JAWNY talks new single ‘true’

Words by Tiara Starks

Photos by Adrian Neto

JAWNY is a singer, songwriter, and producer with a rapidly growing presence in the indie music scene. The San Francisco Bay Area native has enjoyed success since his 2018 debut EP, “Johnny Utah,” which is also his former stage name. JAWNY, born Jacob Sullenger, rose to fame through electro-pop stylings with catchy hooks. Now signed to Interscope Records, JAWNY has caught the attention of millions with successful singles from his 2020 and 2021 projects “For Abby” and “The Story Of Hugo,” respectively. His standout track “Honeypie” has been streamed over 200 million times alone on Spotify.

With close to 4 million monthly listeners on Spotify, JAWNY has created a loyal fan base who understand his development from an underground artist to a rising indie star. His latest single, “true,” has kicked off the new year with a bang. It’s a song about being hopelessly in love with someone who has fallen out of love with you. The accompanying music video illustrates the song’s lyrical message with warped visuals and quick cuts, allowing the viewer to immerse themselves in the meaning of the song. The release of “true” also serves as the backdrop for JAWNY’s upcoming North American Tour, which begins in March in San Diego.

Even after acknowledging his more recent notoriety, JAWNY admits he started his career later than most, but sees that as a strength rather than a weakness.

“I was a semi-late bloomer with music,” he says. “Even though I’m still young, I was in my early 20s. Some kids pop off at like 16. So, I somewhat have my head on my shoulders, a little bit, but I was still an immature young kid and I’m not gonna sit here and lie and say that comments, where people didn’t like my music, didn’t upset me or make me, you know, hurt, but as time goes on, ‘F*ck those people, who cares?’ Like, I don’t make music for them. I make music for the people that like it. That’s who I care about. I haven’t unanimously put out a song yet where the whole world hates it so until that day comes, I’m not really gonna focus on people that don’t like something, and I don’t think anybody else should either.”

JAWNY goes on to talk about what it’s like to start making music for an audience.

“Whenever you’re making music, it’s kind of always for you first, you’re making something that you like, whatever gets you excited or creatively inspired etc. etc.,” he says. “If you’re in a position like me, with say, I’m at a major label right, you make that song, you write that song, you record that song, you give it to your label, you mix and master that song, you wait for months for it to come out, sometimes a year. By the [time the] song comes out to the world, it’s very possible that you’ve listened to it and heard it now, maybe 900 times. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like for anyone to hear it for the first time with fresh ears without knowing where it came from, not knowing where the idea originated, not knowing what the demo sounded like when you’re writing it on the guitar. All they’re gonna hear is what they’re given.”

JAWNY recalls his first albums and, interestingly enough, ones that live in opposite genres of each other, noting the famed Compton-based rapper The Game and his 2005 release, “The Documentary,” where “he’s sitting on the tire.” JAWNY says, “That was the first album I bought with my own money at Best Buy.” He also mentions rock band Green Day’s 1994 album, “Dookie.”

With these works in mind, JAWNY speaks about his own writing process as one without specificity.

“I don’t have any specific formula,” he says. “I think songwriting for me can be one of many mediums. I can kind of fake a song into existence if I’m sitting there playing at the piano, doing a progression, or a guitar. I can kind of keep forcing melodies into existence, like faking a song into existence. Then there’s also a time where the words or a word or lines, they come first, or there isn’t any music at all. And there’s also times when the melodies and the music come first without any words. There’s also an additional thing where I have no inspiration at all and not even thinking about writing a song and I’ll just be producing an instrumental and then a song will kind of ‘speak to me’ in a way. So, it’s kind of hard to put a finger on how I write.”

Some of his tracks are more unique than others, like his 2022 single “strawberry chainsaw,” a jaunty love song with lyrics that make you want to get up and dance. Its title sparked interest into how JAWNY’s naming process works for his releases.

“Kinda piggybacking off of what I said earlier, I never really know how I’m gonna write a song,” JAWNY says. “That one just came from writing that in my notes. I didn’t have any other context of the song. I didn’t know it was going to be a love song. I didn’t know what I was gonna write. I just thought that those two words sound cool together, strawberry chainsaw, and sometimes that can end up being the track name. You write down a cool thing that you think is the song title and then you write a song in that universe and it becomes the song title. Other ways, the obvious ones, you write a song, and you find a line or a part of the song that you’re like ‘ooh, this could be good.’ By saying all that, in some weird way, I’ve consistently had weird interesting song title names. Maybe at some point they’ll be more normal and maybe more people will listen to them. For now, they’ve ended up being a little kooky and wild. Not on purpose but also not mad at it.”

It’s clear that JAWNY has a chip on his shoulder, but not in a pretentious way, in a way where his music speaks for him and he doesn’t feel the need to explain himself. If people don’t like his sound, so be it. JAWNY makes music for those who want to listen. He takes his own advice and stays true to himself.

Keep up with JAWNY on Instagram and Twitter, and make sure to listen to his new single, “true.” To purchase tickets for his upcoming North American Tour, visit jawny.com.