Posted On 06 Feb 2017
Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano Ramirez make up JOHNNYSWIM.
The pair met in Nashville in 2005, instituting a songwriting partnership not long afterward. They clicked together musically and personally, beginning a romantic relationship along with their creative connection. The couple married in 2009 and relocated to Los Angeles. In addition to their 2014 debut full-length Diamonds, which sold over 50,000 copies and has almost 30 million streams, they’ve released three EPs as well as a Christmas EP and a live album. They’ve performed on television shows including VH1’s “You Oughta Know Concert,” “The Tonight Show starring Jay Leno,” “Late Show with David Letterman,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” “Today,” “Live with Kelly & Michael” and their song “Home” remains the theme for HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.”
“First Try” is their current single and it was taken from the duo’s latest album, Georgica Pond, which was released last year and debuted at #13 on Billboard’s Top Current Album Chart, #35 on the Billboard Top 200, #4 on iTunes’ Top Albums and #1 on iTunes’ Singer-Songwriter charts.
To continue to celebrate the release, JOHNNYSWIM will tour Europe for the first time and continue their North American tour with dates this March. See below for details. Of their live show CBS Philadelphia hails, its “…sincere and personal and very much their own,” and the band were recently featured on the cover of Pollstar.
Learn more about Johnnyswim in the following All Access interview:
Now that we are in the middle of winter of 2017, what are some words that you would you use to describe last year? What were some of the highlights?
Last year, I think, was one of the toughest years for us, and also one of the most successful and most fun. Highlights were definitely playing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. That was kind of like a dream come true. Being kids and watching it every year, and finally getting to see New York City from that point of view was pretty epic. I think that was probably my highlight.
It was a difficult year. It was a growing year. We worked a lot. We created a lot. We were on the road a lot. We were tired a lot. I think it prepared us for an exciting 2017.
Growing up, did you both always want to be musicians? Can you recall your earliest musical memories? Were you musical before getting together?
Yes, we were musical before getting together, but we didn’t realize, I think when we met and first kind of started having feelings for one another, that either one was musical. We kind of just liked each other first and then found out that we were both into the same things on the second round of getting to know each other.
My earliest memories were just singing with my sisters, which was a constant. There was always a song going on. There was always music in the house. I always loved that we used to stand in front of the mirror and make dances and shows. My parents would give us a quarter to sing when people came over, all that kind of stuff.
I was super shy and wouldn’t want to sing in front of anybody, so my mom would bribe me with quarters. Yeah, as long as I can remember, it was singing and acting were the two things I wanted to do.
That’s awesome. Yeah, I definitely, as soon as I knew “Musician” was like a job title that you could put on a W-4 or whatever, then I certainly wanted to be one. My mom … We had a piano in our house growing up, both my sisters, my mom played piano and sang beautifully. I started playing violin when I was 7. I loved it. Mom would always have me perform for people at Christmas or whatever. I play at church. My earliest musical memories are performing, playing violin for family that would come over for the holidays.
We certainly both were songwriters and pursuing careers in music before we met each other. We were both a little jaded, I think I was probably the most jaded of it all, having been in a record deal as a solo artist before and being treated certainly like an object, not like a human. I didn’t really have a big interest in getting back in music. It was really fun to find somebody as gorgeous as Amanda to share life with and also sing some songs.
How did you come up with your band name? Was it difficult to figure out something that represented you two and your sound?
Johnnyswim does not represent ourselves as individuals or as a sound whatsoever. If I’m giving you the honest truth, we were having a discussion one day with a publicist or actually it was somebody we were set to meet up with to help us kind of navigate the future of starting a band together
This person was telling us how important a band name was, it’s the forward-facing piece, that it needs to be exactly that, something that represents you and your sound. People hear the name of the band and they get it. They know what you’re going to do and they know what they’re going to get into. I think that’s silly. I think U2 has nothing to do with U2. I think U2 is a name that got picked, and then if it was called Orange Griffyndor, I would still love the band because the band U2 is amazing. Coldplay sounds silly. If they were called Turned off Television, I would still love Turned off Television. I would still love the music Coldplay made.
We picked Johnnyswim out of thin air to prove a point that band names don’t matter. To further that point, we made it one word, so that it would seem to have some meaning. If it represents us, it’s just because you’ve heard the music before and you can attach the name to it. That’s how I feel about that.
