The War and Treaty began in an actual war.
In 2004, Michael Trotter deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Army. His unit was holed up in one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces, where they found an old piano. He mentioned to his captain that he could sing. Music had always been part of his life, but he had never pursued it. He was encouraged to teach himself piano.
When his captain died, Trotter sang at a memorial for him in Iraq.
That galvanizing moment opened a new path for Trotter, who than made it his mission to comfort his unit, and later everyone who would listen, through music.
“I enjoyed music my entire life, of course,” Trotter said. “It didn’t take a deep meaning until the military, when I saw what it could do for the troops, the soldiers and for myself. It’s like healing through songwriting.”
Trotter won first place in the military’s version of "American Idol" in a competition in Germany. Once out of the military, Trotter met Tanya Blount, and the two became partners in life and music as The War and Treaty. The band has released a single EP, “Down to the River,” and garnered attention from Rolling Stone magazine.
For Blount, music and storytelling began at a young age as an escape during her parents' divorce. She decided early on that it was going to be her life. However, it wasn’t until she met Trotter that she found a clear path to the music she wanted to make.
“I always knew that I would do this,” Blount said. “I didn’t want to do anything else. Coming out of high school, I knew this would be my career. When I met him, I was in a place in my life where I wasn’t doing it professionally, the way that I thought I wanted to do it. When Michael came along it kind of activated this desire to get back into it again. I wasn’t taking it as serious as I was. I started to take it serious again when I heard his songwriting and saw him perform for the first time.”
Over the years, Trotter’s songwriting, the foundation of The War and Treaty, has evolved in his post-military life. He approaches writing differently, with a mindset toward penning more treaties.
“I am not just writing about dying,” Trotter said. “Now I am writing about living. That’s how it has evolved for me. It’s changed, because I am not writing for one. I am writing for two. I am writing with Tanya in mind and being able to write whenever I get a chance to, or whenever Tanya allows me to write with her, is life-changing. I want to take it more serious.
“It’s just oozing out of us right now because of where we are as a country and our world. We want everyone to get together. We don’t feel no hate in our hearts and it’s coming out that way in our music. We feel disappointment. When I write, I set out to really find the joy in things and tell the story for what it is. I find that that’s the best remedy for pain, is just to tell the story the way it is. And if it’s open-ended, let it be open-ended. If it’s not over yet, let it not be over yet, don’t end it. Ride the wave out.
“And in my own personal life, the traumatic experiences from the military, you still have to ride that out. It’s going to be what it is going to be. Just because your battle buddy is dead, doesn’t mean the story is over, because you’re still alive to tell it, and you’re still alive to take him or her with you. Together, their story and your story makes one story that has not ended yet. It brings so much healing to the world.”
The War and Treaty’s music is soaked in American roots music. Gospel, R&B, blues and soul seep into every facet of the duo’s sound. Surrounded by professional musicians, Blount and Trotter trade soulful, gospel shouts and calls and responses. They harmonize and play off each other vocally, in songs about life and love.
“We’re highly influenced by things we don’t even know we’re highly influenced by,” Trotter said. “I was watching a paid advertisement, Goldie Oldies, and it reminded me of The Monkees and The Animals. All those old bands, you consider rock, but when you listen to them, they were soul bands. That was soul. You're influenced, literally, by the approach and the style. But I think you’re impacted more than anything. Not being so philosophically deep, but influence won’t matter unless you’re impacted. We become impacted in our lives, whether it’s through the civil rights movement, or the hippie era, or the Woodstock movement, or even this mumble-rap movement.
“People are impacted and then they get inspired and somewhere in between impact and inspiration is influence. I feel like that’s what’s happening with The War and Treaty right now. We’re impacting people and we’re influencing inspiration. It starts with someone saying something that you’re saying. You hear a song and you say, 'He wrote the same thing that I feel.' He didn’t influence you, he impacted you, because he felt like you.”