Hearts Town

Hearts Town

“It just so happens that the most honest place in my life is to come from a place where Tanya exists,” The War and Treaty’s Michael Trotter tells Apple Music of the way that he and Tanya Blount-Trotter, partners in life and music, shape their performing identity around their relationship. “What everyone gets to see is the makings of that.” The two had each weathered plenty individually—in her case, the ups and downs of a mainstream R&B record deal, and in his, PTSD-generating military service in Iraq—before coming together. They realized that their breakthrough Buddy Miller-produced 2018 album Healing Tide placed their dedication to optimism front and center. They wanted their full-length follow-up, Hearts Town, to also convey the strain required to cling to love and emotional openness. Blount-Trotter points to the uncommon intimacy of their approach: “He does share the entire process with me, from the inception of the songs all the way down to the studio. Even though I'm not the writer on the song, I'm just as emotionally invested in the interpretation.” She was the one who insisted that he had the detailed vision, down to vocal arrangements and instrumental parts, to take the lead in producing the album, which gains a sense of drama from elements of musical theater, arena rock, gospel, and soul. “When you look at the way Tanya and I's love life is lived,” says Trotter, “it has the power of that gospel fire. It has the hope and the soulful promise of soul music. It has the gut-wrenching story of country. It has the loud and unforgiving spirit of rock.” See how these manifest themselves in each song on Hearts Town below. Yearning Michael Trotter: “I wanted the voices to be the story, and I wanted the music to be those little interrupting moments in a relationship that's going so right. Then all of a sudden you see some things that are creeping in from the past. It takes all of that tension from the past. It's built up and finally you just explode and say, ‘I'm ready.’” Beautiful (feat. Jason Isbell) MT: “This was a song that was paying homage, honestly, to the passing of my wife's mother. I'll never forget watching her give her last breath, and it really tripped me out because I had never seen something more beautiful than her passing. I remember how I got this idea is because I was listening to Jason Isbell's song about the woman who has cancer, ‘Elephant.’ I'd been wanting to do a song with him. When he was in the studio with us, he turned his amp all the way up, and he said, ‘People don't allow me to do this, Michael. I've been waiting to scream [on guitar].’ And there he goes.” Five More Minutes MT: “The song was written like a rejoicing, like saying, ‘Wow, I made it through an ordeal.’ I really was exhausted. I was tired of failing. I had given up. I was sitting on my stairs in Albion, Michigan, in a home we were threatened to be kicked out of because we had no money. I just thought that the only financial relief my family could get right now is going to be through some insurance money. I'm not ashamed of that moment. I'm not afraid to say that that's exactly what it was, because I'm standing for people who struggle with thoughts of suicide, as well as people who have died by suicide. I watched Tanya get down on her knees and grab me by my face. I remember her words: ‘I know that you're ready to do this, but I need just five more minutes to love you. If you could just give me five more minutes, I promise you I'll make those five minutes matter. Come on, stay with me.’ I had to make up my mind right there.” Hearts Town MT: “We wanted to show some honest, sincere, and true moments of desperation, true moments, to show the world that, but we still drive on. That's the persevering spirit of the American people and of the human race, period. We find a way, don't we? We find a way to dig deep, and to get in our guts and say, ‘There's the hope. There's the resilient spirit of our ancestry.’ And we do it, and we rise to every occasion.” Jubilee MT: “This song is just another one of those songs where we're taking our real-life situation and making it relatable to everyone.” Hey Pretty Moon MT: “It definitely had the intentions of Ray Charles' ‘Georgia on My Mind.’ I remember writing this song in Iraq. I remember just going through some different questions in my mind, how when the storm happens, you barely see the sun. But in the evening, if a storm happens, the moon is never hidden. It's always there, that light. I just wanted to write a song to the moon: ‘Hey, pretty moon, so bright and fair.’ When I look at it, of course, it's the sappy part of The War and Treaty. When I start looking at my Tanya, I know her story. I know it's not easy sometimes, but this lady's light stays shining in every situation.” Tanya Blount-Trotter: “When you think about someone who has PTSD and has to fight through, it's not an external illness that you can see. You can't see all of the mental stress, the strain that it takes to get out of the bed, or to just stay sane through all of this and COVID. That song to me, when I look at him, is like, ‘How are you able to get up?’ To be able to watch and experience someone go through life with grace is a beautiful thing.” Jealousy TBT: “Early on, we talked about that we wanted to have the kind of relationship where there was no jealousy, where you want to be with the one that wants to be with you. You have people who are unable to even get to love because they'd be competing with one another. Because the message is so heavy, I think Michael approached it from more of a light vibe with the song, musically. Sometimes people digest a hard message, they don't even know they're getting it, but they're dancing to it.” Liquid Lies MT: “It's actually about when you're leaving a sour situation, then all of a sudden the person wants to give you the emotions you wanted that person to have in the relationship. They start crying: ‘Please don't go! I love you!’ And you realize that those tears are just liquid lies. The production on it, we definitely wanted it to feel like a long conversation. And by the time the conversation is over, it's a relief.” Lonely in My Grief MT: “It was very difficult to watch Mr. George Floyd's life leave his body from under the knee of one of the officers. Very difficult to see the beautiful face of Breonna Taylor come up and not think, ‘Is this one of my cousins or sisters?’ And to realize that, when you read the story, she's coming up because she's dead. Very difficult to watch a young Black male, Ahmaud Arbery, running in a neighborhood up the street, and to see him lose his life. The plea is for people who we know love us and don't look like us, but we see them sitting in that silence, saying, ‘It's such a terrible thing that happened. It's so sad.’ No, it's got to be more than sad. It's the outrage of white people, the ‘I cannot stand by and just watch this.’ That's what ‘Lonely in My Grief’ is: Will you just stand by while you're watching your Black brother and your Black sister, and leave these folks lonely in their grief? I don't need you to stand up for me as an ally. I need you to be crying out and shouting out and yelling out because it's happening to our people. This is a threat to our democracy, not just the democracy of African Americans. This is a threat to our freedoms and our social justice, not just Black people.” Little Boy Blue TBT: “I love the feel of the song. It's one of my favorites to sing off the new album. Michael told me that when he was younger they used to call him Blue, because he was of a darker skin color. He's always been my sweet man Blue, but ‘boy’ just sings a little bit better than ‘man.’” Hustlin' (feat. Jerry Douglas and Chris Etheridge) TBT: “Jerry Douglas, he's a legend. Talented is such an understatement for what he and Chris are, and the touch that they added to the record. You sit Jerry in the studio, and there's a freedom in having musicians come in and they just know what to do. You can say, ‘Here's the feel,’ and they find their way in the song, and actually take what you've given them and expound on it. They added their genius to the record.” Take Me In MT: “Dr. King said something very powerful in one of his speeches: ‘I can't wait to see the day where children aren't judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ In this song, those are the things we're calling out, the contents of the character. My skin color may be different than yours. Take me in. I might be overweight. Take me in. I might not have the money you have or the bank account that you have or financial stability that you have, or my neighborhood might not be as safe as yours, or I might not have clean streets like you might have. But take me in. And that's the gospel right there. That's the good news. The good news is that we're not so far gone that we still can't grab each other and say, ‘I love you regardless.’ We wanted to end this record with that hope and that question of ‘will you take me in?’ We wanted it to have the feeling of salvation.”

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