Track Premiere: Shawn Patterson’s Powerful, Harriet Tubman-Inspired “My Salvation”
By Etan Rosenbloom, ASCAP Director & Deputy Editor, Marketing & Communications • May 15, 2018
Patterson’s newest creation is “My Salvation.” It’s a soulful acoustic song that might sound nothing like his best-known work, but in its expert arrangement and the powerful build to the chorus, you can hear the care and craft you’d expect for a creator who’s been in the game for over 20 years. Take a listen to “My Salvation” and read our interview with Patterson about its creation below.
What inspired you to write "My Salvation"?
When I was a kid, we read a book in class about Harriet Tubman. We learned about her journey, and that despite being put up for sale, being struck in the head with a cast iron pot, and all the other unimaginable horrors she faced…she fought on. I remember being floored by her strength and courage to constantly risk her life to help others. This story of hers never left me…it was always there in the background.
A couple months ago, I heard about Viola Davis producing (and starring in) a film about Harriet Tubman. In my mind, I could see incredibly clear images of her portraying Harriet with that intensity Viola always brings to her roles. Almost immediately, lyrics started coming to me: “Screams are the song of another buried soul / My salvation, I wield it in my hands / Burning down these tracks, this mighty train of love rolls.”
The music started coming at the same time and it was relentless. For three straight weeks, I woke up at 3am playing guitar parts, working with different instruments, and I kept hearing these rich deep voices.
Harriet Tubman has such a varied, dramatic story. How did you choose what aspect of her life to focus on?
That part was somewhat easy; the idea of an African-American woman in that ugly period of American history going up against such hatred and hostility with the incredible risk of capture and losing her life to help others spoke to me. Her taking control and doing what was in her heart – regardless of the risk – is where I had to go lyrically.
Musically-speaking, how do you decide the right vibe for a song when you're working on spec for a project for which you might not have a lot of details?
Well to be clear, I didn’t seek any musical direction from Viola Davis or her team – I just started writing and chasing this idea. I had been experimenting with altered tunings on my acoustic guitar with an almost Jimmy Page/Led Zeppelin kind of sound and that resonated for this song. As the tune was unfolding, I liked the idea of using electronic drums combined with African percussion; to me it just worked well. I added dobro as a nice flavor and had this lamenting vocal-like quality.
Your lyrics don't specifically reference Tubman. Was that a conscious choice - to have the song be as universal as possible?
I like the idea of leaving something to the imagination. Lyrically, I tried to paint images of her journey and life at the time; being guided by the North Star, blood-stained coal, faces of despair, and screams in the night, etc. There’s a lot of powerful imagery in her story and world at that time.
This song is clearly the polar opposite of "Everything Is Awesome!!!" From your perspective, is there a through line in the songs you've written for A/V projects?
None whatsoever. Unless I am writing several songs within a specific project, each song I write is its own creature; completely separate from anything else. Keeps the game interesting and far more creative.
Visit Shawn Patterson online at shawnpatterson.com