The past year has been full of tragic and tumultuous events, with low points followed by more lows. Many artists have subsequently channeled those intense feelings of fear, anger and sorrow into darker hued music. But others have taken a different path.
Johnnyswim and Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors have combined their incredible musical talents into a beacon of light that shines through the new “Goodbye Road” EP. The tour makes a stop at Savannah's Lucas Theatre on July 10.
Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors are rapidly rising in the indie Americana scene. They have performed on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and at Bonnaroo, and their 2017 album, “Souvenir,” debuted at No. 1 on iTunes and Amazon.
Johnnyswim is the husband and wife duo of Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano (daughter of famed singer-songwriters Bruce Sudano and Donna Summer). With dynamite chemistry, their soaring voices can lift the roof off of a venue. They’ve appeared on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, on many late-night and morning talk shows, including Leno and Letterman, and in 2016 released their acclaimed album, “Georgica Pond."
Holcomb had been running in the same circles as Johnnyswim and had developed camaraderie with them.
“We really enjoy each other’s music and each other’s company, so we originally got together about a year ago to talk about doing some shows together and instead of that, we decided to get together and write some songs,” says Holcomb. “I flew out to L.A. last August to hang out with Abner and Amanda at their place for a couple days and that’s sort of where the songs started.
"It was a crazy moment in the news that week. It was two days after Charlottesville and it set the stage for the songs. It kind of steamrolled together into us writing some tunes.”
The results were the rousing “Ring the Bells” and the gospel-influenced title track.
“One thing that’s true about Drew’s music and ours is that it’s very honest,” says Ramirez. “There are no gimmicks. It’s the songs, it’s the music, there is passion behind it, and I think the only way that is sustainable is if it’s honest.”
Ramirez and Sudano have two young children and he points to a text thread between Sudano and her girlfriends about parenting — a sort of “super moms” group chat — to illuminate why “Goodbye Road” is so uplifting. Many of the mothers expressed extreme anxiety about how terrible the world seemed and questioned if it was even a good idea to have kids.
“Amanda got fed up and I love how fired up she gets,” Ramirez recounts. “She said, ‘No, it’s the opposite. The world needs our kids. The world needs the light, the joy, the happiness, the kindness, the gentleness, that our current kids and future children will carry. If anything, the answer to the darkness, the absence of light, is more light.’ I think that’s what this project has been for us.”
Feeling of solidarity
The actual recording took place over a couple of days in Nashville with the help of Penny and Sparrow’s Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke on additional vocals (the duo will join in on some dates of this tour, including Savannah). Holcomb had a brief break from touring and Johnnyswim was about to begin a tour.
“We knew if we wanted to get anything recorded, we had a little-bitty window to do it,” says Holcomb. “Honestly, it was some of the most creatively fulfilling but fast recording I’ve ever been a part of. We really had to trust each other, trust the producer ... It was really satisfying, but like a 65 mph roller coaster.”
The recording began days after the Las Vegas Harvest Festival shooting and the death of Tom Petty, so the bands decided to record a moving cover of Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” that spotlights each member’s incredible voice.
“The nature of the song is hopefulness, but also trying to be honest about the moment we’re having in our lives,” says Holcomb. “'I Won’t Back Down’ felt like the right thing, but it also felt right to reinvent it a little bit and make it more melancholy, but with a feeling of solidarity, that we’re not going to back down and we’re going to do it together.”
Now the music makers are hitting the road with the new tunes.
“You can’t replace that feeling of the first time you play a song live and people already know the words and they’re singing along,” says Ramirez.
“We’re not just trying to put a show on and be watched. We feel like the songs we sing, the songs Drew sings, the songs we have to sing together, as collaborative with the audience, with the people, with the listener, as much as they are with ourselves singing them together.”