Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano, better known as LA-based music duo Johnnyswim, released their first full-length album, Diamonds, on Tuesday. While driving down the freeway that day, they heard their single "Home" on a Nashville radio station for the first time, and quickly captured the milestone in a video for their Instagram account. It is a moment of unadulterated surprise and happiness. Click here to watch the video.
Music critics are often wary of happiness. How could a song be both well-written and emotionally complete without angst involved? Artists must suffer for their art, right? Pharrell Williams, whose "Happy" sits atop the Billboard 100 this week, cried tears of joy to Oprah after realizing how his career had soared. But his seemingly overnight success actually involved years of being in bands and writing songs for others. "Happy" is a great song, even if its writer's struggles aren't evidenced in the music.
Johnnyswim may have released its first album this week, but the pair has been stewing its sound for years. They've appeared on Live From Daryl's House, every late night talk show and NPR's "Tiny Desk Concert." The feel-good vibe is a genre-busting mix of folk, pop, soul and rock -- and definitely not derived from empty choruses and synthetic dance beats. Listening to the lyrics and the vocal performances (both Abner and Amanda sing lead), there's a sense that happiness and joy require discipline and purpose of craft. The result isn't a labored effort for the listener, but let's just say enjoying Johnnyswim's songs is like cutting into a homemade slice of pie baked from a family recipe handed down through generations. Filling, warm and naturally sweet. Corn syrup is for suckers.
I'm prone to gushing, but my feelings about Johnnyswim are genuine. There's an undercurrent of carpe diem about Diamonds that I just can't get enough of. I caught up with Abner and Amanda the other day to find out more about the inspiration for the album.
KYW: I love the line in "Live While We're Young" that says, "While you pray for revival, I'm already living in one." What's that about?
Abner: I love what Bob Dylan says when somebody asks him to describe a line: "The best way I know how to say what I meant is what I wrote in the song."
Amanda: We are living in the good ol' days. I don't want us to forget that. We get to meet people on tour and to travel, and this is fun. We're not just sitting here wishing we would 'make it' one day. We already have -- we're doing what we love with people we love. This is our revival.
KYW: "A Million Years" reminds me of a U2 lyric -- forward-thinking with a great chorus. "Will any of these sparks we light catch a flame and burn through time?" is my favorite line. There are elements of your faith in there, too.
Abner: Faith is that thing everybody has, regardless of your belief system. You have something you believe in. Something as simple as knowing that when I take a step, I'm able to walk forward because gravity holds me. Faith colors everything. It forms for us how we see the world.
KYW: You both come from musical families who have a range of experience in the music biz. (Amanda's mother is Donna Summer, who passed away in 2012.) How do you plan to avoid the pitfalls of the industry?
Amanda: "Comparison is the thief of joy," Teddy Roosevelt said. Watching people in the industry, I've seen people compare themselves. But my mom was really good at rooting for people. She loved seeing new artists and encouraging them. She wanted everybody to do what they do and she believed that there is enough space for everyone and every talent. I believe that, too.