Abner & Amanda Ramirez Dish On Magnolia Networks Johnnyswim Show And Home On The Road – Exclusive Interview
To the big fans of the hit HGTV show “Fixer Upper,” the following words will mean quite a lot: “Just go home. You need you some home. Oh, you need you some home.” For those of you who don’t immediately recognize the lyrics, the message belongs to the song “Home” from the musical duo Johnnyswim, married couple Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano. The song was used in the opening credits of the home improvement show pretty much since the beginning. The comforting guitar chords and the upbeat tune had viewers tapping their toes without even realizing, all while footage of the Gaines family played on their screens. What viewers might not have known, or perhaps still don’t, is that Chip and Joanna Gaines go way back with Abner and Amanda, and the couples have shared a beautiful friendship over the years.
Flashforward to 2021, and the Magnolia Network is set to launch. And while Abner and Amanda may have been used to hearing their music on TV, they’re about to be launched in an entirely new direction — they have not one, but two shows launching on the network about their lives on the road and at home. We sat down with them for an exclusive interview to get all the details. What has their life been like since finding Chip and Jo? How has COVID-19 impacted their careers as musicians? What are their new shows like? We have all the answers.
This is what made Abner and Amanda share their story on television
First thing’s first. What initially made you want to share your story with viewers in this kind of television setting?
Abner: I love that question by the way. The only way I can really think of it is the way we got into music. She spent a lot of time in L.A. She was born out here, and there’s kind of a music scene here, there’s a music scene in New York, and a music scene in Nashville, right? And there’s one very big difference between the music scene in Nashville, at least the way we knew it, woof, a dozen years ago and kind of the rest of America’s community of music chasers, music career chasers. In L.A. and New York — L.A., it’s about being famous. New York, it’s about being successful. In Nashville, it’s about making something you’re proud of. It’s about doing something you love. It has been generally the vibe we’ve gotten with folks from folks, and we absolutely fall into the category of creating music. Even if nobody listened to it, we would make music as often as we possibly could.
And the kind of style we have in songwriting and performance is to be as honest as possible, to be as transparent as possible. And one thing we’ve learned, a way that we can help people, a way that we can be of value to the spinning rock in the universe is that people still see through honest art. And we love that. And we love being able to be a part of that and being a part of people’s journeys, whether it be romantic or tragic or whatever the part of life you’re in. We want to share our experience in that with you. And when it came to TV, we always knew we wanted … I was like all 9 billion other people on the planet, obsessed with Anthony Bourdain.
And it felt like such an honesty with the way he would tell his story and communicate his art so honestly. RIP, Anthony Bourdain. And when we were first married in our early 20s, we sat and we watched a lot of Bourdain, and our show is nothing like Bourdain. None of our shows are like Bourdain in style or in prose, but in one way, we wish they were. And one of the reasons we got involved in TV and why we wanted to share our story is that same sense of honesty, that same sense of discovery, that same sense of communion that you can share through this art form, through television, we just wanted to make something honest. That’s why we wanted to share our story on TV.
What Amanda Sudano wants people to see about her life
Amanda, anything to add to that?
Amanda: I was going to say, I think a lot of people look at our lives from outside and have kind of questioned our sanity for making the decisions that we do, especially when we started having kids and bringing the kids on the road and how … We have family members who know us very well who’d be like, “That sounds like a nightmare. I don’t even understand how that works.” And the answer is it does work and you make it work. And I felt like, especially as a mother, I wanted to be able to show people that you can still follow your dreams and have good relationships with your spouse and your friends and your kids. And you can show them beautiful things and kind of live your dream at the same time. Because I think we’re kind of in some ways, especially as women, the old school mindset is kind of, you got to choose one and which one’s more important. And then you’re like, “Well, I mean, my kids are important, but it’s also my work. I feel like it’s important too. I don’t think I have to like choose one –
Abner: And it’s important for my kids to see that I have something I’m pursuing.
Abner Ramirez explains what reaching success has felt like
You’re working with a working family. Joanna Gaines has very clearly proved that you can do both and you don’t have to choose, which is great.
Amanda: Right. And especially getting into the TV world. I mean, obviously, the music world, we kind of knew and have lived, but the TV world, any questions that we had, any concerns that we had, we had pros that we could talk to and who could kind of mentor us in this space that was new to us and make it make sense and make it not scary, make it fun.
