Genius music makers and living-your-best-life gurus Abner and Amanda Ramirez release eponymous fourth studio album, ‘JOHNNYSWIM’, filled with songs that remind you to find beauty in the slow down and hope in the future.
Stream: ‘JOHNNYSWIM’ – Johnnyswim
Oftentimes in the act of writing the songs we discover how we really feel about things.
ollectively, the world has gone through a lot over the past two years. The fears, revelations, surprises, and changes that have come at paces slow and fast has been the hardest thing for most to wrap their heads around. And while these emotions may have been heightened as of late, the lessons learned from them will remain to be some of the most important in our lives. Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano Ramirez, the duo who make Johnnyswim, have somehow eloquently and excitedly captured life’s most important lessons with their devastating, shiny and heavenly eponymous fourth studio album, JOHNNYSWIM.
Atwood had the honor of sitting down with Amanda and Abner, just one week before their album release, to dive into the intricacies of the album. It has so much depth interspersed with sparks of brevity, mirroring the pair as they are so clearly and passionately doing all that they can to live life to the fullest, while also so graciously appreciating exactly what they have in this moment. It is something to admire, and if you really listen to this album, you’ll be able to take away the lessons they have learned and apply them to your own. It is music doing exactly what music was meant to do, uniting us, and making us feel a little less alone.
This album, JOHNNYSWIM, will serve as a reminder for anyone who listens to stop and smell the roses and to never give up on their dreams, all at the same time.
A CONVERSATION WITH JOHNNYSWIM
Atwood Magazine: I want to start by talking about “Bullet.” It has such a build and then explodes into such a fun bridge. Tell me a bit about this one.
Amanda: Yes, the bridge is reminiscent of high school cheer squad. It’s so fun. We wrote that one with a friend of ours, Harold Brown, who’s in a group called Maverick City. He had written a song early in the pandemic that came on our new music radar, and we really liked it. It turned out that he was friend of a friend, so we were able to get together and write. We wrote “Slow” with him along with four or five others, two of which made the album – “Bullet” was one of them.
It was a super fun one to write. It was kind of one of the ones where we just were having fun. At that point in the album, we had said a lot of serious things, we had written “Big Time” and “Devastating,” so a lot of the weightier feelings had already come out. For this one, I was looking back on people that I dated before Abner, and I always felt so glad that didn’t work out. I would think, “wow, he was horrible.” And now years later I’m realizing that I was probably horrible too.
Abner: I remember a girl I dated in college, and I always remember that when that relationship ended, she was the villain and I was the hero, but now I’m like “oh, maybe I was the villain.”
Amanda: When you’re young it feels like everything is so binary and as you get older you realize that everyone has their thing. It was a super fun one to write and I hope that comes across in the song.
It definitely comes across and such an interesting way to go back and see things. “Slow” is the next one I want to talk about. It’s obviously very timely, but also is timeless in a big way.
Abner: I love “Slow”. At the beginning of shutdown, we all expected it to be a few weeks which turned into a year, and more and still – we’re dealing with it. My initial sentiment which grew as the lockdown went on was just, I was rearing to go. I felt like a bull. What do they do?
Amanda: Rearing up the hind quarters.
[We all share a laugh.]
Abner: yeah, that. Me and Amanda had a conversation and as often happens when we’re song writing, the song becomes a deeper conversation than we’ve even had before. We wrote songs about our parents passing away or about being hurt and often times in the act of writing the songs we discover how we really feel about things. Before “Slow” we had some conversations about how if we’re going to come out of this better then we came in, we can’t just solely be anticipating it to end.
Amanda: We can’t be fighting it.
Abner: It’s just like anything in life. You can’t just be waiting to graduate or waiting to grow up because in doing that you’re going to miss all the beautiful things away. And you’re going to come out of the time you’re in not as refined. Bill Murray says you do everything better relaxed, whether it’s speaking, making love, or walking. “Slow” is that kind of speech and conversation in song form. We can’t always be in a hurry, and we won’t be our best selves if we’re always in a hurry.
