Virtual Session: The War and Treaty

From their home near Nashville, The War and Treaty join Sean McPherson for a virtual session. (MPR)

From their home outside of Nashville, The War and Treaty join Sean McPherson to play songs from their upcoming record Hearts Town, out September 25 on Rounder Records.

Interview Transcript

Sean McPherson: You're with The Current and I'm so excited to be chatting with The War and Treaty, very excited about this new record Hearts Town that's dropping on September 25th. So, thank you so much for making some time today Michael and Tonya.

Tanya Blount: Thank you Sean for having us, very excited to be here today.

McPherson: Where are you joining us from today? Where are you guys at?

Blount: We're right outside of Nashville, about 30 minutes outside of Nashville, Tennessee.

And is this the neighborhood that's called Hearts Town? I saw on the thank yous for the new record it says, "To our neighborhood, Hearts Town". Are you broadcasting from Hearts Town right now?

Blount: [laughs] No

Michael Trotter Jr.: Yes, always.

Blount: You're always in Hearts Town, but it's in your heart so it's wherever you take it.

Well The War and Treaty's music is full of so much heart and on this new record it's full of so much energy. I got the chance to pour through the tracks and it's a stunning effort and I'm so excited to hear a couple of these tracks. I look forward to talking a little bit more, but let's just jump into a song to get things started with The War and Treaty. Broadcasting live from Hearts Town.

Trotter: This song we're gonna do for y'all is entitled Jubilee and it's on the upcoming release, Hearts Town.

[music: Jubilee by The War and Treaty]

Absolutely stunning. That is "Jubilee" from The War and Treaty and getting ready for this new album Hearts Town and I had a question about the recording of Hearts Town because it looks like you guys worked Gary Paczosa - is that how you pronounce the gentlemen's name from Black Bird Studios?

Trotter and Blount: G. Pac.

Trotter: I still don't know how to pronounce his last name.

Blount: Yeah he was our engineer.

Trotter: Paczosa.

Paczosa. And now Michael, you are credited with producing the album and in the thank yous you sorta said "We fought like brothers but we got to it" - the record sounds like the opposite of fighting. The record sounds so beautiful and I feel that spirit when I hear you guys playing. The result was amazing, but can you tell me about producing the record and working with G. Pac and working with your whole team to get it, to sonically where it ended up being?

Trotter: Well we both, both of us have very unique personalities. Gary's personality is not strong but Gary is grounded. I'll say that. Gary's been around the industry for a very long time. He's responsible for some of the greatest Americana records of all time. He's worked with everyone from Alison Krauss to the great Dolly Parton. He's just been around, y'know. I think some of Gary's frustrations was dealing with an amateur producer. Y'know such as myself but I learned a lot in this process and one of the things that I learned is when to get in the way, and when to get out of the way. And that's to me the biggest thing I walk away with in producing so it's made me a better producer. Just knowin' when to get in the way of the guys and the engineers and when to get out of the way of everyone. Especially Tanya.

You guys made some great choices on the album about that and you have a surplus of great voices. You two sound so stunning on your own and sound great together as well. So Tanya, as you're navigating the vocal arrangements alongside Michael and making sure that the song wins even with your two great instruments on your voices, how do you guys make sure to let the song be the ultimate winner as you're writing these tunes?

Blount: That's a difficult question because Michael is brilliant. I mean his, he, y'know, he's a genius and he, I'm not just saying that because he's my husband, I'm saying it because I've had the honor of working with some of the industry's greatest producers from Arif Mardin all the way to some of the greatest writers and I've never worked with anyone that could hear everythingat the same time. I mean all the instruments, what the strings section was supposed to do, what the bass line is supposed to do. What the vocals are supposed to do, so when you have a producer that can hear all that, as a vocalist you're coming in to lend your voice to the sounds that he hears, it's almost like if you go off the beat just one riff that's wrong it doesn't serve the song. So he hears where your voice is supposed to inflect in a certain way where there's supposed to be a growl here, where it's supposed to get softer there and as the instrument that, which is the vocal, that's trying to hear what he giving you to hear you know, you're kind of, you don't have as much -- not creativity -- but flexibility because your flexibility may not serve the song.

That was for me the learning experiences that, coming from R&B where everythings kind of loose and you just ride the track, or hip-hop where these songs are complete songs so he hears it from top to finish in his sleep along with the lyrics so you know, just imagine someone waking up like and they're like, "Hey I have a song [hums] here's the melody." But what happens when the person has all the lyrics all the melody and everything, so it's your responsibility to do what you can do to serve that song so it's like, you know, when you do sing it together it's like water just flowing in the ocean, you know?

Well mission accomplished because it does sound frequently like water flowing in the ocean. The skill set that Tanya was just talking about Michael, I usually associate that with people who are lifelong musicians who found their instrument at maybe age three maybe age six but those people who hear the whole thing and envision it - you came to touching instruments and being a part of music later in life but you're communicated obviously by a wonderful wife as having a skillset that I usually associate with kind of prodigy kids. Were you feeling really empty until you found the piano? Can you tell me about finding music later in life?

Trotter: Well you know it's very odd that you would say that because I think that a part of my story is, I actually started singing at age three.


Trotter: Yeah I did start singing at age three and I have musicians on both sides of my family. On my Mom's side my Grandmother was and is a piano player, and then on my Dad's side my Uncle Zelbert who I credit a lot of my music knowledge to. He's a fluid very prolific pianist and he played only in the church his entire life but once I was born and he wanted to open me up to the world of music and when I would spend time with him he'd teach me...

