The folk-indie outfit Johnnyswim, made up of husband-and-wife duo, Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano draw on a vast range of music influences described by Ramirez as, “…acoustic-y, Americana-y but it’s not, pop-y but it’s not. It’s us. What I do know is that it’s honest.” They take an unpretentious, down to earth approach to writing and performing their music. “We were lucky enough to sign to a label that didn’t need or ask to hear anything before we turned the record in. If it’s one thing, for better or worse, it’s us.” Amanda adds while discussing how they developed their style and its evolution over the years. The duo’s infectiously genuine chemistry, both on and off stage, is one of their many songwriting influences as well as their son, their parents, and their close friends. Johnnyswim’s second, full-length album is due to be released in spring 2016.
You guys just did a live album, and have obviously recorded studio albums. Talk to me about you experience and the differences between recording live versus in the studio.
Amanda Sudano: There’s just a lot more stress in the live album.
Abner Ramirez: It’s a whole different thing.
AS: It is, it’s a whole different thing. We have played that show that we did for the live record so many times. We all know it so well. It’s great. Because we all know it so well, we know what’s happening, and we can all have a lot of fun. But when there’s recording happening and people with cameras.
AR: And we did live filming, so it’s going to premier on Palladia in January.
AS: So the whole first night, we recorded two nights, we could hear the people with the cameras. “Uhhh angle 7, can you get a shot of the drummers hat.” And we’re just singing the song.
AR: You’ll see in our show, there’s a lot of really small moments. A lot of really intimate, quiet moments. And as it gets really quiet. “Camera 7 zoom in, camera 7 zoom in…” *they laugh*
AS: That made it interesting. I thought “We’ve done it so many times, we’re just going to have so much fun.” It’s a venue we love. We gave away tickets first to people who wrote in early. So these are people who want to be here. We’re going to have such a great time. And then we got in there and it was like, “This is going to be kind of work. There’s so much going on, there’s so many people.”
AR: And we wanted it to be a live record, no fixes, no overdubbing vocals.
AS: And we didn’t.
AR: Which we are really proud of. It was really like, “You spent a bunch of money to get all these people here, all these cameras here, the recording equipment, the guys…the nights all this stuff.” It was a lot of stress. I’m very thankful and proud to say that it came out awesome, I think. I love it. I think it’s a great example of who we are now. I think that’s an album name, right? For someone. It’s very much us in that moment, I’m very proud of that.
Where in the studio, it is a different type of creation. It’s like the clay is in your hands and it’s dirty and you can fix it later. You’re searching. You’re alone a lot of the time. It’s a different patient, slower thing. Whereas making a live record, it’s red, go now.
AS: And there’s not time to overthink it. In the studio, you can have a lot of fun, and record something, and go home and…
AR: And be mad and go outside and throw a frisbee or drink a beer…
AS: No, that’s not what I was saying.
AR: Oh, okay. *both laugh*
AS: You can love something, go home, and be listening to it and be so excited about it. Then wake up the next morning, still excited about it listen to it and be like, “Did you think I sang that weird? Do you think we should…is the tempo is wrong, let’s just start over.” You overthink everything. That process is a different process. But I like it because it involves a lot more food. So I can say, “I’m going to sing this, then I’m going to have a snack.” And then you’re going to sing something and I’m still going to be eating my snack until it’s my turn to go. And then I’m going to go to the grocery store and make more snacks, like it all revolves around food. And so we’ve been lucky enough to record in places where we can do that because there is a kitchen close by or somebody who’s great at making cocktails. So that makes recording in a studio fun too.
What can listeners expect from your second full length album?
AS: We are going to be playing some of the songs tonight. Unfortunately, we are singing a lot of the sad songs.
AR: They can expect to hear what it sounds like when our hearts break. There are a couple of really personal, sad songs. One for sure that we will play tonight that you’ll hear, it will only be the second time we have played it live. Last night was the first time we performed it for anyone other than ourselves. Unless you count someone who can hear it when I sing it in the airplane bathroom. Accidental listeners.
