Since they released their debut E.P. in 2014, L.A.-based cool-girl band MUNA have always mixed the melodic exuberance of their alt-pop music with lyrics that don’t shy away from the serious stuff, addressing issues like sexual assault and failed relationships. In their latest single—premiering on TIME in advance of their debut album, About U, due in February—they’ve created an anthem for the safety of the LGBTQ community. “I Know a Place” is meant as a rallying cry and a reminder that safe spaces can exist, but its catchy, uplifting melody also makes it worthy of replaying over and over again.
“‘I Know A Place’ was never supposed to be a funeral hymn,” explains MUNA’s lead vocalist Katie Gavin. “It was meant to be a work song, like Yoko Ono’s full-page ad in the New York Times that proclaimed, ‘War Is Over!’ in December of 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War. We wrote our song to be the voice in your head that tells you to celebrate peace during wartime, because our battle is only just beginning, and one day our war really will be over.”
Here’s the full story behind the song, in Gavin’s words:
A good friend of mine was diagnosed with liver cancer when we were in high school. She was 16. Some time later, upon hearing that a surgery had not gone as well as hoped, I sat down with my guitar and wrote her a song. A few other good friends of hers strung together some photographs to make a music video and we sent it to her to watch from her hospital bed. When those same friends gathered together less than two years later to sing the song at her funeral, the dissonance was jarring. This was meant to be a work song, to see her through the hard days when the task of healing was tiring. It was not supposed to be a funeral hymn.
In June of 2015, we as a band decided that our LGBTQ community deserved a new song for Pride Week. This was days after the Supreme Court ruled that state-level bans on same-sex marriages were in violation of the Constitution of the United States, and it felt like the whole country was celebrating.
But as we began to write, I couldn’t help but think that although we had won this particular battle, the hatred and fear ailing our nation seemed as malignant as ever.
I knew this because people were still dying.
At least 21 transgender women were murdered in 2015. A disproportionate percent of our country’s homeless youth were (and are) LGBTQ adolescents, forced to reckon with the impossible task of staying healthy and safe without a home or proper healthcare.
We knew that if we were to make a song that truly spoke to the American LGBTQ community in 2015, it would need to address both victory and violence.
With “I Know A Place,” we chose to imagine a place where none of us would need to be afraid. In honor of Pride and the rich LGBTQ history of turning bars and ballrooms into safe havens, the space we imagined was a dance club:
I can tell when you get nervous
You think being yourself means being unworthy
And it’s hard to love with a heart that’s hurting
But if you want to go out dancing
I know a place
I know a place we can go
Where everyone’s gonna lay down their weapons
At the time, we intended the dance club to serve as a metaphor. Then, on June 12th, 2016, a gunman walked into Latin Night at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida — a queer space, a brown space, a safe space — and shot 49 people to death.
“I Know A Place” was never supposed to be a funeral hymn. It was meant to be a work song, like Yoko Ono’s full-page ad in the New York Times that proclaimed, “War Is Over!” in December of 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War. We wrote our song to be the voice in your head that tells you to celebrate peace during wartime, because our battle is only just beginning, and one day our war really will be over.
It was also meant to serve as encouragement for our community to remain vulnerable and kind and hopeful in the face of violence. We cannot build a better world without first imagining what that world might look like, and by creating that space inside ourselves first.
After the Pulse shooting, the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus led a crowd of two thousand people outside City Hall in song:
We are a gentle, angry people
And we are singing
Singing for our lives
We sang with a unified voice that cried out, “We do not accept that this is what our world will look like.” And that night, people all over the country went out dancing—not just because it was Pride Weekend, but because they felt it important not to give in to fear in the face of hate.
People came together in dive bars, bedrooms, and places of worship to celebrate and to grieve, to love and protect one another, and this gentle resilience was nothing less than radical resistance.
Today, in this Post-Trump America, many of us feel badly bruised. We, as a band, understand this. We believe it is a mistake to see this incoming administration as anything other than a threat to the livelihood of our brothers and sisters; the LGBTQ+ community, the Muslim Ummah, women, POC’s, indigenous Americans, undocumented people, the working class, and beyond. At the same time, we believe it is a mistake to say that a man whose best assets are hate and fear truly represents America. We say this because America has always been an idea, a utopian concept of a multiethnic, multicultural democratic republic, and therefore its home lies in the imagination, not in the House or the Senate or in a Trump Tower. In the bridge of the song, we implore:
They will try to make you unhappy; don’t let them
They will try to tell you you’re not free; don’t listen
I know a place where you don’t need protection
Even if it’s only in my imagination
Let us push ourselves to imagine a peaceful America where no one has to live in fear. Let us continue to build spaces with our humble means that reflect the America of which we dream. Let us keep up the fight.
Let us keep singing for our lives.