BFS Interview with Johnnyswim
On Saturday at Forecastle Festival I got the chance to sit down with the husband and wife folk/soul duo Johnnyswim. I was honored they took the time out of their day to chat with me since our blog represents electronic artists for the most part, and their music is far from edm. Immediately after meeting them and exchanging hugs (not handshakes) I knew it was going to be an interesting and personal conversation. Amanda’s smile was infectious and Abner’s speaking voice was as smooth as his singing. All four of us, including our photographer Casey, are from Nashville; therefore much of the time was spent discussing mutual friends and the methods of the deceivingly small Nashville community. When the interview was all wrapped up I couldn't help but comment on Amanda’s black leather Birkenstocks, which lead to the two of us laughing and gushing over how comfortable the shoe is despite its reputation in the fashion world. It was absolutely lovely talking to these two, and I encourage you to check out their first full album “Diamonds”. The pair will be playing Live on the Green in Nashville on September 4th alongside Delta Spirit and headliner Cage The Elephant.
BFS: All right so, let’s go back to the beginning! How did you guys meet- were you musicians together before being romantic?
Abner: No, I saw her and immediately recognized she was one of the hottest girls- the hottest girl- in the history of planet earth. So I had to find a way to be alone with her. My roommate at the time was a singer songwriter named Matt Kearney. We lived together for six or seven years, and he and I would always go to Café CoCo in Nashville- he’s the one that introduced me to Amanda.
Amanda: Yea I happened to walk in- I was living in New York at the time and came home for Easter Sunday or something to see family, and met a friend at Café CoCo and saw Matt. I’d known Matt for years, and he was like “Oh, you know my roommate Abner”, but we had seen each other four years before so I knew who he was. He was with all these very “popular” girls that didn't look at you unless you were wearing the right outfit, so I thought that if he was friends with those girls he’s probably not going to like me- I don’t get along with those girls. I immediately wrote him as a jerk, and I remember one time he was getting up to come talk to me and I saw him make the move and just B lined in the other direction. At that point I think he got that I wasn't interested. So for four years we saw each other around, and then at the coffee shop we finally got to chat a little bit and he invited me over MySpace to come see one of his shows next time I was in Nashville. You know, because MySpace was cool back then.
(“MySpace” caught me off guard, and the pair saw the look on my face and proceeded to burst out laughing when I said I had one in 7th grade)
Amanda: Anyway, I went to go see his show and afterwards asked what he was doing musically these days. He explained he just gotten out of a bad record deal when he was 18, and was doing music for the love of it instead of anything major. I was in New York at the time working on my own music, and thought it was stupid for him not to be working on anything so I suggested we get together and write.
Abner: The only thing I wanted to do was be alone with her so it worked out great. I had hoped it would be a good time, and I hoped we’d write a good song so we could be alone more often, but I really had no intention of caring about the music we made. As soon as I realized it was going to be awesome I was excited. Two fold, one- because we’d be spending more time together and two- because it was fun.
BFS: That’s a good story- you had to put in work for her. I like that!
Moving forward we talked about the little details of Amanda’s life leading up to meeting Abner. She attended Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville during high school, stayed there for college at Vanderbilt, and then made the move to New York when she finished school early- only to return to Nashville after meeting Abner.
BFS: Continuing on the topic of Nashville, do you guys have any favorite restaurants or bars in the city?
Amanda: Rolf & Daughters- every time we’re in Nashville I’m like “can we get a reservation!!” The vibe, the cocktails, the bartenders are all so great. I’ve had the most interesting food and drink there. I’m always trying to go back.
Abner: It’s the best restaurant in Nashville, and one of my top five restaurants in the world.
Amanda: 100% every time if we can get in- we’re going to Rolf & Daughters.
BFS: Alright let’s talk a little bit about your music. How would you compare your first few EPs to your full length album, Diamonds?
Abner: It’s a natural progression. We grew up a little and hopefully we’ll continue growing. I think we’re a little more assertive in our songs, we weren’t searching so hard for what we wanted to say, and we’ve been through a lot, and on the next album we’re going to have to figure out what we want to talk about all over again. The concept was just easy for Diamonds, but it was tough for me as a producer- it took me nine months to produce four songs for the EP Heartbeats, and I had three months to do a full album. It was the blind leading the blind! I luckily had a great friend, Grammy award winning Gary Paczosa, who really was kind of my God Father in making this album. He helped me skip a lot of ruts I was headed toward. A lot of credit goes to him, but thematically, musically it was the next step. It was our growth in all forms creatively.
BFS: What I love about your album are all the influences from different genres. “Pay Dearly” is so bluesy, and then “Take the World” is such a classic singer songwriter love story- I’m curious what and who are the influences you pull from to create such a diverse album?
Amanda: We have a lot of mutual and separate ones, but the things that get played in our house the most are Sam Cook, Joni Mitchell, Buena Vista Social Club, Coldplay, Black Keys… Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan. I think that was one of the first things we realized about each other. Neither of us had a typical American Upbringing. His family came over from Cuba, and everyone was learning English at the same time. He grew up listening to old Cuban music and had a poet for a dad. Then I grew up in a very musical house with both my parents being songwriters. If I were bored on any given day we wouldn’t go to the mall, we’d sit there and write songs. I guess Abner and I found a lot of common ground in our weird influences.
Abner: We teamed up with a great label, Big Picnic Records, and they didn’t hear the record until it was done. They could have enforced hearing the record, but they were really kind to us. We were given the space to experiment, and create a song that’s straight up blues (“Pay Dearly”), and all the folk songs like “Falling For Me” and the Coldplay influenced songs like “Over”.
Amanda: Our biggest rule is to not think about it too much. We don't have kids that need braces! This is the perfect time to experiment and develop ourselves.
Abner: These are the good ole days.
BFS: So you guys are on tour right now, what city has had your favorite crowd to play to?
Amanda: It changes all the time, but one that will stand out for a long time was a show in Atlanta two days after the record came out. We barely could remember the words to half of the songs, and were just learning how to play them with the band, but the show was totally sold out.
Abner: Every person in that crowd sang every word to every song to the point where I forgot a lyric, but it didn’t matter because they sang it. It wasn’t the biggest crowd, and maybe not the loudest, but those people had two days to learn the whole record and they did.
Fun Fact: Both Amanda and Abner exuded an incredibly paternal aura, so much that I wanted to ask if they were planning on beginning a family any time soon. I used my best judgment and decided that was too personal, but found out later that evening at their set that they had had their first child only two months prior! Congratulations you two, that is one lucky child.
Written By: Rachel Oldham