Columnists » Fame With Bebe Sweetbriar

Duo Johnnyswim :: Joined At The Hip (On Stage & Off)

by BeBe Sweetbriar
Tuesday Nov 12, 2013

Singing duos? What? Are there any anymore? Well, there is a singing pair - Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez of Johnnyswim - married to each other, that may be starting a new trend in singing duos.

Why? Well simply put, they're that good. Taking you back to a time when music was "real" music, Johnnyswim's new EP "Heart Beats" soothes the soul and strikes deep to the bone. Their voices blend together with such harmony, you can't help but think that these two were meant to make music together. Folk, soul, blues and pop may be words used to describe the music they write and play, but does real good music even need a description?

Meeting as young adults while living in Nashville, Sudano and Ramirez paired their common music interests after working together in a songwriting workshop conducted by Abner. "We both had so many different music influences growing up," says Amanda, who happens to be the daughter of music legends Donna Summer and musician/songwriter Bruce Sudano.

Having made a number of independent recordings in the past 8 years,
Johnnyswim signed a record deal with Big Picnic Records to get the distribution of their music they needed. "We decided after working with different producers to do something on our own. So we got a microphone and laptop and recorded ’Home Vol. I’," said Abner. He goes on to say,

"It gave us the leverage to get the kind of record deal that we wanted." It also got them noticed by other prominent artists like Emeli Sande. Sande took notice: Johnnyswim recently completed 4 dates on the British singer’s recent tour as her opening act.

Before heading to San Francisco for their show at the world renown Yoshi’s on Nov. 13, I had the pleasure of chatting with Johnnyswim about where their name came from, their new EP "Heart Beats" and its title track’s beautiful music video, being married in life and in music, the advantages to being genre diverse, and the experience of performing with Emeli Sande.

Name remains a mystery

BeBe: I’ve heard the JAWS story, and I’ve heard the goldfish story in reference to how you came up with your group name Johnnyswim. So, I want to know what I have to do during this interview to get the real story? (we all laugh)

Amanda: I don’t know? People don’t get to hear the real story. Well, honestly, some do because we’ll slip it in and throw in pieces of the truth in the mix ever-so-often. But, we have to keep the mystery.

BeBe: The descriptions used to introduce your music have been vast and many and include words like folk, soul, blues and pop. Have you found it harder in the music industry as artists because there isn’t one genre of music that you fit in? You know how the industry tries to put artists in some specific category.

Abner: I think it’s a really cool time for music right now. You don’t have to rely on the ’suits’ that have made music decisions for decades on who is popular or who gets the push. That power is in the people’s hands. Whoever is listening gets to help (make the decisions). You don’t even need the machine of the old school music industry which was really dependent on specific genres. We’re lucky to be having our wind in our sails at this moment when you’re not dependent on that. It’s perfect time to make your own category. You don’t have to try and fit in the old ones. We find it exciting. We can make the music we want. We get to experiment.

Amanda: We both had so many different music influences growing up. When we first started there weren’t that many duets out there. All people could think of was Sonny and Cher when they would try to put us in a musical category. The first 2 or 3 years, we listened to the opinions of others when it came to what they thought of us as. But then we decided we were doing this because we love it, so we are going to do what we want to do. We decided that we would develop ourselves and see what comes out without putting restrictions on us.

Joined at the hip

BeBe: On your YouTube channel you have the New Music Mondays. Is that representative of how much music you are in fact writing?

Amanda: For a long time when we first moved to California from Nashville, we would just sit around and write songs. Some of them would make it into our shows. I think we first consider ourselves as songwriters.

BeBe: You guys are not only a musical duo, but two people joined at the hip in life. So when you are writing songs, from whose perspective are you writing? Is it Amanda’s or Abner’s perspective or a true collaborative effort all around?

Amanda: Normally, Abner will come up with music and I’ll just start singing along. Other times he will say he has an idea for a song and let’s flush it out a little bit. Most of the time for me, I’ll have a lyrical idea and if it works we will put some music to it. So, it is very collaborative.

Abner: One of the good things about being married and working together, is that we around each other so much that if we are somewhere that ignites a creative idea, we can immediately get to the business of writing a song. We don’t have to wait for a Tuesday writing session or whatever. One of our greatest goals with our music is that it is always honest. It’s easier for us to achieve that goal because we are tied together in every way.

About escape

BeBe: Your new EP ’Heart Beats’ has a beautiful music video to accompany the title track. But, I want to know why is Amanda doing all the physical work in the video? (a roar of laughter follows)

Amanda: Can I get an Amen on that?

BeBe: She is being submerged in a tub full of water. She’s running through the woods. She falls backwards into a lake. And, Abner, you are just walking around looking all cute. What is going on here?

Abner: I was taking more of a managerial role in the video.

BeBe: I do love the video’s serenity. Who came up with the concept for the ’Heart Beats’ music video?

