Benjamin Franklin once said that “nothing is certain except death and taxes.” We’d like to counter that with the following: “nothing is certain except death, taxes, and admiration for JAWNY’s debut LP.”
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who find the number ’13’ to be eternally unlucky and those who aren’t the least bit superstitious. (There are Swifties, too, the fans of the “Lover” singer who don’t quite fall in either category, but this isn’t about them.)
Then you have JAWNY, a musician wholly submerged in his art and the path to have the best, most personal work possible under his name, which is really Jacob Lee-Nicholas Sullenger. He, in his own world, shares 13 songs with the world today – the long-awaited, perfectly-mixed package of it’s never fair, always true. (Your thoughts on the ominous number are sure to change after just one listen through of the album, top to bottom.) Every track tells a story, richly intertwined with each other through indie pop musicianship and alternative rock influences. Nothing feels out of place – not a single lyric, note, song, or message – even when discussed life, love, and death. Fans can hear his cross-country evolution, as well, with twinges of his Bay Area upbringing found in much of the songwriting, his child of a Deadhead lifestyle outlining his truth-driven nature, and his Philly-based young adulthood bleeding into the record’s production.
There’s something soothing about an artist rising in the modern age with nothing more than a voice to be heard and creativity up their sleeve. That’s JAWNY to a tee. He’s an impressive and well-rounded artist with a strong fanbase, Gold and Diamond certified hits, and some multi-million listeners online, but he is, first and foremost, a human keen on romanticizing life, having fun with unpredictability, and bringing color to the world at large. And on his debut album, JAWNY dedicates himself to his musical journey, only stopping to pick up Beck collaborations, Easter eggs, reinventions, and feelings along the way.
What is it like to finally be putting this album and these songs as a cohesive body of work out into the world? Because it’s been a long time coming. People are really excited.
Oh my God, that’s such a loaded question. It feels great! You sit on something for a really long time, especially when you’re the one writing the songs. You write them, but first you ideate them, right? You listen through voice memos to see your idea for what you wanna do. Then you actually make the song and you write it based on that memo. Then you listen to that a billion times while you’re finishing it. Then you gotta mix the record and you listen to all the songs again for [another] a billion times. Then you master the record – you have got to listen to everything again a billion times. Then you go to your label and do all your playback sessions with all your other partners and everyone else that you’re doing business with, and you start playing the unofficial album for everyone. Then, at the end of that entire process and that whole year-and-a-half run, you’ve probably heard all the songs like a thousand times now, actually, at this point. When something finally comes out into the world, a record or project is done, you don’t even know anything. I don’t have any frame of reference of what it’s like for somebody to just hear this for the first time and just take it at face value for what the final product is. I’ve heard it in every single stage of the process; from being a baby to being a teenager to being an adult. Now it’s about to come out, so it’s exciting and nerve wracking all at the same time.
The exciting part is the whole process I just explained. That’s all you and it’s all yours, but once it finally [releases], it’s not yours anymore for the world to receive. It’s already theirs, however they decide to take it. If they hate it, if they love it, you don’t have to hold it anymore; because of all the reasons why you wrote the songs and what all the songs mean to you, none of that matters now. It’s all about what it means to other people and what their interpretation of things are. Yeah, it’s excitement, it’s nerves, it’s almost being ready for it, but then not being ready enough. It’s kind of everything all tied together in one big lump sum of an answer.
You actually make great sense out of the fact that these songs have so many different lives. They’re no longer really new songs to you, but the perspective of listeners is what is going to become new as they listen to it and absorb it and put their own spin and relationship to it. It’s really unique to be able to, like you said, see it grow and change once it’s in the hands of the fans.
Exactly, and things that you’ve written that mean one thing to you when it comes out in the world, it can mean something completely different or people can take a whole different interpretation of it and run with it. That’s cool. We love that.
I know you said that you don’t really know what people are going to think about it, because you only know the way that you hear it after all this time. But I will say, looking at my notes from getting a chance to dive into it before other people, and I wrote this at the end of the album: ‘In summary, this is an original record. It’s kind of like Death Cab for Cutie and The Grateful Dead and beabadoobee and Japanese Breakfast had a baby, but then JAWNY raised that baby on The Beatles and Billie Eilish.’ If it helps at all, that’s what I got.
