By Lindsey Lowe Osborne
Photo by Jeremy Cowart
There are a number of stories floating around on the Internet about how now-husband-and-wife duo Johnnyswim came up with their name. Some speculate that it came from the scene in Jaws where the kid Johnny is about to go under and his friend shouts, “Swim, Johnny, swim!” Another story says it originated when the female half of the duo, Amanda Sudano, walked in on her mom trying to get rid of Amanda’s dead fish when she was a kid. As the story goes, Amanda said something along the lines of, “He’s OK! Johnny, swim!” Still another had something to do with a cat named Johnny and a dog named Sandwiches. Whatever the case, the name stuck and, since the start of Johnnyswim in 2006, the pair has certainly made a name for themselves.
“From the moment I realized that music was an option in life, it’s all I wanted to do,” says Abner Ramirez, Sudano’s other half. “It’s the famous saying that if you can do something you love, you won’t work a day in your life. It still feels like work a little bit, but surely the thing I love most after friends and family is being able to play music. It brings out the passion in life.”
The two began collaborating after they met in Nashville, Tennessee, when they realized their musical styles were similar. “We saw each other across a crowded room, and…nothing happened for four years except that we cyberstalked each other,” says Sudano. “We were both a little bit burned out on the music scene. Abner had had a bad record deal, and I had been working with a bunch of producers whom I felt like didn’t quite get me. But when we started writing together, it just felt like we were kids again, writing songs and singing together. We just needed to be having fun and feeling something.” They realized they had struck gold, figuratively speaking, and in more ways than one (“we started writing together and making out at about the same time,” Sudano shares. “And we kept writing and kept making out, and everything worked out.”)
The two released their first EP, Johnnyswim, in 2008, with two more EPs following—Home, Vol. 1 in 2012, and Heart Beats in 2013—as well as their first album, Diamonds, plus A Johnnyswim Christmas in 2014. They are releasing a live record, Johnnyswim: Live at Rockwood, recorded at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City, in February, and a new album will be released this June. “Our music evolves just like people evolve,” Ramirez says. “It grows as we grow. We discover more about ourselves and what we love. As we grow as musicians and songwriters and storytellers, the songs grow. Hopefully it matures like wine—it’s not necessarily better, but it changes honestly as we do.”
They have a blues/folksy sound, but what strikes me most about it is that their music sounds friendly, like they’re in the middle of your living room, just strumming along. “Our dream for our music is that it’s honest, that it’s sincere,” says Sudano. “It’s kind of like your hope for your kid—you give it the best that you can give it, and you hope that it goes on in life and does more than you could ever do. You hope you give it the right things and it goes out into the world to be who it is.
“We hope it does more for people than our original intent,” she continues. “We have songs that were meant to be angry songs, but people will comment and say, ‘Oh, man, that made me feel so much better.’ Or we have sad, kind of depressing songs, but people say, ‘Now I feel understood.’ So we hope that people can relate to it have and that feeling of, ‘I should have written that song because that’s exactly how I feel.’”
It’s this connection with people that Ramirez likes the most about playing music. “There’s a third member of Johnnyswim, and that’s the people out there,” says Ramirez. “Every night’s different because of that. I love seeing the response of the crowd, feeling like there’s not a barrier between us and the crowd.”
“The thing that surprises me most is that I still really enjoy myself. I still have fun schlepping the baby around and enjoying myself,” says Sudano. “You think, ‘Oh, maybe after a couple of years, I’m going to be over it, and I’m going to be burned out.’ So far, 10 years in, I love it even more. It still feels new. It’s kind of the same thing with a good marriage—it’s how I feel about Abner. It still feels new; I’m still having fun.”
The duo stops by Iron City on Jan. 23. Don’t miss them, and if you get a chance, get the real story about their name.
2/12: Anders Osborne at Workplay. For fans of Eric Lindell and the Honey Island Swamp Band.
2/23: O.A.R. at Druid City Music Hall. For fans of the Dave Matthews Band and Dispatch.
2/28: Randy Newman at the Lyric Theatre. For fans of Carole King and James Taylor.