Absolutely. So I kind of want to go back a little bit into your music careers to kind of get a sense of how you got to this point. So I know that, and I did some research, I went on your website, but so your EP, I believe it was “Don’t Let It Get You Down,” got like what, 16, 17 million plus Spotify streams. So tell me a little bit about what it was like to start getting that kind of recognition and feeling like, “Okay, the wheels are turning on this. It could really create something big.”
Abner: Have you ever seen a trickle of water and turn away from it? For instance, I was filling up the pool the other day. It was just one hose; it takes hours to fill the pool. It’s a little few inches, and I fell asleep on the couch. I woke up and my yard was flooded. Our career hasn’t been a fire hose, and I don’t expect it to be really at any point. It’s been this steady and consistent small steps forward, like spokes in a wheel, always every step, every part of it, as important as the one previous and the one next to it. There was never, there still hasn’t been a moment where we’re like, “Oh, my goodness, this is just … Look at all the listeners, look at all, whatever.”
It’s been coffee shop after coffee shop of performances to slightly larger coffee shop to tiny, itty-bitty venue, to slightly larger venue, to theaters, to amphitheaters, to arenas. And it’s never felt like we’d been on the highway, man. It’s always felt like we’ve been on a service road going about 35, but we just haven’t stopped. I hope that answers the question.
How do Abner and Amanda balance their lives as musicians and parents?
Obviously, we just touched on it a little bit, but you’ve gotten married, you’ve had kids. What has been balancing all these different aspects of your lives like?
Amanda: We like to say it’s like making gumbo. There’s a lot of stuff all at once. And it’s less about everything being perfect at all times, it’s more about tasting as you go and going, “You know what, we’ve been spending a lot of time working. Let’s make sure we spend time with the kids and …” Or we’ve been at home –
Abner: Add some salt to this gumbo.
Abner: It needs a little more hot sauce, let’s get out of here.
Amanda: It needs a little bit of this, it needs a little bit of that. Hey, maybe we need to spend some time alone together.
Abner: We do.
Amanda: But there’s not hard, fast rules. We don’t have any hard, fast rules. We just kind of think of it like cooking and tasting as you go and making what works for you and your family in that moment.
How did Abner and Amanda journey to the Magnolia Network?
Absolutely. So then what was it like for you guys to get involved with Chip and Jo and the Magnolia Network? I’d love to know what that experience leading to where you are now was like.
Abner: You know what’s hilarious, is we wanted to do a TV show for as long as we’ve been together. We’ve wanted to do a travel show. Something that showed our unique perspective on the world. And when Chip and Jo weren’t, where they’re not quite the superstars they are now, we’ve made a sizzle reel and pitched it to HGTV and some other people, to everybody. Everybody got pitched this sizzle reel: Abner and Amanda traveling with the family. And nobody bit at all. Not even the slightest nibble from anyone. And I remember we were in Waco. We were doing an event there called Silobration, that this year will be the sixth one we’ve done.
I’ve always wanted to go to Silobration. That’s on my dream list of things to do.
Amanda: It’s super fun.
Abner: They’re always insane. They seem to get more amazing every time, truly. And I know this year’s going to be wild. They added a huge church area, a Wiffle ball field, whatever. It’s insane. We were … What was I was saying? I was going.
Amanda: Yeah. So we went down to do Silobration and they had gotten some offers –
Abner: They’ve seen it. They saw the sizzle reel. No, they saw the sizzle reel and Chip pulled us aside in his office. He says, “Listen, I saw your sizzle reel. I heard nobody’s picking it up. And I just want to tell you, I think all those people are stupid. I think every single one of them that didn’t bite on this is stupid. You guys are fantastic, you’re good looking, you’re entertaining, and you got good energy.”
Amanda: He’s fun to be around.
Abner: [Chip is] very fun to be around.
I can imagine.
Abner: And he’s like, “They’re stupid, this is unbelievable.” And then years went by, literal years, and I got a phone call from Chip one day. We’re prepping for tours. “Amanda, you got 10 minutes, I need 10 minutes of your time.” I said, “I have 10 minutes for you.” We talked for two and a half hours and that’s not an exaggeration. I drove around a Whole Foods parking lot in a circle for an hour, finally just parked for an hour and a half. And he said, “We have this crazy opportunity where we may have a network and we want you guys to be the very first thing we put into production. We want to be your Oprah to whatever –
Amanda: Dr. Phil.
