Music Interviews
11:10 am
Mon April 28, 2014

Johnnyswim: A Husband And Wife On A 'Constant Adventure'

Originally published on Mon April 28, 2014 2:54 pm

Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez met in Nashville, started writing songs together and fell in love — maybe in that order. It may sound like a wedding announcement in the newspaper, but it's how Johnnyswim got started.

"The more songs we wrote together, the more time we spent alone together, which is really all I was interested in. The more songs were good, the more chance of making out we had," Abner Ramirez tells NPR's Melissa Block, laughing. "I mean, honestly, this all was just a ploy to have this girl in my life, and so now I have to continue the ruse of playing music. I found that even though I had sung with other people, written with other people, there was a connection — something about it was good. We got to the point of a song more quickly than with other people that I would write with. It just felt right."

After several singles and EPs (and a move to Los Angeles), Diamonds will be the husband-and-wife duo's first proper full-length album. Just listening to a new song like "Falling for Me," it's hard to hear where one voice ends and another begins, and sometimes it's a little confusing for the band itself.

"Quite often when we sing live, the biggest problem is making sure that our monitors are separate, because otherwise I can't tell sometimes who's singing what because our voices are so similar," Sudano says. "Singing together for this long, I guess it's less we melded into singing the same and more where we make room for one another. It's more walking in a straight line together; it's more like a dance where we've learned to kind of blend even just in the inflections of things. I think that's what I hear more than anything."

Sudano is the daughter of the late disco and R&B singer Donna Summer, and even spent summers as a backing vocalist on tour. But that's where the comparisons end.

"It's my mom's voice, so in my head, it's the first voice you hear," Sudano says. "You know, I did grow inside of her, so I've heard her voice my whole life. I don't remember not knowing her voice, so I'm sure I do things that sound like her. But I think it's just a very different thing than looking physically like somebody else. I'm just so used to her singing her songs — and she was a belter, you know. I remember hearing a lot of these opera songs, because she could yodel and do all of this awesome stuff that I could never do. It sets it apart in my ear for me."

Ramirez is much more to the point: "It's fully her as much as her fingerprint is unique to her — her voice is fully Amanda and fully awesome."

Sudano and Ramirez spend a lot of time on the road, in the studio and at home, but they say it never becomes too much. For them, it's "all one kind of stream of life."

"I think it's almost the opposite of maybe what people expect to think," Sudano says. "Instead of the longer you're out on the road it gets more claustrophobic, the longer you're out on the road it gets nicer to have [Ramirez] there, because he's the closest thing to home I have. Home is where he is. The farther away I get from being at home, the more I cling to being near him, because he gives me that sense of, 'OK, everything's all right,' and he brings me back to home."

"The greatest asset in our marriage," Ramirez adds, "is that we're on a constant adventure together."

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR STRUMMING)

BLOCK: The duo of Johnnyswim is the husband and wife team of Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez. They met in Nashville, started writing songs together, fell in love - maybe in that order.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ABNER RAMIREZ: (Singing) We fell in love on a stormy skies, never needing no reason why...

JOHNNYSWIM: (Singing) Danger always was a friend of mine.

BLOCK: Abner Ramirez is the son of Cuban immigrants. Amanda Sudano-Ramirez is the daughter of the late disco queen Donna Summers and producer and songwriter Bruce Sudano. They came by our studios recently to talk about their partnership and their debut album titled "Diamonds."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU AND I")

JOHNNYSWIM: (Singing) We are. We are. Oh, we are, you and I, we found one. You and I, we rain and thunder. You and I, there is no other. You and I. You and I, we'll waves in the old. You and I, 1000 stone walls shining on the lost in loves is you and I.

BLOCK: When you two got together and started writing songs and singing together, what did you hear in that? What did you discover about each other when you started doing that?

RAMIREZ: The first thing I noticed is that the more songs we wrote together, the more time we spend alone together, which is really all I was interested in. The more songs were good, the more chance of making out we had.

(LAUGHTER)

RAMIREZ: So I mean, honestly, this all was just a ploy to have this girl in my life, and so now I have to continue the ruse of playing music.

AMANDA SUDANO: OK. Yes.

RAMIREZ: But I found that even though I had sung with other people, there was a connection, there was kind of a - something about it was good. And we got to the point of a song more quickly than with other people that I would write with. It just felt right.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC AND HUMMING)

BLOCK: We hear you two trading lines, trading off lines on the song "Falling for Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FALLING FOR ME")

JOHNNYSWIM: (Singing) I'm a diamond in the rough and wild. You're a heart that's just too wild and free. I'm looking for a hand to hold me. You're just looking for a chance to bring me to my knees.

BLOCK: I'm curious to ask you about this because when I listen to this I feel like your voice is her sounding very similar to each other and I wonder as you've gotten to know each other for the years, whether you think your voices have changed and have come closer together.

RAMIREZ: I think that it's a lot like a married couple that ends up looking alike, even though we looked like before we got married.

(LAUGHTER)

RAMIREZ: I think nothing actually changes, really, but it's just perceived differently. But I think we may make room for each other a little more or maybe we have, I guess, now that I'm thinking about it. But it's always felt right, like it's always just felt just close enough to where it seem like it worked.

BLOCK: Do you hear a similarity in it?