How does your latest collection, Georgica Pond, show the musical growth you’ve had since your 2014 album Diamonds? What was the inspiration for these songs?
I think one of the key things we wanted when we went into creating Georgica Pond was to have patience and to take our time. I produced the album. A lot of it we produced together, but I think in Diamonds, being my first time producing an album, I was very intimidated. Whenever something didn’t sound exactly right, I would just add more things. I wanted to take an opposite approach with this. If I recorded something and it didn’t sound right, I would remove it or I would go back to the soul of the song, the thing that carried the energy. I don’t mean energy as in the hype-ness, but I guess the soul of the song, whether it’s the vocal, the drums, the acoustic guitar part, whatever it was, and I would build out from there.
It was a reverse approach of what we had on Diamonds. I was really proud of it. I feel like it’s a slightly more mature approach. I’m by no means a good producer or anything, I’m just hanging on with both hands trying to make the songs we make in our living room make sense in yours, with the recordings we make.
What kind of things are challenging and/or easy for husband and wife bands, and what is the process that took some time to get used to?
For us, I mean we have a lot of fun. It wasn’t like we were already a couple and then we were like, “Oh what if we wrote some songs together and then, you know, start from there?” When we first met, we were friends and we had a ton of fun together. We’d write songs and we had fun writing songs, then we’d play for people. We’d have fun playing for people. Us being together and working on music together, we don’t know one without the other. There wasn’t a ton of challenges for us ’cause it’s really how we built our whole relationship, was kind of with this passion of ours. I think it’s only really helpful actually. There’s not a ton of challenges.
The one thing … And it’s also really fun – you don’t have to worry about your marriage getting super stagnant when you’re going on a a lot of adventures together. The two challenges are when you’re together all the time and you’re working all the time. You have to create moments to actually look each other in the eye and just spend time with one another, without there being work involved and without there being other people in the room. Definitely sometimes on tour, you’re like so busy all the time. The only time that you’re really alone together is when you’re asleep, then you get back up and do it again.
We also try to make that really fun too. We try to surprise each other with little getaways and moments where we get to be alone and just laugh and smile at this little life that we’ve created somehow from, you know, a bus boy and a barista. That’s one challenge, is creating time. Also, just being on the same page. If I want a day off where I can just zone out and watch Netflix, but he’s trying to get work done, then we kind of have to come up with a compromise, but that’s never really too big of a problem, so that’s nice.
How do you go about writing songs together? How did “Drunks” come together?
Writing songs together, one of us will walk in the room and have an idea. It’ll either be a lyrical idea or Abner will come in playing the guitar while I’m cooking dinner and I’ll start singing something to it. It’s always really, really organic and fun, dare I say, the “F” word again, but it’s usually pretty fun. Drunks, I happen to write down. We were in a Irish pub once and everyone was singing, and he wrote down in his little Evernote notebook on his phone, “I want to write a song that drunks all sing,” because everybody was singing some old Irish song. He was just thinking, “Man I want to write a song like this.”
Fast-forward a couple years later. We’re sitting there and we have kind of a general melody, but we don’t really know where the song’s going, it’s just kind of music. He looks through his Evernote and he says, “Oh that’s funny, I wrote down I want to write a song that drunks all sing.” I just sang it, in the melody that we had, I sang that line and there you go. That was that.
You’re currently touring in support of Georgica Pond, how’s it been going? Where are you excited to play next? What do you think makes a perfect show for you?
It’s going amazing. We’ve had our highest ticket sales. It’s the most successful tour we’ve ever had. It’s the most exciting. Our fans are so passionate. We love our fans so much. I love that you come to a Johnnyswim show and it’s so diverse. The whole demographic, age, race, sex, everything. It’s the funnest time we’ve had on the road so we’re really excited.
We leave in a couple weeks for our first European tour, where we will headline shows. We’ve opened one in the U.K. for Old Crow Medicine show, but we’re doing our own tour, going from Sweden, to London, Scotland, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, and where else? I think that’s it. Oh and Brussels. We are so excited to be there next.
The thing that makes a show great for us.. Well, we’re only responsible for half the show, if I’m honest. It’s funny, the All-Star voting just happened for the NBA. The way it works this year is that 50% of the votes, 50% of the responsibility is fan voting. 25% is coaches and players. 25% is media.
