Janina Gavankar is probably best known for her time on HBO’s acclaimed series True Blood, but the actress is taking the music world by storm as a performer and an advocate for music education after collaborating with the Jersey Surf Drum & Bugle Corps on a cover of Martin Garrix’s EDM single “Don’t Look Down” featuring Usher.
“Don’t Look Down” isn’t Gavankar’s first foray into music. She studied classical music, received training as a pianist, vocalist, and orchestral percussionist, and grew up as a drum corps fan.
“I’ve been in love with drum corps since I was 13 years old,” Gavankar said. “The level of musicianship, precision, [and] the passion grabbed me and engrained a work ethic in my brain.”
Gavankar wanted to return to her roots for her next project. After hearing Garrix’s song, she knew exactly what she wanted to do.
“I had this idea that I could translate that entire piece to real instrumentation, and if I could just get a hold of a drum corps it would be epic.” She pitched the idea to Drum Corps International’s John DeNovi, who put her in touch with Bob Jacobs, director of the Jersey Surf. The video features 50 alumni, staff, and current members of Jersey Surf in addition to Gavankar, who not only provided the vocals for the track but also took a turn on snare and marimba for the video.
Gavankar credits much of her success as an actress to her training in the arts.
“Having an arts education makes you better at whatever you’re going to be,” she said. “It doesn’t mean you have to end up an artist. I’ve ended up in a completely different field than what I trained in, growing up. But, I am so much stronger, every day, because I have a platform based on an arts education.”
After studying theatre performance at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Gavankar appeared in many movies and TV series like HBO’s True Blood, FX’s The League, and NBC’s The Mysteries of Laura. She returned to music in 2010 with a cover of Kanye West’s track “Love Lockdown,” which she credits with helping her land her role on True Blood.
“I know for a fact that when I was up for ‘True Blood’ they saw ‘Love Lockdown’,” Gavankar told Billboard’s Zach Dionne in 2012. “I know these things help me explain myself and the level of work that I’m interested in achieving. It’s a way of expressing my artistic voice without having to shout it and say ‘I promise! I’m really artistic! Just trust me!’ I have a creative mind and I will bring something extra to the table when you hire me.”
Gavankar is used to working quickly on her music projects. On her previous video “Waiting for Godot,” the video was shot in a single day. While she may have had a little more time than that with “Don’t Look Down,” the project took just three weeks to go from concept to finished product.
“Why did I do this? Art for art’s sake,” Gavankar said. “I love drum corps.”
UPDATE: The reviews are rolling in on “Don’t Look Down.” Check out what Questlove from Grammy-award winning band The Roots had to say:
— Questlove Gomez (@questlove) April 7, 2015