Extended Q&A With Janina Gavankar

Janina Gavankar in High School

Actress Janina Gavankar spoke to Halftime Magazine between shots on the set of her television show “The Mysteries of Laura,” just two days after her music video “Don’t Look Down” premiered. Click here for the original article.


Regarding the “Behind the Scenes” video…

Gavankar: Well I can always go into more detail. I was actually going through a lot of the behind the scenes footage and there’s just so much I wish I could share all of it. We have 170 gigs of behind the scenes stuff and it really shows how much effort went into making it. I was just asking if we should release a new “Behind the Scenes.” It took an insane amount of human effort and precision and art.


Halftime: What motivated you to keep going during this insanely fast process? Were you every worried it couldn’t be pulled off?

Gavankar: Strangely no, I never doubted it. I look back on it now and wonder how the heck we pulled it off in such a short amount of time as complex as it was and as ambitious as it was. But it all kind of came to me in this insane fugue state where I felt like “I have to make this, I have to do this.” …It just came to me so hard and so fast that I just never questioned it I just wanted to make it happen so badly. 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? It makes me a little crazy. Hopefully it’s the first of many.


Halftime: What was it like actually working with the performers and the drum corps member? 

Gavankar: I hung out with them all day. Most of the players that were there in the studio are in the video which made me really happy. 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.


Halftime: What was your favorite moment from this experience?

Gavankar: I would have to say learning the part–we call it H2. When we shot this whole thing we used rehearsal letters like we’re going from A to C. We put a Dr. Beat on and we’d play it. So the most stressful thing was that because we didn’t have any time to run it–because I had never had any time to practice nor did I have a snare in my apartment here in New York or in my trailer here at the show. I didn’t get to practice. I knew it in my head but I didn’t know where we were going to put the cymbal because we hadn’t built the rack, so I didn’t know where the second set of cymbals was going to be. So I didn’t practice because I was like “If I learn this wrong and make my muscle memory lock into something and we change it on the day then I’m screwed.”

So I just waited until the last second and suddenly it was like “oh shoot we’re going shoot this and I didn’t learn the part.” So I just looked at [arranger Colin Bell] with desperation and this thing happened. I’ll try to explain it. I went from utter terror and fear from being unprepared to Colin pulling out a cowbell and counting us off and I felt like I was just brought into a safe zone and I just thought to myself “ok it sucks right now but in ten minutes we’re going to run this so many times that I’m going to be fine.” It was a magical moment that took me back to the safest place of my past. It was ok to suck because with enough effort and open ears and–it’s something inside of you that just opens up and you find your way through it.

It’s not too different than what I do on set. We run our scenes over and over and over again and everybody’s in the round and we figure it out together until it’s right but there’s something very, very special about being in a group of people all working to sound like one person. It was magical and then sure enough ten minutes later I knew the part and we shot it. I have all the behind the scenes footage. I have all of the footage of me sucking and not knowing the part and being terrified and I can see my face calming and zoning in and suddenly laughing and still screwing it up and getting it right on the next one and just finding the inner fortitude to get it right fast. That was probably my favorite moment of the whole experience.


Halftime: So you just described what is was like getting back on snare. How was it getting back on mallets? 

Gavankar: I still have a marimba in Los Angeles. I still play on my friend’s film scores when he asks me to. So I feel really secure standing in front of any marimba or xylophone, and mallet percussion, even timpani. My ear’s still really solid it’s just the muscle memory of pedals. My skills are not tight on the snare. I’m sure if I did what I had to I could get it together, and if we ever do it live I promise to–I’m not going to screw it up, that’s for sure. Colin won’t let me! The Jersey Surf will hold me to it! And of course nobody’s more harsh on me than I am, that’s for sure. It’s just different. I have a practice pad in LA for sure but nobody’s asking me to play marching snare.


Halftime: Are you planning to do this live with the corps? 

Gavankar: We’d love to! I would love to see more people learn it. We have the sheet music. If people ask for it, I’m going to give it to them. This whole project has been about inclusiveness. One of the reasons I chose the Jersey Surf was not only proximity but because they’re evolving the art form. You’ve seen their shows, they’re not stand and deliver by-the-book shows. I knew I was going to make something that wasn’t traditional and I had to find a group of people where that was ok with them. Not everybody is ok with evolving an art form, especially one that’s so precise. And they were just down, they were absolutely down for it. Hell yes we want to do it live, I want everybody to do it live. If people do it live I may just fly in and do something creative. I might do something crazy, I’m down. I just really want to celebrate this art form and I want everybody to join in with me, so you know, short answer is “hell yes.”


Halftime: What is it that you like so much about drum corps that you feel differentiates it from the other types of musical entertainment out there. 

Gavankar: I would say that there is something powerful about training. There’s power in practice. There’s something meditational in practice as well. People use this to describe yoga and medicine, practice is powerful. Not all musical genres prioritize that, but that is kind of the basis of drum corps.

