What happens when you #JustAddDrumCorps? Actress and singer Janina Gavankar set out to find out in an ambitious and artistic music video project with the Jersey Surf Drum and Bugle Corps. Her cover of “Don’t Look Down,” a song by Martin Garrix featuring Usher, remixes electronic dance music into a futuristic video with drum corps, a flying drone, and her own special vocal and percussion talents.
“[The idea] just came to me so hard and so fast that I just never questioned it; I just wanted to make it happen so badly,” says Gavankar, perhaps best known for her roles on True Blood and The L Word. “It also just makes me a little angry that nobody’s done anything like this with drum corps before. Why is this the first crossover project? Hopefully it’s the first of many.”
Gavankar grew up singing and playing piano. In her high school band, she played mallet percussion and marched tenor drum and center snare. She auditioned for the Phantom Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps but ended up going to a prestigious drama camp instead.
“When I was 15, I was center snare in the middle of the football field with 100+ band members … and it was my job to set the tone and tempo for the entire field, and I took that responsibility so seriously,” Gavankar says. “I can’t think of another musical experience that puts that on somebody, especially somebody in that age range. It marked me for life.”
When Gavankar had the idea of adding drum corps to the Garrix tune, she reconnected with Drum Corps International’s John DeNovi and Bob Jacobs of Jersey Surf, who she had met while attending Drum Corps International World Championships in 2013.
“She’s self-admittedly a drum corps geek,” Jacobs says. “She had so much respect for the performers as they were coming in that it was fun because there was no ego to the whole thing. It was a great collaboration.”
Jacobs connected Gavakar with Colin Bell—who wrote additional parts and arranged the song in just one night. With a limited amount of time to finish the project, everything began falling into place—from the black box theater location to the lighting, to the Vic Firth-donated drumsticks, to the Tyvek suits worn by the performers.
“This whole project has felt like some strange pixie dust has been draped all over it,” says Gavankar, who was particularly impressed by the musicians that participated in the recording. “[The brass] was incredible. The drumline was incredible. These guys just came ready to rock, and there were so many magical moments.”
The track was created in two daylong studio sessions followed by a full-day video shoot. Overall the project took about a month to complete. Current and former members, staff and friends of the Jersey Surf formed the performing group.
“Most of the players that were there in the studio are in the video,” Gavankar says. “By the time we got to the video, I knew most of their names, I knew some of their life stories, I knew where they were coming from. So that was really important to me.”
Gavankar self-produced and funded the entire project herself. This is the latest in a handful of creative music video projects that she has released online. She makes no profit from the song. In fact you can download it for free on SoundCloud.
“We knew from the first moment of working with Janina that she was very sincere about being an arts education advocate,” Jacobs says. “It’s a chance to pull back the curtain and show the rest of the world what we’re so passionate about.”
Gavankar, who currently stars in NBC’s The Mysteries of Laura, hopes that this project can help drum corps awareness as well as showcase the importance of music education in schools.
“There are so many people in the world that have never heard of drum corps,” Gavankar says. “So if anybody who’s never heard of it or would never know about it takes the time to go look at it and figure it out, then we’ve already won.”
Gavankar credits Jacobs and others for their support. “I just really do have to say that there’s no way I could have made this without Bob Jacobs, the Jersey Surf and Colin Bell,” she says. “It just was a beyond-intense experience, but it was maybe the most magical month of my entire life.”
Photo courtesy of Jersey Surf