Welcome to the first in a series of articles related to the upcoming release of Year Four. For the next sixteen weeks, we’ll be talking about each song from the new album, telling the stories about how they came to be, what they mean to us, and the process we went through to write them. It’s a grand new experient where our fans get to hear the stories, so you feel like you know the songs before you even hear them! So let’s get started with the first track from Year Four, A Private Little War.
Every new song I write presents me with new challenges, but not only is this the opener for the album, it’s actually a really complex episode. I’m not going to run down the entire synopsis, but the subject matter is really right there in the title: war. In this episode, there is a planet with two villages who don’t see eye to eye. In fact, it seems as if one village is pretty much driven to destroy the other. The leader of the other tribe, however, doesn’t want war. His name is Tyree, and he is the leader of the Hill People, and a close friend of Captian Kirk. He is a pacifist, and he refuses to cave under the pressure of some who would disagree with him, his wife, Nona, being one of them. Enter the Klingons. The Klingons are providing the enemy villagers with the means to manufacture flintlock weapons, giving them a decided advantage over the less advanced Hill People. Why are the Klingons doing this? It’s not really clear, but I’m guessing it’s just because they like causing war and chaos. I don’t know that the episode really defines the motives, but the point is, they are tipping the scales for some reason. In this episode, Kirk pretty much takes a dump on the Prime Directive, but that’s really the crux of the episode. Kirk tries to aid the Hill People by helping them acquire a flintlock from their enemies, justifying his action by saying the Klingons have already done irreparable damage. Tyree refuses to be a part of this, however, and it’s only when Nona is killed that he is filled with a killing rage and decides that he’s ready to join the war. Kirk reluctantly decides to re-balance the scales by providing Tyree and his people with the means to build flintlocks, kicking off a period of war that he speculates will probably take many lives and last many years.
There’s really a lot going on in this episode, but what I found the most fascinating is Tyree and his inner struggle as he fights to do what he thinks is right, even when everyone else is trying to get him to do something else. Even moreso, I was intrigued by what that would mean to Kirk and how he would see this man, who he clearly respects and holds in high regard as a friend, as he transforms from someone who would never kill, into a man bent on revenge.
The song is from the perspective of Kirk, as he watches his friend destroyed by what is happening around him. He observes who his friend is and what he is becoming, but he also takes full responsibility for his actions, when in the chorus, he states, “Here we are. You’ll wage a private little war to save yourselves.” He knows it isn’t his fault, but he has a hand in it. The feel changes from verse to chorus, as the verse represents the build up to Tyree’s fall, and the chorus represents the eventual embrace of the chaos. There’s a keyboard part at the beginning that wasn’t intended to be there, but as so often happens, evolved in the practice room. Now listening, it’s become a consistent driving force throughout the song. I love when that happens. This turned out to be a pretty dark song, but with the subject I chose, it was difficult to be anything else. I make up for it on the B-side, but that’s another post entirely.
This was a really hard song to write. There’s a lot of pressue when writing the opener for an album, as you want it to be one that grabs a listener and makes them want to stick around for more. I had the idea early, and I had most of the lyrics quickly, but getting the music right took some time. There are several versions of this song sitting in old practice recordings in my email, but I think we ultimately landed in the right place. I’m excited to share this one, and I think it turned out as a great way to kick off Year Four. I hope our fans agree with me!
Five Year Mission
A Private Little War
Written by Chris Spurgin