Abner: “You’d be our Dr. Phil, we’ll be your Oprah and whatever. We want to launch you guys.” And we were. They were true to their word. We were the first show in production. They’ve done an amazing job always championing us. There’s a friend of ours in a band called Penny and Sparrow who uses this term. And I have to make sure to give him credit because I didn’t make it up, called sending … They sent the elevator down for us. They weren’t happy to be alone in their penthouse. They had friends a few floors down and they want to celebrate and champion other folks as well. They don’t just sit and bask in their own glory. You know what I mean? And they’ve been amazing. That’s how it all started.
What are the biggest differences between Abner and Amanda's two new shows?
So you’ve got The “Johnnyswim Show,” then you’ve got “Home on the Road.” So what would you say are like the biggest differences between those shows, more along the lines of a production level, and then what viewers see?
Amanda: “Home on the Road,” it being the first show in production, there was a lot of hurdles we had to jump because it’s not cheap or easy to follow a band on tour. There’s a lot that goes into it. And of course, they wanted to have like multiple days in each city. And we’re like, “Well, when you tour, you’re in a different city every day.” There was a lot of hurdles like that that we had to kind of figure out on the go and kind of make do. So everything was a little bit more, I want to use the word compromised. We toured a little bit differently for a stretch of time so that we’d get more TV and TV had to compromise a little bit to make sure that they could film this thing.
And it was all kind of like, “All right, next time we do this, there’s going to be some other changes.” But it was a super fun experience and we loved doing it. It was great. And we got to kind of choose some of our favorite places, choose the places where we felt like there were stories that we wanted to tell and tell those stories, which was important to us. And then when the pandemic hit, we were supposed to be starting to film again and, obviously, tour, everything got canceled. And so they were like, “Well, what if you guys just filmed yourself?” Because at that point, just to have fun, we had taken this camera and some other equipment that we have laying around the house and started making little dumb cooking videos and just fun stuff that we were just bored and wanted to be creative and like, “Yeah, the stuff that you’re kind of doing, let’s do that.”
Abner: Amplify that.
Amanda: “Let’s amplify that.” So “Johnnyswim Show” is that. It’s self-shot. It’s us in our little quarantine pod, making do, trying to let the kids have fun, trying to still be creative, trying to figure out what it is, life off the road. Because normally, there is a balance of on the road, off the road. And even just personally, there’s a difference. On the road, he’s working overtime because he’s kind of right there with our band director, doing everything and making sure everything’s running. And everybody goes to him for everything. When we’re at home, everybody goes to me. Like, “I can’t find my sock.” I don’t have to worry about what’s for dinner every night on the road, the same way that I have to. Yeah, I don’t think about groceries.
Once a week, I figure out like, “Make sure stuff is stocked on the bus and I’m going to go chill.” So figuring that out between us, all right, chores and the kids should probably have chores. And these are all things that we haven’t experienced before. And so the show that comes out July 15th, that’s really what you’re seeing. And so we’re excited because we’re about to go on tour again in the fall. And now we’ve got this new structure that really works, that’ll allow us to really take the cameras with us in the way that we normally tour.
Abner: And it doesn’t get more genuine. The first show, “Home on the Road,” is beautiful and there’s multiple camera men, and there’s directors of photography, all that stuff. In this one, it’s me holding this camera with my hand and some robot cameras that just kind of point and zoom as things are happening. So to me, if the goal was honest art, as it is with our music, if we were trying to do that same thing with reality TV, if we can stretch so far as to call it reality TV art for just a second, please, this much, this hits that target a lot better.
Abner: It hits the target of true, honest work.
This was a standout quarantine moment for Abner and Amanda
It sounds like viewers are going to be able to see you in two different settings, which actually does sound quite cool to see you guys working and as performers and artists, and then to see you dramatically shift to this new normal that we all kind of had to get used to. What would you say was that big shift, experiencing that for you?
