It’s a fact that keeping a band united and contented is a tough endeavor in itself, but trying to maintain a personal relationship – a marriage even – amidst that tumultuous touring lifestyle must be another trial entirely. The husband-wife duo of Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez, aka Johnnyswim, make it look easy.
Their onstage chemistry was undeniable at last Thursday night’s sold out show in Annapolis. Both Ramirez and Sudano have amazing voices, and together they weave in and out of melodies and harmonies with incredible ease (he is a bilingual, vocal school graduate, and she clearly inherited the powerful voice of her mother, the late Donna Summer).
Johnnyswim has received a lot of hype in the last year or so, following the release of their well-received debut EP Heartbeats and recent release of their first LP. “I don’t know if you all know this, but a month and a half ago we had a baby,” Amanda announced suddenly to congratulatory cheers from the audience.
“We’re going to sell it after the show to anyone who wants it,” she added, as half the audience hushed in confusion and others chuckled. “It’s just a record! But it feels like our baby. It took about nine months to make…”
That record, Diamonds, echoes the uplifting indie folk pop common today (similar to the Head and the Heart, or a more soulful Angus and Julia Stone, etc.) and the new songs were featured prominently in Thursday night’s set. But unlike their contemporaries, Sudano and Ramirez set their music apart with an effortless R&B/soul flavor, courtesy of their impeccable voices. The result is a very genuine and gratifying combination of old school vocal range updated with the pop sensibilities and inspiring lyrics of modern alternative/indie bands.
The pair exudes affection on stage, staring into each others eyes as if they were the only two people in the entire room, letting the audience revel in their musical ability and mutual adoration. The whole audience was wrapped up in their romance. I barely noticed when Ramirez flubbed the opening lines to an early song – the band just laughed it off and so did the crowd.
The story of their meeting, engagement in Paris, and life together as a touring couple is enough content alone to write a decent rom-com movie, but their collective musical instincts and energy make them the true new band to watch. Their vocal chops and versatility were put on display within the first five minutes of the show, as Sudano and Ramirez stepped on stage and set the scene with an intimate duet before their band mates joined them for an explosive opening. “Welcome ladies and gentlemen; we’re Johnnyswim, and this is what we do!” Ramirez shouted over the elated crowd erupting into a cacophony of claps and chants, all at his command.
The best moment of the night came after Ramirez told the story of a derisive former peer who called the duo after their 2013 Late Show performance only to ask, “How much does it cost to get on Leno? I have some stuff I want to promote.”
Needless to say, Johnnyswim felt a bit peeved after receiving that call, and in response, they wrote the title-track for their latest album. “We sat down and wrote this song right after that incident, and we really wanted this to be a ‘suck it’ song, specifically for this guy,” Ramirez explained. “And the first place we played this song…was at St. Jude Children’s Hospital – true story.”
See the live video for “Diamonds,” below.
– Matt Ellis