On stage, army veteran Michael Trotter Jr. is fearless.

But in 2003, when Trotter was deployed to the war in Iraq, he was understandably terrified. At 19, he had become a father and enlisted in the military.

Trotter taught himself to play a piano that was previously owned by, of all people, Saddam Hussein. After almost two years in Iraq, he returned home and met Tanya Blount at a music festival. The two started working on songs together, got married and had a child. But Trotter was having trouble adjusting to civilian life; on one Fourth of July, he hid under his bed during the fireworks. He visited a veterans hospital and was diagnosed with PTSD.

His wife encouraged him to play some of the songs he had written while he was in Iraq. Most of The War and Treaty’s songs aren’t memorials, although in a way you could argue that they are. Trotter says that every night when he takes the stage, he’s reminded of all those with whom he served who can’t be there.

“On my back sits the spirit of those fallen boys and girls, and they’re cheering. I can feel it,” he says.

Trotter joined host Ronnie Littlejohn on the Gumbo Kitchen to tell us more about finding peace during his time in Iraq, how he returned to meet the love of his life, and how they made their new record Healing Tide that celebrates their love of music.

Scroll to the bottom if you’d like to listen to audio of the interview.