The War and Treaty talk working with Brandi Carlile and Grand Ole Opry debut
When the pandemic suddenly curtailed the momentum that husband and wife duo The War and Treaty had slowly but surely built since forming in 2014, they were being described as one of Nashville’s most thrilling new acts. They had debuted an award-winning album in 2018 and were preparing to join John Legend on tour. Suddenly, everything seemed uncertain.
Now, two years on from releasing their latest album Hearts Town, they are very much back on track. They have won the 2021 International Folk Music Awards Artist of the Year, had their debut performance at the Grand Ole Opry livestreamed amassing half a million views in less than 24 hours, performed alongside Dierks Bentley at the 56th Academy of Country Music Awards, and signed with Universal Music.
They named the album in reference to their community of adoring fans to whom they are elated to be performing once again as they tour the UK and Ireland – stopping at Manchester’s very own Blues Kitchen – for the first time this summer.
Ahead of the tour, I chatted to Tanya and Michael Trotter who make up the powerhouse duo. Given the impressive list of collaborators and fans they have amassed over recent years, from Al Green and Emmylou Harris to Elvis Costello and Mumford and Sons, I wanted to know about some of their favourite experiences. “We recently collaborated with Brothers Osbourne and that was epic! Singing with Brandi Carlile is always a fun thing to do. But anytime we get to collaborate with Buddy Miller is a blessing.”
Nashville-based veteran musician and producer Buddy Miller is well used to working at the sweet meeting point of soul, gospel, country and rock and roll and has to be partly credited for Hearts Town’s playful but powerful energy.
Contemporary, yet rooted in traditional influences, Hearts Town feels like an album written with big, driving live performance in mind. But despite the rich and full-throated sound with which some songs are delivered, there are moments of deep intimacy and relatability. “I think Tanya and I like to create those intimate moments for our live audiences after starting off with a bang – a powerful, energetic revival-like energy – then we like to bring it all the way down to where it’s just us and our audience in the living room and we get to let them in.”
The album is bursting with snippets of the many stories the pair have to tell. Tanya, who has paid her dues as a singer on film and on the stage, says that realising The War and Treaty with Michael has been a dream come true for her. Unfortunately she suffered heavily with Covid but says she really learned to sit still during her illness and subsequent recovery time.
Tanya and Michael met at a music festival in 2010 and began making music together before marrying. They have talked candidly as a couple about mental health and their experience overcoming Michael’s PTSD as a result of him serving in the US army. Indeed it was while stationed in one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces that he gained access to a piano and instantly captivated his fellow troops with his formidable vocal presence. His trauma clearly influences some of their writing, and yet their music expresses an assured and stirring defiance in the face of tough challenges. Michael says that he injects that spirit into his songs in the same way that love was injected into his trauma. “This woman loved me intentionally and I love her intentionally and we love our fans intentionally so it all is simply intentional”.
And, in case you were wondering about the name, it ironically came about during a series of arguments about what to call the band. “As one argument got heated, Tanya said, ‘Michael, this is not a war and we’ve got to come to some sort of treaty.’ I said in old English fashion, Eureka! That is the name of my band right there. The rest was history.”
You can catch The War and Treaty at the Blues Kitchen in Manchester on Tuesday 21st June.