The War and Treaty is both the musical and literal marriage of Michael and Tanya Trotter. Their union is characterized by soulful hymns with gospel roots and tinges of folk. Tanya’s soaring vocals complete this timeless and never-tired collaboration.
They’re bringing their full band to Birmingham on March 28 at Saturn. Doors are at 7 p.m. and show begins at 8 p.m. Musical salvation can be yours for only $18.
Q: How did this duo begin?
M: I met Tanya in 2010, and she had heard my music and wanted me to come and write for her and her brother. I agreed, and as I was writing for them and trying to get them to rehearse their music, her brother kept having prior engagements, so I would step in so she could learn the material. Then a friend of ours heard us sing together and kind of flipped out, so we thought we should really explore it. We didn’t think much of it until we got married in 2011, and around 2014 we decided to try it together and the rest is history.
Q: What experience have you had separately that makes you stronger as a unit?
T: We were both on our own coming from two different perspectives. For me, I came from a gospel, R&B and soul background, so when it was time to do The War and Treaty it was easy to tap into all those different styles. The challenge was to mesh them all together so we could come up with a sound, instead of sounding like we just put a bunch of sounds together. I enjoyed taking different perspectives from different genres and putting it into the music.
Q: Tanya, I’m going to stop for a second. You have a huge voice. Could you always do that?
T: I guess I was about 8 or 9 years old when I realized I could sing. I listened to artists that had big voices, like Jennifer Holliday, Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, all the artists that sang big songs. I think I just got it from my influences, who all had big voices. It didn’t matter which genre of music they were doing, whether it was classical, R&B, soul or country.
Q: Do you collaborate with anyone else, or is it strictly just the two of you?
M: It’s just the two of us and our band. We’ve found that it’s more than enough, but we do get advice from other artists. One of those artists that has been a big advocate for us, that I call or text every now and then, is John Paul White.
Q: I listened to your songs and watched the videos and I’m instantly in a pew at church. It’s obvious that you two have roots in church or gospel music. Can you tell me a little bit about that and how it affects your music?
T: I know for me and my husband, it is a foundation of who we are as people. We carry that into everything that we do. We don’t get what people see when they hear us, but our foundation is in the roots of gospel.
Q: How does a War and Treaty song begin? Does somebody have music and the other has lyrics, or how does that work?
T: Michael is the orchestrator of how The War and Treaty has been developed and the music of it all. He hears where he thinks we should go as a band, and he is the leader of the band. He’ll talk to me about it and let me hear the songs, and everything comes at the same time for him. The band has freedom to add and subtract things, but he hears how he wants everything to go. So, lyrically, if one note is off or if a melody is off, it affects the sound. I have adapted to respecting the music and respecting his vision for the music.
Q: Michael, where do you find your best sources of inspiration?
M: Life in general. Every conversation I have I believe is for a reason, and life in itself is enough inspiration. It’s the only inspiration. I just pull from everything I can.
Q:You mentioned John Paul White. Are there any other artists that you’ve worked with that you have learned from? Or even a great story to tell?
M: I have a story I can tell. Buddy Miller recorded our album “Healing Tide.” During our recording process, we started on my birthday, March 15, 2018, and we were all sitting out eating pizza for lunch and then this sweet voice behind me said “Happy Birthday” and I turned around and it was Emmylou Harris. She was holding a batch of homemade, fresh-out-of-the oven brownies that she made for my birthday.
Q: I am really moved by “Are You Ready to Love Me.” To me it sounds like a question but it also sounds like a challenge.
M: It’s both. It’s definitely a challenge. I wrote it about Tanya and some of things she said to me when we first got together. You’ve got to be ready to love somebody like me.
Q: I also love “Love Like There’s No Tomorrow.” What sound did you have in mind when that was written?
M: I remember growing up and going to church services in my grandparents’ church. It was extremely old. You could only fit about 20 people in there comfortably. I remember them singing songs like “Shall We Gather at the River,” and I loved to praise them as they were singing the songs, stomping their feet and clapping their hands. When I met Tanya, she took me to the church she grew up in, and in her church the music was very similar. Tanya would reminisce about a time where she would listen to a lady in her church sing a capella, and when I heard her sound it quickly inspired “Love Like There’s No Tomorrow.” Not much of anything, just a foot stomp, a tambourine and two voices.
Q: From my perspective, I think you’re pretty lucky to work with your spouse. That’s not a bad gig is it?
M: No, it’s the best gig ever. It has some challenges too, and I think one of the challenges for us is realizing there is no plan B. We don’t really have anyone to watch our son sometimes, and that can be difficult. We’re everywhere together, and that in itself is not a problem at all, so when we come home, we don’t really have anyone to talk to about what we saw, so we just reminisce. All in all, it’s so rewarding because we’re building this together.
Q: Is there anyone you guys would like to mention who has really helped your guys career so far?
M: Our band, our team, our management, our agents, Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris, John Love, Aretha Franklin — who was the first known celebrity to know about us — and our faith in our God. That’s pretty much where it is.
Q: Can you name an artist or artists I might be surprised to hear you like?
M: For me, you might be surprised to hear that I like Pavarotti, Bocelli, Kathleen Battle and Paganini. I’m a classical music kind of guy.
T: For me it would be Celia Cruz. My mom was Afro-Latina so I grew up listening to a lot of Celia Cruz and Enrique Iglesias Sr. I work out to Spanish music at the gym, so I guess that would be a shock.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
M: Know thyself and to thine own self be true.
Q: Will you get to spend any time in Birmingham before you perform?
M: Probably not, but we were just in Birmingham. We actually marched with John Lewis in Selma. We stopped by Birmingham at 16th Street Baptist Church and saw a reenactment play of the church terrorist attack. Knowing that these young girls had dreams, they had visions, they had hopes, and as young girls they made what they wanted to do so known. Everyone in that community knew what they wanted to be. We were able to learn about them and their church.
Aside from that, which is a huge part of our history and culture, what was impressive was that we’re standing in something that was once riddled with hatred, and we watched it built up in love. We were standing in a building, and a city, that has been battle-tested. The city of Birmingham has grown so much, and I don’t think it gets enough credit for the repairing, not just physically, but mentally, socially and economically. That is what’s so exciting, and why we are so excited to come back to Birmingham.
Q: Last question. What can fans expect from a War and Treaty show?
T: I would say, honestly, vulnerability. We give our heart and we give everything.
M: I would say sweat and tears. I would also say empowerment. You’re going to feel strength. Above all of those things that we mentioned, you’re going to feel loved and unified. When you leave a War and Treaty concert, you’re going to feel revived, and feel like you’re going to make it and do it again.
Larry May is the owner of CD Cellar record store on Noble Street in downtown Anniston.