Amanda: It was obviously the whole “everyone is slowing down because of Covid” but it was also that inner slow down. We finally stopped fighting the urge to fix things, make things happen, or fill in our days as we could. We were used to a certain pace and to have that come to a grinding halt was a shock to the system, but then it kind of preceded this whole thing.
We wrote that song and after I started reading a book called “The Relentless Elimination of Hurry.” Then I started listening to teachers who talk about how to actually slow yourself down. They would tell you to do things like, go in the longest line at the grocery store or go in the slow lane in traffic – why are you in a hurry? Unless there is a big reason not to — do things that purposefully make you slow down so that your body innately learns to chill out. As Abner said, you do everything better relaxed. So yeah, we wrote that song first and then it opened the door to us recognizing how many ways we were hurrying in our life and how that was counterproductive. And so, it’s still a nice little reminder of how we were feeling the need to slow down before our brains actually put real thought into it.
I love that, how writing a song about something made you dive more into it and put it more into practice after the fact. So interesting. Let’s talk about “No Time for Sleeping.” I love the transition from slow to this song. Immediately with the horns and guitar at the beginning down to each lyric – it is so beautiful. I especially love, ''Somehow in this muddy mundane magic shines on through.''
Abner: We wrote that for Joaquin, our oldest son. So, my iPhone had no permission to make me cry every day by giving me those automatic home videos. I do not want my phone to have access to my heart in that way. Yesterday it was a bunch of pictures of me and Joaquin traveling. It is truly us touring and all these videos and pictures of me and Joaquin. And you hear it all the time, “They grow up so fast, you blink and it’s over, hold onto them because they’ll be gone before you know it.” And now we’re living that experience.
This song is living it. It’s not running from the change. It’s understanding that it’s happening and trying to face it with your eyes open.
Amanda: Yeah and finding beauty in the moments that feel like “what am I here for or what am I even doing right now” there is actually so much beauty. That is another thing going back to “Slow.” One thing we talked about a lot over being home for the past few years was that even though these are “unprecedented times” they really aren’t. Our grandparents had a world war and the great depression. There was a plague 100 years ago. In a lot of ways, over the course of history, these have been somewhat precedented times. We would talk about the things then that drew people together and brought people pleasure over the course of the human existence – good food and community and music.
Abner: Think about some of the best meals in the world were during those times. During WWII the Italians were trying to feed everybody with as little as they could but keep them nourished and that’s where focaccia came from. By leaning into these moments, not trying to speed by them – in the muddy mundane.
Amanda: There’s so much magic in there ya know?
Yes – people need to be reminded of that.
Amanda: It takes reminders, it’s hard to stay focused on what matters when there is so much going on.
Absolutely. So, we must talk about “Holla Holla Holla” this song is so fun and I’m sure so fun live, tell me about this one.
Abner: So much fun live. Songs are birthed in different ways in our experience. When we’re writing songs sometimes we sit down intentionally to write a song, sometimes something is happening and you just have to grab a guitar or a melody comes out of you. I’ve caught Amanda in the shower singing something gorgeous and I just walk in and start recording it because it’s really just her thoughts or often personal mediations to get through a moment or a thought or something that’s going on in life.
And then sometimes like with “Holla Holla Holla” I just really wanted this beat in a song. I wanted this beat. I used to be obsessed with this old punk group. This is so nerdy I’m sorry, but it started getting used in R&B in the early 90s. I forget the name of the group, but the beat is used in songs like “Crazy in love” and “One Thing” and I just felt like people weren’t using that beat enough. So, I literally went on YouTube and watched an instructional video of how to play that beat on drums and I built the drum part out in the studio sound by sound. I built the whole thing, listened to it, and knew we had to write to it, but I had nothing.