So there’s that and then there’s also, when I was 15 I was center snare in the middle of the football field with 100+ band members strewn about the field and I was locked into my drum major and it was my job to set the tone and tempo for the entire field and I took that responsibility so seriously and I can’t think of another musical experience that puts that on somebody especially somebody in that age range. It marked me for life.


Halftime: There’s a lot of celebrities out there that were involved in music or marching band but they never talk about it. that’s in stark contrast to you–you’re so open about it and like to talk about it–why do you think your experience stuck with you so much that you’re still out there doing this? 

Gavankar: I have no idea. I was almost a percussion performance major, so maybe I was just closer to being a full-time musician than my comrades or maybe I just had access to educators that were tipping points for me. One, Kevin Carroll he was my high school band director. It makes me laugh so much to think about it now because when I was thirteen I entered high school and he had just gotten out of college so he was twenty-three years old! What the heck. Anyway Kevin, who just Facebooked me yesterday, so he reminded me that the last concert he said to me, he got in my face and said “if you don’t keep up your music I’ll kick your ass.” I was 17 and I had never heard an adult talk to me like that. He said the word ass! Oh my goodness! I told my mother and she said “oh my!” and that stuck in my brain somewhere and that’s probably why this is such a long time coming.

The other person who really, really is the reason that all of this happened: Fred King, if you look at the video credits and scroll all the way to the bottom…there’s a special thanks. He marched in the Cavaliers. When I got to high school he had a gold stone ring from DCI. It was maybe the coolest thing I’d ever seen. It was huge, it was green, it shined in the light, he let us hold it and put it up to the sun.

The point is that this is a really long time coming, and I had I not decided to go to this summer semester at Yale and study drama the summer that I got into Phantom Regiment I would have been a tech for Phantom even now, haha. If they would have let me, if they would have me, who knows?


Halftime: What do you hope this song and video will or can do for music education and drum corps awareness? 

Gavankar: There are so many people in the world that have never heard of drum corps. So if anybody whose never heard of it or would never know about it takes the time to go look at it and figure it out we’ve already won. The other thing that I hope is that everybody who is involved or wants to be involved feels included. Because this is a celebration of drum corps in general. And I mean this song is inspirational. I chose this song that felt inclusive. I feel like we’re all holding hands and saying we’re in this together. That’s how I felt when I was making it and I still feel it. Awareness and inclusiveness.


Halftime: The video’s only been out for two days but what kind of responses and comments have you received so far? 

Gavankar: Well a very cool thing that happened that made me cry my eyes out–I was in an Uber going somewhere and somebody did a cover. He learned the snare part pretty close and played it all the way through, no sheet music, to the track and it was only–the video had only been out 7 hours or something and I was in the back of a car with a friend crying and he was like “you inspired someone!” and I said “that’s not why I’m crying!” This is a shared experience. This is a level of shared consciousness. Music can do this, drum corps can do this. It’s not about me inspiring anybody, it’s about us hearing or feeling something together that makes me so emotional. So that was pretty amazing.


Halftime: Do you have any future music projects planned or know where you want to go with this next? 

Gavankar: Always. It’s just a matter of availability. I already know what the next one is but you know I was on set for–I had a half day today I was only in one scene and I was on set for 9 hours. That was just one thing. So there’s only so much I can do but yeah I have a million ideas and I feel like I gathered and was fortunate enough to find such a badass group of people and I feel like I really found this team that I feel really comfortable making things with fast, you know? And that’s important because there is no Svengali, there is no big uber producer that’s making this it’s just me and my crazy idea and you know anybody who wants to be involved. I feel lucky to have amassed a team of bad-asses, it’s kind of like running with the bulls you have to feel brave enough to maybe get floored. You have to find people who are fearless enough to give it a shot. I feel like drum corps is a group of people that are willing to do that.

I also put together a team of filmmakers. I hired a director of photography and I had an editor and producers with me on the Mysteries of Laura and an assistant director and you know these are pros and they’ve never been around anything like drum corps before. And just watching–it was a very stressful day–they keep talking about it now and saying “there was not one complaint from any of the players! Not once!” We put them through the ringer and they never complained once about how long the day way or the Tyvek suits that they were sweating in. Drum corps is filled with people who are willing to make a sacrifice to do something they love and that was not lost on my team.


Halftime: Will you or would you work with drum corps or even marching band on a future project? 

Gavankar: Whenever I possibly can. And certainly if anybody has any idea and they want to call me, yeah!


Halftime: Anything else you want to mention? 

Gavankar: I just really do have to say that there’s no way in hell I could have made this without Bob Jacobs, the Jersey Surf, and Colin Bell. These guys were so ready to follow me into the Mists of Avalon and I don’t know why, other than they could tell that I was pure of heart and wanted to stand for something bigger than us. There’s no way I could have done it without them. They were such believers and I feel like we’ll be family forever now because we made it through this and didn’t die. I hit upload and as soon as the video had processed I was in my trailer and just sat on the couch in my trailer and just sent a note to everyone involved saying “we didn’t die, guys! It’s up and we didn’t die!” It just was a beyond intense experience but it was maybe the most magical month of entire life.


High school photo courtesy of Janina Gavankar

About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.