Abner: Yes. So for us, a big … Traveling’s an adventure, traveling with three kids is much more of an adventure. Having to figure out new cities, new opportunities, not just new opportunities, new things to do with the kids every day. How do we maintain? Because we’re at work when on the road as well. So there’s all this sense of risk and adventure and a massive sense of reward when the kids are going to sleep happy. And there’s applause from the audience. Tour life to us is like real life. There’s this sense of risk, reward, and adventure that I miss when I’m at home.
And so on this, “The Johnnyswim Show,” one thing you’ll see very honestly and very candidly is our pursuit of some new risks, some new challenges. We’d seek them out and seek out some adventures. So for us, that means Amanda wanted chickens. I’m not a handyman, I’m the opposite in many, many ways of one Chip Gaines. If you wanted me to build you a house, I might be able to buy you one, but I can’t build you one. That’s not going to happen. And so she wanted chickens, I did not want chickens, so we compromised.
I know, I can buy you one somewhere very cheap, somewhere in swampland in Florida.
Amanda: Yeah, exactly.
Abner: But even then, I’d be more likely to buy you one than build you one. And I can’t buy you a house. So we got chickens and I was forced to build a chicken coop. And it was a real sense of adventure for me. And something that typically I would consider mundane, it took me a day and shouting and calling friends to come over to help me and using manly tools I’ve never used before and it was –
Amanda: All while his mother’s there judging everything.
Abner: Judging and correcting.
Amanda: … hilarious for me.
Was that very much a standout moment for you?
Abner: For me? Yeah. When I think about “The Johnnyswim Show,” I think about the adventures we took on. We did some live stream concerts. We had the cops called on us. We had a bunch of fun, dramatic moments that happened. But to me, it stands out a lot, the chicken stuff, because now we have 14 chickens.
Amanda: I told him I wanted three or four and then he became obsessed. And now we have 14, but we have plenty of eggs if you ever need them.
Abner: Hey, come by Burbank, we got eggs for you.
Did Abner and Amanda ever expect to work with the likes of Chip and Joanna Gaines?
So when you really started this very artistic and kind of homogenous career, I know you mentioned that you always wanted television to be involved at some point, but did you ever really see yourself working with such a powerhouse couple like Chip and Jo or such a massive network?
Abner: I know you want to answer it, but I’ve been talking too much. Why don’t we give you this answer? We say often, Amanda and I often say that the noes in life are more important than the yeses. We’re so grateful for all the noes, all the record labels that said no to us, because now, we are our own masters and we are our own record label and we get to control our path and our career and all that stuff. So the noes in our music career have been absolutely vital.
The people saying, “No, I don’t want to work with you. No, you’re not good enough. No, that song’s not good enough. No, that whatever,” has been the greatest catapult for us into actual success. The noes we received and the patience we felt. And really, I believe God ordained this timing for us to work with Chip and Jo, because we’ve gotten no from every network you can get no from, and then this, then all of a sudden, these superstars not only are just giving us an at-bat, which is really the most you can hope for in any career, right?
You just want a good at-bat. You don’t want everything handed to you. You just want a chance to prove yourself, a chance to succeed on your own. But just give me that chance. They haven’t just given us a chance. They haven’t just given us an at-bat. They’ve really like carried us and they’re placing us in this amazing network. Two television shows, not just one. And I’m so grateful when I think about that question. Have I ever thought that it would be this way? No, I never considered it would be with Chip and Jo in this kind of fascinating and fantastic way. But I’m so grateful. What it makes me think of is how grateful I am for every person that said no to us before. Not in a weird chip on your shoulder way. You know what I mean?
This is what the early days of Abner and Amanda's bond with Chip and Joanna were like
[On their Magnolia Network call with Chip Gaines]
Amanda: It was definitely after that long phone call with Chip, when Chip was like, “Oh, we’ve got this offer to do a network and you guys are my first call.” It was kind of an aha moment of like, “Oh, okay.” Because it was more than just like, “Oh, we want to be on TV someday.” It was kind of like, “Man, I feel like there’s something that we have that we need to help show. We want to encourage people to follow their dreams, we want to encourage people to have their families and go along. And literally, the first conversation that we ever had with Chip and Jo was them saying that to us, “We listened to your album.” This was back when they were just shooting, I think Season 1 or just started shooting Season 2. We had no idea who they were, it was like this couple that called out of the blue that wanted to use the song. And the only reason that we said yes, because we had no clue was because his mother loved Season 1. And she was like, “Do whatever they say.”
