Bluesfest | 18–22 April
The War and Treaty Story
Michael and Tanya Trotter took distinctly different paths to becoming The War and Treaty.
After winning a talent show when she was 13, Tanya came from a musical theatre background.
Michael started writing later, and for different reasons. After a childhood where he and his family spent time in and out of homeless shelters he joined the army in 2003. It was two years after 9/11. ‘I didn’t know it was wartime. People say, ‘How do you not know that?’ Well, in the neighbourhood I grew up in, we weren’t patriotic. No-one cared – that’s rich people’s news. Meanwhile, someone I know just got shot yesterday.’
It was when he was in Iraq and stationed in one of Saddam Hussein’s rubbled palaces that he had access to a piano that had survived miraculously unscathed. It was here that he played musical tributes to the fallen. When Michael returned home, he was booked on a festival that also featured Tanya Blount. After his set, Tanya approached him and asked if he’d written his songs. He had. The two exchanged numbers, but Michael, battle-weary, scarred, and daunted by Tanya’s beauty, couldn’t understand why she’d want anything to do with him. ‘I threw her number away because I had a lot of insecurities that I still have. I thought, “Who would want to be with a guy who went to war?”’ Turns out Tanya did.
Tanya didn’t wait on him. She called Michael, and the two became inseparable. Today, they’re married and have created a six-year-old son and a powerhouse duo. They are the force behind The War and Treaty.
Michael and Tanya have been soulmates from day one, and their chance meeting is something that Michael never loses gratitude for.
‘It’s amazing and we often talk about it, just how our fire just keeps burning for one another. I’m just grateful that it’s real, and honest, and it’s not a gimmick. We couldn’t hide it or try to manufacture it if we tried. Partly because Tanya is just such a pure human being, I mean, and I’m not saying that ’cause she’s my wife; she just is. I learned so much from her, and I’m so grateful to have her, and to be able to do what we do together and not get tired of one another. Just really love each other and be thankful for the blessings that come our way.’
The two of them have something special in store for BluesFest! ‘We’re bringing our entire band,’ says Michael, ‘and we got horns as well. We just wanted to bring our best foot forward and and I am completely excited, I will not lie to you. I can’t really contain myself just thinking about being there, and thinking about breathing in that air, and thinking about joining in the already winning spirit of Australia. I’m excited. I’ll make this quick. I was on a boat about two weeks ago, and I connected with a legend, I connected with a long-lost relative and now a lifelong friend, goes by the name of Tommy Emmanuel.’
Michael has an affection for our Aussie players and he’s really keen to be coming to Bluesfest not just to play but to see them as well!
‘I almost ripped my face open from smiling, but we could not stop talking about the Bluesfest, the Bluesfest and how proud he is of that festival, and how proud he is to be a part. Just when you thought you’ve heard all you can hear about the Byron Bay Blues Festival, then you bump into just this talented, young lady, goes by the name Kasey Chambers, and her dad, and then you start to hear her speak, and then you start to see her sing, and then you get tricked because you wanna go buy a ticket and pack all your bags up and go move to Australia!’
People find their musical voices in all sorts of places, but Michael found his in the army.
‘Well you know, you find something to do when you’re afraid and take your mind off the fear, but more importantly, I wasn’t writing songs to write a hit. I wasn’t writing songs to get some sort of recognition; I was writing songs about the following, about my battle buddies who were being killed out there. That changed the course of actions for me because like I said, I definitely had a lot of fear being out in Iraq, but once I started writing, once I got that pen, once I sat down at that piano owned by their former ruler, things changed. A whole new life perspective came forward and I was able to write healing into the equation, and be able to tell a story that wasn’t told. I’m grateful for that, and that was my path, and that is my path even to this day.
‘You had to locate your emotions. You had to find ’em and you had to tuck ’em away for a bit and deal with the fact that it’s not about you right now, it’s about your battle buddies, and it’s about telling the story that they won’t be able to tell. Oftentimes I would write and I’d put in little funny little gestures that I had learned about these giants of men, and the soldiers would hear it and chuckle and laugh, but again, I was doing something unique. Oftentimes, it hadn’t hit me until I got out of the military and started hearing some old songs and that’s when I was able to reflect on what they meant to me per se.
‘… it can be traumatic, but it wasn’t traumatic for me. What it was – I guess you would call it therapy. I guess you would call it purpose. Above all of that, it was an honour to be able to write what the now-silenced couldn’t say.’
The War and Treaty play Bluesfest – for more info go to bluesfest.com.au.