Among the nominations for the upcoming Emmy Awards, at least one category can be cited for helping level the racial/gender playing field in Hollywood. Amanda Jones is a black woman becoming entrenched in the historically, stubbornly white male-oriented film/TV scoring world, and she has been given validation and the respect of her peers with an Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Composition for a Documentary Series or Special (Original Dramatic Score),” for the unique documentary series “Home” (Apple TV+).
With a growing resume, composing for shows on HBO, BET, and various film projects, Jones is realizing a dream, while busting a mold or two. She heads the inventive and still-active indie band, The Anti-Job, while building her cred as a young film/TV composer on the rise, seemingly straddling two separate musical orbits.
But, as she explains, the two worlds converged for her Emmy-nominated project: “Working on Home was a refreshing departure from some of the other scores I had been working on and it was an opportunity to really get back to writing in a way that I had typically reserved for indie songwriting and writing an album for my band.”
In a recent interview, Jones stopped to take stock of her musical life in upward motion, pre-Emmy night.
How has this pandemic affected you, and is there any silver lining for your creative life?
Work-wise, I’ve been busier than ever and working on all sorts of television series, commercials, films, etc. I feel truly blessed that I’ve been able to maintain a full schedule. Personal life during Covid, however, has been tragic and challenging to say the least–and I know I’m not the only one experiencing it.
It’s been a year full of the highest highs and the lowest lows. I definitely look forward to calmer days.
Your “Home” work plays nicely as a listening experience on its own, as well as integrating into the show’s context. Were you granted pretty open creative license on the project?
Yes, I was. The creative team at Apple TV+ along with the executive producers on the series really wanted me to lean into my songwriter sensibility for the score, and the musical framework was pretty wide open from there. After those initial creative conversations, we settled on a sonic palette that incorporated my voice with electric and acoustic guitars, analog synths, piano, drums, bass and violin.
Your background includes studying classical guitar at Vassar, film scoring at Berklee and being mentored by such composers as Hans Zimmer. Was there a catalyst for your desire to go into film scoring?
From a young age, I became infatuated with films purely based on their scores–not necessarily songs, but big musical numbers or story (laughs). The music would draw me in, and that’s a trait that’s stayed with me to this day.
Fast forward to 2014-2015 after I had spent 4-5 years in Los Angeles touring and writing albums with my band, and I decided to incorporate scoring for film/television into my musical life and practice. Living in Los Angeles, you inevitably cross paths with the film and television world and that’s when I realized writing music in that capacity was a viable career path to pursue alongside performing with my band.
Are there certain film composers you were especially influenced by or impressed with?
I absolutely adore composers Ennio Morricone, Jóhann Jóhannsson, and John Williams, but the list of influences continues with other artists like The Temptations, Jimi Hendrix, Yes, Deerhoof, St. Vincent, The Pixies, Bjork and so on. All of these incredible musicians are a swirling influence that’s shaped some of my musical decisions when writing for film/television.
TV has blown wide open in many ways in recent years, including the sheer quantity of work—and good work. Are you happy to be part of this still-new media/cultural revolution?
Yes, I am. There’s so much incredible content being made with such an array of diverse voices. I’m grateful that I’m able to work on projects that I authentically really love and connect with.
You are a member of the Alliance of Women Film Composers. Was it hard for you to break into that mostly male-driven world, for gender as well as racial reasons? And do you find the slow shift within the industry encouraging, from the scoring end of the film industry?
Statistically as a POC woman, specifically a Black woman, we make up less than 1% of composers on top 200 films and televisions series in the U.S. So yes, the initial entry into a field that’s predominately white male was jarring to say the least, but I think it’s important, especially at the beginning of the journey, to celebrate every small victory and incremental success.
Inclusive composer communities like the Alliance of Women Composers and the Composers Diversity Collective provide safe spaces for female and minority composers to really thrive and feel supported as they’re building their careers. I’m grateful to have had those spaces available to me, to lean on as I was navigating the film and television industry. The slow shift is encouraging and I’m hopeful more diverse musical voices will continue to be staffed on film and television productions.
Your indie band The Anti-Job beautifully defies categorization and seems to mix experimental ideas with infectious hooks and pop tools (as with the song “You Caught My Heart by Surprise”). Is the band name a reference to artistic freedom vs. jobbing?
Yes! The band’s name is all about pursuing your passion. Fun and simple.
Is that project something important to you, as an alternative and collaborative—not to mention live—musical outlet, compared to the more solitary scoring life?
Yes, my band The Anti-Job means the world to me. There’s nothing like writing original music for yourself, recording it, releasing it into the world and experiencing the joy and catharsis of performing it live.
I also love touring with this group. We’re all best friends, my husband is the drummer, and there’s nothing like being in a different city each night meeting all sorts of people. There are so many lovely pockets of America I would have never traveled to, if it wasn’t for touring with the band.
Are you actively working on projects now, or do you feel that you’re in a retrenchment mode, awaiting the return of “real life” and your career already-in-motion?
This year has been way busier than I could’ve imagined. Lots of new projects. I recently wrote the score for Freeform’s scripted series “Love in the Time of Corona” and I am currently working on a handful of new television series and feature length films that I’ll be able to announce soon.
More generally, do you have an idea of how you’d like your musical life to play out? Maybe finding the right balance of scoring to other personal bands and projects?
Long term, I’d love to strike that balance of touring with my band for a good portion of the year, perhaps a summer festival circuit and devoting the other portion of the year to composing for film/television. Right now, I really want to cement my place as the go-to name in the scoring world.
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