The War and Treaty, the husband and wife duo of Michael and Tanya Trotter, return with Lover’s Game, an all-in spectacle of soul, rock ’n’ roll, and country rhythm & blues that shakes and simmers in just the right spots. For those that have followed the Trotters’s emotional story since 2018’s Healing Tide and its follow-up, 2020’s Hearts Town, the new record’s gumbo of influences should come as no great shock, but there’s plenty to relish for new and seasoned admirers alike.
“Our intention in creating this whole album was to show what people feel when they see us live and that it can be translated on record,” says Michael Trotter in a late-February phone interview.
Opening with a blast of pure rock, a filthy guitar lick that gives way to FAME Studio-era Duane Allman slide guitar wrapped around the tandem line, “Margarita, hot chicken, strawberry wine, I’m lookin’ for your lovin’ to be mine all mine,” the title track heralds the outfit’s rowdy designs.
“‘Lover’s Game’ is how we would naturally open the show — really pumping and really setting the tone for a good time,” Michael says.
“Blank Page” softly rolls in on a Spooner Oldham-esque piano that leaves ample room for the Trotters to stretch out vocally, delivering a beautiful love story in the midst of being written that defies any skip-to-the-happy-ending defiance of real life.
“I think that’s human nature — we want to get to the good stuff, we don’t like the hard stuff,” says Tanya, who joined her husband for the interview. “But the hard stuff is what makes the good stuff worth it! If you can get to the other side of it all then you can really start over.”
Lover’s Game marks The War and Treaty’s major label debut with Universal Music Group, an exciting development for the couple who have long recorded independently with the help of their friends in Nashville. The band was formed in 2014 in Albion, Michigan.
“When you’re independent, most of the creative ideas, I would say 90% of the ideas come from you. You’re inspired by a lot of different things, so whatever marketing people see, that all comes from you,” says Tanya, a seasoned recording artist whose previous label experience includes runs with Polydor Records and Bad Boy Entertainment. “The priority is always about staying true to yourself. One of the things I love about being at Universal and being with Cindy Mabe [chair and chief executive of the label group] and the team that we have now is we have to stay true to who we are and they understand that and they encourage that. The difference is you don’t have someone trying to shape you into the next [whoever]. They want you to be the best War and Treaty.”
To do that, the Trotters teamed up with GRAMMY-winning, golden-eared producer Dave Cobb.
“In 2017, we met on Cayamo [a music cruise] and the rest was history from there,” says Michael, an Iraq War combat veteran whose career as a musician has been a second life of challenges as well as blessings. “We’ve been threatening to work together for a while now, and Universal provided the opportunity for that threat to become real. We’ve created something beautiful and special. Aside from that, we have a bond, a friendship, and I love it!”
On Healing Tide, the Trotters worked closely with producer and songwriter Buddy Miller while fully grasping the reins for Hearts Town and its wealth of special guests including Jerry Douglas and Jason Isbell. For Lover’s Game, Cobb made it a priority not to rely on a particular vision, but to encourage and develop the artists’ core strength – each other.
“It’s funny because we tried to let go, but Dave doesn’t allow that,” reveals Michael. “He’s like, ‘This is yours. Hold onto this, this is you. But here’s something interesting about you — don’t think that it’s the band, don’t think that it’s the guitar riffs, don’t think that it’s all about the hype-ness of the music and how loud that can get. You’ve got to know that the magic is in two voices operating as one.’ That is what he gave us, the encouragement to know that Tanya and I are just enough.”
With the release of Lover’s Game, the War and Treaty are embarking on an extensive North American tour that will link up this summer with Chris Stapleton’s All-American Road Show.
“Michael, he’ll come up with [a set list] but when we’re on stage, everyone has to know at least 50 songs because, at any moment, any of them could be pulled out,” Tanya says. “We stay on our toes and it’s really about what he feels the audience needs. We get on stage and you can feel the energy, what the audience is asking for. You may want to come out and do a laid-back folk Americana set but the crowd, they want a party. So you have to give them what they want. And that’s what we do!”
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