Jeff Ament is widely known for his on-stage performances under the rock band Pearl Jam as a bassist. But now, he’s taking his talent on screen.
Andrew Garfield’s Under the Banner of Heaven soundtrack was composed by Ament for his first time in film or TV. Some heavy piano notes give off an emotive vibe with menacing guitar riffs mixed, just as you would expect from this show’s soundtrack.
“I’ve always thought that I was going to make some ambient records, and I’ve done pieces here and there over the years,” Ament said in a phone interview with EW last week in between performances for Pearl Jam’s North American tour. “But I’ve never gone all-in on a project, and this felt like the perfect one.”
The composer claims that he has wanted to score a film or TV show for years, but the perfect project didn’t come along until recently when asked by Dustin Lance Black, who created Under the Banner Of Heaven, an adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s book.
The show focuses on the real-life case of Brenda Lafferty and her baby daughter, who was murdered. It also explores how this crime ties into Mormon fundamentalism as well as history within the Church of Latter-day Saints.
Under the Banner of Heaven was the right project for Ament in countless ways: He had initially read the book a few years back and has been a long-time fan of Krakauer after he got to read the author’s masterpiece in Outside magazine.
In a coincidence, Ament’s Pearl Jam bandmate Eddie Vedder also scored the soundtrack for another Krakauer book, Into the Wild.
Ament adds that he was interested in how Under the Banner of Heaven brings up questions of faith and fundamentalism, exploring a complex true story with gradation and empathy.
“I had my own sort of religious unraveling,” Ament states. “There were a lot of things about the story that I felt like I could tap into from an emotional standpoint.”
Black says he’s been a Pearl Jam fan for as long as he can remember.
“I felt like this show needed to feel like it had the tension of a true-crime thriller, but it also needed to feel bolted to the Earth,” Black says. “That was something I felt Jeff would be able to bring.”
The biggest challenge was figuring out how to transition between scenes and incidents in a way that made sense.
“The historical montages were trickier because we didn’t want to go into full banjo mode,” Ament spells out. “I think when you see those sorts of movies, that’s kind of what happens, where they’re playing the instruments of the time or whatever.”
While experimenting with some ancient instruments, he and his co-musicians tried aging the tune while still balancing a rock vibe.
“It allowed us to go into vintage sound without getting into, like, Western music,” the 59-year-old musician adds.
“There were times when we were leaning pretty hard on the ambient thing,” Ament states, laughing. “Sometimes [Black] was like, ‘I want it to be heavier. I want it to be more rock.’ Which was cool! Initially, we were trying not to be too rock, and he was so great at guiding us without over-directing it.” Ament looks forward to more scoring opportunities after Under the Banner of Heaven.
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