Interview: Why JAWNY Continues to Leave Us “Wide-Eyed, Tongue-Tied”

Jawny © Michael Tyrone Delaney
Jawny © Michael Tyrone Delaney
With endless humility and undeniable swagger, JAWNY is taking the music industry by storm; refusing to sacrifice his artistic integrity and never failing to charm listeners with his bombastic melodies and painstaking honesty. His music is the perfect soundtrack to pair with life’s highest highs, lowest lows, and all of the time spent navigating the in-between.
Stream: “wide eyed” – JAWNY




It is the biggest well kept secret in music that we would do all of this for free. I would pay to play the shows that I play. It’s about the human connection for me personally. That’s success.

How does a person go from being a fried chicken line cook in Philadelphia to selling out an entire concert venue just down the street?

While that might sound like a tricky riddle or some outlandish joke with a tacky punchline, it is neither of those things. It is, in fact, the real life circumstances of the one and only JAWNY.

Jawny © Michael Tyrone Delaney
Jawny © Michael Tyrone Delaney

For JAWNY (AKA, Jacob Sullenger), life would be bereft of meaning if there was no music to create; his entire existence is centered around songwriting and performing — everything else comes second.

Initially releasing music under the pseudonym, “Johnny Utah,” — inspired by Keanu Reeves’ character in the 1991 film, Point Break — he then pivoted to the moniker, “JAWNY,” in avoidance of a possible trademark lawsuit. And while his musical project has found a secure home under JAWNY over the past couple of years, his sonic identity remains ever-changing.

“I love working on music. All of this other shit happened by accident,” JAWNY asserts.

This “accident” of a musical career exploded in 2019, when JAWNY’s track “Honeypie” went viral online, with his fanbase only continuing to grow during the COVID-19 pandemic. With more than 287 million streams to date, and the track going gold in the U.S. and diamond in Mexico, “Honeypie” gave JAWNY the proper foundation to gain footing in the music industry.




Jawny © Michael Tyrone Delaney
Jawny © Michael Tyrone Delaney

Though, JAWNY wasn’t content to simply coast on the viral success of “Honeypie” — after relocating from Philadelphia to LA, he has gone on to tackle goal after goal, never settling and always reaching for the next milestone. As a go-getter in every sense of the phrase, it’s this continuous growth mindset that keeps him persevering, and helps his artist project stay fresh. Stagnancy is his worst nightmare, and therefore JAWNY will never be predictable, always keeping fans guessing and surprising them at every turn.

“It’s up to me to continue to find inspiration and motivation to continue writing songs that we as a unit can release into the world and get them heard by as many ears as possible,” JAWNY shares. “I feel no stress or pressure, and if I ever did I would simply walk away from music for a bit. The day that creating music in a studio isn’t fun for me anymore means something has gone horribly wrong. and I would take a step back and walk away from all of this in order to save the only thing in life that makes me truly feel fulfilled.”

JAWNY © Michael Tyrone Delaney
JAWNY © Michael Tyrone Delaney



If there’s one thing JAWNY is going to do without fail, it’s follow his heart.

This musician has always known his true north, and his inner compass hasn’t failed him yet. Faith in the process combined with sheer determination and passion have all worked together to bring him to his current place, and will no doubt continue to see his career through far into the future.

Perhaps the greatest testament to JAWNY’s talent to date is his debut record, It’s Never Fair, Always True, released on March 3 via Interscope Records. The musician brings listeners a lush narrative of his personal descent into romantic disillusion; a story that purposefully lacks the happy-go-lucky silver lining, presenting the hard-to-digest fact that life isn’t always sunshine and roses. Even the lightest of songs come tinged with the shadow of doubt; any profession of love ready to be rescinded immediately upon their declaration.

It’s Never Fair, Always True - JAWNY
It’s Never Fair, Always True – JAWNY

The typical notion of warm, unconditional love turns into this all-consuming entity; something that greedily eats away at the very essence of JAWNY’s soul. Left feeling like an empty husk of a person once the relationship runs its course, listeners see JAWNY sorting through the aftermath, scrambling to pick up the pieces of his heart. Throughout the record, we see the musician at war with his inner monologue, unable to decide whether or not the pursuit of love is truly worth all of the pain that comes in tandem.

JAWNY himself does not come to a concrete decision upon these matters, but rather leaves his conjectures open-ended. Not wanting to tell anyone what to do or think — “Am I gonna sit here and pretentiously try to give an answer about how somebody can better love themselves when I’m also a flawed human who has no right to tell anybody else how to fix such a big problem? No” — JAWNY implies that the jury is still out, allowing his audience to decide their own verdict on love.

