We got the chance to chat with JOHNNYSWIM, husband and wife duo Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano -- who just happens to be the daughter of Donna Summer. They'll play at the Hi-Fi together on Thursday.
NUVO: Tell me about how you guys met and started making music. Was that how you started dating?
Sudano: About 13 years ago, we first saw each other. We knew who the other person was, we went to college in the same city and we had some mutual friends, but we had never met. Four years went by, and I was living in New York. He was still in Nashville, and a mutual friend introduced us at a coffee shop. He invited me to a show when I was visiting again, and that whole time, I had had no idea that he was a musician. I was completely surprised and excited about it, so I went, and he blew me away. I found him immediately after the show, and he was kinda hiding around the stage area. I asked him if he would write songs with me, and he said yes. I think we knew in that moment that we were flirting with one another, but at the time, music was the first thing on the list. On my list, at least. He might disagree.
Ramirez: Music was certainly not my first priority. Just to clarify, it was not even like number three.
Sudano: But it worked out well, it gave us an excuse to hang out and get to know each other and learn how to communicate well with one another. That has helped us a ton in our marriage, which is nice. It all started from there.
NUVO: Did writing music together help you find your connection as a couple?
Ramirez: 100 percent. I think where we know each other the most is writing, performing, playing music. It’s like self-discovery. When I go through something, it’s hard for me to just sit and have a conversation over coffee. It’s harder for me to do that than it is for me to sit down with a guitar an expose my feelings to myself. We’ve developed so much of that; both of us are the same way, really. And after so much time discovering ourselves and each other through music, it’s been a constant source of growth in our relationship.
NUVO: What’s it like performing together onstage?
Sudano: it’s so much fun. Obviously we have fun together, just in general, but Abner is so uber passionate all the time, and he wants to do what he feels like doing when he wants. He will change things all the time. He’s got the guitar, so ultimately I’m powerless. I’m always looking at him; he keeps me on my toes. I never know where he’s going to go. It’s like a dance. He is leading me and I’m just watching, which makes it fun all the time. Every show is different, I never know where it’s going to lead or what’s going to happen, which makes it really fun for us.
NUVO: Are your personal music tastes pretty similar, or is there some variety there?
Ramirez: It’s like 75 percent of the things intersect, and 25 percent doesn’t. I can still get into some Jimmy Eat World, some post-emo, post-punk North Florida rock and roll. She doesn’t like that stuff. But that’s the one rare exception. We buy a lot of vinyl these days, because we realized that when you put a vinyl on, it’s harder to get picky so you just listen to the whole album. I didn’t even listen to The Carpenters or Joni Mitchell or even James Taylor until I started hanging out with Amanda. And I think she didn’t listen to old Cuban songs until she started hanging out with me. But I won her over.
NUVO: What was it like starting out in Nashville?
Sudano: Nashville is such a fun place for anything creative, I think. There’s such a wonderful community of people who are super supportive. They’re supportive of anything that comes out of Nashville, I mean, Nashville loves each other. People in Nashville want to see each other succeed. Especially when it comes to songwriting – they would do it anyways. You get the feeling that in LA or New York sometimes that people are doing this to write a hit and make some money, but in Nashville you don’t get that at all. In Nashville, you don’t even want to show your face unless you really believe in it. It could be a fun song, about anything. A shoelace. But you better believe it. It better mean something. Starting out in Nashville was so fun because the emphasis was on honesty. If you can be honest, you’ve won.
NUVO: But you guys moved to LA, recently?
Sudano: We love it, but we’re gone so often. We’re on the road all the time. The best part about living in LA is when you get off the plane… we fly into Burbank, and in Burbank you get off the plane outside and walk out the stairs, like the old Hollywood movie. The moment you step out of the plane, you feel the breeze and the sun.. and you’re like, "Oh, this is why I pay rent here, even though I’m never here. That breeze, going for hikes… it allows you just enough rest to feel creative again but also just enough energy to also feel creative again when you’ve been grinding on the road.
NUVO: Why call yourself JOHNNYSWIM?
Ramirez: It’s pretty funny, we’ve learned from this particular question that it’s really hard to get the right thing on Wikipedia. A lot of our information, we can’t just go in and change it. The point is, there’s a buddy of mine named John who I grew up with. He was a disastrous swimmer in middle school. His goal, though, was to be on the swim team. He was in middle school, like age 13, but he took adult swimming lessons so he could learn to swim and be on the team. I don’t know why he had it stuck in his head, this was before the Michael Phelps era. We called him Johnny. He finally made it on the team in 8th grade. He wasn’t really good, but he was allowed to swim in the last meet of the year. This whole race we were in second place. Johnny jumps in and he’s swimming his heart out, and the whole place is screaming. Something like Rudy. It was like the guy who never gets to play gets in, and everyone’s on his side. Kids from the other school were cheering for him. It’s so memorable that you can have a dream in your heart, you can chase after something, and you do it. It helps me remember that we’re doing this music thing – it’s not about doing better than anyone else or selling a bunch of records. It’s about the dream of making music and being able to sing onstage as long as we have lungs to swim.
NUVO: I like that. Wikipedia definitely had it wrong.
Ramirez: Yeah, the name JOHNNYSWIM helps me remember why we’re really doing this.
NUVO: So, Diamonds is the first full-length album you guys have released. What’s that been like, putting it out there after so long?
Ramirez: You know what was funny? It was harder to get started than anything else. That was the most difficult part of making the album, just picking a day to get in the studio. It was almost like getting married or having kids, you know? You never feel ready until it’s time to go. I produced the album, and Amanda helped me a lot, and our manager told us we just had to pick a day and do it. It was so scary. We went in there the first day, and I was like, “I don’t like what I’m wearing! I need to go to the store and change.” And that may or may not have happened a few times. It was a process. It feels great now because I feel like we did what we wanted to do. We wanted to put something out there that was honest, genuine, and one hundred percent our own.