Photo: EW

Jeff Ament is a world-renowned musician who has played bass for the rock band Pearl Jam. He is famous for performing on stage, but he brings his music to the screen. 

The music for Andrew Garfield’s Under the Banner Heaven was written by Ament, his first time composing an original score for a film or TV. He uses atmospheric piano with a heavy guitar to create a scary tune. 

“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 had wanted to compose a score for a long time, but he couldn’t find his perfect project. That is until an opportunity arose, and he was asked by Dustin Lance Black, who created Under The Banner Of Heaven, a Jon Krakauer book adaptation, to pitch his skills as a musician on this film. 

The show follows the real-life case of Brenda Lafferty and her baby daughter. It also navigates how this murder involves extremist Mormon fundamentalism and the history of 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 surprising twist of fate, Ament’s Pearl Jam bandmate Eddie Vedder also scored the soundtrack for another book by Krakauer, 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 has 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 show’s ever-changing story was one major challenge.

“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.” 

Facing a challenge, he and his co-musicians tried out ancient instruments to help age this tune while still balancing their show’s 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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