“Once it is release night and the clock strikes midnight, you don’t own the experiences of these songs anymore. It’s whatever the people translate them to mean to their experiences,” JAWNY affirms.

“It’s up to them to apply the lyrics or the mood to whatever they are feeling. That’s my favorite part of this entire process. I go to play a show and I can see people’s expressions and faces as they are singing parts of this album, and it is a huge weight off my shoulders to know that this isn’t just my universe in my head anymore.”




Jawny © Michael Tyrone Delaney
Jawny © Michael Tyrone Delaney

It’s Never Fair, Always True is an opus that JAWNY can firmly stand by and be proud of.

His self-deprecating honesty paired with his excessively quick wit, makes for striking lyricism that is only boosted by his rip-roaring arrangements and rock-rooted yet exceedingly diverse sonic palate. Two years of work resulted in the sewing together of 13 tracks into a brilliant musical quilt, with love acting as the connecting thread.

Though JAWNY might be uncertain about his love for humans, he is completely confident in his undying devotion for music.

“I didn’t make music for money all those years ago. It was a thankless, moneyless hobby that I was going to do whether it made a dollar or not because I love it — I love crafting songs,” he confides.

“I don’t think I love anything else anymore. I did it, because at the root of it I loved it but I also wanted the music to find people and for others to enjoy it. Fast forward to everything being entirely different now, but that core value is still true. It is the biggest well kept secret in music that we would do all of this for free. I would pay to play the shows that I play. It’s about the human connection for me personally. That’s success.”

JAWNY © Adrian Nieto
JAWNY © Adrian Nieto



With effortless suave and undeniable charm, JAWNY continues to find new ways to innovate upon his artistry.

His boundless gratitude, humility, and distaste for vapid celebritism keep him grounded in the fast-paced music industry that is so apt to strip artists of their innate sense of self. Truly, nothing can stop JAWNY from pursuing what he loves and is meant to do — not even a deviated septum or naysayers telling him that he’ll never sell out a showroom.

“I have accepted nothing lasts, it don’t vex me,” he sings in his track, “death is a dj,” succumbing to the notion that everything in life is temporary. But just remember; even as he admits that everything we know could be gone tomorrow, we must acknowledge that we are exceedingly lucky to have JAWNY today.

Continue reading below to learn more about JAWNY’s ambitions as an artist, what mindsets keep him untouched by pressure, and his overt and overpowering love for making music.

Everybody I’ve surrounded myself with and sought out seems to be somebody doing what they want when they want with the art they love, and they aren’t sacrificing any piece of themselves or their art for anybody.

— —

:: connect with JAWNY here ::
‘It’s Never Fair, Always True’ – JAWNY



A CONVERSATION WITH JAWNY

It’s Never Fair, Always True - JAWNY

Atwood Magazine: Your debut record, It’s Never Fair, Always True, just came out! Congratulations!! How are you feeling about it all?

JAWNY: Hey, thank you. It’s been a hell of a ride. It’s been about 2 months and finally the feeling of relief has worn off, but that was pretty much the main feeling of releasing something like that. You write the songs from your head, you finish the songs, you mix the songs, you master the songs, by the end of all of that it was nearly 2 years from conception of the first song to release so all I had done was live in this universe and hear these songs over and over and over again. By the end I truly had no idea what it would be like to hear these songs for the first time and not have all of my attachments and memories to them from hearing them go through every stage of the process; from idea, to demo, to final song to final mix to final master. By the end I was like “Please let’s just get this out into the world so that this thing isn’t mine anymore!” [laughs]

Once it is release night and the clock strikes midnight, you don’t own the experiences of these songs anymore. It’s whatever the people translate them to mean to their experiences. It’s up to them to apply the lyrics or the mood to whatever they are feeling. That’s my favorite part of this entire process. I go to play a show and I can see people’s expressions and faces as they are singing parts of this album, and it is a huge weight off my shoulders to know that this isn’t just my universe in my head anymore.

How’s the tour going? Any favorite memories so far?

JAWNY: This last tour was great. So good in fact we decided to jump back on the horse pretty quickly and just announced another giant US tour — two weeks after I had just gotten back from my last 2 month run. The energy of the shows feel a bit different than any other tour I’ve done before which is a great feeling. I think this new music connected and found a new audience that I didn’t have before. It’s hard for me to identify a favorite memory of the tour so far for this new record; I probably couldn’t isolate a favorite show because they are all so different and such a gift in so many different ways but maybe I could pick some favorite moments for other reasons outside the show…

Thalia Hall in Chicago was a cool moment for me because I was an opener at that venue a couple years before and i remember walking around looking at this giant venue thinking “Man, if only i could play somewhere this big one day” so to go back and sell it out was pretty huge. Philadelphia was pretty cool as well for me. because I used to live there and I had walked past the TLA venue countless times and used to daydream of a world where it was my name on the marquee. So to come back to Philadelphia all those years later and pack out that venue was a really cool full circle moment for me.

