The husband-wife folk duo talks about their full-length debut, "Diamonds"
After three EPs, including 2013's particularly well-received "Heart Beats," the husband-wife duo Johnnyswim is more than chomping at the bit to release its full-length debut, "Diamonds," on April 29.
"Because we have a bunch of different influences, the EPs for us was a way to be able to get out a bunch of different ideas in kind of shotgun style, sequentially, and really find our voice, find where our sound is," Abner Ramirez, who started making music with Amanda Sudano-Ramirez -- daughter of the late Donna Summer and songwriter/producer Bruce Sudano -- after meeting 2005 in Nashville, tells Billboard. "The album is really a proud moment. We knew we were developing into something where we knew would know when the time was right for an album. It feels like a graduation. It feels not like arriving but the beginning of something new, stepping from one platform onto a new one. It does feel like a the next great step."
But rest assured that the 12 tracks on "Diamonds" still cut a wide stylistic swatch for Johnnyswim. "I don't know what our expectations were in finding a sound," Ramirez explains. "I think we realized it wasn't necessarily a genre or a specific sound we were looking for. It was more of kind of personal growth and growth as writers. I think our songs themselves, regardless if they're folk-influenced, indie folk-influenced or R&B- and blues-influenced, our voice is the same throughout. We found that the way we deliver a story is our sound. I think we'll make all kinds of different records but always sound like us."
Sudano-Ramirez, who toured as a backing vocalist for her mother, adds that, "Growing up for me in a musical home, you have a lot of people in the industry that want to make you something -- 'You can be the next this' or 'You can be the next that.' We didn't want that. We wanted to be ourselves, whatever that meant, and we took the time to learn what that was."
Ramirez says writing many of the songs on "Diamonds" was "a bit of therapy for us" during a 10-month period when they lost his father as well as Sudano-Ramirez's mother and grandmothers.
"There was a sense of honesty and a sense of catharsis. These were songs we NEEDED to write," he says. Some were profound, of course, but for the track "Home," which became the title of the duo's 2012 EP, Sudano-Ramirez says "we set ourselves on this path of having fun writing and letting it just come out. So we went through this hard point and 'Home' really came out of that, a sense of wanting to escape and knowing you had it in you to get through what you needed to -- but man, it's tough." Ramirez, meanwhile, adds that, " 'Home' was a song we needed to write, too," Ramirez recalls. "We had spent all day trying to write other stuff and we knew we weren't landing it. 'Home' was an exercise in making you we still had fun writing songs."
The Ramirezes are looking forward to playing those songs again for audiences starting April 5 in Ann Arbor, Mich., with an itinerary that includes slots at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware and this year's Lollapalooza in Chicago. And while they've offered a number of stories about their group moniker, Sudano-Ramirez says that truth is it came from her husband's tenure as a contestant on the ABC reality series "Wipeout" -- before he joined the show's staff as an obstacle tester.
"Abner had a partner named Johnny, and Johnny didn't swim well but Abner really wanted to win the $50,000," she recalls. "In order to win, Johnny had to swim fast." Ramirez: "So I did lose my voice screaming at the guy to swim -- 'Swim, Johnny, swim~!' " Sudano-Ramirez: "We were waiting for him at home and had a 'Congratulations' banner up on the wall. Abner called on the way and said, 'I didn't win,' so we took the banner down -- but still drank the champagne. He didn't win the $50,000, but we did get the band name out of it."