The War and Treaty Explain Their ‘Poetic’ Jelly Roll Connection
Over their time performing as the War and Treaty, Michael Trotter, Jr. and Tanya Trotter have gotten comfortable with being labeled "outsiders" in the country genre.
A Black husband-and-wife duo making soulful, genre-defiant roots music, they rose through the ranks of first the Americana scene, then the country scene, always guided by the two foundational pillars of their style: rafter-raising vocal prowess and positive, message-heavy lyrics.
Bonafide celebrities including Dierks Bentley and Chris Stapleton have eagerly made room for the War and Treaty on their stages, but the Trotters know that their music will likely never sound too much like what gets played on country radio.
Still, their star is rising — and after so many years feeling like the underdog, the duo cherish all the recognition and acceptance they get. The pair recently spoke to Taste of Country surrounding their new partnership with George Dickel's Dickel Bourbon Aged 18 Years whiskey line, and it wasn't lost on them that a brand partnership — especially one so closely linked to country music, with previous partners including Dustin Lynch, Ashley McBryde and Charlie Worsham — marked a new step in their career.
"This is the first brand to do anything with the War and Treaty," Michael pointed out. "And it was so weird because for my birthday this year, which is March 15, my wife threw me a party and that's all I wanted to drink, was George Dickel brand. [At that point] we hadn't had any conversations with George Dickel. So when this opportunity presented itself, we were just high-fiving and hugging, cheering and laughing and just going wild. Look what life brings, you know?"
That's not all life has brought for the War and Treaty: In 2024, they'll have a chance to win two Grammy Awards, including the all-genre Best New Artist category, where they're one of two nominees hailing from the country genre. The other is Jelly Roll.
"There's something very poetic about who's representing this genre right now," Michael acknowledges.
Like Jelly, the War and Treaty have followed a winding, sometimes hopeless-feeling road to where they are today. Michael spent time growing up in a D.C.-area shelter for battered women with his mother, after they ran away from his alcoholic and abusive father. Later, he served two tours of duty in Iraq as an Army service member, coming home with PTSD and suicidal thoughts — a mental health battle he still fights today.
Meanwhile, Tanya (then known as Tanya Blount) enjoyed musical success in the '90s — she put out a debut album, signed to Sean Combs' Bad Boy Entertainment and even had a role in Sister Act 2 — but walked away from it all, her passion for music dulled by the "business" side of the music business. It wasn't until she saw Michael performing at an event in Maryland, 20 years after she quit music, that something clicked.
"It was like someone had taken the cord from a cable and plugged it into a wall and a light came back on inside of me. Because you could tell every word he was singing, he meant it," she explains, thinking back on that moment. "That was a moment for me where I say to myself, 'No, I'm glad I walked away from music when I did, because now I'm doing music with the War and Treaty that I believe in and am passionate about."
When the War and Treaty found out about their Best New Artist Grammy nomination, Michael sent Jelly Roll a video message congratulating him, saying how honored he and Tanya were to be nominated in the same category and how "ironic it is that these two country music slots are represented by the War and Treaty and Jelly Roll."
He didn't realize it until afterward, but Jelly had beaten him to the punch — he sent a video message to the War and Treaty on nomination day. "It literally felt like we said the exact same thing to each other. I was like, 'You're gonna win!' And he was like, 'I hope y'all win!'" Michael remembers. "It was just so funny."
Neither act represents country music's old guard. On the contrary, they've both had to bend tradition to get here.
"You've got a guy who is not the poster child for country music, and you've got a duo who are also not the poster child for country music, and some people would dare say we're not country — neither one of the acts," Michael relates. "But when you think of the thriving spirit of our nation, what it means to be American, what it means to part of this country — [those stories make up] our path.
"It's the underdog story," he continues. "Jelly has a saying, 'The losers win again, baby.' And the War and Treaty, we're the counted out who make the count. We represent everybody who's ever felt like that."
The 2024 Grammy Awards are set for Sunday, Feb. 4, at 8PM ET. The War and Treaty — who are also nominated for Best American Roots Song, for their "Blank Page" — plan to attend the show.