JAWNY © Michael Tyrone Delaney
JAWNY © Michael Tyrone Delaney



In an industry that can be so dog-eat-dog at times, you are working as a solo artist. Yes, you have a management team, and a lot of people who help support your career, but it is mostly up to you to pioneer your path as an artist. How do you maintain your peace of mind in this competitive and somewhat isolating atmosphere?

JAWNY: I don’t know anything else, so it isn’t anything I’ve ever noticed. I feel like it would be different if I was in a band first that was successful, and then a solo artist, but because I wasn’t the only speed I know is doing everything by myself. My team and my label are there always to answer questions, suggest ideas, help me with all other aspects of my business and brand etc., but really they are just extra gunpowder in a bullet to help shoot it farther; that bullet is in a gun called music, and the bullet is never going to leave the chamber without music.

It’s up to me to continue to find inspiration and motivation to continue writing songs that we as a unit can release into the world and get them heard by as many ears as possible. I feel no stress or pressure, and if I ever did I would simply walk away from music for a bit. The day that creating music in a studio isn’t fun for me anymore means something has gone horribly wrong, and I would take a step back and walk away from all of this in order to save the only thing in life that makes me truly feel fulfilled.

You yourself have been in the spotlight for a while now. How have you dealt with the pressures that come with being this figure that people admire and look up to?

JAWNY: I don’t feel any pressure because I don’t really think that I’m a public figure. [laughs] I kinda hit this sweet spot that can be both a blessing and a curse, where my music streams equal the numbers of people with way more “followers” than me. Which is sick, but can also be a curse because part of growing and building is getting that core audience to grow and scale to a much bigger number. But I’m okay with my journey. I feel no stress or pressure at all. I walk down the street everyday and nobody has any idea who the fuck I am. Maybe a handful of times a month I’ll get noticed and it’s a very short and kind interaction.

So all in all, no pressures, no stress; don’t care about any of the social life of being an artist. I couldn’t give a fuck less about events or parties or going to cool industry functions to be seen by people. [laughs] I just care about making good music. That’s what started this all. I love being in the studio. I love working on music. All of this other shit happened by accident.



I love working on music. All of this other shit happened by accident.

You have stated that you’re an anxious person who often gets bogged down in the future instead of staying grounded within the present. What have you found to be the best method that keeps you present in the moment at hand?

JAWNY: I definitely used to be that way but I have gotten a lot better over the years. All of this just goes by so fast and it can all end tomorrow. Music is a wild industry. People can care about you and then all of a sudden not. I think I just had a conversation with myself where I said, “Do you want this all to go away and you never took a moment to enjoy it while it was happening, or would you rather soak it all in while it’s happening and when it goes away you are just grateful for the ride?” That’s what I do now. When I’m playing a show, I try to take a couple moments each set to go off auto pilot and just look around and take it all in. When cool shit is happening I take a pause to take it all in. It’s so fucking easy in this field to get swept up in “What’s next, what’s next, what’s next” — what’s the next goal post, what’s the next mark to hit, what’s the next look  to get.

The goal post will always be moved, it never feels good once you hit your goal. First you wanna sell 100 tickets, then you sell 100 tickets but you’re looking at 500 cap rooms. Then you sell that room out but you’re looking at somebody ahead of you in a thousand cap room. Then you hit that room… you see where I’m going with this. That mindset will kill you — in any job field. Just be happy in the present while also taking still steps to grow. You can take those steps while also being present in the moment and being happy in the moment. Happiness is a state of being. It isn’t something that will come with the more money you get, the more tickets you sell, the more records you move. You will now have all of those things and still be unhappy. Be present. Find your happiness. Fuck. Yes. Next question.

JAWNY © Michael Tyrone Delaney
JAWNY © Michael Tyrone Delaney



Happiness is a state of being. It isn’t something that will come with the more money you get, the more tickets you sell, the more records you move. You will now have all of those things and still be unhappy. Be present. Find your happiness.

You’ve stated that this record is your best; your magnum opus of sorts — how do you know when you’ve truly made good art that you can be proud of?
 

JAWNY: I don’t think it’s the best thing ever made, but I think it’s the best thing I’ve made in my career thus far. I don’t think there is some grand answer to that question on how you know when you have made something that is your best. You just know. The same way if you’re a baseball player who is throwing a pitch at one speed and all of the sudden you throw a pitch at a higher speed. It’s just tangible. It’s a fact, and I’ll keep working on my pitch and try to beat my top speed again and again.

