Johnnyswim's First Album a Product of Love, Blood, and Sweat
Jeremy Cowart/Sacks & Co.
Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez are about to hit the ground running.
The husband-and-wife team are home in Los Angeles for all of three hours, hustling to get laundry done in their Toluca Lake apartment, only hours before leaving for another tour stretch again. Such tribulations are nothing new for the duo, however -- they're the creative center of Johnnyswim, having come together as independent songwriters in Nashville in 2005, later capitalizing on a different kind of chemistry and marrying four years later. Working their fingers to the bone has been all that Sudano and Ramirez have known, though they're now gaining some serious traction with the release of their record Diamonds, their first LP since the band's inception.
"It's been nine years of grinding," Ramirez says. "Of those nine years, it's been seven or eight years of being told we're doing the wrong thing, or that we're taking too much time, that we should be solo artists, should be singing R&B or something. The vast majority of the nine years that we've been Johnnyswim has been frustrating, hard work."
That work is coming full circle now. With an NPR Tiny Desk concert in April and the premiere of their video for "Home" on both VH1 and CMT, Johnnyswim's foray into the mainstream is underway. That listed coverage alone says something of the band's cross-genre appeal. It's the product of both Ramirez's classical, academic music training and of Sudano's upbringing -- a childhood that included singing backup for her mother, the legendary Donna Summer. Finding that creative balance didn't come without significant self-doubt along the way though.
"You play a show that you really love, there's a lot of people there, you really feel fired up and you feel like it's a win, and you get a review that's like 'It was OK,'" Sudano says. "There's usually like a day where I just lay in bed and cry, like 'What do I do? I'm horrible,' but then I think 'I love doing this anyways, I don't really care.'"
If nothing else, Ramirez and Sudano have each other. The married narrative is a big part of Johnnyswim, whether it's in their appeal or just their approach to songwriting. Unsurprisingly, neither can imagine making music without the other -- the only separation they face "is when he goes to the movies and I stay home and watch Call The Midwife on Netflix," Sudano laughs. Though the writing came first and the dating came later, destiny intervened somewhere along the way.
"I think honestly, legit, this is what we were born to do," Ramirez explains. "We were born to spend our days together writing songs, traveling around the world. I don't think that's for everybody. Maybe other relationships, I don't know, because I only know what I have and what I have is what I'm obsessed with."
"Have you ever been on a catamaran?"
Ramirez, Sudano and I are sitting backstage at El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, posted up on a flight of stairs just minutes after their sold-out hometown show's riotous encore. Ramirez asks me this question with little to no rhetorical weight behind it before launching into a metaphor that summarizes the pivotal nature of the set they've just finished.
"You don't realize the power of the wind on an object that floats on water until the first time you're on something that has a sail, and the wind just blows invisibly and tugs you toward the sea," he says, gesticulating to drive his point home. "It's kind of scary and whatever, but tonight is that moment, that first time on the catamaran, and the wind blows."
He finishes his thought and Sudano, her arm linked in his, chides him in person the way she does onstage.
"You're so poetic," she says.
Ramirez is onto something here, however. The national press attention they've received does help, but there's been an huge upsurge in their fan base as of late. The last time they played a L.A. show was at the Hotel Cafe, a tiny room that's a proving ground for singer-songwriter and indie acts. Ramirez estimates that Johnnyswim played to 74 people that night, 30 of whom were on their guest list. On this particular evening at the El Rey, they played to 800 people, many of whom knew Ramirez and Sudano's words by heart, belting them back at the stage. This show may have been that necessary catalyst for Johnnyswim's next phase.
"You hold on with two hands, and something powerful is happening, it's exciting, it's scary," Ramirez says. "It's kind of everything."