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The War & Treaty‘s Michael Jr. and Tanya Trotter are having a moment this year after earning their first-ever CMAs and Grammy nominations, as well as collaborating with country star Zach Bryan on his self-titled album. To celebrate these milestones, the couple got together with George Dickel to share a glass of the Tennessee whiskey brand’s new 18-year-old limited edition bourbon whiskey, which follows the brand’s eight-year-old version and is now available to buy in select U.S. markets for around $510.
“Words cannot truly express how we feel,” Michael tells Billboard. “You can say all the good things and it’ll just fall short of what we truly, truly feel.”
The duo — who were nominated for CMAs’ best vocal duo but lost to Brothers Osborne and snagged a Grammy nod for best new artist — performed “That’s How Love Is Made” off their album Lover’s Game during the Nov. 8 CMAs ceremony. The track was particularly special, as it’s one of the few the husband-wife duo have written together.
“When we first started working together, Michael primarily wrote all the songs,” Tanya explains to Billboard. “And this is probably — I’m not going to say the only song — but probably [the] top five songs that we’ve written together, so to be able to do a song with him that we did together on the award show, and to have that record Lover’s Game that was, again, all the songs written by Michael and one of the songs produced by him — I think you have to sit back and look at your journey and say, look how far we’ve come.”
The couple — who talked to Billboard ahead of the CMAs — also discussed how the collaboration with Zach Bryan came about, their upcoming new album, the best gifts they’ve received from each another and the one person they turn to for fashion advice.
You’re going to be opening for Zach Bryan. How did your collaboration come about?
Tanya: We actually met him [when] we were doing the Outlaw Festival with Willie Nelson. I hadn’t heard of him before and I came backstage and I said to our tour manager, I was like, “I don’t know who this guy is, but every young girl in the audience is singing every single word.” I was just amazed. And then he came backstage and he was passing out T shirts, he introduced himself and it was very friendly, and that was the first time we met.
So we did the ACMa, performed and he happened to be there with his dad. Afterwards, he ran up to us as everybody was leaving, and he was like, “holy s–t, what just happened to me? I was sitting there and my legs were shaking, and I had chills up and down my arms.” He was like, “We have to work together. I don’t know what we’re going to do — let’s exchange numbers.”
It’s very kind of cliche, it happens all the time in the music business where you see other artists, and it’s always like, “We got to do a record together.” He and Michael connected, and we were on a three-way text, but Michael and him had the bond of being in the military and serving, and so the dialog happened. One day he called us and maybe two weeks later, he had a song, and he was like, “I want to hear what you guys sound like on this song.” So we put a voice memo together, sent it to him, he loved it and it was on Instagram I think in less than 20 minutes.
Also, Tanya, I love your denim cowboy boots and matching purse. Where are they from?
Tanya: I got these boots from, I want to say Amazon. My daughter, she’s like, “Mommy, Tanya, you have to carry the bag.” She’s a little fashionista, so she made me carry the bag. (See a similar style here.)
And you teased a new album in the works. What can we expect from this one?
Michael: We are intending to touch as many people as we can, whether they don’t look like us, look like us, whether they come from our walks of life or not — especially [in] country music. I think it’s important to be intentional in targeting people that look like me and Tanya. I think that you have to get rid of all of the things that you may think. Like Black people don’t do whiskey or Black people don’t do country music. And I think that that’s a thing that Tanya and I are here as proof and our intentional spirit to really take this back to the communities that look like us and to say it’s time to try new things. It’s time to love again, it’s time to trust again — especially in our country. I think that the intentional thing to say now is it’s time for us as a people to have faith and fall in love with each other again.
What is your favorite gift you’ve ever given one another?
Michael: OK, Dec. 8, 2010. Ty and I were in what we thought would be our first place to rent. We were sleeping on the floor, Tanya was pregnant, we had no money — no anything — but the greatest gift that Tanya has ever given me was that night. Her word that her heart belonged to me. I will never, ever forget that night.
Tanya: For me, with Michael, it’s his listening. There’s not anything that I can’t say to him. Just in random I could say something right now, like, “I want this” or “I can look at something,” and he’s always paying attention. He’s always listening, and when you have somebody that has a heart like his and listens and pays attention to the details of what you have, you can’t get that — you can’t pay for that.
That’s beautiful. And what do you think is the best gift someone can give their partner?
Michael: I think we’re living in a day and time where people can’t afford a lot. People can’t afford to play games. So many relationships we find ourselves in the lover’s game, but I think that the greatest thing you can give someone is honesty. That was the first thing I gave to Tanya. I just told her the truth, I said, “Listen, I’m bumming right now” … and I said, “I don’t know how I’m going to make it, but I know how to love.” And Tanya, the way Tanya looks and the way her heart is, Tanya could be with anybody in the entire universe, but she chose me. And I said, “You know what? I give you my word, I won’t let you regret that choice.” I like to think 13 years later, I’m making good on my promise.
Tanya: I would say the gift of time. The one thing about Michael that I’ve learned from him is I’m very anal retentive when it comes to something. So like this brownie, I’m going to finish this brownie because I like to finish things. But Michael could be in the middle of anything and any of our kids can walk into a room and he zones in on just that, and he does that with everything. I think that that’s the gift that you’re not able to replace, is your time. It’s the one thing you can’t buy and you can’t get back.
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