“Lalala” as a track reinvigorated your passion for writing music after taking a little break — the music industry is slowly accepting that mental health breaks and writing breaks can indeed be extremely helpful; why, as an artist, do you believe taking breaks can be beneficial?

JAWNY: I think taking breaks is always good, like I said; if this ever isn’t fun, something is wrong. Music should be fun, not pressure. I don’t necessarily think I was on a break before writing that track but I think it was more so a spark that lit a fire after that day. I’m always writing dozens and dozens and dozens of ideas, songstarters, hooks, melodies etc. That doesn’t mean they will ever see the light of day or make sense for JAWNY or make sense on a record. “lalala” was a track that I left the studio being like, “Okay wait, I think there is something here. This universe and the story of this song could go somewhere and lead to another chapter in the story and another.” It kinda lit a flame of inspiration in me where I started seeing a road map of all the places I could go and all the gaps and blanks I could fill in when making a record and I just never looked back from there.



You’ve confessed that “Death is a DJ” is your attempt at exposure therapy for dealing with death-related anxieties — has your relationship with death changed since writing this track?

JAWNY: I think it would be cool to answer yes and sound super smart and cool — but not really. Plus I didn’t do the exposure therapy part of that song. I don’t even perform it at my concerts which would be the part of me living those lyrics out every night. I think I will be scared of dying until I have some sort of breakthrough where I just accept that it could be today, tomorrow, 10 years from now — I don’t know when, but we’ll see.



You sing the lyric, “I mean everything to everyone but not to myself” in “i look better when i’m in love”; how do you cultivate this sense of self love when there is seemingly no trace of it in you in the first place?

JAWNY: I don’t know really, because I’m the one who wrote it so clearly I don’t love myself as much as I should sometimes! [laughs] If you find the answer that cures all that, definitely hit me with it because I for sure don’t have it. I also don’t like reading interviews where artists answer questions like this. like who the fuck are we? I’m not a psychologist. [laughs] I write music. Big whoop. I can process my own emotions through songs.

Am I gonna sit here and pretentiously try to give an answer about how somebody can better love themselves when I’m also a flawed human who has no right to tell anybody else how to fix such a big problem? No. [laughs]



When it comes to music, many artists are boxed into genres, or defined by their influences. As an artist are you interested in creating “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”? Or maybe a little bit of both?

JAWNY: I don’t think about it too deeply, or at all really. I just chase whatever gets me excited in the room that day and I don’t label it. Music for me is just about having fun and making the best art I can. I couldn’t care less about fitting into a genre or if my music is labeled as the future of music. I just make it for me, and if I like it I put it out and hope other people can get something out of it too.

There is such a convoluted notion of success that exists within the industry today — many define success as how many streams they’re getting, while some choose to define it based off of their discography’s impact, etc. How do you personally define your success as a musician?

JAWNY: I think if people are connecting with my music and it’s having an impact on people’s lives, that’s success in music to me. I could have all the money in the world but if that first part wasn’t happening I don’t think i would feel successful. Money is secondary always. I didn’t make music for money all those years ago. It was a thankless, moneyless hobby that I was going to do whether it made a dollar or not because I love it — I love crafting songs. I don’t think I love anything else more. I did it, because at the root of it I loved it but I also wanted the music to find people and for others to enjoy it. Fast forward to everything being entirely different now, but that core value is still true. It is the biggest well kept secret in music that we would do all of this for free. I would pay to play the shows that I play. It’s about the human connection for me personally. That’s success.

JAWNY © Adrian Nieto
JAWNY © Adrian Nieto



You are an incredibly humble person working in an industry that almost necessitates having a big ego and all of this gravitas around celebrity — how do you care for your most authentic self, when working within an industry that emphasizes the importance of upholding an image?

JAWNY: I don’t think about it at all. Because I don’t care. I couldn’t give fuck all about of that. I don’t care about celebritism, I don’t care about going out and being seen to look ~!cool!~. I also think this industry is who you surround yourself with. I don’t actually view my industry as one that emphasizes the importance of upholding an image because I only surround myself with people that don’t give a shit about any of that.

If you move to LA and only go to a bunch of influencer parties and bitch and complain about how LA is full of fake people, then is it really LA or is it you? Music is the same way. Everybody I’ve surrounded myself with and sought out seems to be somebody doing what they want when they want with the art they love and they aren’t sacrificing any piece of themselves or their art for anybody.

I like to end all of my interviews on a happy note, so I’ll pose one last question to you: What has been giving you joy lately?

JAWNY: Every day that I wake up alive. Thank you.

— —

:: connect with JAWNY here ::

— — — —

It’s Never Fair, Always True - JAWNY

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