Healing Tide, the powerful, soulful new album from Albion, Mich.-based husband-and-wife duo The War and Treaty, feels like a wholly unified effort. The complementary voices of Tanya Blount-Trotter and Michael Trotter Jr. seem so concerted that it might come as somewhat of a surprise to learn that Trotter wrote every track on the album alone.
Blount-Trotter is also a songwriter — Trotter says she’s actually the better of the two in that regard — and the two frequently performed one of her works during their 2016 shows. Trotter says they’ll “let a couple slip out of the bag every now and then” — perhaps at their Friday, Oct. 19, stop at The Orange Peel — and he’s “very excited to be able to share some of those songs in time to come.” But when their approach shifted to what Trotter calls “more of this soulful, folk, country kind of sound” and the hyperpersonal mission of The War and Treaty grew clearer, it made sense for him to be the lone songwriter.
“When it comes to where we are at the moment, we have something very targeted that we want to say and we want to speak first from our standpoint, our vantage point,” Trotter says.
They weren’t closed to collaborations, but Trotter had a stockpile of 400-plus songs, some of which he’d written while serving in the U.S. Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Other songs chronicled the rejuvenation he experienced after returning home and falling in love with the woman who became his wife. Recording and releasing a tenderloin collection of those creations became their priority. Upon going over the lyrics, producer Buddy Miller agreed that the duo didn’t need to explore co-writing, especially seeing as the songs capture their shared experiences.
“When you see it live, you can see pure honesty because it’s coming from the artist who wrote it,” Trotter says. “Oftentimes, you get a song that’s written by six-10 different folks, and the artist really didn’t have a hand in it, so the artist is doing his best to interpret for someone else. But when it comes to The War and Treaty, for this project I think that it came straight out of our hearts, straight out of our living room conversations, straight out of our love, our arguments, our disagreements. You’re getting everything from the horse’s mouth.”
In determining who should take the lead on each song, the couple employ what Trotter calls “a formula.” For example, when he heard “Are You Ready to Love Me?” in his head and started writing it out, he waited to see if he heard himself anywhere in it. He never did, but instead heard his wife loud and clear. (“Tanya was so gracious to allow me to sing on the hook, but that was her song,” he says.) Conversely, for “If It’s in Your Heart,” Trotter heard himself throughout the writing process. He kept waiting to hear Blount-Trotter and didn’t, though once it was completed, he suggested she come in at one point with some ad-libbing and “a little bit of vamp,” and she did just that.
“We let the integrity and the honesty of the music speak to us. Our voices are just responding to what the music is already saying,” Trotter says. “And then we have a lot of moments where we hear ourselves — we hear each other. Like, ‘Hearts’ … ‘One and the Same’ and ‘Here Is Where the Loving Is At.’ You will catch us being more inseparable because the music says, ‘I want you to be inseparable here.’”
The latter track features not just the couple’s voices, but that of Emmylou Harris. Trotter says Miller and Harris (the producer’s longtime friend) are both YouTubers who “go down rabbit holes of poor, young struggling artists like The War and Treaty and just watch us and make notes. Then they tell you that they love you, and you realize you’re in the presence of royalty.” In Trotter’s case, the connection resulted in Harris making him “delicious” brownies for his birthday — some of the best he’s ever had — and the revelation of her bashfulness in the studio.
“There is no kind of arrogance in her body, and she has yet to grasp how powerful and how well-known and well-liked and loved she really is,” Trotter says. “Long story short, we weren’t even able to stay in her recording session. She was so nervous — and we were the ones shaking and trembling in our boots because this is the legend herself.”
Though Trotter says “there was nothing on that track she could have done that was wrong,” Harris’ insistence on getting her part right and her overall attitude continue to resonate with him: “To be able to see that kind of humility, but also that kind of shyness still come from the queen of Americana music is powerful and deep within itself.”
WHO: The War and Treaty
WHERE: The Orange Peel, 101 Biltmore Ave., theorangepeel.net
WHEN: Friday, Oct. 19, 8 p.m. $18 standing/$25 seating