A lot went into writing your favorite song, but how much do you really know about it? This week Peter McMurray, vocalist and guitarist of Seattle pop-rock band The Union Street Orchestra, delves into traveling around Peru, saying goodbye to a best friend and performing at his high school reunion.
Song: Dangerous World
Album: Dangerous World
Release Date: November 4, 2012
When it was written: This song was actually written in two major segments on two separate occasions. I wrote the first half of the song during my senior year of high school in 2010, and I wrote the other part during the summer after I graduated.
Where it was written: The first half was written in my parent's music room. They had this old keyboard by their back windows that faced out towards the mountains, and I thought it was gorgeous, so I did a lot of writing there. I was thinking about the upcoming graduation and all the changes in life one day while I was playing piano there and started to write about it. The second half of the song was written in Iquitos, Peru. After I graduated, I went on a trip with a few friends to all over Peru to do humanitarian work and service projects in different cities and villages. While I was there, I realized that this was one of the last times I would be with my best friend before college made us go separate ways, so I decided to write part of the song about that.
We were staying at a family friends' house in Peru that was under renovation while we were there. In Peru, they have this wonderful thing called Siesta hours where in the middle of the day, all the businesses close down and everyone goes home for a few hours to sleep and relax. About midway through the trip, during Siesta hours, I felt inspired to finish this song. But everyone in the house was asleep. So, while clutching my beat up Fender guitar, I climbed up into the half-built upper level of the house where I could be alone and finish the song.
Favorite line in the song: "It's a dangerous world for dreamers, but a desperate world for dreams." When we're kids, the world is filled with so much possibility. We want to be astronauts, firemen, rockstars, dancers, or anything else we can think of. But as we grow older, we start to abandon our dreams. We start to think of them as unrealistic and childish. I think it's important to hold onto our dreams, regardless of the difficulty that might come in bringing it to life. It might be idealistic to think that way, but I believe it's the dreamers who truly impact this world and change it for the better.
I love this line because it has the contrast between how the world can be dangerous for dreamers because of the vast amounts of opposition and trial in the pursuit of dreams and how the world needs the positive influence that can be provided by accomplishing what your heart truly longs for.
Which part was the hardest to come up with: I think the hardest part was trying to tie it all together. Since it was written at two different points with two similar but different influences, it was difficult to pull all the themes into one song and make it work.
If you could go back and change anything, what would it be: The song teeters between a love song and a inspirational graduation song at this moment.
I think if I was to go back and work on it further, I would want to tip it one direction or the other. Either make it completely about moving on with life and pursuing dreams or make it a sad love song about goodbyes and what not.
Odd fact about song: Even though it was a love song, I wasn't actually in love with either of the people I wrote it about.
What was your inspiration for writing the song: I was inspired partially by my upcoming graduation. Life was changing and I was reaching the point where I needed to decide what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. If I was going to "follow my dreams" so to speak, this was the moment where the rubber needed to meet the road. I was also inspired by two people. One was my girlfriend at the time. She was going off to a college that was quite a ways off, so we decided we needed to break up. So I wrote the last few lines in the song about her: "It's a dangerous world for lovers, it's a dangerous world indeed. I'm in love with a girl, in this dangerous world, and the girl that I love must leave."
The other was my best friend at the time, Greg. The two of us had been in a band together for years and he was my closest friend. He was also going off to college far away and I realized that we were probably going to head off in our own directions now. So the first parts of the song about seeking after your dreams and the chorus about the places you'll go were about him. So ultimately, that's why part of the song is graduation inspiration and part of it is romantical. Part was influenced by a girlfriend and part by a best friend.
When was your favorite time performing it live: This past year, I was invited back to my high school to perform this song for the graduating class of 2012. It was during the graduation assembly so all of the seniors, plus all the juniors and sophomores were there. In addition, there were faculty members, friends, and family of the graduates.
So I was performing in front of at least 2,000 people. The assembly, like most assemblies at my old high school, was rather uninteresting for the first half. Lots of teachers were giving speeches, and the choir performed a few songs. But the overall energy level was very low. So when I got up to play, I went up to the mic and I said, "How's everybody doing?" as energetically as I could. I could a mild shout in response so I tried again, "Come on now, this is supposed to be a celebration. How are you all doing?" And I have never heard anything like it in my life. 2,000 plus voices screaming out as loud as they could.
What is the meaning behind the song: The song has two main goals. One is to be somewhat inspiring to those who are headed out into the world for the first time on their own and the other was to tell a story about change and loss that others might relate to. The basic storyline that I wanted the listener to picture was a boy saying goodbye to a girl at a train station, and this song is all the things he would say to her before she leaves. When the song starts, he still has some time before the train departs to talk with her, so he doesn't want to bring up the fact that she's leaving so he talks about seeking after her dreams. Then on the chorus he tries to encourage her by telling her about all the places she'll go and that they'll meet again someday. But he's still holding back how he truly feels.
During the bridge of the song, the music starts to build. Specifically, we tried to make it sound like a train slowly gaining its momentum and getting louder and louder. This is the part where the boy truly realizes that not only is this his last moment with her but that he is truly in love with her, but can't find the words to tell her. Finally the bridge gets super loud and the music dies down to just the acoustic guitar and the piano and the boy finally admits that he loves her. But by this point, the girl had departed on the train. For the last verse, the boy comments on how not only the world is dangerous for her and her dreams but how the world is dangerous for lovers because the girl that he loved had to leave. So the first verse about dreams are meant to inspire the girl in the story, but I also wanted to make it potentially inspirational to anyone who listens to it. However, the main focus was to tell this tale about the loss of a friend/lover because I think that is something all of us have to go through and can relate to.