Separately, JOHNNYSWIM and Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors are two of the decade's most acclaimed acts, bringing together a range of influences from modern folk and pop/rock to bluesy, southern soul. They first joined forces creatively in 2018 for their debut EP Goodbye Road -- a stunning release that also included the heavenly harmonies of Penny & Sparrow. The release earned them an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! where they delivered a stirring performance of lead single "Ring the Bells" -- a song that Rolling Stone Country dubbed" a "collective call for action" -- as well as the project's title track "Goodbye Road."
In early 2020 JOHNNYSWIM's Amanda Sudano Ramirez and Abner Ramirez once again started writing with Drew Holcomb. It had been two years since the three friends and musicians had found the time to collaborate and it felt exciting to return to the project. "We started writing these songs in early March of 2020, right before the world fell apart," said Holcomb. He continued, "following up on the joy we had writing, recording, releasing the first Goodbye Road EP, we knew we wanted to make more music. We started 'Isn't Everything A Love Song' and 'Sing It Out Loud' with plans to make an album in the spring of 2020"
"I really loved writing 'Isn't Everything A Love Song," added Abner. "It's a song that I love now having it come to fruition. It's a song that says what it says, it says what we want to say, not a lot of hidden meaning there. But even the darkest days, even our most desperate hours, with the right perspective when the story is fully told, even those dark hours are part of a greater good, part of truly a love song, 'Isn't Everything A Love Song.' Everything not just can have a silver lining but everything can be a silver bullet right to the heart of catastrophe and causing us to not just live our best lives but for the generations and the people around us and the generations after us live their best lives. That's what that song's about and it really, it's funny that we wrote that right before the whole world shut down."
"For me 'Sing it out Loud' is special," said Amanda. "We wrote it backstage at a show when the pandemic was just starting and you were just starting to hear whispers of things closing down and things happening. And we were still in this place of wanting to be together and wanting to say it's okay if things are scary, we're going to keep partying on until we can't party anymore. Especially at the moment, it was really really important to us and then the fact that we then recorded it after these years of being off the road and being isolated, added a special note to it for us. Writing it before the pandemic and then singing it after is something that's really special."
As the pandemic took its grip, Drew retreated to his home in Nashville with his wife Ellie and their three kids and Abner and Amanda to theirs in LA with their three kids. "With Abner and Amanda on the West Coast out in LA, and me living in Nashville, we had to keep postponing the dream. Still itching to make more music together, I flew out to Los Angeles in late summer 2021 and we finished the songs at their studio," said Drew.
By the time they went to record Goodbye Road: Volume Two in 2022 they had four songs -- the EP's opener "Isn't Everything A Love Song," the rousing "Sing It Loud," the encouraging "What Have We Got To Lose" and the pandemic inspired blues-tinged cover of Stephen Foster's 1854 pre-Civil War song "Hard Times (Come Again No More)." "It was Drew's idea to cover 'Hard Times (Come Again No More),'" said Abner. "And I feel like 'Isn't Everything A Love Song' and 'Hard Times' fully depict the journey of this second Goodbye Road EP, where the first one 'Isn't Everything A Love Song' was a precursor, it was a song written right before the pandemic hit and whole world changed and stopped and after the pandemic, 'Hard Times,' as our suffix to that moment in time, the bow at the end of the EP, the end of the project basically begging the universe for the hard times to go ahead and stop now, we've suffered enough."
Abner, Amanda, and Drew's bond as human beings and musicians can be heard throughout the hopeful music they create. While the Goodbye Road project only goes back to 2018, the three first connected in 2013 when they found themselves both playing Hangout Festival.
"It all started when I was in 8th grade and Ellie was in 7th grade," said Amanda, "and we made friends and we knew each other and we grew up together and I remember when she married Drew and I had never met Drew until we went to Hangout Fest and I think that's where we all first met the first time and then at multiple festivals after that, but we were clearly kindred spirits, husband and wife singing together, traveling together, schlepping their babies together and also singing some similar songs I guess."
In 2016 Holcomb invited JOHNNYSWIM to play Moon River Music Festival in Memphis at the Levitt Shell. It was the final year the festival was held in Drew's hometown and it was a huge success, selling out and drawing more than 5K people. They started to talk about doing a tour together. "And we were like if we're going to tour together, we should write some songs together and that's where the relationship took a turn -- it's one thing to tour with an artist, it's another to let each other into the creative process," said Holcomb. Over the next couple of years, the trio not only wrote and spent time on the road together, their relationship became stronger as they bonded over kids, nannies and all the things to come with being parents, songwriters, and touring musicians. "We're like old friends, siblings, we love to see each other and that doesn't happen enough," added Holcomb.
"When we first got together for Goodbye Road with Drew, we just wanted to do something extra for tour. We were planning on touring together and we were like man, what if we got together and wrote a song together. And it was as simple as that, let's write a song together to help promote this tour we're going to be doing together. But when we got together to write, we realized there was more to this than just a promotional song to help advertise a tour, we realized there's really some magic happening. When the three of us get together to write oftentimes, and I'm stealing this line from Drew, it feels like trying to bottle up a hurricane. There's so much passion. It was easy and I think when we did our Goodbye Road tour years ago, it wasn't just easy it felt right. It felt like the three of us had been touring and writing and recording together forever. I think each of our strengths allow the others to operate in their best capacity when the three of us get together. There's not a lot of structure, we get to ride our lanes, and the three of us work really really well together."
Abner continued, "As we look forward to Goodbye Road: Volume Two coming out, I'm excited for people to feel not just songs that can entertain them but songs hopefully that can be a narrative to the life their living. People that have gone through this collective trauma together of the pandemic and come out the other side maybe with a different perspective on themselves and the people around them. Hopefully they can find a bit of themselves and a bit of their journey in this project and not only will it hopefully be catharsis but it will help them in the next steps. I hope for us as songwriters, so often our next steps are found in the lyrics we write, as we mine these songs. Too often we find our true feelings about a circumstance in our life as we're writing about them and all too often as well, we find hope that we didn't know we had access to as we begin to write songs and it's our hope that as folks listen to this project, they find a little bit of themselves and maybe the next step will be a little clearer for them as well."
Goodbye Road: Volume Two is out October 28, 2022. It was recorded between LA, Nashville, and Florida, with contributions from Cason Cooley and Jonathan Grant Berlin who produced the EP with Jeremy Griffith. Goodbye Road: Volume Two offers inspiring and comforting songs for these troubling times.