published Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Tonight at Nightfall: Partners in Johnnyswim find harmony in music, life

Johnnyswim is Amanda Sudano, left, and Abner Ramirez.
Johnnyswim is Amanda Sudano, left, and Abner Ramirez.
IF YOU GO

• What: Nightfall concert series featuring Johnnyswim.

• When: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 22; Decibella open at 7.

• Where: Miller Plaza, corner of M.L. King Boulevard, Market and Cherry streets.

• Admission: Free.

• Phone: 423-265-0771.

• Venue website: www.nightfallchattanooga.com.

• Artist website: www.johnnyswim.com.

THE OPENER

Funk/soul quintet Decibella is the latest project by local singer/trumpet player Bexy Ribeiro, who has been involved in many area bands, including Digital Butter, The Communicators and Milele Roots. She is joined onstage by Tyler Reddick (bass), Jared White (drums), Tyler Southern (guitar) and Jon Elliott (saxophone). To listen to their music, visit Reverbnation.com/decibella.

It’s a difficult time in any child’s life to realize that — despite parents’ assurances — the chances that they’ll become a princess or a superhero are on the “none” side of slim.

For most of her pre- and early teen years, Amanda Sudano’s dreams of being a musician were crushed when she concluded that her voice would never sound like a Disney princess or her Grammy Award-winning mother, disco vocalist Donna Summer.

But as a teen, her ears were opened and her hopes renewed after vocalists such as Tracy Chapman and Bonnie Raitt showed her that the musical landscape was more varied than she assumed.

And when she first heard her future husband, singer/songwriter Abner Ramirez, open a show in Nashville in 2005, she knew she’d found a partner to realize those musical dreams, even if their first encounter wasn’t exactly Disney-approved love-at-first-sight.

“As soon as I heard him sing, I begged him to write with me, but I think all he heard was, ‘Let’s be alone together,’” she recalls of the encounter that eventually led to the formation of their band, Johnnyswim.

For his part, Ramirez makes no bones about the root of his interest.

“It wasn’t music first; it was beautiful face first,” he laughs. “I saw her from across the room, and I literally said out loud, ‘That’s the girl I’m going to marry.’”

Eventually, they did tie the knot in 2009, but that was years after they discovered that their musical compatibility was just as strong as their romantic chemistry. Their songwriting approaches were different but well-matched — he tends to focus on underlying emotion and melody; she gravitates toward lyrics. Most importantly, they enjoyed creating together.

“From beat one, song one, we knew it was something special, something we’d have fun doing,” Ramirez says. “We had to have a ‘Defining the Relationship’ discussion about the band before we started dating.

“We realized, ‘Man, … even if we don’t end up lasting forever and getting married, this band is really good, and we need to stay committed to it.’”

For the most part, they say, the music is still fun, and the results of their partnership have been well-received by critics and audiences.

Early on, they attracted the attention of VH1, which selected the band for “You Oughta Know,” an emerging artist program that provided early exposure to artists such as Mumford & Sons, Foster the People and Adele. In their highlight of the duo’s music, the network praised it as “a compelling amalgam of soul, folk, pop and blues.”

Now based in Los Angeles, Johnnyswim will headline this week’s Nightfall concert on Friday, Aug. 22. Their set will include excerpts from their first full-length album, “Diamonds,” released this spring, their 2013 EP “Heartbeats” and a handful of covers.

Although “Diamonds” was written in the emotional wake of the deaths of Sudano’s mother and Ramirez’s father in 2012, they say the act of sharing those songs with the public has been hugely cathartic and rewarding.

“Writing was such a personal process, [but playing the songs live is] a special moment,” Sudano says. “You kind of are waiting this whole time to release these songs, and when you do and people connect with them, there’s not much else like it.”

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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