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Exclusive Q&A with JOHNNYSWIM

Musical duo, Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez, chat about their visit to Nashville for the Rites of Spring festival.

Written By:  Valerie Hammond

Photographers:  Supplied

Photo by Darren Lau

On the tail end of their Georgica Pond tour, the dynamically talented duo, JOHNNNYSWIM, splashes back to their former hometown to play Vanderbilt University's annual Rites of Spring festival Friday, April 21 alongside The Shins and 
St. Lucia. Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez showcase their songwriting and performance prowess in Nashville to fans and firstimers, and we had a chance to ask them all about what's to come...

Nashville Lifestyles (NL): Have you ever played at Rites before?
Abner (AB): Never. Amanda was a student at Vandy, I was a student at Trevecca Nazarene, and we’ve always wanted to play Rites of Springs and are so excited that this is our shot.

NL: Talk about the difference for you as performers from the festival scene to a typical venue show.
Amanda (AM): The nice thing about festivals is that a lot of people are hearing you for the first time and a lot of people are getting to see you again in a new setting. The general atmosphere, too, is always super fun. When you play a show in a theater that’s kind of closed in, and everybody’s there to see you it’s more like a living room where festivals, it’s like a block party you know?

NL: How do you choose which festivals to play?
AB: That depends. We’re lucky enough to have really great booking agents, and we trust them to pace out our year. The biggest deal for us playing Rites of Spring is that we’ve always been music fans. I’ve never gone to one, but I always heard of it. It’s like playing the Ryman almost, it’s something that you dream of for long enough and then you almost don’t believe it when the opportunity presents itself.

NL: Any reveals/secrets you can share about your ROS set?
AB: We’ll be playing some new songs, old songs, and maybe a couple cover songs in there. We’ll have some hype songs but will still bring it way down as well. I guess that’s a risky thing at festivals, but we will definitely be playing some slow songs.

NL: With all your touring and playing—how do you keep up the creative momentum/energy?
AM: Well the beautiful thing is we play for different audiences every night. Each place we play really does have its own pulse, its own personality, so I think that helps us keep it fresh as well because we know a Charleston crowd is different from a Charlotte crowd, you know?

The biggest thing is, you spend a month or two on the road and then you go home and live life. You take long drives listening to music, you play with your kid in the yard, and you kind of refill the tank that way.

NL: As former Nashvillians you know songwriting is a big deal here. Are there processes/tools you use consistently when building your songs? 
AB: One thing Nashville taught us is the passion for the craft itself. In other cities often times you find yourself in situations where the craft is a means to an end. You write a song so you can get a hit record so you can be famous so you can make a bunch of money, or whatever it is.

But in Nashville, people believe in their songs—that’s a lesson in songwriting we received by being here. Our very first tool we use is: our purpose is guided by honesty and meaning what we’re saying. We’re not trying to manipulate a process as a means to an end. And two, for us it’s different because we always write together, well, 99% of the time we write together. Sometimes it’s melody, or sometimes Amanda will have—like our song “Georgica Pond” —Amanda just started singing “One day when I’m gone, scatter my ashes on Georgia Pond.” I had to catch up and figure out what chords would go into that and figure out if we needed a bridge, and what the chorus would be. Other times, there’s just cool chords that I like, and we start singing over it, melody or lyrics or whatever, it’s always a little different—it’s fun.

It’s almost like skiing, I think. Your slopes might be different, but your attitude is the same. You’re aware of how your feet hit the ground, you’re aware of your approach to it, though the terrain may be different.

NL: You’ve said that Diamonds and Georgica Pond came from seasons of loss and heartache—what kind of season would you say you’re in now?
AM: You’re catching us, at this moment, with two shows left of this tour. So, right now we’re kind of excited about, not just rest, but excited about being home and excited about really refilling the tank and working on other projects. Between radio visits and meet and greets and shows there’s not a ton of time to really reflect and do creative things you’re passionate about. Like read through a book series or color or cook—those types of things. I’m really excited about getting to spend time at home being creative in things I can’t be creative with on the bus. A lot of times our passion projects come out of that so, the next little season is about planting new seeds I think.

NL: You keep song/lyric ideas on your phone—would you be willing to share one random line/entry?
AB: Alright, I’m literally opening the app to do this. Let’s see, let’s see, hold one one second. I’m excited about this question so let me make sure I get it right. How do I search through notebooks? Ah, ok, song ideas, (laughs).

Lead Me to the Guillotine is title of a song we’re working on. Holler When We Can Go Sailing. And, Northern lovers. (laughs)

NL: Is there anything you do every time you come back to Nashville?
AB: We go to Rolf and Daughters. Literally every time. As soon as we know we’re going to Nashville we try to make a reservation.

Don't miss JOHNNNYSWIM at day one of the Rites of Spring festival—Friday, April 21, 2017!

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