Husband and wife duo tackles social justice while spreading the love
It’s unusual to find an intact instrument in a war zone. What’s even more unusual is to find a playable one, but that’s exactly what happened to Michael Trotter Jr.
“I joined the military in June of 2003 and went through basic training. In December of ’03, I was on a plane going to Germany, going from Germany to Kuwait, going from Kuwait to Iraq,” Trotter said. “When my boots touched ground, one of the commanding officers explained to me that there was a piano in the location where we were staying at. It was one of the many pianos that Saddam Hussein had owned and that I could use it because he knew that I loved music.”
Use it he did. Trotter said that making music was one of the few things that kept him sane during the conflict.
“I was taking full advantage of the opportunity to kind of take my mind away,” Trotter said. “I gave myself concerts most of the time in the war, and imagined that I was at Carnegie Hall instead of sitting in a bomb zone.” It wasn’t until later, however, that Trotter understood the calming influence his music had on others.
“It didn’t get real for me until that commanding officer was murdered — killed in action. It took me to a deeper place,” Trotter said. “It wasn’t about me anymore, it became about soothing the soldiers and writing about my time with him and you know that emotion took over everything.”
Trotter’s music became a tool to help his fellow soldiers deal with the pressures of the war and eventually, his talent was noticed. Trotter won first place in “Military Idol,” the army’s version of “American Idol.”
According to Trotter, the victory was the culmination of his growth from a “frightened young man” to a “warrior” using his “voice to make a point.”
Soon after, Trotter met his wife and fellow performer, Tanya Blount, in Lowell, Maryland — fittingly, during the city’s “LoveFest” music festival. Blount said that after she saw Trotter perform, she was immediately drawn to her future husband.
Fast forward to present, and the duo is using their combined voices to stand up against “segregation and social injustice.” Together, they make up the War and Treaty, an Americana group that is based in Albion, an hour southwest of Lansing.
“Music drew us together, but we didn’t start the War and Treaty right away. We fell in love, got married, and had a baby and three years later formed War and Treaty,” Blount said.
Trotter writes the band’s music, sings and plays the piano while Blount provides lead vocals. The group’s influences range from Ray Charles to Chris Thile of the Punch Brothers, but their sound is all their own.
This is in part due to Blount’s fiery, soulful vocals that are at times reminiscent of her loved Mahalia Jackson. But according to Blount, even with the group’s powerful sound and distinct commentary on social justice issues, they have only one overarching theme.
“I believe our overall message is one of love. When you can authentically exemplify love and when you can allow people into that deep, intimate place, whether it’s onstage, whether it’s offstage, love can penetrate everything. And we have been able to allow people to go deep with us on stage,” Blount said.
And that message is not lost on their current tour, which just hit Lansing’s Robin Theatre last July. War and Treaty is showcasing its brand-new EP “Down to the River,” their first official release since the group’s first single, “Hi-Ho,” from 2016.
“This EP is our first effort to put out a body of work and I’m excited because next year in February, we will actually have an LP. It’s called ‘The Door,’” Blount said.
Fans of the group will still have a chance to see the War and Treaty perform across the state from Ann Arbor to Baroda.
The group will also loop back around to Lansing on Sept. 15, to kick off the first day of Michigan Blues Fest and give Lansing another shot of love.
“When you listen to our record, you may hear a couple of mistakes that I purposely left in the recording just because I didn’t want to sacrifice the feel, because we felt something there,” Trotter said. “We covered each other, we carried each other through that recording. And is it love? Yes. But is it also sacrifice and dedication and is it realness? Is it honesty? You bet your butt it is.
And I want people to walk away feeling like they are loved.”
The War and Treaty 8:30 - 9:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 15, Lansing BluesFest, North Stage Old Town, Lansing. oldtownbluesfest.com