I need you to send me that because that sounds pretty accurate on so many levels, too. [Laughs] I was raised by a Deadhead for sure. My father is a deadhead. I am not, but you know, through osmosis, I’m sure I got some of that in there. All the other things pretty much hit the nail right on the head, because it is kind of a melting pot of like eight million different things – the beginning of the record doesn’t even sound at all like the end of the record. There are so many different places it goes. I’m so happy you got that from it and I appreciate you saying that.
You’re welcome. I was thinking about this throughout much of my listening of the record: the title of it being it’s never fair, always true. With an album that has been a long time coming, it surely had many different stages of life and now everything has its own intricate meanings. How did you get to that title? Did it come early on in the process or later on?
Well, I didn’t even really come up with it on purpose to be honest. It came about because the same line gets used twice… just with just a small tweak of wording in there at the very end of the album and at the very beginning of the album. I think I wrote the last line of the album first, so on the last song of the album, the last thing I say before the album end says, “It’s never fair, it’s always true: I hate that I’m in love.” I had this idea when I was making the whole record of it starting like super happy, smitten, just tongue-in-cheek indie pop about being in love, how love is good and nothing can go wrong. By the end of the album, it’s just the polar opposite – love is a lie, you want to die, and everything is bad. I pretty much had laid all the groundwork for that. I had all the tracks in there, but I still really couldn’t figure out how to start the record. I had this idea: “Ok, what if I just said the exact same thing that I say in the last song, but I just tweak the wording a little bit and say, you know, it’s never fair, it’s always true: I know that I’m in love with you, always.”
Once I had that and I was listening to the whole record, it kind of starts how it ends with these two different mantras – you kind of repeat it to yourself over and over again – which I thought would be a good idea to then make as the album title. With it’s never fair, always true, it just shortens it a little bit and does not give all the excess fat that is in the two parts of the other songs. I think it’s cool. It’s like a little Easter egg that people might notice… or maybe they won’t. Maybe it’s such a subtle detail that nobody will notice at all! It did just come about a little bit accidentally and I didn’t really think about it at the time, but it kind of showed itself later on, it reared its head, and I was like, “Oh, that makes complete sense. I should do that.”
I really love that. It feels very full circle. It’s kind of this idea of being a hopeless romantic and the trials and tribulations that come with that.
I think so, too, and I appreciate you saying that. Thank you so much.
You’re welcome. My favorite song on the album is “death is a dj,” I love the way that song starts and I can go into depth about why I think it’s a standout, but tell me a bit about what you like about this song and maybe the process in getting it together.
I have two songs on the record, “death is a dj” and “everything,” which are also completely polar opposites. One is a ‘go crazy at a show’ type of song with its energy, then the other one is just extremely sad and melancholy and mild, but both were when thinking about writingabout anxiety – because I’m an anxious person – but also death. In the last year and the year before that, they were the first years of my life where I had started thinking about death. I’m not super old yet, but it’s just me coming to terms with the fact that I’m not super young anymore and life is going by a lot faster than I expected. Each year that goes by goes even quicker than the year before. At one point in my life I was 19 and I was like, “Oh yeah, 30 is super far away, 40 is super far away. Death is way past there if you die of old age.” Now when each year goes by, especially with my job and touring and all this stuff, it just happens so quickly that I started thinking about it while I was writing this record and those songs. What better way to deal with those thoughts than to put it in the song form while also not trying too hard or not thinking too hard? That’s what music does for me; to a certain degree it’s therapeutic.
I feel like if I’m ever feeling anything heavy on my chest, I can kind of just make a song and just let it out. I don’t have to think super hard about it. What I mean by that is, like I just told you, I was dealing with guilt and [anxiety] about death, but I didn’t sit there on notebook paper and think really hard about it and be like, “Ok, well how do I write like a really smart song where I’m going to really talk about this and make people think?” That’s just not what I do. Instead, I made an instrumental [track] that made me feel something. Then I just got up on the mic and I started saying a bunch of things. I just let everything I was feeling out. It turned out to be a cool song and I’m happy that you like it, “death is a dj,” and it’s [opposite] “everything,” too. Those are the two on the album that touched on that subject. The rest is kind of about being in love a little bit, but ‘m happy that they made the record because I like them.