I feel like a similar thing happens in a Johnnyswim show. 50% of the experience is dependent on Johnnyswim. The other 50 is dependent really on the folks there, on the fans. Our fans always bring it so much. They listen so well. They’re hyper – whether it’s jumping around, singing at the top of their lungs for the exciting hype songs. Then they’re quiet, you could hear a pin drop. You can hear sniffles as Amanda sings Georgica Pond. You can literally hear the sniffles of people crying ’cause they’re so in it with us. I feel like what makes a great Johnnyswim show is when we’re on our game, when the fans are on their game, a world is created. It’s our own little bubble that we get to live in for an hour-and-a-half to two-hours, where magic really happens. That is the most addictive quality for us as performers, is that little bubble.
Who are some of your favorite artists? What bands continue to inspire you in your music? Who would you still love to work with in the future?
Man, that’s a great question. Amanda’s on a big time Kacey Musgraves kicks, I’m sure that’s the answer to three of those questions.
I’m definitely having fun with Kacey Musgraves lately being at home. I think, like our joint favorites, when we first met, we would listen to tons of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. We’d take little road trips. Old school Lauryn Hill. I don’t know that I’ll ever get sick of “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”, that’ll always be on rotation. We love Chilly Gonzales in our house, we play him almost every night. We love listening to Louis Prima and we would love to collaborate with Chilly. I’m trying to think if any of those people that are still alive.
We would love to collaborate with Chilly Gonzales. I would love to collaborate with Kacey Musgraves. Love to! We’d love to write some songs to folks for sure.
When you aren’t performing or working in the studio, what do you like to do for fun?
I like to go for hikes. That’s been my thing lately. Normally California has such nice weather that I can sneak away a couple mornings a week and just go for a hike and listen to music or podcasts, and just kind of daydream. I think the short answer of this question is, my favorite thing to do is just sit and daydream.
When you’re super busy, you don’t get time all that often to just stare off into space and imagine new worlds, but I love to do that because I feel like my creativity muscles flow and get flexed and that’s-
I think, this is my favorite, and it’s probably tied for Amanda for her favorite with daydreaming, is having folks over, cooking a meal and just hanging out with our dear friends. We love having people over at our house, cooking together, talking, sharing life together. That’s how we unwind, being with family. Being with family. Not just the family we’re born into, but the family we choose as well, which is really exciting.
At the end of the day, what do you hope is the message in your music? What do you hope listeners take away from your songs?
I think I can say this for Amanda and I both that at the end of the day, I hope people feel seen, that they feel known, and that they feel loved, when they listen to a Johnnyswim album. When to come to Johnnyswim concert, they know just how important they are, individually. Not just because of who they’re a part of, what job they have, who they’re attached to. Them as they are, that they’re loved and they’re seen, I feel like there’s a beauty and art.
Not all art should have the same purpose, but I think all art serves the same role in that we capture a moment of feeling, whatever the feeling could be, of the litany of the variety of the colors of human emotion, and interaction, and experience. Art can capture it. In a thousand years, you can go to a museum and see a painting that still captures, where it’s still pure, that feeling, that moment, that sadness, that joy, that exhilaration, that love. I feel like music does the same thing
We still listen to old records, people that are long gone and their voices just speak to us just as freely. I feel, I hope, we hope, that when Johnnyswim is listened to, either on TV, on your headphones, or live and in person, I hope you feel loved.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share with the readers about, yourself or your music?
I don’t know, that last question really feel like it summed it up. We love folks! I remember one time in a meeting, Amanda and I were talking about our vision and how much we love community. I think it goes back to what we love doing in our off time. We love being with our family, our people, our community.
I think every Johnnyswim concert, there’s a sense of community. I remember saying this. I remember saying we love creating community everywhere that we go to play a concert. Amanda said, “You know what, it’s more than that.” She said, “We love to create communion in every show that we play, every concert we perform.” I think what she said is so true and it’s so pivotal.
It’s more than just hanging out or getting to know each other, I think there’s a deep, almost spiritual thing that can happen in music and in concerts, that we love. Hopefully if you’re reading this, you’ll come out and experience it with us.
Come commune with us. We’re Johnnyswim, this is what we do. Thank you so much for your time, sorry to get this to you late, we love you guys and we completely appreciate your patience with us. Talk to you soon.
You can also hear the interview here on our Soundcloud page: