Janina Gavankar Talks "Waiting For Godot"
See our review of "Waiting For Godot" here!
True artists can adapt to any setting.
On True Blood, Janina Gavankar's known for her shapeshifting. However, she's just as captivating musically as she is on screen. Her single, "Waiting For Godot", traipses between haunting classical swells, dubstep chaos, and heartfelt electronic soul. It's wonderfully unpredictable and overwhelmingly refreshing. Nobody's touched upon an amalgam this intriguing in years, and that's why "Waiting For Godot" is so unflinchingly thrilling.
However, "Waiting For Godot" isn't the only weapon in Gavankar's arsenal. She's prepping an EP for release soon, and it'll undoubtedly bring everything to another plateau altogether.
In this exclusive interview, Janina Gavankar spoke to ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino about "Waiting For Godot" and so much more.
What does "Waiting For Godot" mean to you?
Honestly, no specific song is processed. The process of creation for each song has been completely different and will most likely continue to be so. I never go into a writing session with a clear plan of where I want to end up. I will try to collaborate with somebody I'm obsessed with. That's how it usually starts. It's like I want to make little music babies with people [Laughs]. Think of it as musically making out with somebody like, "I like you so much! I love your brain. You're so talented. Let's do something" [Laughs]. They always start with a specific conversation. I'm much more interested in having a conversation with somebody else than setting out to "write a great song". This is a concept I've been wanting to write for a while. I had it in my little bank of ideas. Waiting For Godot is a play by Samuel Beckett. If you're a theater kid, you've probably studied it at some point in your life. It's about two men who wait for a man who never comes. It really represents an unrequited "something". I wanted to use it as a launch pad for a conversation. I started from there. Now, you know where it ended up!
Did you have any lyrical ideas before the music was written?
Well, I had the concept of Waiting For Godot. I always like to give myself these weird, strange challenges. For example, I only want to use 13 words in the first verse. Then, you're like, "Fuck, it's a long ass verse. How am I going to do that? Well, alright." I like the idea of revealing words on a page as you go. It's like sight-reading a piece of music. When you sit down and sight-read, your eyes can only really accept one chord at a time. At least mine can! When I play a piece on my marimba, it's like, "note, note, note" and then you back up and there's an entire piece or passage of a song. I wanted to play the idea of revealing as you go. That's how the first verse was built.
Is it important for you to find a way for all of these instruments and sounds to coexist?
Absolutely! I went to a friend of mine named Cory Enemy, who I've loved for a while. I found dubstep in 2008. Nobody knew what the fuck it was, and I thought it was this really cool thing, specifically because the rhythms remind me of a drumline bassline. I'm a marching band nerd [Laughs]. I took it very seriously in high school. The bassline in a drumline is four or five drums, and they all play rhythm together. They're mostly linear. I was attracted to dubstep for that reason. Only about five people were making dubstep at the time, and Cory Enemy was one of them. I kept my eye on him for a while. I finally met him, and he played me the rest of his material. I fell in love with the rest of the stuff. When I sent him "Waiting For Godot" to build a track around, we talked about the world I wanted it to be in and instrumentation. We had a starting point. Then, I talked about what emotions I wanted to feel as we went through the whole journey of the song. He sent me back this amazing track, and I went, "Holy shit! He one-upped me so much." I went back into the studio and wrote the choir breakdown. I think there are 25 parts in the choir. I sent it back, and he finished it from there. When a track is being built, I like to have what I call, "characters", stand out in the eco-system. You can hear this trumpet that starts you into the world, and there's a beautiful violin. That's a definite character in the story being told. Cory has a friend, who's now a friend of mine, named Caitlin Moe. She came in and played all of the violins on "Waiting For Godot". She's the youngest violinist to every play for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. She's this alien-talented girl [Laughs]. She came in and brought her own voice as a violinist. It was like a piece of marble we chipped away at until it was perfect.
It doesn't fit within any box.
People don't know what the hell to call it. That pleases me because I don't want to call it anything. I don't want to put a label on it. I do identify with IDM in some ways, but there's nothing dance about this track. This is an audiophile's project. I didn't set out to pick a genre and stick in it. "Waiting For Godot" can mean whatever it means to you. Anything unrequited you struggle with feels ugly. There are moments of fear. At some point, you let go. I wanted to create a soundscape that illustrated all of the things you feel when you never really get what you're hoping or waiting for. I remember where I was sitting in my closet. I sat on the floor in this little shag rug and had this in-depth conversation with Cory about what those feelings are and how ugly they are. With everybody I collaborate with, I'm very interested in admitting the things you're not proud of in yourself.
What's your take on the EP as a whole?
Each piece is so different. The only thing that might be similar is I'm singing on all of them [Laughs]. I suppose since I'm sitting in front of my computer for hours and hours there will be some sort of connection between them all. One feels like a sculpture. One feels like a painting. One feels like fucking cross-stitch. They all feel different. I have no idea which songs will make the EP.
To a degree, do you aim to evoke visuals with the music?
That's very important to me. I'm always thinking visually as I'm writing. You never know if it's going to translate or not. The visuals in my head are a large part of how I want a song to unfold.
What tends to inspire you?
I go between importing and exporting in the little hard drive in my brain. It's culture in general and the humans around me. I'm downloading culture and exporting all of the things I'm influenced by in songs.
To make art that lasts you have to siphon from as many places as possible.
Absolutely! As an actor, I'm a sponge. I turn into different people because I'm watching people all the time. They definitely inform each other. This is all of the sounds in my head, all of the things I want to talk about, and all of the people I want to work with. It's one-hundred percent me.
What artists shaped you?
I didn't listen to the radio until I got to college so I don't even really have anybody like that. I only listened to classical music. I'm still listening to it. There's no one person. My favorite CD in the entire world is Van Cliburn playing Rachmaninoff. It's like the most perfect album in the entire world.
Get the single on iTunes Tuesday August 28!