Abner Ramirez says the duo Johnnyswim formed because he and Amanda Sudano-Ramirez wanted to be alone together. His wife laughs, then Abner starts to joke about playing the long con, of “talking this chick into marrying me.”
They’re in the car, traveling in the midst of a packed April schedule – including a stop next Wednesday at The Birchmere – leading up to the release of their first full-length album Diamonds on April 29. It’s a work of folk and rock with soulful singing fused by the kind of chemistry that could only come from a husband-and-wife duo.
Sometimes on interviews like this, they’ll be asked about performing with their spouse. They’d been asked before about the pros and cons of the arrangement, as though there would of course be cons. Amanda’s first reaction then was to agree that there were advantages and disadvantages. But then she considered the question and concluded that she just didn’t see the downside to making music with her husband.
“We just feel like we’re better off together than separate,” Amanda says.
They were both involved in music when they met through mutual friends. Abner was playing solo shows. Amanda, the youngest daughter of disco legend Donna Summer and producer Bruce Sudano, was a musician in her own right. They started writing songs together, and Johnnyswim was born. They released their debut EP in 2008, and more EPs followed. They’d thought about just releasing EPs, but came to realize the value in putting out a full-length record.
“There really is an appetite for the listeners to have 10 or 12 songs, to dive in and really get the artist and get where they’re at right now, that kind of evolves and tells a story from song 1 to song 12,” Abner says.
Diamonds tells a story, and it’s a deeply personal one. They describe it as something of a diary of the past three years. It was “a really big season in our lives,” Abner says. The couple went through highs and lows. In the span of a few months, Amanda’s mother died and Abner’s father died. They felt the tremendous loss, and wrote about it. They wrote about their relationships with others, and their relationship with each other. Their goal? Honesty.
“For us, what that means is that we absolutely want to mean every word we say; we want it to be something that’s really from our hearts,” Abner says. “We want it to be something that we want to convey – whether it’s a feeling or emotion, or whether it’s just therapy for us to put these words down. We found that these 12 songs in particular offer that for us.”
But honesty isn’t just communicated in the words of a song. They wanted to capture a feeling of being “at home” on this album. Their recent EPs were recorded in their home studio – “also known as our guest room,” Amanda quips – and conveying an intimate atmosphere on their full-length album, recorded in the studio of Grammy-winning engineer Gary Paczosa, was more important than recording pristine sounds.
“We wanted to keep that organic quality because we kind of cared more about that than we did even about things sounding perfect,” Amanda says. There’s a kind of remorse and second-guessing that artists can experience when an album is completed, Amanda says. But on another car trip to another show they listened to the record, and those doubts disappeared. They’re still proud of it, and they’re still moved by it.
“I want to plant our flag in the ground and say ‘this is us, we’re making a career out of this, we’re going to be doing this for the rest of our lives,’” Abner says.
• For more information about Johnnyswim, visit johnnyswim.com.