What do you get when you cross the movie Sister Act 2 and Saddam Hussein? But of course, the Americana band The War and Treaty, led by the married couple, Tanya and Michael Trotter.
Tanya (formerly Blount) began building a music and entertainment career at 16, appearing in the 1993 Whoopi Goldberg sequel and then releasing a debut album, Natural Thing. She went on to sign with Sean Comb’s Bad Boy Entertainment, appear in several musicals, and in the 2008 Tyler Perry film The Family That Preys.
As Tanya’s career was taking off, a 13-year-old from the “hood in Cleveland”—as Michael Trotter noted on the most recent episode of The Load Out music podcast—was arriving on a bus into Washington, D.C. Along with his mother, Michael was hoping to escape a life of poverty and abuse, finding a home in a D.C.-area shelter that took them in.
Some 10 years later, Michael was serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq, patrolling Saddam Hussein’s Baghdad palace, when he came across a perfectly tuned piano that would change his life. Michael taught himself to play, pairing his newfound passion for the black and white keys with the vocal prowess he’d honed throughout his childhood.
When Michael returned home from Iraq, however, he had a crippling case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but also a new focus on performing and songwriting. He and Tanya would subsequently meet and fall in love, bringing together a dynamic love story and powerhouse vocal duo, ultimately playing an Americana blend of gospel, country, soul and rock as The War and Treaty.
Now based in Nashville, we recently sat down with Tanya and Michael to discuss their love, life and take stock in The War and Treaty.
Over roughly 25 minutes, we covered a lot of territory: Looking back at the past 15 years, building and strengthening a blended family, deepening their love affair and crafting a professional partnership that has become one of the most respected husband and wife performance duos in a generation.
Certainly, the road to success has not been without its challenges. There were incredibly lean times trying to feed a growing family. But there were also many highs, like jaw-dropping performances at the Grammys and the Academy of Country Music Awards. The continuum of comparisons to Ike & Tina Turner have been ever-present, of course; Rolling Stone magazine called them “one of Nashville’s most thrilling new acts”; and they played with the likes of Emmylou Harris, toured with Al Green, shared stages with Brandi Carlile, Elvis Costello and more.
“When you look at a married couple like Michael and I, people see the happiness and they see us on stage,” Tayna said. “They see the love. But they don’t understand that we’re just like any other couple. We have our ups and downs.”
Like any artist, COVID-19 took the air out of what had been a fast-rising balloon for The War and Treaty. But things quickly reinflated, and Tanya’s and Michael’s love for one another—along with the couple’s immense talent—have been driving the band’s continued success.
In speaking with the couple, it’s hard to miss the visible pain on Michael’s face—anguished by a cocktail of PTSD, depression and anxiety—as he works to answer questions about their past, digging into his memory banks about the life they’ve shared and what he endured prior. But it’s also remarkably heartening to watch Tanya as she intuitively senses that pain, frequently placing her hand on the back of Michael’s neck, gently massaging him—bringing him back into the present at that moment.
It seems to always get back to the love they share.
Throughout the years, The War and Treaty have released five albums and a variety of EPs and singles—each heavily influenced by their passions for one another. The group signed a major label deal with Universal Music Group in May 2022, and just released its major label debut album: Lover’s Game. It’s an exceptional record containing 10 uniquely diverse tracks produced by multi-Grammy award-winner Dave Cobb.
“I had a lot to say,” Michael explained. “It all started for me with the death of John Prine (in April 2020) and it didn’t stop after that. You can believe whatever it is you believe, but for me, my source is God, and this was the first time in my life I’ve ever questioned him or her. I wrote maybe 30 songs standing outside our bedroom door when Tanya had COVID-19, just really confused and hoping that this wasn’t it for her. My comfort was songwriting.”
On Lover’s Game, Michael and Tanya dig deep into the lessons their love has laid bare, especially as COVID-19 turned life upside down. The title track is a rollicking banger unlike anything in the band’s catalogue. The song “Blank Page” uses a rootsy R&B sway to tribute the kind of love that gives weary hearts a second wind. “Up Yonder” is a tune that bounds with folky freedom in the promise of eternal companionship. The spirit-lifting “Angel” soars on wings of gratitude and sweeping steel guitar while “Have You a Heart” aches for real partnership.
In total, it’s one of the most memorable conversations we’ve had in recent memory on The Load Out.
So enjoy the most recent episode with The War and Treaty. Feel the love. It’s hard not to.