SUDANO: I definitely. Actually, quite often when we sing live, the biggest problem is making sure that our monitors are separate, because otherwise, I can't tell sometimes who's singing what because our voices are so similar that I'm like, is that in the singing that note? Sorry, that's Abner. Got to find - I got to find my note.

(LAUGHTER)

SUDANO: But yeah, I think singing together for this long, I guess it's less that we melded into having singing the same and more, like Abner said, where we make room for one another. And more than, you know, walking in a straight line together; it's more like a dance where we've learned to kind of blend, I guess, even just in the inflections of things. And so I think that's what I hear more than anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FALLING FOR ME")

JOHNNYSWIM: (Singing) Some may say is that to chase a heart locked away. On its own, solace in me. There ain't no thing in this world you'd like to be, less than a wounded soul like me. That's what you get for falling for me.

BLOCK: You know, Amanda, as I listen to you sing, I also feel like I'm hearing a lot of your mother, Donna Summer. I'm hearing a lot of her voice, sort of the catch in your voice a little bit. Do you hear that?

SUDANO: I mean I don't. But it's weird for me. People ask me a lot of questions about her voice and, you know, did she teach you to sing. It's my mom's voice. So in my head, you know, it's the first voice you hear. You're, you know, I did grow inside of her so I've heard her voice my whole life. I don't remember not knowing her voice. So I'm sure there's things that I do like her. But I think it's just, it's a very different thing than looking physically like somebody else. I'm just I'm just so used to her singing her songs - and she was a belter, you know. So I remember hearing a lot of these like beautiful almost like opera songs, because she could yodel and do all of this awesome stuff that I could never do. So it kind of sets it apart in my ear for me.

BLOCK: Abner, when you listen to Amanda sing, do you hear shades of Donna Summer in there too?

RAMIREZ: Nah, man. I hear Amanda Grace Sudano-Ramirez, the baddest chick I know. I really do.

(LAUGHTER)

RAMIREZ: Like, I really do. It's fully her as much as her fingerprint is unique to her - her voice is fully Amanda and fully awesome.

BLOCK: Aw.

SUDANO: Aw. I married him for a reason, folks.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JOHNNYSWIM: (Singing) Your love beats on fire, mountaintops down with me. Your heart is so wild but never free.

BLOCK: I'm talking with Amanda Sudano-Ramirez and Abner Ramirez. They are the group Johnnyswim.

You know, you must have to spend so much time together on the road, at home, writing in the studio, does it start to feel claustrophobic at any point? I mean does it just feel like it's too much to be with each other so much working?

SUDANO: No.

RAMIREZ: Never. That never really happens.

SUDANO: That's not really. Yeah.

RAMIREZ: Because were so intertwined and it doesn't - I can get tired of other people if I see them at home and I see them on the road a bunch because it feels like two separate occasions. This is just their life. Like we cook together - mostly her.

SUDANO: Yeah, I was going to say we do?

RAMIREZ: We get together, at least, after you cook.

(LAUGHTER)

RAMIREZ: and we sing together and we traveled together and we get to do wonderful things, like being here with you today and it's all one kind of stream of life.

SUDANO: Everything is it's almost the opposite of maybe what people expect to think. Instead of it kind of the longer you're out on the road it gets more claustrophobic, the longer you're out on the road it gets nicer to have him there, because he's the closest thing to home that I have. You know, home is where he is. The farther away I get from being at home, the more I kind of cling to being near him, because he gives me that sense of, okay, everything's all right, and he kind of brings me back to home. So it's almost like it goes the opposite direction and it doesn't get more claustrophobic.

RAMIREZ: Yeah. And with what we do there so much giving, like there so much that isn't us interacting all the time that oftentimes on the night of a show the most we interact is on stage. And about the time we get back to the hotel or home we just pass out. So it's never, we've never gotten into a groove where days have been boring, really. And so I think the greatest asset that we have in our marriage, is that we're on a constant adventure together.

BLOCK: Amanda and Abner, thanks so much for coming in.

SUDANO: Thank you so much for having us. This was...

RAMIREZ: My gosh. It's honestly a dream come true to be here. Thank you.

SUDANO: Dream come true.

BLOCK: Wow.

(LAUGHTER)

RAMIREZ: It is. It is. Absolutely. Long road trips listening to NPR, we're in the building right now.

BLOCK: Now you are in it. You're in the mother ship.

SUDANO: Yes.

BLOCK: Thanks so much for coming by.

RAMIREZ: Thank you.

SUDANO: Our pleasure.

BLOCK: And Abner, you brought your guitar. Do you want to take us out with something?

RAMIREZ: Absolutely. Here we go.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIAMONDS")

JOHNNYSWIM: (Singing) In the wake of every heartache. In the depth of every fear. There were diamonds, diamonds. Waiting to break out of here. We're the fire, from the sun. We're the light when the day is done. We are the brave, the chosen ones. We're the diamonds, diamonds. Rising about the dust.

BLOCK: The title song "Diamonds" from the new CD by Johnnyswim, Abner and Amanda Sudano Ramirez. And you can watch a live performance of Johnnyswim here at NPR. They're Tiny Desk Concert is up at nprmusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIAMONDS")

JOHNNYSWIM: (Singing) Oh...

BLOCK: (Singing) You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.