This has been a complicated year. It’s brought pain and grief, as well as lessons about love and hope. For musicians Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Blount Trotter, 2020 has been “eye-opening.” The duo, who until recently were living in Albion, now perform as The War and Treaty.
“I miss people. I miss watching them respond. And I miss responding to them, and sharing art, and creating love,” Michael said. “This year has taught us to never, ever take it for granted. Don’t ever think that it will just always be this way and the trajectory is just up, up, up, up. Because something can happen, anything can happen.”
The couple, now based in Nashville, Tennessee, released a new album last month called Hearts Town. The record comes, Michael says, from a moment of reflection on themselves, their relationship, and the world.
“As we continued to try to process what we were going through as a couple, living in this country, one of the things that we decided to do was just be completely honest with how we felt,” he said. “And that’s just what you have, and what you’re hearing is where the road to honesty has led us.”
The album features a variety of musical styles and navigates many different themes, including pain, love, and enduring hope. One of the songs on the record draws on a particularly difficult experience the couple shared and overcame together. Michael is a two-time Iraq War combat veteran, so the family is “thriving through the ups and downs of PTSD,” Tanya explained.
She says the song “Five More Minutes” comes from a day when Michael had decided to end his life through suicide, and Tanya asked him to give her five more minutes.
“I said you know, I just need you to give me five more minutes. And then the police had arrived there, and they backed me with what I was asking him to do,” Tanya said. “And he had made up in his mind, Michael did, at that moment, that he was going to not just give me five more minutes, but he was going to give himself five more minutes, and he did not go through with the act. So that is where that song derived from, from our experience, and Michael's triumph through that moment.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, a toll-free number staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Tanya says the couple is always working to keep hope alive.
“In every situation, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and as long as you have someone kind of going through it with you and understanding and showing some empathy with you in that, then I think hope is always possible,” she said.
Michael says he usually writes about six or seven songs a day. That might sound like a pretty fast pace to most people, but Michael says it feels like years to him.
“I’m so engulfed in the moment, everything slows down,” he said. “Time’s suspended, and I’m with what is, what can be, and what will be of this material.”
Michael can write with every part of a song in mind all at once, so he does the bulk of the writing, Tanya says. But each track illuminates their powerful harmony. And this year, the couple has found opportunities to collaborate with other artists, like on the track “Beautiful,” which features singer-songwriter Jason Isbell.
“It’s just been amazing to be able to experience and exchange energy with some of the most incredible artists and producers in this town, and to realize that even if we’re unable to meet with them at their homes, we are able to Zoom and we are able to do FaceTime,” Tanya said.
Michael says that while he wishes they were doing headline shows on the road, not being able to tour this year has helped the couple see their work and lives in a new way.
“We’re all on the same playing field now. We’re all sitting at home, wondering what’s going to happen next,” he said. “And I feel that in the Trotter household, in Michael and Tanya's life, one of the things that we have bunkered down and done is just examine ourselves and really be grateful and thankful that we’ve been able to stay afloat.”
Support for arts and culture coverage is supported in part by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Nell Ovitt.
CORRECITON: A previous version of this post said that Michael and Tanya were originally from Albion. That is incorrect. They lived in Albion from 2017 until they moved to Nashville a couple years later.