Alex Broad tells the story of husband and wife group with a growing following JOHNNYSWIM
Cross Rhythms listeners will be familiar with Americana favourites Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors and are no doubt intrigued that their newest album 'Goodbye Road' on which they partnered with an American folk duo Johnnyswim. If they'd dug a little deeper they'd have discovered that Johnnyswim is husband and wife duo Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano and probably been intrigued that Amanda is the daughter of the late disco megastar Donna Summer.
Clearly the time is now right to tell the Johnnyswim story. Abner and Amanda met after Sunday service at a church in Nashville but didn't speak for years, until Amanda attended a songwriting workshop held by Abner. They began writing songs together in 2005, after Amanda went to one of Abner's performances and became interested in working with him. For Abner writing music together was just an excuse to get close to Amanda. Their personal relationship flourished when they were married in 2009 and so did their music career. The first time they played live together it was in front of 100 people. Now they are travelling around the world, selling out venues that can hold thousands. The duo have always been on the move playing tours, even with two children to look after. Being a married couple with two children they have had to juggle being successful and also being good parents. Their first child, Joaquin, would go on tour with the duo, and they aren't going to stop for their second child, Luna, who was born in April 2018. The couple live for their live shows. Amanda told Atwood Magazine website, "Even when we write, we write what we feel like we're going to want to play live. We think about the live show more than anything else."
Husband and wife both have a musical background. Abner trained as a
musician at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville,
Florida, and Amanda is the daughter of Donna Summer, the world famous
disco singer. During her summers Amanda would perform as a backing
vocalist for her mother. Abner told NPR website, "I found that even
though I had sung with other people, written with other people, there
was a connection - something about it was good. We got to the point of
the song more quickly than with other people that I would write with.
It just felt right."
Faith is important to Johnnyswim. They have led worship at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, but wouldn't describe themselves as being part of the contemporary Christian music scene. Some of their songs talk about God and their faith whereas other songs might talk about love and break-ups. They don't want to be pigeonholed to only produce music about God, they want to be able to explore other themes that reflect them and that are important to them. Abner joked to Huffpost website, "I want to be able to drink whiskey and cuss and not have it affect my record sales."
The couple's first release was their self-titled EP 'Johnnyswim' in 2008; in the same year they released various singles: "You're Not Gonna Leave Me Here", "Letting Go", "Why'd You Do It", "Away I Go" and "Good News". The following year they collaborated on the song "Morning Song" with Bruce Sudano, Amanda's father. 2010 marked the year of their second EP '5-8' and in 2011 they released "Bonsoir" and travelled to India with Visiting Orphans which influenced the song "Halleluiah!". The single was released in December of that year with all profits from the release going to charity.
2012 was when the duo really became popular with the release of the EP 'Home Vol 1'. Their growing popularity led them to appear on The Tonight show with Jay Leno in 2013, and they also performed a song from their EP 'Heartbeats' on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. 'Heartbeats' was written out of frustration, Abner telling HuffPost website, "Musicians are always looking for a champion - a manager, a label. Waiting for the right person, you might miss out on creating your opportunity of building something on your own. So we thought, 'Let's go buy a microphone'."
After signing with Big Picnic Records Johnnyswim released their first full length album, 'Diamonds', in 2014 which held the number one spot on the Singer/Songwriter chart for several weeks. Pop Dose website described the EP as, "Dramatic, almost theatrical and yet musically broad with a tremendous production." Abner spoke of 'Diamonds' to NYLON website, "Our EPs and our album 'Diamonds' were the seeds in which we discovered that you could make a living doing something you actually love." Johnnyswim were particularly busy that year and also released the holiday album 'A Johnnyswim Christmas'.
Early in 2016 the duo released 'Johnnyswim Live At The Rockwood Music Hall'
which the Christian Science Monitor website described as, "Mostly
acoustic, but it is potently electric, with the adoring crowd
passionately hanging on every word and soaring harmony of this
buzz-worthy duo." The album 'Georgica Pond' was released later in the
year and was dedicated to Amanda's late mother. Her favourite song on
the album is "Georgica Pond" which she inadvertently wrote about her
and her mother, and also about her and her son, Joaquin. Amanda told
Verily website, "I feel like my mom is smiling down from heaven about
the fact that she got a song and a record and a whole album named
after her. So I think I'm especially proud of that one." However,
Amanda doesn't want to live in her mother's shoes. She told NPR
website, "I'm sure I do things that sound like her. But I think it's
just a very different thing than looking physically like somebody
else." Abner added, "It's fully her as much as her fingerprint is
unique to her - her voice is fully Amanda and fully awesome."
The group's most recent release is the EP 'Goodbye Road', which was issued in May 2018, on which they collaborated with Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors. The songs came as a response to events that have been happening in the world recently, such as the racial assaults in Charlottesville, the loss of rock and roll icon Tom Petty and the attack on music fans at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. Most other music from the couple is themed around love so this collaborative album was a definite step away from their usual themes. Abner recalled a recording session for a song on the album on Goodbye Road website, "It was three days after the political rallies in Charlottesville. When we wrote 'Ring The Bells' we were all sitting in the same room, thinking, 'Enough is enough. We want to scream something into the world, but how do we make it productive?' In that moment of agony and tension - the very moment you're tempted to be hopeless - you can choose to give in to those dark feelings or rise above them. 'Ring The Bells' is our productive shout."
Johnnyswim are currently on tour until the 20th October 2018 with their finishing gig in Waco, Texas. And yes, the couple will be performing songs from 'Goodbye Road' in an after-hours concert with Drew Holcomb.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.