Abner: Literally the first thing that came to mind was production value. How on a low budget can we get the most bang for our buck? So that means, you gotta go outside! We worked with a friend of ours, Anthony Matula. He and his wife, Laura, also collaborate in business as well, so it was pretty cool for us to collaborate with another couple. He’s a short film director, and his wife helps produce all the on set stuff. We spent a month with them just talking concept.

Amanda: They are based out of Nashville, so we called them and said we have one day to do this video and a limited budget. What can we do? We started sending pics back and forth because we needed a horse; we needed a farm; we needed a pond. And somehow, they managed to find a property in Eagleville just outside of Nashville. The owner was sweet to let us run around his property. Excuse me, let ’me’ run round the property. (we laugh)

Abner: The song is about escape. A feeling of wanting to get away from everything. Amanda came up with the first lyric line (of the song) ’I want to run where no one will follow me.’ With our concept, we needed to find space. Then we added a romantic aspect to it.

BeBe: You released three of the singles (’Heart Beats,’ ’Adelina’ and ’Annie’) that appear on the ’Heart Beats’ EP back in 2012. It obviously took awhile for this EP to come together as a collective body of work. What was the delay?

Abner: ’Home Vol. I’ was our early EP release in 2012. We made that in our guest room. We were still at a crossroads with our career, at that time. We were playing only a few concerts after chasing this thing for 12 years. We’ve been doing this since we were 18. We decided after working with different producers to do something on our own.

So we got a microphone and laptop and recorded ’Home Vol. I,’ which included those 3 songs that are also on our new EP. ’Home Vol. I’ really created work for us. It provided an opportunity to show that we can do something of value on our own. It gave us the leverage to get the kind of record deal that we wanted with Big Picnic Records (distributed by SONY/Red). They thought there was more life in ’Heart Beats’ and the other singles than we gave them on ’Home Vol I.’ So, we got with another producer Josiah Bell and co-wrote a couple more songs, ’Make’ and ’Don’t Let It Get You Down’ and put out this EP together.

BeBe: I know you have been making the talk show circuit recently and ’Don’t Let It Get You Down’ has been the song you’ve been performing. Is that the next single?

Abner: It’s funny because you caught us right when we are recording our full-length album which is due to come out in March 2014, and we had always scheduled the first single release from the album to be in January 2014. But, there is a song that we really love that we’ve just begun performing called ’Diamonds’ that could very well be the title track of the album. So, we are at this place where we want to release ’Don’t Let It Get You Down’ but maybe it’ll be ’Diamonds.’

BeBe: Speaking of performing, you guys were recently on tour opening for the incredible Emeli Sande.

Amanda: She is so amazing!

BeBe: The pairing of you with her to me is genius. Your styles of music are similar. And with her meteoric rise over the past year, your appearance with her has had to have a positive effect on the growth of your fan base, adding folks from her audiences. How was your experience performing with her?

Amanda: It was such fun! We did a handful of shows, and they were some of the bet crowds we’ve played for. Her audience is so exquisite. They are, first of all, well-dressed (this coming from a Luis Vuitton model and second-place finisher in Vogue’s Special Edition Best Dressed feature). And, they are musically diverse and great listeners, which was really fun for us. The got the stories we told about the songs. They got involved with the dynamics of the song. Audiences sometimes forget that they are the third member of the band. They made it so much fun for us to perform. Performing for a crowd coming to see Emeli Sande was like dream come true.

Johnnyswim will be performing at Yoshi’s in San Francisco on Nov. 13. (Go to :Yoshi’s website for more information and tickets.)

Upcoming performances for Johnnyswim include the following:

Nov 17
Uncasville, CT
Mohegan Sun, Wolf Den

Dec 1
Nashville, TN
3rd & Lindsey (Lightning 100 live broadcast)

Dec 17
Houston, TX
The Mucky Duck

For updates on Johnnyswim’s 2014 album release and concert schedule, follow them at

Watch the video of "Heart Beats":

Based out of San Francisco, BEBE SWEETBRIAR is the Omni Present Drag Chanteuse. As an entertainer and hostess, BeBe can be scene every week hosting and performing at countless events and parties in the San Francisco. One of the few drag personalities to sing live while performing, BeBe has literally graced every notable stage in San Francisco, bridging many gay sub-community gaps. She has also been the opening act for Destiny’s Child Kelly Rowland, "Ugly Betty’s" Alec Mapa and Dance Diva Kristine W. Adding recording artist to her list of performance accomplishments in 2008 with the release of her first single "Save Me", Ms. Sweetbriar will soon release her fifth dance single in 2012 called "Show It Off"..
As an actress, BeBe was introduced to film with a lead role in the independent film "Under One Sun" with her character dealing with religious, racial and gender issues. Additionally, she appeared in the campy musical "Devious, Inc" (Australian Film Festival, San Francisco Short Film Fest) also adding additional vocals to the musical soundtrack. Both of these performances led to her selection for a lead role in Aisha Media’s next short film series, "" to be released in 2012.


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