They can expect growth, I think, the songs are great. They show progression of where we are growing and where we’re going. It’s going to be fun. They can expect Johnnyswim. They can expect to feel like, if they felt like they got to know us in the first album, they are going to get to know us even more in the second. Our number one priority is, “is this us? Is this really who we are?” Good, bad, and the ugly, there is no part of us that is trying to fix a song for more people to like it. We are not trying to find a secret ingredient. We like what we do, and we love that we get to make a living writing and performing songs. So this album is full of some excavation of our own hearts and some fun times.
AS: And they’re songs that we already love singing and we sing around the house, that feel right. So that makes it really exciting for us too. So far, I mean, it’s not done yet. We haven’t written all the songs yet.
It was around this time that Abner quickly left the cozy, backstage room and returned with the couple’s 8-month-old son, Joaquin. As Amanda, with a beaming smile, holds him up in her lap, she begins to talk about him and his already apparent proclivity towards music. For both Abner and Amanda, music has been apart of their lives from the beginning. Abner studied music at the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, and Amanda began singing backup in her teens for mother and famous disco singer-songwriter, Donna Summer.
So who watches him while you’re on stage? You have a whole crew.
AS: *in reference to the group of people in the next room* So those are a bunch of good friends of ours. My friend Lydia is watching him while we are on the road this week. Our friend that normally travels with us just had a niece…so she’s with that baby. She’ll be back with us next week. We have my good friend, it’s great, she used to be a pediatric intensive care nurse and Joaquin’s be sick this week which makes me so nervous. Can he breathe? Do you think he’s breathing? Should I give him more medicine? Did I give him too much medicine? She’s very calm and takes care of him. Perfect timing. I’m like, “This is the best trip for you to be on, it kind of sucks for you, because you has to deal with me being a spaz.” But it’s really good for me.
AR: He’s flown, today was his 44th flight. He’s never until yesterday cried because of ear pain, never. Yesterday, because he was so congested he just started screaming and just tears. It was so hard.
AS: And there’s nothing you can do to help it. But today we flew here and he did great. He’s so happy now.
AR: So happy.
AS: Just happy yelling.
AR: It is so vulnerable being a parent. Loving is vulnerable. Loving is like putting your heart out, and there’s nothing safe. It’s not safe, but it’s good. And if romantic love is like that, then maternal/paternal love is even more exposed, even more vulnerable. Because his life literally depends on you.
Have you found a way to write a song about him?
AR: I think, as we’ve been writing, there’s a song that we are going to sing tonight that is really about her Mom’s passing, but it’s as much about Joaquin as it is about her Mom’s passing. So you’ll have to tell me if it’s sappy or not. I think he inspires everything. An advantage we have as a writer or artist, the great gift that we have is the ability to communicate feeling. Whether it is with a brush, or a word, an image or a frame we communicate feeling. Having Joaquin in my life, in our life, has only multiplied our ability to feel in every direction. Taking that into account, he’s affected every song we’ve written since we knew he was coming.
AS: And you just cry all the time.
AR: All the time. It’s a really vulnerable feeling.
AS: He’s probably seen me cry more in the past eight months that Joaquin’s been alive than probably in the entire ten years that he’s known me.
AR: Maybe, yeah maybe.
Final question, what is one great technical difficulty story or touring story?
AR: Oh, man.
AS: I think the technical difficulty that tops all technical difficulties, was on Letterman when he broke a string.
AR: We have a song called Home. We played Home on Letterman. It was Letterman’s last month or two.
AS: And it was just us and the drummer.
AR: Just us and the drummer. And we decided that last second, “Nah, let’s not bring everyone, let’s just have the drummer. He’s just going to play kick drum.” Near the end of the song, I break a string, we get through it. It’s fine. Dave, Mr. Letterman, comes over to shake our hand, and I take my guitar off real quick, excited to shake hands with David Letterman. And the string had broken at the base, so when I pulled the guitar off real fast, it just swings, full speed and smacks him right in the face.
AS: There was blood. Like Abner was like, “Oh! Did I get you?” And he was like, “Uhhh…yeah, little bit.”
AR: I cut Letterman.
AS: And the best part is, the day before Abner was like, “I really think I should probably change my strings. I have a feeling I should change my strings.” Then was like, “Nah, let’s live on the edge!” So then he’s string broke and we just looked at each other like, “Ehh, oh well. What are we gonna do? We’re on national television and we can’t make this guitar work, it’s cool.”