Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament Takes His Music on Film for Under the Banner of Heaven

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Photo: EW

Jeff Ament, best known for his performances on stage with rock band Pearl Jam, is now lending his talent on screen. 

The music for Andrew Garfield’s Under the Banner Heaven was written by Ament, who blends atmospheric piano and heavy guitar to create an emotive score that is quite frightening, marking his first time composing a 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.” 

When the composer was asked to pitch his talent for Under The Banner Of Heaven by creator Dustin Lance Black, who adapted from Jon Krakauer’s book, he finally found the project he had been looking forward to for a long time. 

The show is a fascinating look into the real-life case of Brenda Lafferty and her baby daughter. It explores how the double murder connects with the 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. 

By chance, 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 is a long-time Pearl Jam fan, he claims. 

“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.” 

To make the song sound more ancient, he, alongside his co-musicians, tried out using some old instruments to give it that vibe while still balancing rock music.

“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.