This is also the first album that we kind of created in a vacuum. Our manager is typically with us and gives a lot of feedback. We’re also typically on the road a lot of the time where we can try out songs live, and something may connect in a way that wasn’t anticipated which informs our decisions in the studio. But with this album, it was two years of nothing and just us in a room trying to figure out what was happening. So, I remember before we wrote “Holla, Holla, Holla” we had a conversation with our management that was kind of frustrating. I was talking to Amanda about it the next day and I just felt like they had to be here. Jay is one of our best friends and our manager – if he was here then he would hear it differently. I remember saying, “He just needs to come holla, get on a plane, and get here. I’m sick of talking on the phone, let’s make it happen.” And that was how the song was birthed. After that I literally sat down and started singing, “Holla, Holla, Holla, touchdown in Minnesota, I need to have words with you.”
That’s amazing and so interesting how it came to be. “Shiny Universe” is one of my favorites on the album. I love how fully baked the concept of the song is, and both of your vocals on this track are just incredible, especially the line, ''If we shake off the residue.'
Amanda: With writing this one we were talking about just how much we carry in ourselves. How there are these whole worlds and universes in each human and we’re all part of this big universe together. We were talking about our kids and how things get passed on. The fact that our son Joaquin will do things my mom did but he never met my mom. And even just with my mom’s music – people across the world will hear her music and her voice and it’s still impactful even though she’s not here. We just had this whole existential conversation about it. It turned into this very happy fun song, but that’s ultimately what it comes down to. When you put people together something bigger than them happens, and we’re kind of obsessed with that idea. We’re obsessed with it as far as our shows are concerned too. Abner says it every single night. What we do on stage is one part, but how the audience responds, and their energy is just as important. There have been shows where we’ve really messed up, but the audience was still with us and having fun and it made the moment was bigger than the mess up. And then there are nights where you play perfectly, and everything is perfect, but the audience is not really there, and it feels defeating even though it was a good show. We talk about that a lot. This song kind of is our version of that. We’re bigger than our body’s – John Mayer said it best.
I think you guys are giving him a run for his money on this one for sure. “I Keep Getting Older” is such a beautiful song. The fear of that feeling is something that is going to resonate with a lot of people and it’s not something I’ve heard been put so eloquently into a song.
Amanda: So, Abner learned to fly over quarantine as well. He took me on a date to Santa Barbara and we were flying coming back to LA meeting with Malayho who produced our last album, Moonlight. He’s a dear friend so we had scheduled time to write with him for this album. He knew we were flying and doing new things so he came up with this piano piece to go along with it. So we got there and started writing it and I guess that was all part of it. I got Abner the lessons for his birthday because he’s always wanted to fly. He’s afraid of heights so he was a little bit nervous to do it and I wanted him to find a different hobby like golf or something on the ground that’s safe because we have three kids. But then I kind of had this moment where I was like – you know what why are we waiting I’m just going to give it to him for his birthday and if he wants to keep taking more lessons then he can – and he did, he loved it.
There are still so many things that we want to do, and I think part of the sadness of the pandemic was feeling like we lost good years. We lost good years with our kids it feels like – our daughters don’t remember touring anymore and even our son doesn’t remember some stuff. It was like wait we built this whole life and now it feels like our kids don’t even remember it. It brought up a lot of fear of and questioning what do we do next. We’re going to be 40 soon and how did that happen I feel like I just turned 30 and now I’m looking at 40 so closely.
There are still so many things that as a kid I thought I was going to do by now, but the truth of the matter is that I’m still afraid to start. The song is about wondering if that’s going to get any better. It’s questioning if you settle and turn your dreams into things that are manageable, or do you keep having that fire that you had when you’re in your early 20s. At what point do you lose that fire and settle for what you have and at what point do you kick it up a notch. It’s that feeling of – I don’t want to get too comfortable, but I want to be able to enjoy what I have. I want to be content, but I still want to not let those dreams die because it was so fun having dreams.
It is with that final sentence from Amanda’s mouth that the entire album is encapsulated.
With that I thank them for the time they found for me while on tour with three children and we say our goodbyes. I’m left feeling inspired to live life fuller and appreciate all the little moments in-between. You will too, after you listen to JOHNNYSWIM on April 8, 2022.
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? © Chloe Enos
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