Honesty, passion, and a sense of purpose flow through every song on Georgica Pond. Hailed by The New York Times as "a pairing of equals, a key finding its lock," singing- songwriting duo JOHNNYSWIM have amplified the strengths of their critically acclaimed debut Diamonds (2014) with an album that reflects different seasons of life and love, filtered through their rousing fusion of folk, soul, pop, and rock. Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano Ramirez’s uniqueness as storytellers who possess the "sparkle of natural-born stage performers" (NPR) has cultivated a devoted audience who pack the duo's sold-out shows. It's those listeners and countless more who will see their reflection in the lyrics and melodies of Georgica Pond.
The album arrives two years after the Top 10 Billboard success of Diamonds, which was released after JOHNNYSWIM launched VH1's You Oughta Know + campaign with their Heart Beats (2013) EP. "When Diamonds came out, I remember one of our first shows was in Atlanta at Smith's Olde Bar," Abner recalls. "The whole place was singing every word. It was one of the most overwhelming experiences of the last few years. It doesn't matter what the three people in suits think. It matters what the 150 people showing up at a nightclub think." The duo's audience grew exponentially after performing at Bonnaroo and several other music festivals, along with appearances on network television programs like The Today Show and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Following the release of A JOHNNYSWIM Christmas (2014), the duo's Live at Rockwood Music Hall (2016) CD/DVD set perfectly capped the two-year journey of Diamonds.
Produced by Abner, Georgica Pond was recorded at the couple's home studio in Los Angeles, with bass and drum parts added at the Castle in Nashville. "We just flew an engineer out and got to work," says Amanda. "The process felt a lot more freeing because it was all on our terms. We had the space to try things instead of being in a studio where you don't want to take a ton of chances because there's money being spent every minute that you're there." Abner adds, "I felt freedom and creativity in making a choice. On Diamonds, if I felt like a track wasn't ready, I would add stuff to it. I looked forward to doing the opposite on Georgica Pond: I would remove layers instead of adding layers."
JOHNNYSWIM teamed with a few different songwriters to create a listening experience that spans a range of tones and emotions. Their longtime collaborator Britten Newbill helped co-write "Summertime Romance," an autobiographical portrait of the duo's relationship. "It's about enjoying life with the one you love and making the best out of every little stage of it," says Amanda. Violinist/composer Anton Patzner accentuated the beguiling tenderness of the song with a string arrangement. "I contacted him in San Francisco and asked if he could spend some time with the song and come up with something," says Abner. "We wanted Anton's beautiful creativity to be the star and so we created that space for him at the very end. I'm really proud of that moment." Indeed, Patzner's arrangement is among the most stunning sequences on the album.
Newbill also teamed with the duo on the tuneful "Let It Matter," a song that makes no apologies for heartache or the healing process. "I think a lot of times people don't know how to deal with other people's grief," says Amanda. "They just want you to cheer up really fast. We had one friend whose father passed away right before we lost Abner's dad and my mom. She said the best thing anybody told her was to grieve and feel everything for people that are worth that kind of mourning. Let it matter and let it really sink in." The anthemic quality that distinguished JOHNNYSWIM's previous collaborations with Newbill on songs like "Diamonds" and "Home" also sparks "Drunks." As Abner explains, "It's a call to purpose. The resounding sentiment between Amanda, myself, and Britten when we wrote 'Drunks' was what greater purpose is there than unity or love?"
Abner and Amanda explore the sometimes strained dynamics of relationships on "Villains," an infectious slice of pop written with Nashville-based songwriter Natalie Hemby. "The journey of the song is kind of like the resolution of an argument," says Abner. "It's dumb little moments like forgetting to wash the dishes where all of a sudden you feel like it's difficult to understand each other, yet those are the things you forget the quickest." After cresting towards a spirited climax, "Villains" closes with a snapshot of the duo's creative process. "That was me and Amanda just figuring out the bridge," says Abner. "We took the song from this big production back to something really raw, just us sitting in a room together."
"Touching Heaven" also concludes with a window to JOHNNYSWIM's world. It was written for Abner and Amanda's young son Joaquin, who makes a cameo in the closing moments of the song. "I made sure to say his name at the end when he's singing so that long down the road, when we're sitting there saying, What year is this? Which kid is that?, it will be very obvious that it's for Joaquin!" Amanda chuckles. Another writer from Nashville, Chris DeStefano, also collaborated on "Touching Heaven" with the duo while Houston's Lakewood Church choir lent a rich, celestial quality to Abner's production.
As a co-writer and guitarist, country music icon Vince Gill brought a career's worth of talent to "Lonely Night in Georgia." The opportunity to write a song with Gill resonated with Amanda, especially. "The first piece of music that I ever bought was the cassette single of Vince Gill's 'I Still Believe In You,'' she says. "I didn't even have a cassette player that was my own, I was that young. It was my dream to meet him. We made friends with him enough to be bold and ask him if he'd want to write with us. We spent the day at his house, writing the song and singing it together. He was kind enough to play on it." Abner continues, "When you hear Vince play those first three notes of the solo, you instantly feel the weight of his journey, of his experience, of his musicianship. The solo's a classic and I feel like the song has a classic vibe to it."
While JOHNNYSWIM has no shortage of original material, they recorded their own unique rendition of a modern pop standard, Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game." Jeremy Griffith, who mixed the album, suggested the cover. "It's our 'Oh wait, there's more!' moment on the album," says Abner. "I love that it's kind of the anti-hero love song. 'I don't want to fall in love with you' is such a beautiful way to say 'I'm head over heels in love with you. This could be reckless or this could be wrong, but this is where we're at.' We wanted to bring out that element of danger in the production."
Griffith also co-produced "Georgica Pond" with Abner, creating the wistful, emotionally charged centerpiece of the album. "Georgica Pond was the place in East Hampton (Long Island) where we would stay with my mom," says Amanda. "She's been gone a couple of years but this last summer was the first time I brought my own child, one of the little creatures that we daydreamed about having out there. I just started singing that first line: 'One day when I'm gone, scatter my ashes on Georgica Pond.' I was thinking of my mom and of all those memories. It was this bittersweet moment of the past and the future colliding." Written by Abner and Amanda, "Georgica Pond" exemplifies the duo's unique ability to make even quiet moments pulse with feeling.
Georgica Pond captures the spirit of musical adventure that's long shaped JOHNNYSWIM's approach to writing and recording. "Any fear we had on album one has completely evaporated," Abner says. "We know the people that come to JOHNNYSWIM shows. We know it matters to them what we have to say. We realize that, much like ourselves, our fans appreciate honesty. We wanted that to be the cornerstone of this album." The reflection of Georgica Pond illuminates "love, legacy, the past and the future all put into this bittersweet mixture that makes you fully appreciate the present," says Amanda. Like love itself, the universality of that mixture is beyond measure.