By the looks of it, 2020 was gearing up to be The War and Treaty’s big year. After forming six years earlier in 2014, Michael Trotter Jr. and Tayna Blount-Trotter - the husband-and-wife duo who use their mighty, magnetic voices to spread a message of hope and joy - were about to see all of their hard work pay off. In January, The War and Treaty performed at the Grammy Awards, an opportunity that exposed the still relatively unknown duo to a much larger public. And that same evening, they found out that they’d been invited to open for John Legend on his upcoming summer tour.
But, as the story now goes, the year took a different turn and life stilled to a new kind of quiet. The couple returned to Nashville, where they started to enjoy living in the home they’d purchased the year prior but hadn’t fully inhabited, and began preparing to release their sophomore album, Hearts Town, which blends soul, rock, gospel, country, and more to lift high the beauty of hope.
Make no mistake about it, though, hope hasn’t come easy - it’s been a hard-won effort. The magic of The War and Treaty’s sound comes largely from Trotter and Blount-Trotter’s well-worn voices, each of which underscores the fortitude that frames their message. Across standouts like ‘Five More Minutes’, ‘Jubilee’, and ‘Take Me In’, their voices soar into another stratosphere, achieving a kind of freedom that only comes through adversity. The result is as stirring as it is soothing - an essential salve for a time when hope feels more necessary than ever.
You both have ties to the D.C. area, so I imagine the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6 hit close to home in a few different ways. What song best responds to the pain everyone is feeling?
Michael: We created the song ‘Take Me In’ because I believe in this pivotal moment in our history - when so many people are hurting, so many people feel alone, so many people feel let down or misguided. Tanya and I recorded this song to refocus the people of this country, and remind us that we are all human beings. We all identify with something in particular, but we are over-comers. We are strong together. We are better united. I think it would serve us best if we look at this as an opportunity to once again come together.
Lyrics can be quite powerful, but the way your voices work in tandem on that song feels like such a balm.
Michael: I think what you’re hearing is the honesty of our voices, because we’ve both been there as African Americans. Tanya has been there as a woman. I’ve been there as a soldier. You have so many different lifestyles represented in this band. And we cannot ignore the fact that the outcomes could have been different if it was a bunch of black people storming the Capitol.
Agreed. Zooming out, how have you been spending the pandemic?
Tanya: We’ve been spending it being hopeful. We were on tour for the last year and a half, and we weren’t home. We bought a house in Nashville and we were never home. It’s been an opportunity to enjoy it, but we’re not disregarding what’s going on. I had COVID for a month and it was very hard. And we’ve lost family members and we have family members fighting for their lives in the ICU right now. But we’ve been hopeful, we’ve been praying a lot. There’s so much going on in the world and people need hope. I think when you have the gift to be able to give people hope and peace and a sense of calm, that’s really your duty in this moment. We’ve been doing that.
How did your voice recover after COVID?
Tanya: The hardest part was getting my taste buds back, and my sense of smell. I caught it in March and it lingered until the end of July.
I’m glad to hear you’re doing better. After all that time on the road - and the pace of it - what was the adjustment period like at home?
Tanya: At first it was great, and then you get in four or five months and you’re like, “I miss the road! I miss my fans”. And I’m cooking four meals a day.
Michael: I actually love that part!
What are you cooking tonight?
Tanya: I don’t know! But last night I made lamb, spinach, and rice.
Keeping it healthy!
Tanya: Well, I have this pandemic pouch that I’m carrying around. But I actually like it. I’m like, “Ok, I didn’t know that curve could go there!” Now I’m just toning it up, that’s all.
Have you found time to create? Is there space for that these days?
Tanya: Oh yeah, we create every day. We’ve become videographers, photographers, painters. We do everything! The time off has given us an opportunity to explore other avenues that we did when we first started as The War and Treaty, like all those early videos, which we shot ourselves. We’ve tapped back into those skill sets.
Your music defies easy categorization. What interests you about blurring the lines and playing within so many genres?
Michael: We like to keep it honest, and sometimes it comes out sounding like jazz or country or gospel or soul or rock. It all depends on how we feel as we create.
You named your recent album Hearts Town after the idea of a neighborhood that revolves around the same heart. Can you tell us a bit more about that concept?
Michael: We were thinking about our country, and people who don’t believe one way or the other - they just want to love everyone. Let’s build a town of like-minded people, of hearts, and let’s live there in that space. Let’s not be bullied by what’s happening in our streets and in our communities. I’m not going to be bullied into any kind of supremacy. But what I’ll do is continue to walk in love and be a beacon of light. I’ll be the idiot who stays hopeful.
Hearts Town, The War and Treaty's third album, is out now via Rounder Records/ Concord.
Photography by David McClister