Jeff Ament, best known for being Pearl Jam’s bassist and on-stage performances, is now taking that talent to new heights.
The music for Andrew Garfield’s true crime series Under the Banner Heaven was written by Ament, who combines atmospheric piano and heavy guitar to create a quite disturbing emotive score. This is also the first time the musician is composing an original soundtrack for a film or TV.
“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 been waiting for the perfect project, but it took a while before he found what was suitable for him. Finally, when asked by Dustin Lance Black, who created Under the Banner Of Heaven, an adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s book, he knew this was it.
The show tells the real-life case of a woman named Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter, who was murdered and how their deaths are connected to extreme Mormon fundamentalism. It also explores its ties to 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.
Coincidentally, 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.”
His love for Pearl Jam is something that Black has been carrying with him since 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 of the most significant obstacles.
“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.”
He and his co-musicians tried using ancient instruments to give the tune an aged sound 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.