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Folk-Pop Duo Johnnyswim Doesn’t Live for “Average”

A son of Cuban immigrants and the daughter of the late Donna Summer get candid

The husband-wife singer-songwriter duo known as Johnnyswim have been creating raw, emotional love songs since 2006. Their newest album “Georgica Pond” was released on October 14 and they immediately began selling out show after show.

“We spend most of our lives touring. That’s what we do. We write songs with the thought of how this will sound with an audience and the band and where we can veer off the beaten path and do new stuff every night. For me, sales are great but I remember those first couple of shows that sold out before the record was released and I felt like a success,” Amanda Sudano Ramirez said, noting that having the album debut at #13 on Billboard’s Top Current Album chart was the cherry on top.

One difference about this tour is that the duo have their two-year-old son, Joaquin, with them. Amanda is no stranger to parenting on the road as she is the daughter of the late Donna Summer and grew up surrounded by the bright lights. 

Amanda and husband Abner Ramirez sat down with DuJour in between feeding Joaquin and helping to set up their own equipment to talk about their family backgrounds, “Georgica Pond” and what makes them emotional on stage.   

What does Johnnyswim mean?

ABNER: I had a cousin who was a really smart dude. He wasn’t an athlete but he loved swimming and always wanted to do it competitively, even though he wasn’t the best in the water. One day, I went to my cousin Johnny’s swim meet. He’d been bugging me to come watch him and I knew how passionate he was. I show up and he’s all smiles. The whistle goes off, guns fire, he starts swimming and he looks like he’ll be fine. Half-way through the race though, he starts to lag By the time he hits the wall he was struggling. But, he still had this huge smile on his face. He was trying his best and was so happy to be there. I looked around and nobody was cheering for the kids in the lead anymore. Everyone started chanting, “Swim Johnny, swim!” Everyone came together to support my cousin who was there for the love of the sport. 

Amanda and I actually hung out for the first time that day and I think it was a huge symbol for us. Regardless of success, the wins or losses, sometimes it’s more about the passion someone has and the people who are there to support them.

Photo Credit: Darren Lau

How did the creative process for your new album differ from that of your last album?

ABNER: “Diamonds” was our first studio album that we produced ourselves and with “Georgica Pond.” We learned a lot. I overwhelmed myself with concern on the first album. If anything wasn’t exactly right I’d do more, do more add more. With “Georgica Pond,” if something didn’t feel right, I’d take everything away and focus on what was carrying the weight of the song. Sometimes it’s the drums, most of the time it’s just her vocal. It was more art of subtraction rather than art of addition.

AMANDA: Well, we recorded it at home. We converted a room upstairs into a studio. Everyday we’d have breakfast together as a family, have our coffees, go outside and play with Joaquin, Abner would go upstairs and start the process, I’d put Joaquin down for a nap, then I’d run up. There was one song we wrote in one night right after we put Joaquin to bed. Because we were at home and more relaxed, we could play around. It feels more organic and honest. There are a few songs that Joaquin is very obviously on but there are a lot of tracks that to the naked ear, you can’t hear him but if you isolate the guitar or drums you’ll hear us in the background like, “Quiet, Joaquin! Shh!” We had the freedom to decide if we thought it was the best take, and it featured Joaquin, we’d put it on the album.

How do you think your family backgrounds have played a role in your music?

ABNER: My family came over on a little boat from Cuba. It took three days to do a 45-mile trip because they traveled during a hurricane. There were so many people on the boat they couldn’t sit down. It was an epic story of refugees. When they came here, for my whole life, my dad and my mom implanted in me almost like a chip, “You will not live your life just for ‘average’. It’s not going to be just, ‘getting by kind of happy’. You will find what you’re passionate about and you will seek it out like gold. And then you will live for that your entire life.” I am a product of my father’s passion and his father before him. For me, selling out Irving Plaza is no small feat. It’s more than a dream come true- it’s generations in the making. 

AMANDA: My parents don’t have that story. They were two young kids who met on their musical journey. My mom moved to Germany when she was 19, my dad to Los Angeles from Brooklyn. They wanted to pursue their dreams. They instilled it in us that following your dreams and want you’re passionate about it always worth it. 

When we were just starting out, broke, schlepping in cars, driving across the country to play shows to ten people, just trying to make it work, my parents used to say to us, “these are the good ole’ days”.

Photo Credit: Darren Lau

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

ABNER: I try to shower before a show. I take a really hot shower and get my meditation going. But really, we do the Triple P. We pee, pray and do push-ups. We try to make the push-ups into a pseudonym for where we are playing that night.

AMANDA: We’ll do the New York Nine, Texas Twenty, D.C. Dozen. Some are tough like the Minneapolis Many- we just did as many as we wanted to.

That’s awesome. Have you always done the Triple P?

AMANDA: As long as I can remember! When I was pregnant the before-show pee was really crucial. Then there was the during-show pee. There was a part during the set when he sang by himself and that was my cue to go pee and to get a snack like a dried apricot or something.

Are there any songs that are more difficult to perform live ?

AMANDA: “Georgica Pond” is a song for Joaquin about my mom who passed away a couple years ago. It’s a song that I would sing to him when putting him down for a nap or going for a walk. It’s the kind of song that I hope he would listen to later and know how I felt. Once every three shows I cry. Especially if he’s anywhere near me, if I can see him, then I definitely cry. 

ABNER: I sing this song called “Drunks” that’s tough emotionally for some reason. At its core, it is a song about purpose. It’s a song that resonates in America’s political atmosphere today. We’ve really embraced hating people and “Drunks” for me, strikes me in the gut when I sing it. I think we are better together than we are apart regardless of if we agree or disagree. I really believe that love is stronger than hate. I don’t think it’s just a slogan, I think it’s catchy and important.

AMANDA: You don’t have to hate something more to prove your love for something else. Just love something.

ABNER: Oh, that’s great. I like that. 

What is a band or artist that fans would be surprised to hear you listen to?

ABNER: I listen to a lot of DJ Snake. 

AMANDA: At home we listen to a lot of classical music. We love this guy, Chilly Gonzales who is classical but he’s done a lot of work with Drake and Feist and more contemporary artists as well. He has a piece called “Kenaston” that we always put on at home.

ABNER: Hey Siri, play Kenaston.

AMANDA: A friend of ours introduced us to this and this song is really special to him because his mom passed away and she loved this record. He learned the entire record so he could play it for her in the hospital. This was the song she passed away to. It’s heart wrenching and beautiful. 


Listen to Johnnyswim’s newest album, “Georgica Pond” here: