Without meaning to, the words came spilling out.
“That’s the girl I’m gonna marry,” Abner Ramirez had said, locking eyes with Amanda Sudano at a church service in Nashville, Tennessee.
His girlfriend, seated next to him, was not thrilled.
“We broke up that moment — true story,” Ramirez said. “And another truth that’s crazy is I never dated anybody else, from that moment on. We didn’t meet for four years after that, at a coffee shop.”
“I ruined him!” Sudano chimed in.
“She did! She ruined me,” he said. “I literally didn’t date anybody. She did — she dated plenty.”
She laughed. They would finally meet at the aforementioned coffee shop in 2005 through a mutual friend. They connected over the storytellers of the past, the sounds and words of Marvin Gaye, Old Soul, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. Not long after, they were writing and making music together.
And then, right on cue, an unexpected murmur from their 3-year-old son piped up in the background.
“You can keep playing that,” Ramirez said. “Sorry, Joaquin is asking me to play some Transformers with them.”
Music had led to love, and onto marriage and children — and a collaboration that is stronger than ever as the duo Johnnyswim, who will perform on Saturday at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.
“The romantic connection was kind of at the exact same time. There certainly wasn’t a one-two punch,” Ramirez said. “It was a typhoon of music and romance that now has led us to this tour bus that we’re answering these questions in, watching our oldest son play with Transformers while our baby sleeps in the back, and our band gets the soundtrack started. So yeah, the romantic and musical connection has been intertwined from the very beginning.”
Both hailing from artistic backgrounds — Sudano is the daughter of the late singer Donna Summer, and Ramirez trained as a musician at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts — the pair has always gravitated toward all genres, and their music reflects their eclectic taste, they said.
The writing process typically begins in the kitchen over food — “It’s a lot like cooking Italian. There’s not a lot of stress to it, and you’re just counting on the ingredients to be great,” Ramirez explained — before moving the melody to a voice memo, the guitar, or eventually into the studio, where they have complete freedom to play off one another.
“Abner is fire, I am water,” Sudano said with a laugh. “No, but kind of. He’s the balloon and I’m the string that’s keeping it somewhat grounded. I’m a much more peaceful soul, he’s a much more passionate, fiery soul, and together we make a pretty awesome toy.”
“For sure,” he said. “For me, it’s like seeing a kite surfer.”
“There you go,” she said.
“Where I’m the kite — which, sure, can be powerful and it can carry you, but it’s pointless if it’s not tethered. And Amanda is the tether that makes it all make sense, that makes it beautiful, and doesn’t make it something random,” he continued. “She’s not just mytether, she’s amazing lyrically, melodically. Even as we’re creating, her creativity comes out of this place of peace and the beauty grows from that, where mine is kind of more a mess, and it works really well together.”
Seven songs into a new 10-song album, and two weeks into a nine-week tour, Ramirez and Sudano do not consider their life to be a balance. Instead, it’s a dance — one that is fluid and simultaneous, filled with excitement, music and performance.
“Amanda says when we’re doing good, the shows feel like community, and that’s great,” Ramirez said. “But when we’re doing great, the shows feel like communion, and the goal is that it feels like communion — whether it was in Atlanta the other night with 10,000 people or Westhampton Beach with 1,000 folks in the room, acoustic show.
“We want it to feel like we’re all sitting at the same table, sharing the same meal, sharing stories together,” he continued. “We want you to feel like you’re in our living room, like something intimate, like you’re a part of something truly special.”
Johnnyswim will play a concert on Saturday, September 1, at 8 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, located at 76 Main Street in Westhampton Beach. Tickets range from $50 to $70. For more information, call (631) 288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.