[Trotter sings] Old man river keeps on rolling. Mona Lisa.

Trotter: And he'd teach me how to sit down and eat dinner and have wine or something like that. I mean my uncle is a very exquisite man but I had no interest whatsoever in piano and guitar and drums. In fact, the only instrument that kind of piqued my interest were strings and horns which I don't touch. However, man, I had no interest but it wasn't until I rapped that I really started to understand how instruments have a totally different language than vocal cords. So to be able to sit down and try to study the language of the piano was a true blessing, a true blessing. It definitely repurposed my life and then I discovered songwriting and now to marry the two and be able to present music and have it played on great stations like The Current. Saw what I did there?

[McPherson laughs] I do I do.

Trotter: That's my act so I'm sticking to it.

Well I'll tell ya from being in radio for a while people often say thank you for playing our music and I often just wanna say thank you for making great music cause it makes my life a lot easier. It's a no-brainer to play a group like The War and Treaty because you guys make beautiful music you deliver it live and you deliver it really really well in the studio as well. Now delivering it live is gonna be an uphill battle for the foreseeable future and we're really excited about Hearts Town coming out but I'm sure this cycle is looking really different than the last one. How are y'all thinking about getting your message across and getting your music across in these times where doing what you do best, getting in front of a crowd, is not easily available?

Trotter and Blount in unison: You know it....

Blount: We're saying each other's words. We've been doing this for the last couple days, we'll say the same exact thing like we're identical twins. But uh, I don't know. You know it's, what we're doing with you, I think it's one of those things where none of us can predict what's gonna happen. And we have this thing called the internet and social media that allows us to connect the best way that we can but there's nothing like the human experience and being able to touch one another. There's just nothing like it.

Trotter: But I'm finding something out. I'm finding out that we have power that goes through. You know when we see each other even this distance that we have, I mean, we're not in the same vicinity of course. I don't even know if you're still there.

I'm right here. I'm with you.

[Trotter laughs]

I went to get a sandwich I figured you all could just keep on going through.

Trotter: Oh bro, why did you say sandwich? I am a true fat boy. It's been in my thoughts.

See I'm a small guy. The camera just adds two hundred pounds.

Trotter: Two hundred? See I gotta get that camera cause we're working on three here. No um, what I was trying to say is I'm learning something that the human connection and the power we have to be able to sincerely move each other, you know, like you're way wherever you are, we're still here but I can still feel you in this conversation. You can still feel me. I think for the future I believe that the reason this even took place besides the obvious is to get us back to wanting to be connected. We've taken for granted space. We've taken for granted being with each other at concerts. The supermarket or at the park, we just feel like, well that's just the way it should be and then something like this happens and now we can't even see each other we can't even honor people who we love when they leave this world. They're leaving the world alone. I mean just think of the late great John Prine, Kenny Rogers, Bill Withers, and now JTE. Justin. We've taken so much for granted and we've got to stop and until we realize that, I think that we're at threat of not having those lives, or music venues again because the universe is crying out: respect each other. Connect. Unify. Stop all this foolishness. Love each other. Don't take each other for granted. Just the simple kindness of the human experience we've lost and we've gotta get it back. Or coming together and just singing these songs and just serenading the bullshit, but we can't do that anymore.

Well I don't take this moment for granted and what you're saying, I feel. I feel your energy. I feel your spirit. Frankly the last time I saw you was between two panes of glass when you were performing with Bill DeVille at our studios when you were in town to play at the Cedar Cultural Center and I knew y'all had a spirit and energy at that moment and I still feel that and I'm glad that you're finding your way to get that to so many outlets in anticipation of Hearts Town. I thank you guys for taking some time today. We're gonna hear two in a row from The War and Treaty and I'm so thankful for your music and your energy today.

Blount and Trotter: Thank you

Trotter: This next song we're gonna do is uh, [Trotter whispers] Max what do we have there?

Trotter: Hustlin. We're gonna do Hustlin.

[Music: Hustlin by The War and Treaty]

Trotter: This last song that we have is entitled "Five More Minutes" and I just want to dedicate this song to every person out there whose strugglin' to keep your mind sane. And you are flirting currently with the idea of, well if I just end this everyone else will be better off, then I will be suffering no more and I just want to combat that thinking with this song. I don't know who's in your life but I'm sure someone is there saying, "Just five more minutes." I need just five more minutes with you. To love you and while you're seeing this, consider this War and Treaty's moment asking you just five more minutes please. Just five more minutes. We dedicate this to you, just five more minutes. Max Brown on guitar ladies and gentlemen. Our music director.

[Music: Five More Minutes by The War and Treaty]

I have never been prouder to clap along on one of these virtual sessions before but the energy,the spirit was too much. Thank you for those tunes, thank you for dedicating it to people who are going through it. So many people are going through it right now and your music is helping so many people. Tanya and Michael and Max, props to Max as well. Sounding wonderful. The War and Treaty, congratulations on the new record. Thank you for spending some time with The Current today.

Trotter: Thank you. Thank you for always being such great supporters of us and all the other artists as well.

Blount: Yes. Thank you.

Songs Performed

01:20 - Jubilee
16:58 - Hustlin
21:40 - Five More Minutes


Host: Sean McPherson
Technical Director: Eric Romani
Producer: Jesse Wiza

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