Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez are two of a handful of individuals working with The Lincoln Motor Company on the Dream Ride, a project celebrating the release of the 2015 Lincoln MKC.
If you ask Abner Ramirez why he wanted to start a band with Amanda Sudano back in 2005, his reasoning is sweet, if a little love-struck.
“I understood that it meant being alone together in a room for an extended amount of time,” he laughs.
Today, Abner and Amanda are still spending plenty of time together–the duo married in 2009–and they continue making music. Their band Johnnyswim released their first EP in 2008 and they’ve been touring and writing together ever since. However, they’ll both admit that the reason they make music together has since shifted ever so slightly. For Abner and Amanda, the goal now is to create honest, intimate songs that allow them to connect not just to each other, but to their audiences, and to do so for as long as they can.
“We’ve always said that we measure success in mileage,” says Abner. “This is something we want to do until we’re long in the tooth. We know we can. We know we want to.”
Of course, in the music industry, that’s often easier said than done. When Abner and Amanda first started their careers, they were under pressure to change their sound based on their appearance and what other people thought they should sound like. On top of that, musical duos weren’t popular at the time, and people in the industry suggested that they perform as separate solo acts. But the couple ignored the critics and set out on their own, letting their unique sound grow organically over time.
“There were a couple of years when we worked with people who wanted to make us what they imagined us to be,” says Amanda. “And finally, a couple of years ago we said, ‘Let’s write whatever songs we feel like writing and let our sound come about naturally. Give ourselves time develop.’ And that’s what we did.”
The sound that they found was an eclectic one. The music of Johnnyswim is catchy, melodic pop with influences of folk, blues and country. Their songs are layered with guitars, piano and percussion instruments that run the gamut from traditional drums, to handclaps, to maracas. But the sound that rings out the clearest is the vocals, Amanda’s soulful voice melting sweetly into Abner’s rich, strong tones. Yet, Abner and Amanda admit that combining their notes and lyrics into a polished, finished product isn’t always easy. They take inspiration from their everyday lives, mining their pasts for experiences and emotions to inform their songs. It’s a process that can be as painful as it is thrilling.
“Our album that’s out right now, it’s not quite a diary, but it is really a depiction of the last three years of our life,” says Abner. “The highs and lows, the tragedies and triumphs, the deepest ruts we’ve seen, the deepest pain we’ve felt, and watching dreams come true for the first time.”
But no matter the experience they’re drawing from, Abner and Amanda start writing every song the same way—with their listeners in mind. They use their music to create a mood and evoke emotions. It’s a technique that allows their listeners a glimpse into their inner lives.
“I think we have a visual of what we want the person to feel,” says Amanda. “Sometimes it’s crying. Sometimes it’s super excited, madly in love. That’s the beauty of art – that you get to encapsulate the essence of something, an emotion, a feeling.”
But writing the song is just the beginning. For Abner and Amanda, a song has three different lives, each as challenging and gratifying as the last. The first happens during the writing process, when Abner and Amanda work hard to sincerely channel an emotion into a song. The second comes when they’re recording, when the band has to figure out just how they’re going to present their creation to the world. And the third life occurs on stage when they’re performing it live. Abner and Amanda try to make their shows conversational; they watch the room and listen closely to the audience, making adjustments to their performance as they play.
“When we feel an influx of emotion from the crowd, we’ll change things on the fly,” says Abner. “For us, that’s how we best represent the song, the moment. We know that it’s not just ours–this is something we’re sharing. Every song is something we share with the audience.”
That means every Johnnyswim show has the potential to be something completely new, and that’s just how Abner and Amanda like it. Not only does it keep touring interesting, it allows them to stay committed to the ideas that got them their start in the first place: trusting each other and staying true to the music they wanted to create.
“We’ve realized that we’ve got to follow our gut. It took a couple of years to learn, but we became super happy once the idea got stuck in our heads,” says Amanda. “We’re two people who trust each other, and let’s do our own thing and not worry too much about it.”
While life may seem a bit hectic for Amanda and Abner these days, between a solid tour schedule and a new record release, they couldn’t be happier. They spend a lot of time on the road, but the upside is that it’s time spent together, where they can build a shared life – and a shared sound. The road to the kind of success they are looking for is a long one, but it’s a journey they’re happy to take together.
From the sound of it, the future looks bright.
To get to know Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez a little bit better, we asked them to answer a few questions.
What is outside of your window at this moment?
Some Portland uniqueness. A house with a massive child’s painting covering the front. Blue, green and white flowers to be exact. And our tour van, the sunset, and some awesome locals we can’t wait to meet in this show we’re about to play.
What is your present state of mind?
Sleepy, hungry, excited, happy. It’s an emotional cocktail we’re growing more and more used to.
There’s a song in your head right now. Without naming it, tell us why it’s there.
The lyrics are SO insanely good and the video is so creative and just plain weird. Its one of those songs I’m so jealous I didn’t write.
What did you last create?
A basil-infused margarita.
Who are your real-life heroes?
Abner: My dad.
Amanda: My mom.
Nashville, Los Angeles, or a location picked from a hat?
Los Angeles! Home sweet home!
You’re here, but where have you left your heart?
Our hearts are cozily lying on the couch in Los Angeles binge watching movies and television.
Your thoughts on tour bus snacks in five words or less:
Abner: Give me snacks and antacids.
Amanda: Why do I weigh more?!
Your thoughts on each other in five words or less:
Abner (about Amanda): Make me a baby already!
Amanda (about Abner): I couldn’t love you more / Why are you so cute
What is your idea of misery?
Abner: A baby already.
Amanda: Misery is late-night shows followed by early-morning flights.
What is your idea of euphoria?
Christmas dinner with our friends at home.
How do you describe a hero?
Selfless, passionate and kind.
If not yourself, who would you be?
Abner: Dr. Who
Amanda: My new baby niece because she’s so cute!
Your favorite motto:
“No pressure, no diamonds.”
The worst part of being on the road:
Not sleeping in your own bed.