You have to make lyrics in the moment. You have to love in the moment or feel sad in the moment. That’s just how it is. That’s what makes it truthful.
100%. You hit the nail right on the head.
Another favorite, which precedes those beauties, is the song you have with Beck. Right in the middle of the album is this moment on “Take It Back” with Beck that is a super great number, as well. What is it like to have a collaboration with Beck on your debut?
Thank you. Yeah, I mean, this one is such an obvious answer every time because there’s no world where I’d ever say anything else, right? It’s Beck. […] The dude he has put in his time, he’s a legend. He’s been doing this since before I was born and he’s still doing it at the highest level. He’s making music around the world at the highest level, too, and he still remains relevant in the music industry over all of these years while constantly evolving, constantly changing. There’s nothing else to say other than, obviously, I was stoked. I idolized Beck a lot growing up. Some of my early [favorites] are on the Guero record and Midnite Vultures – that was a great record, too, and that had a big influence on me. Being able to talk with him, get him on a song, and even want to do this? It’s a huge co-sign to me and a confidence boost for me that he was interested enough in what I was doing to want to provide his own viewpoint on a song that I did while also still staying on topic with what I was writing about. He followed the same melody pattern that I wrote. All of it just uplifted me a lot, you know? It gave me a big sense of a full circle moment. I’ve looked up to this man for so many years, so being able to do that song – and go on a tour with him – was really, really cool.
As far as why I [included it on the album], I had put out this song before and it did alright. It kind of got lost in the shuffle during the pandemic because we released it at a really weird time in music where touring wasn’t fully back yet and I don’t think the first shows or festivals have been open yet. The whole world was still on lockdown. A record like that you kind of have to tour, and if not, it doesn’t really exist in the streaming market. Iit just got lost in the shuffle. I didn’t really think anything of it, though. Then once shows opened up again and we came back and I played my first show at Lollapalooza in Chicago, when that song came on, I was thinking, like, “Nobody’s going to know this song. It didn’t stream well at all. It came out nearly a year ago, like eight months before.” Then everybody starts jumping around and going crazy, because it didn’t matter that they didn’t know it, but they were hearing it and they were feeling the energy and they were at a festival and they just wanted to go crazy. That is what kind of planted the seed in my head. A year-and-a-half later, I thought, “I may actually want to do something with this song and re-release it again and put it on the record, because I still think there’s something here.” This led to me texting Beck, asking him if he wanted to get on it.
The song did get another set of legs. It did go to alternative radio. Did it go No. 1? No, but it went up on the alternative charts. It found new ears – new people have heard the song and they continue to find it every day. It was a real full circle moment for me and I’m just grateful that he wanted to do it. He’s the only feature on the album, so that’s a pretty, pretty cool thing for me. Beck is my only future on my debut album? That’s pretty cool.
Absolutely. That kind of stamp of approval is thrilling, let alone being full circle to you personally and professionally.
The reinvention of it, too, is just subtle enough because of the feature to be reminiscent of when it first released, but also fit the tone of this debut and of this full length project. It’s a bit of a call back and it’s a really great listen.
Thank you. I really appreciate that. The cool thing about it is when the album comes out, new people are going to find it again. You know what I mean? It gets it a whole other moment for somebody that, let’s say for “death is the dj,” that song you like, has never heard it. Somebody might find that song and be like, “Oh, I’m going to go listen to that whole record.” Then they find this and think, “Now Beck’s on it?” It’s a new [version,] but I wrote that song three years ago. Sometimes it takes that much time for music to find people.
My manager always says, “You don’t grow like a song doesn’t grow in a microwave. Sometimes it’s not fast. It’s not fast, it’s not fast.” You just throw something in the microwave and it’s done in 30 seconds, but some things take time. I’m grateful for this record. I’m grateful for you talking to me about it. I really just hope that everybody who finds it – whenever they do – happens to like it, and if they don’t, that’s ok, too. Maybe I’ll get them next time.
JAWNY’S DEBUT ALBUM IS AVAILABLE TODAY ON ALL DSPS! LISTEN, SAVE, & MORE HERE!