For Johnnyswim’s Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez, “A Johnnyswim Christmas” is a way to thin the line between them and their audience. The album is more intimate than the rest of their catalogue, as if the married couple is inviting listeners into their living room for a half-hour or so of holiday favorites. The versions aren’t hushed, but they don’t have the prominent ambition that characterized “Diamonds,” the album they released earlier this year before playing Jazz Fest.
For Ramirez, the Christmas album and tour — which comes to the House of Blues on Friday — is a moment to step outside of their celebrity selves and do something special for — and with — their fans.
“It’s like you’re joining in the crowd,” he said by phone, of singing Christmas songs. After all, they’re songs everybody knows. “We’re all in this together. There’s a moment in our show that we hope will happen when we’re all off mic and singing carols together.”
Christmas songs are strong in both Ramirez and Sudano’s backgrounds. His father was a pastor, so he remembers singing hymns in church, and Sudano’s mother was Donna Summer, who released a non-disco Christmas album of her own in 1994.
Sudano has fond memories of her mother’s efforts to get the family to slow down and get together at Christmas time.
“I always joked that it was like the witch from ‘Hansel and Gretel’ laying out the crumbs so the kids will come back to the house,” she said, laughing.
Sudano and Ramirez made an effort to capture something domestic on “A Johnnyswim Christmas.” They recorded the songs as they did their very first tracks — at home in a guest room converted into a makeshift studio with a mic and a laptop.
For their version of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” they took that aesthetic to the extreme.
“We recorded that on our iPhones in bed, so it would feel different and feel homey,” she said. It’s a tribute to modern technology that the song doesn’t sound all that different.
The process of selecting the songs was a loose one. Johnnyswim heard “The Christmas Waltz” on a Harry Connick Jr. Christmas album a few years ago and began performing it during December concerts. They knew they wanted to record it, and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” was a song they enjoyed singing around the house, so they knew it was in. For a few months, they sang the Christmas songbook to see which songs opened musical avenues that spoke to them.
“That’s the challenge of Christmas music,” Sudano said. “You want to stay true to the Christmas spirit, but you also want to make it your own because it’s been sung so many times.”
Part of the process meant choosing the song that was at the heart of the album, and it ended up being “Christmas Time is Here” from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The moody composition from the melancholy 1965 Peanuts cartoon encapsulated attitudes toward Christmas for Ramirez.
“I love Target Christmas, but I also love ‘go cry alone in the corner’ Christmas,” he said. “There’s something beautifully nostalgic and slightly painful (about Christmas), and it contained all those elements.”
Although the duo’s calling card is their voices, the song is a brief, instrumental interlude on “A Johnnyswim Christmas.”
The decision was partly motivated by hearing Argentinian tango guitarist Pepe Gonzales play an instrumental version of it, but the choice was also practical. “I learned once I started performing live, ‘Never sing after children.’ I wasn’t going to try to re-create a kids’ choir.”
The two had planned from the start to write a Christmas song, but nothing came to them as the deadline to turn in the album neared. Ramirez and Sudano resigned themselves to the possibility that they wouldn’t have an original song for the project, but a canceled flight to Paris gave them two extra days. During that time, they played the album for her father, who said it needed a song by them. When they said they didn’t have time, he said, “Write it now.”
“He sat there between us and listened while we wrote the song before dinner,” Sudano said. “It was like having a study hall teacher who forced you do work.”
They both expected to include hymns, but only “O Come All Ye Faithful” made the final cut.
“In that moment of creation, figuring out songs and which way we’re going to go, they didn’t seem to fit,” Ramirez said.
“I’m a big ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ fan,” Sudano added. “But we didn’t overthink it too much.”
“Fortunately, we plan on making 73 more Christmas records,” Ramirez joked.