Flip your calendars back to an afternoon somewhere between the late 80s and early 90s. Donna Summer is half way to the bathroom in an attempt to subtly discard of Johnny, a floating goldfish, before a young Amanda Sudano arrives home to the tiny tragedy. As fate would have it, Amanda walks in to find Ms. Summer bowl-in-hand, and in a desperate panic pleads, "No wait, he's alive! Johnny, swim!" Fast forward to 2014. Johnny didn't make it, but out of the ashes of that adorably heartbreaking moment of childhood reckoning has raised the Nashville duo Johnnyswim. Well, that's one version at least; the band has been known to tell a few tales when it comes to their name.
Meet Johnnyswim: One half Amanda Sudano, the actual daughter of Donna Summer, and one half Abner Ramirez, the actual husband of bandmate Amanda Sudano. As far as we can tell, and anyone who spends thirty seconds with the duo can tell, there is no White Stripes-flavored relationship storytelling going on here; these two are indeed a family and a band. Both members fell in love with music before meeting and falling in love with each other. Sudano grew up touring as a back-up vocalist for her songstress Mother, and Ramirez found the guitar as a kid in Jacksonville, Florida and never let go. Give their first LP, Diamonds, a listen, and you'll be glad he never let go of the girl or the guitar.
Sudano has a voice like ocean air: as delicate as the faintest breeze when she's drifting over calmer seas, and as forceful as a tempest when the hurricane waters rise. It truly is a blessed union when matched with Ramirez's rolling seas-style of strumming, not to mention his own equally impressive vocal skills. The Johnnyswim sound lands somewhere in the neighborhood of alternative, country, and blues, but without being any of the three. Two parts Sara Bareilles, two parts Ray LaMontagne, one part tender acumen, shake and strain into a glass made of comfort and trust, then sip, swig, or shoot depending on the song.
Diamonds is more than a tall drink of beautiful music. Three years in the making, the final product is a line graph of loss, disappointment, anger, and ultimately: acceptance and love. Within the space of a year both Ramirez and Sudano endured the loss of a parent. They have also experienced the birth of their musical career. Diamonds marks, for each of them, that moment when music is no longer just a passionate side project but a livelihood. As Ramirez told us, "Each song is a song we had to write. There's nothing on there that we wrote as a single, or that we wrote because radio would like it, or because our label told us we needed a song like this or that. They're either cathartic or therapeutic for us, as a couple or as individuals."
The record maps a journey, and in keeping with the nature of a good journey, it continues to provide insight even after the ride is over. "Diamonds", the album's title track, was written as a bit of a rally anthem directed at some less than encouraging feedback from persons close to the duo. As Sudano puts it bluntly, "We wrote it as this therapeutic but also, you know, 'you can go suck it,' kind of song."
It wasn't until they played it live for the first time, at St.Jude's Children's Hospital, that the pair found a more complete meaning to the tune. Sudano relayed for us the moment when she realized, "Oh, this song can do more than just tell somebody to suck it. It was making mothers cry as we were singing it, and all of a sudden it totally changed in us even what we think about when we sing [it]."
Honesty is the common denominator between Johnnyswim as a couple and as a band. It oozes from the two of them as they finish each other's sentences, and it radiates from every track on the new LP. Be it one of heartbreak, loneliness, or utter gratitude, there isn't a moment of insincerity to be had with Johnnyswim.
Tune in to our Dead Kitten session with Johnnyswim (found here) to catch a beautiful live set of a few choice tracks from Diamonds and a brief interview with Sudano and Ramirez. Watch a clip of the duo performing "Home" below.