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Saunder Jurriaans

By Kevin Zimmerman

Saunder Jurriaans Goes The Distance

“From small beginnings come great things,” according to the proverb, and that’s certainly held true for composer/musician Saunder Jurriaans.

The mostly self-taught Jurriaans (“I had a few classical guitar lessons”) dropped out of the Rhode Island School of Design and, after playing with a few pick-up bands and working some graphic construction jobs, reconnected with high school friend Daniel Bensi, with whom he formed the band Priestbird before they eventually formed Stenfert Charles, a production house whose greatest success of late has come with composing for motion pictures.

“I started out as pretty much anybody else,” Jurriaans says, “getting into heavy metal, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd … all the old stuff.”

First signed to Atlantic Records as Tarantula – whose name was eventually changed to Priestbird for legal reasons – the band spent about six years recording and touring, evolving what he describes as the “dramatic, cinematic” blend of music that both he and Bensi were naturally attracted to.

“It’s really a symbiotic relationship,” Jurriaans explains. “A lot of times when you’re collaborating, egos can get in the way, but that hasn’t been the case here. I really feel pretty lucky to be able to pay the bills with music.”

By 2010 Priestbird had run its course, but the pair continued to hone their skills. Later that year, they were asked by director Alistair Banks Griffin to score his short film Two Gates of Sleep, which went on to play the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes. From there they’ve gone on to score various features and shorts, including Ruben Östlund’s Play (which also played Cannes), PBS American Experience’s The Amish, and, most notably, Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, last year’s art-house hit that screened in the “UnCertain Regard” section at Cannes, won several critics’ association awards and launched star Elizabeth Olsen’s career.

Their slate of forthcoming films includes Simon Killer, which played at this year’s Sundance; Desert Cathedral,a sort-of tone poem that features a heavily percussive soundtrack; Bluebird, starring Mad Men’s John Slattery; and the ESPN documentary Ghosts of Old Mississippi.

The pair are also in the midst of putting together an album of new material, though no release date has been formalized. “Again, it’s very epic in feel, and represents a cross-section of what we can do in terms of instrumentation – the two of us play everything except woodwinds and horns.”

Of film composing, he says, “We’re still learning the best ways of doing it. It takes a lot of organization, which can be a little intimidating!”

“A lot of the music gets recorded in my living room,” Jurriaans continues, “and since then it’s had a snowball effect. We’ve always been good at networking, and now we’ve established ourselves with a lot of producers, directors and actors. We feel that we’re just hitting our stride.”

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