Abner: We came home one time and mom was like, she made us coffee and she’s like, “You have to sit down and watch this show.” And she literally grabbed my arm and forced me to sit down.
Amanda: “You’re going to love this couple. They’re so great. You’re going to love them.”
Abner: And she put on “Fixer Upper” Season 1.
Amanda: Yeah. And we were like, “Oh, we’ve heard about this show because I think that they called about using the song.” And she was like, “Do whatever they want, do whatever they want.” The advice from his mother. So when we got on the phone with them, they said, I think it was Jo, that was like, “We listened to your album. We kind of like saw your Instagram, whatever. And we just felt like you guys were kindred spirits to us and we want your song. We would love to know you, we would love to have you come down and hang out or whatever. Come for Chip’s birthday party.” All that kind of stuff.
And it was really, that was the kinship that we felt as well, that you can dream, have your family. You don’t have to risk one for the other. And so finally getting to the place where we knew that the TV show that we had kind of like knew it was kind of in our ether, for lack of a better term. We knew that this TV show was like a thing that we were supposed to do. And then it coming down the wire to them saying, “Hey, would you guys want to do it with us?” It was like, “Well, duh.” That’s why everybody else said no. It was an absolute no-brainer. And the whole process really has been a joy.
This is what Abner and Amanda want viewers to take away from their new shows
I know we’re a little pressed for time, so I’m going to wrap up with just a couple of questions. You’ve touched on it a little bit, but with both shows, what are you really hoping that viewers will take away from watching your experiences? Both “At Home” and “On the Road?”
Abner: I hope people feel not just encouraged. I hope people feel seen. I hope that wild idea that you have, that people have told you is just silly, that it could never really happen for you. This kind of thing doesn’t happen for you. I hope you watch our show and how normal our life is and how extraordinary life is at the same time. And you feel seen, and you unpack once again from the attic of your heart, that dream you had to pursue, that you felt you had to give up for the sake of your family or for the sake of more pragmatic choices or decisions. I hope people see that and they feel seen, I hope people feel entertained and then laugh, I hope they cry. I hope they feel like they made friends with us, not just observed us.
Amanda: And then specifically, I think with “The Johnnyswim Show,” but with “Home on the Road” as well, I feel like a common theme is that things can all go haywire and things going perfectly is not mutually exclusive to you being joyful or happy –
Abner: Ooh, that’s good.
Amanda: … or enjoying your time in your life and who you’re with. Things go wrong, especially life on the road with kids, especially life at home with kids during a pandemic when you’re supposed to be on the road. Stuff goes wrong all the time. But things going right is easy. Stuff can go right, stuff can go wrong. The true thing is your family and your community. And I hope that that gives people the flexibility to enjoy themselves, even when things go wrong.
What's up next for Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano?
Last question. I know you mentioned that you’re going back on the road in the fall. So what’s next? What can viewers expect to see from you guys? What can you share about your future plans?
Amanda: We go on the road. I think our first show is September 29.
Abner: September 30 in Cincinnati.
Amanda: Sorry. September 30 in Cincinnati. We’re on the road all of October.
Abner: All over America.
Amanda: All over America and then ending our last show of the tour will actually be at the Silobration in Waco.
Abner: Waco, Texas. Our last show of the year.
Amanda: We have new music coming out right before the tour, but we’ll be releasing songs every couple weeks.
Abner: We’re releasing a new single at the end of July and then we’ll be releasing singles from July into September, and the album will come out, I think, September 29th.
Amanda: Yeah, I think the same day as the day before the show starts. And then, of course, “The Johnnyswim Show,” comes out July 15 on the Magnolia Network app.
That’s so exciting.
Abner: And you’ll get to see a lot of us writing the songs from this album on “The Johnnyswim Show.”
That’s really cool.
Amanda: Yeah. And we just had a book come out. I should mention that as well. We just had a book come out that we also wrote during the pandemic and you get to see us laboring over it on the TV show too.
You have been busy then.
Abner: Yeah. The pandemic was the busiest year of our life.
Amanda: Yeah, somehow.
Magnolia Network’s slate of original programming launches July 15 on discovery+ and inside the Magnolia app.
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