Tanya and Michael Trotter, the married couple who perform as The War and Treaty, will perform for service members in Korea and on Guam from Dec. 14-18. Michael Trotter is an Army veteran who served in the Iraq War.

Tanya and Michael Trotter, the married couple who perform as The War and Treaty, will perform for service members in Korea and on Guam from Dec. 14-18. Michael Trotter is an Army veteran who served in the Iraq War. (Austin Hargrave)

Before the conversation starts, Michael Trotter Jr., one half of the Grammy Award-nominated country/Americana duo The War and Treaty, insists on offering a disclaimer: “From being in the military and the Army, Stars and Stripes has been one of my dreams to talk to,” he says. “This is the first time we have talked to anyone from there, so thank you.”

He comes by his appreciation for the armed services honestly. Not only did Trotter serve in Iraq as part of the U.S. Army, but he, along with the other half of The War and Treaty, his wife Tanya, is set to perform for the troops four times this month. Beginning Dec. 14 at Camp Casey in South Korea, their short slate of shows will take them to Camp Humphreys, South Korea, on Dec. 15, Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, on Dec. 16 and Naval Station Guam on Dec. 18.

We recently caught up with husband and wife to talk about how they inspire each other, their writing process, being excited to return to base, the importance of music in the military and, of course, how Michael might just be dreaming of one day being the next Bob Hope.

I want to start with this upcoming string of performances. Will this be the first time you’ve been back on base, Michael?

Michael: Yes, it is. It’s my first time.

Are you excited?

Michael: I’m feeling a lot of emotions. Excitement is one. Anxiety is another. I feel reverent because I know we’re going at a time when troops really need to feel some love and some home – some kind of normalcy. So, to be able to go back and offer what I’ve learned and what I’ve done to the nation’s greatest is a dream come true. It’s emotional, too, because the holiday season isn’t always a happy time for troops. For me, I remember the first Christmas I had after losing two battle buddies, I was at war and I thought about what their families were doing that year. They didn’t have them to hold and they didn’t have them to send gifts to. The ultimate sacrifice was paid, so there’s a lot of reflection taking place. The one thing I feel more than anything is grateful.

This being your first time back on base, going back to entertain, can you talk about how it feels to go back to give something back?

Michael: It feels so surreal because I dreamed about this. I acted it out when I was sweeping the helipads in Iraq. The lights on the helipads remind me of the flood lights on the Ryman (Auditorium) stage (in Nashville). For me to return and share with the troops a dream come true feels really good. But also to come and share with troops that I was having a hard time and I found the love of my life and she helped heal me and she became my caretaker – that’s something I look forward to. We have a love story to share and it’s in our music. To me, that is our gift to the troops this holiday season – to give them love, song and togetherness.

How important was music to you while you served? How important do you think these performances will be for the troops? Can you speak to the role music plays while serving?

Michael: My story is very unique. It’s like God himself catered it for moments of despair, moments of disbelief, moments of shock, moments of feeling very depressed or forlorn. God gave me the gift of music to deliver to troops who feel like that, too. My first song after two individuals were killed in my unit in Iraq – Capt. Robert Scheetz and Sgt. Aaron Elandt – I was allowed to present my song during the memorial that we had out there. My song brought a lot of healing for the troops. It stole us away from the pain for that moment. From then on, the troops would come to me and ask me to write them a song. We’d sit down in the middle of the night and I realized music was providing a way to escape. It also provided peace and tranquility. Music saved my life and the war brought me music. It’s the same music and the same songs that led me straight to my wife, so music has delivered everything good to me in my life. I’m a servant to music. I serve the music.

Was a career in music always something you wanted? Did you grow up singing?

Michael: Yes, it was something I always wanted. I did grow up singing. I come from a musical family. My grandmother played piano. My uncle was a great pianist and my mom and all her sisters sing, so once I learned I could carry a tune, I definitely wanted to be a singer. Somewhere in the ’90s, I actually wanted to be a rapper. I got influenced by Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac, Busta Rhymes. I just wanted to be a rapper. Thank God I got some sense because I can’t rap a lick. But the only thing greater than music to me is Tanya and our children.

I’m glad you brought that up. I’ve interviewed a lot of couples who have done music together in the past, but watching you guys perform, you look so in love. For you, what’s it like to be able to share the music and the group with your wife? How important is the music to your relationship, love and family?

Tanya: I think the relationship is what makes the music the important part. The music is kind of the cherry on top to what we do every day in our home, with our family and our friends. It’s an extension of who we are and what we do together. The people who listen to our music have a peek into the window of our lives. It’s honest and what we do anyway. It just so happens we’re on stage for 90 minutes sometimes and everybody gets to experience it. It comes from a very honest and vulnerable place and I think that those who do connect with it and see it recognize that it comes from that place.

