Jersey Surf helps Janina Gavankar unleash her inner band geek

True Blood actress teams up with drum corps in new music video

Electronic dance music and drum corps may seem like strange bedfellows, but in Janina Gavankar’s latest music video—“Don’t Look Down” #JustAddDrumCorps Edition—the musical marriage works perfectly.

Inspired by an original Martin Garrix/Usher collaboration, the remix features Gavankar singing and playing marimba and snare drum, backed by the power of Drum Corps International’s Jersey Surf.

The video opens with Gavankar singing in a room surrounded by 50 Surf members. A drone-mounted camera literally flies along beside her as she moves through the group, which backs her with the intensity of a DCI show. Eventually, she stops stops singing, grabs some mallets, and joins the Surf's marimba section. If it weren’t for her TV-star camera presence and the pop-style effects on her voice, you’d think she’d just come out of spring training with a drum corps.

Janina Gavankar takes center stage during the taping of her #JustAddDrumCorps music video edition of 'Don't Look Down.'

Janina Gavankar takes center stage during the taping of her #JustAddDrumCorps music video edition of 'Don't Look Down.'

“I fell in love with drum corps when I was 13 years old,” says Gavankar, who may be best known for her role as Luna on the HBO series “True Blood” and Papi on Showtime’s “The L Word.” “The level of musicianship, the precision, the passion grabbed me and engrained a work ethic in my brain [that] I still use today.”

Gavankar had the idea for the remix when a Garrix tune came up on her workout music one day, and she re-imagined it in the style of marching music. Combining her love for drum corps and the exploding world of EDM gave Gavankar a chance to demonstrate her appreciation for marching ensembles while expressing her support of performing arts education.

But to get started, she first needed a corps.

The actress contacted DCI with the project, and was connected to the Surf, a unit accustomed to pushing musical boundaries and entertaining audiences. It turned out to be the perfect match of creator and corps.

Gavankar poses with Jersey Surf performers in the studio. 

Gavankar poses with Jersey Surf performers in the studio. 

“We jumped all-in at the opportunity to assist Janina in bringing the vision to life, and strapped in for a wild and breathtakingly fast ride,” says Jersey Surf Executive Director Bob Jacobs. "With tremendous effort on the part of current and former corps members, staff and friends of the corps, and thanks to outstanding support from Neil Larrivee at Vic Firth and several other corporate partners, we were able to pull things together with lightning speed."

As luck would have it, the Surf’s New Jersey location was conveniently near Gavankar’s current “day job” on the set of NBC’s "The Mysteries of Laura," which is shot in and around New York City.

After assembling a production crew and working with Surf design staffer and Boston Crusaders alum Colin Bell on the arrangement, the project got under way. It was all put together from conception to “final cut” in a matter of weeks.

Gavankar’s high-energy remix of “Don’t Look Down” is a lot of fun, but the project also has a serious message—to highlight the way arts education enhances the lives of students.

“My piano teacher, Linda Kramper, taught me how to make a piece of music my own,” she says. “To find the emotionality in its entirety. I don’t know how she infused that in a tiny child, but it is the basis for how I break down every scene and script now.”

Gavankar with the Joliet (Ill.) West Marching Band during her high school years.

Gavankar with the Joliet (Ill.) West Marching Band during her high school years.

Growing up near Chicago, Gavankar developed an interest in drum corps while playing the marimba in high school marching band and concert percussion ensemble, when she received instruction from former Cavaliers percussionist Fred King. “He was like a superhero to me,” she says. “[He] challenged me to take a step up every day.”

Although she auditioned for the Rockford, Illinois-based Phantom Regiment while still in high school, she ended up spending the subsequent summer at a Yale University drama program. But while she never officially marched with the corps, she came away inspired by their commitment, hard work, and character—qualities that have helped her throughout her life.

Since breaking through on The L Word in 2007, the acting side of Gavankar’s career has kept her busy, yet she’s never stopped making music. Trained in orchestral marimba, she plays (and sings) on various film scores, licenses original songs, and has starred in several music videos. She even recorded a vocal/marimba cover of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” back in 2010.

“Having an arts education makes you better at whatever you’re going to be,” she says, “It doesn’t mean you have to end up an artist. I am so much stronger, every day, because I have a platform based on an arts education.”