The War & Treaty
Michael and Tanya Trotter took distinctly different paths to becoming The War and Treaty.
After winning a talent show when she was 13, Tanya knew singing would be her life. Growing up in a tight-knit community just outside of Washington, D.C., Tanya had a voice that was already hinting at the force it’d become: honeyed and bold, guttural but angelic. She’d discovered writing, too, and every blank space was an opportunity. “My mom would come into my room late at night and catch me reading books and writing, with a flashlight,” Tanya says, laughing. “I used to write on everything––envelopes, everything.”
Michael started writing later, and for different reasons. He spent part of his childhood in Cleveland before moving with his mother, brother, and sister to Washington, D.C. The family spent time in and out of homeless shelters––a limbo Michael would experience again as an adult. He was 19 when his first daughter, Michaela, was born. “She was the first thing I felt that I’d done right––my little girl,” he says. “I joined the army for her.” Michael enlisted in the United States Army in 2003, two years after 9/11. “I didn’t know it was wartime,” he says. “People say, ‘How do you not know that?’ Well, in the neighborhood I grew up in, we weren’t patriotic. No one cared––that’s rich people’s news. Meanwhile, someone I know just got shot yesterday.”
But what Michael did know was that as a soldier, he felt proud––then scared. He was sent to Iraq, where leaders who outranked him saw the fear in his eyes and treated him not as an underling, but as a brother. Stationed in one of Saddam Hussein’s rubbled palaces, he had access to a piano that had emerged miraculously unscathed. A captain heard him play and sing with his once-in-a-generation volcano of a voice, and he encouraged Michael to pursue music. When that same captain was killed, Michael sat down to write––really write––for the first time.
“You have to have a deep place of love within yourself to be vulnerable,” Tanya says. “With The War and Treaty, we allow people to see two people that are not perfect. We get on stage. We sweat. We’re overweight. We yell. We get ugly, we scream! My hair comes loose. We’re vulnerable––naked––in front of people, and it’s a chain reaction. It allows them to be vulnerable, too.”
The War and Treaty deliver live shows and records that make the hairs on the back of necks stand up. Their music and stories bring tears and goosebumps, but ultimately, more is at work. In the midst of Michael and Tanya’s open, beaming faces and united voices, facades met away. Walls are torn down. “I want people to feel like we care,” Michael says. “When you think about artists, you don’t think about that.” He pauses and grins broadly. “But that’s the way I want the world to feel about The War and Treaty.”