Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez are Johnnyswim – a band and married couple that live at the intersection of solid songwriting and good music from the heart. Both come from rich musical backgrounds. Sudano, the daughter of the late disco legend Donna Summer and admired songwriter Bruce Sudano, was surrounded by music for her entire childhood. Ramirez studied music at the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and was a classically-trained violinist. When you have these combined attributes going for you as a band, who needs genre classifications? Listening to the couple’s latest Heart Beats EP, you’ll hear a dash of folk, a spoonful of pop amid a spread of R&B harmonies, and emotionally charged guitar riffs. Ramirez says, “Its’ been so frustrating at first in 2005 trying to figure out what our sound was. I realize now that it’s more than a sound, it’s more of an intention that we’ve developed. The number one intention is honesty like, ‘Is it us?’ We’re not gonna stick to one genre.” We’ll hear more of Johnnyswim’s “intentions” on their debut album slated to be released January 2014.
Life + Times: How do you find the balance between work mode and being married? Does is become something challenging and you get on each other’s nerves?
Abner Ramirez: We really don’t. I don’t know if we’re supposed to. I don’t know if it’s bad of us that we don’t. We’re having fun all the time. Our job puts passion into life other than each other. I think the only time it gets on Amanda’s nerves is if it’s after dinner and I’m talking about business.
Amanda Sudano: I’m like, ‘Look, I just cooked. We ate, had my wine, you need to shut up and stop talking about anything I need to make a decision about. And just talk to me about other stuff.” That’s like the only time where a line’s drawn. Other than that, it’s one big hodgepodge. Yeah, we get on each other’s nerves for sure, but it only takes about five or ten minutes of us being alone before we get bored.
L+T: That’s awesome you guys resolve things quickly. Some couples hold a grudge, but you really can’t afford to do that because you’re a band and you’re married.
AS: I think also learning to write songs together kind of helps your marriage as well because the whole point is that you’re trying to create something that you both love. You learn that not everything is personal, sometimes it’s just a difference in opinion. Ultimately, your goal is the same. It’s harder obviously with marriage – everything with life versus when it’s just a song. I think that’s really helped us to communicate in a way where we’re speaking each other’s languages, like in marriage as well.
L+T: You can really hear and see that synergy on this new EP and in your live performances. It’s undeniable. Heart Beats (EP) sounds like a diary. So when you’re writing a song, is it something natural and unforced?
AR: Our strategy in songwriting, is we never really try and force it. You don’t try to just bull your way through a song. You want to make sure you feel it and it’s really from your heart. Second of all, we also just don’t wait for inspiration. It’s an interesting combination. With “Heart Beats” in particular, it’s like most songs – one of us is in the kitchen, the other one is in the living room, and I’m playing guitar. With that song in particular, it was almost like a stream of consciousness. It almost all came out at once. I remember the first chorus came out almost all in one fluid stream the first time we sat down to write “Heart Beats.” It was a time that was really tough for both of us. We both lost a parent. Before that, I hadn’t lost anybody. It was just one of those moments where the music and what was in both of our hearts kind of just linked up simultaneously. In that song, “I want to go where no one else can follow,” “I want to run” – it was just a real, natural feeling. I think most the songs we write feel that way, but not all of them. We kind of just sit and wait and become patient. We make sure every song has every ounce of our heart.
L+T: That’s really important as a singer, songwriter, and artist. In order to really convey your thoughts to the listeners, you have to be patient in order for it to be something that you’re proud of.
AS: Some things make more sense than the other things. You kind of have to find that balance of what’s really authentic. You want other people to feel like, ‘That’s exactly how I was feeling. You said it in a way that I couldn’t have.’ The only way you can do that is if you’re honest.
L+T: In a marriage you have different traits you bring to the table separately. I even translate this into a creative and songwriting relationship. Growing up in different individual backgrounds, what aspects of it has effected your approach to music?
AR: For me, the clear leader of my family was my father. He passed away a couple of years ago now. My dad was a pastor in Cuba, he loved music but he was tone deaf. He’d always show me his favorite songs and sing with all his heart. For me, at a very young age because of the way I was raised and the way my father was and his influence on me – great music always had a direct connection to your heart. It wasn’t so much just a lyric that was awesome, it kind of all varied but the one constant was how connected was it to your heart. So, even when my dad was preaching and my dad was singing out of tune on something – it was always about how connected to your heart that song was or what you were saying was. That was kind of the gold standard. When we’re writing a song, that’s the gold standard. Not how can we make this song popular…how connected to my heart it is. I think that’s the number one influence that my upbringing has on my songwriting. And then number two, just the songs my parents raised me on – old Cuban tunes. I started listening to soul music in high school – old Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, and all that stuff. I really think it’s a passion. I like that question, Gabrielle.
AS: I think for me, it’s the passion and actual love of music. When I was growing up, especially with my dad, I would hear a song on the radio and it could be anything. The first thing that I bought, which I think is kind of funny because at the time we were living in Connecticut. I don’t know what radio station had it, but it played Vince Gill. I never heard anything country before. I was like, ‘Dad, who is this?’ He was like, ‘Oh, we can go to the record store and get it for you.’ So, I got my allowance and I got one of those cassettes…I listened to it all the way home. I got home and I realized that I didn’t have a boombox to play it in. So, I put it in a Teddy Ruxpin. So, my little Teddy Ruxpin played a lot of Vince Gill. If I was at all curious, my dad would go out and find whoever inspired the person that I was inspired by and he would get me a bunch of CDs or records of everybody. There’s always a general fascination with songwriting. You’re always finding new nuggets of things that you love and new nuggets of things that inspire you. They (the parents) really encouraged that and they really nourished that.