Apr 10, 2015
Photo credit: Brie Childers
You may be most familiar with Janina Gavankar from one of her many acting roles, most likely as Luna Garza on HBO’s True Blood, but the actress is also a talented musician. Graduating with a degree in Theatre Performance from University of Illinois in Chicago, Gavankar has received both musical and theatrical training. She is multi-instrumental as a trained pianist, vocalist, and percussionist. Although she has focused on her acting career, Gavankar has continued to hone her musical skills over the years. Now Gavankar is returning to the musical world with her release of a cover of Martin Garrix and Usher’s “Don’t Look Down,” and it is a wonderfully imaginative cover at that.
For her reinterpretation of Martin Garrix and Usher’s electronic dance single “Don’t Look Down,” Gavankar decided to change things by recruiting some live instrumentation. As a percussionist herself, she decided to team up with fifty members of The Jersey Surf Dram and Bugle Corps to create a truly lush production behind her soaring vocals. The result of the collaboration is a hugely dramatic performance that wonderfully reintroduces Janina Gavankar to the musical scene.
Gavankar’s “Don’t Look Down” features a dramatic instrumental track, breathing new life into Garrix’s electronic production. The production feels much more organic, and it is all the more dazzling as a result. Listening to the song takes me back to the days of watching halftime performances from the band at my brother’s high school football games, but unsurprisingly The Jersey Surf Drum and Bugle Corps take things to an entirely more professional (and talented) level. This is a direction that pop music should further explore in the coming years.
EDM is great, but it isn’t the only option as evidenced by this wonderful sound. The song is filled with joy in this iteration and the inclusion of live instrumentation brings a more relatable edge to the track. The original “Don’t Look Down” was already made for more than breaking it down in the club, but this adds even more power to the message.
Vocally, “Don’t Look Down” is the perfect song for Gavankar’s expansive range. Usher is clearly an accomplished vocalist, but Gavankar’s vocal take is equally impressive. Her voice resonates with warmth as it rises up to her highest register on the chorus. She sounds filled with hope and incredibly optimistic. Whereas some artist may have been drowned out by the instrumentation and production, Gavankar’s voice sounds entirely at home on the track. There is limited production on her vocals, and she performs with the drama and precision that directly correlates to her years of training. Personally, I could listen to her crescendo on the phrase “don’t look down” for hours on end, because it is chilling in its perfection.
Janina Gavankar’s “Don’t Look Down” visual sees the musician performing the single with a gloriously futuristic spin. The Jersey Surf Drum and Bugle Corp join the musician in the video, all of them donning pure white suits and performing the glorious single on a stage under some radiant violet lights. Gavankar’s outfit is particularly futuristic, as she sports a glamorous translucent necklace over a plunging white top. The fashionable musician sings the track with passion and even takes a few moments to show off her percussive skills on a variety of instruments.
Whereas the original video projected a more comically sexual image, this is all about the music. The corps performs with undeniable energy, and Janina seems ecstatic to share the stage with them. The visual reads more as a performance than a typical storied pop visual, but taking this direction was a good decision for the track. With so much production, it is nice to see the faces of everyone who provides the talent!
Overall, Janina Gavankar’s “Don’t Look Down” is a wonderful offering from the musician. She provided an entirely unique rendition of a popular track, proving that she has excellent taste and incredible musical skills. She took a risk covering a song that everyone is familiar with, but her risk paid off. I’m intrigued to see where she goes from here, and I’m hungry for more original material. Take a look at the “Don’t Look Down” music video on Janina’s YouTube channel, and let me know if you agree!