commander decided that I should write a song of healing for the fallen that we would learn all around … And it saved my life. And that’s how I got into singing and songwriting.

Did you have a musical background when you were younger?

MT: I started out in the church singing, and singing all my life in the church.
Later on, I remember thinking, “This is not going to be my life, and I’m not gonna be a good singer; the time is over for me.” I had made a lot of mistakes in life that were getting in the way.

And I got to the military and music just chased me and found me. I thought, “You know, our military is going to bring some honor to my life.”

I remember Johnny Cash and Elvis and Jimi Hendrix [all U.S. Army enlistees]; looking at other musicians, and trying to find some sort of hope. You know, now I believe.

TheWarandTreaty PC AustinHargrave scaled 1
LOVE CONQUERS ALL: Tanya and Michael Trotter Jr., better known as The War And Treaty, are embarking on a new phase in their career and have Nashville success in their sights. Photo by Austin Hargrave

So how did the two of you get together, coming from such different backgrounds?

TT: We met in Laurel, Maryland, which is right outside of Washington, D.C., at a little festival I was putting on with a friend of mine, a business colleague of mine. It was a back-to-school thing.

Michael was one of the performers that she booked to come and perform for the festival. And it wasn’t all smiles and not a lot of people there at all.

He got up on stage and was performing and I fell in love with him immediately, smitten by his lyrics and just his energy and excitement about the music that he was performing at the time.

Michael was up there with the keyboard and his guitarist and it was like 99 degrees outside, yet they were performing at high capacity and I was just blown away.

He came off the stage. I ran over there to him and I asked him, “Did you write all these songs?” Because I was working on a project with my brother at the time and they were looking for producers and writers and things like that, maybe Michael could work with my brother. And we exchanged numbers.

A couple of days later, I gave him a call and he came over to the house and we just started talking. And I was telling him about my brother and telling him what my dreams and goals were for this particular project. And the next day he calls me and he has 12 complete songs. I mean, the lyrics, the music is done, the melody’s done, and I asked him, “Did you just write these songs?” And he’s like, “Yeah.”

About six months later, my brother and I ended up not doing the project. Michael and I, we get married, we have a baby, and maybe three years into the marriage we decided we’re going to do this music together. And that’s what happened.

What have you kept with you from your beginnings?

TT: Connecting with our fans and keeping them encouraged and keeping them hopeful because we also realize that that’s another responsibility. Our music is uplifting and people always talk to us about how we brought peace into their home and joy and intimacy. s