One’s character is truly put to the test when he or she goes through difficult phases in life. Two years ago, Johnnyswim – Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez – endured a series of tragedies. Abner’s father passed away along with Amanda’s grandmother, and her mother, the legendary Donna Summer. Heart Beats EP (2013) captures the raw emotions felt by Amanda and Abner in their loss, but also highlights their strong, genuine love for each other. In continuation of their diary-like EP, Johnnyswim will release their debut album, Diamonds, on April 29th via Big Picnic Records.
In the couple’s last interview with Life+Times, Abner stated that the band’s music was “more than a sound” and “more of an intention.” Diamonds is the product of Abner’s apt description: an inspiring autobiography of rich harmonies – sung and strummed – accompanied with alluring lyrics of survival and triumph. The symbolic lyrics of the emotionally driven title track, “In the wake of every heartache/In the death of every fear/There were diamonds, diamonds waiting to break out of here,” pierces through the song’s folk-soul exterior and into the heart – certainly an objective Johnnyswim has successfully met.
Life+Times: I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since we last spoke. A lot is going on! You’re about to release your debut album. I’ve had a chance to listen to it and I love it. We’ll get into that in a bit. One of the things I’ve noticed in the past few interviews you’ve done, you both said this album was “therapeutic.” Can you go into detail about what this means for you?
Amanda: Yeah. You know a couple of years ago we lost my mom, his (Abner) dad, and my grandmother. It was all within a ten month period. Really [for] a year it was just the norm to wake up if your phone would ring in the morning, you’re dreading picking it up because there was a good chance it was gonna be some sort of bad news or something scary. The only way I can describe it is like being in the middle of the ocean and the waves just keep hitting you and you can’t catch your breath. So, we were writing through that whole time. After things started to calm back down, like normal life kind of resumed, we started finding out the experiences we went through [were] changing us. We kind of noticed things that what was important became more important and things that used to be important weren’t important anymore. It was a great time seeing what was built in us during that time. It was nice to get everything out and not put any restrictions on ourselves and see what was in there.
L+T: Wow. Before I go into what I was about to say – Abner, did you have anything you wanted to add?
Abner: Oh no, that’s alright. Writing this record and even recording it – it’s kind of a song relives with us. The writing is its own life, personality, and experience. Recording it is the same thing and performing it as well. We’ve had the pleasure of walking a lot of these songs through all three of the phases. Each phase remains therapeutic. These songs have been like medicine to us in a lot of ways.
L+T: I bet. Is there a certain song that you feel is more freeing or liberating than the others?
Abner: What’s interesting is they all kind of serve a different purpose. Some of these songs are older than others and have been with us on different parts of the journey over the last three years. So, it kind of depends on the mood or what I need as to what song. There’s a song called “Live While We’re Young” – we call it our ‘not YOLO, YOLO song.’ It’s not like, “You only live once! Let’s get high and wasted and do some stupid stuff!” It’s more determined than that. After having seen our heroes fall – in her mom and my dad pass on – but see them do so much in their life, it’s almost a determination song. It’s a determination within us to see all of our dreams come true, to chase after life with all we’ve got – to see things, experience things, [and] live life really to its fullest. That song – I feel that every time I sing it [and] every time I listen to it. It means a lot. I know Amanda’s gonna have a bunch of answers to this too. There’s songs like “Over” and “Closer” that kind of carry a different sentiment of loss [and] grieving. But lately the song that to this day that continues to be medicine to my soul is “Live While We’re Young.”
L+T: Yeah, it is a really deep song. Amanda, what about you?
Amanda: I definitely think “Live While We’re Young” is a big one because there’s something about singing every night at shows. Every time I sing that it builds a little fearlessness in me. It sucks all the fear out just being able to kind of, like…It feels like you’re just speaking to yourself. I think when you go through a tough time; you always flinch a little bit when stuff starts piling up. You start wondering like, ‘I wonder if that’s gonna happen again. Is there gonna be another season soon where we have heartache and we have to walk through something hard again?’ It’s easy to kind of be a little bit scared all of the time deep down inside; but there’s also a part of you that goes, ‘No. You went through it and you were alright and everything’s okay. You still have people around you that you love and your relationships have grown and got stronger. There’s parts of you that would’ve never got stronger if you’d not gone through that.’ That’s victory right there. That’s something to celebrate. That song – especially the bridge – always gets me teary especially when we perform it live. Like Abner said too with “Closer” and “Over” – those are both kind of out of realizing there’s a new normal. That’s okay, but it’s still a process to kind of be okay with. Even since we’ve written those songs we’ve gone through even more experiences where I’ve needed to sing that to, like, make myself feel better. Even just the fact that we won’t be able to be home for a little while – it’s like, ‘Okay, this is just us being in a different season.’
L+T: Everything’s an adjustment – you both touched on this in your own way. What I really appreciate with this album right down to the actual title is this: A diamond has to go through so much refining before it reaches its full potential as a gem.
Amanda: Yep! You are right.
L+T: With this album and what you both just brought out, when you go through the good, the bad, and the horrible they shape you to who you are. The album doesn’t paint a picture of a “peachy” married couple. There are ups and downs. I appreciate the rawness and honesty of it.
Amanda: Well, thank you! That was really important to us. Sometimes there’s nothing more healing than a sad song. It seems kind of counterintuitive – ‘I’m feeling sad, so I’m gonna listen to a sad song because it’s gonna make me feel better.’ At least if nothing else a listener that’s been through something can be like, ‘I know what that feeling is. That feeling means I’m not alone.’ You know?
L+T: Absolutely and it’s something we can all share. This is a gift you have given us and I’m sure not only me, but many of your listeners can relate to feelings of loss and victory.
Abner: That means a lot! I think every artist in their own way has this hope – you want people to “get” it and you hope that within you, you did a good job with relating out loud and musically the feelings and the life you’re living and you hope that it can relate to somebody. It’s like telling a joke and you being the only one laughing. You hope somebody gets it.
For more information, check out Johnnyswim’s site here.