Michael: I also love the fact that with our duo, we have to feel. We don’t know anything absent of feeling. So, when we’re not looking at each other, we have to be able to feel each other breathing. A big part of music is breathing and being able to stagger your breathing to hold notes. Singing with Tanya has taught me how to feel her out. I don’t have to say, “I’m upset with you.” She doesn’t have to give me an ugly look or ice me out or anything like that. I can just feel if something is off or I can feel when I’ve done something that she does not approve. It’s the greatest feeling in my life to be able to know I feel someone on that level. I’m sitting here just thinking of the many times I’ve felt her. I’m not talking physical touch; I’m talking spiritual, something that grabs us. I’m drawn to my wife. I feel her and I love her. I’m very, very grateful to have her charter and champion my healing.

You guys are associated most with country music, but there’s so much soul in it, too. Would you categorize your music in any one form? Is it country? Soul? I even hear a little R&B in there.

Michael: Before we met, I used to be influenced by gospel. I used to be influenced by jazz, rock and roll, R&B, soul. You’re probably tired of hearing me say this, but I’m influenced by the way I’m loved. I’m loved by this woman and our love sometimes sounds like the sacredness of gospel, or the spirituality of the spirituals. Sometimes, our love has the storytelling of country music, sometimes, it has the heartbreak of blues. Sometimes, it has the sexuality of R&B or the guts of soul. Whatever it is, it’s music and it’s real and it’s honest. I don’t like the labels. In fact, I hate the labels. I think we do every genre of music a disservice by labeling it a genre. Like, country. What are you going to say? What makes that song a country music song? Are we that shallow that we say when we hear twangy guitar, that’s country? Why would we do that? Music is music and that’s the thing that I believe. I’m also on record as saying I don’t understand why we just don’t have the military. I don’t understand why we have to have these separate branches. The Army, Coast Guard, Navy. Why can’t we just have different divisions of the military and these are their expertise? But I digress.

If you don’t like to be boxed in, would you say the inspiration when you write is really just looking at each other? It feels like you’re in such a zone when you perform together. It feels like there’s nobody out there watching you and the rest of the world stops. Do you feel that yourself when you perform together?

Tanya: Yeah. I actually do (laughs). There are moments where we just get lost and we realize, “Oh, there’s a crowd and they’re watching us perform.” I think that’s part of the relationship we have with our audience. They want to see that and we want to give that. It’s honest and it comes from a pure place. We take those moments on stage. If we want to cry or reminisce on our journey and what we’ve come through, we do that. We take that breath and live in that moment. Sometimes, it feels like an out of body experience, but at the same time, we realize this is really our dream and we’re living it. I think it’s a good thing to be able to pause on stage and let people see and feel that moment with us.

I know you guys released new music this year – have you been working on anything lately? Is there new music in the works?

Michael: There is. We’ve been working hard and we’re heading back in the studio next month to see what we got.

Have you written lyrics? Any ideas you have down?

Michael: Have we written anything (laughs)? We’re always writing. Always. Every day. Always writing. But we’re ready now to get in the studio and be in on the journey of ramping it up.

Back to the shows coming up, how long ago did you decide you wanted to go over and play these shows and do this for the service members? I’m assuming this is something you’ve wanted to do for a while now, right?

Michael: I have a name and that should give you a general idea for how long I’ve wanted to do this: Bob Hope. I’m just one of those kids who watched every year. The class, dignity, joy and moment he would bring to the troops. Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, and there’s so many others who do it now on a much lower scale, but to be bold, my intention is to one day pick up one of those mantles. And to be bold, be courageous and be loud about my love for the USO and our soldiers, our troops, our Martnes, Navy members, Air Force and even Space Force. Whatever we got. This is truly the best of the best for us and our country – men and women who sacrificed for this country. Tanya and I are really truly honored to go on this journey and do this for the USO.

What is the thing about serving the country you can most apply to the music world?

Michael: My wife said something to me the other day, and since I met her in August 2010, she’s been saying the same thing over and over again. She says I’m a servant. She said the greatest thing that anyone could ever do is be a servant and that is something I actually learned in the military. It’s part of the Army core values. One of them is selfless service. It has impacted the way I write music. It’s impacted my “why” when it comes to everything I do. I serve in song. I serve with my song. I help aid whatever feeling you feel. Whatever message you want to get out, we do it with our music. That’s the correlation I make between my military service and my civil service to our country.

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