- Words Alexia Radkiewicz
- Photography Ariel Fisher
JAWNY on the truth behind the music industry and the pressures of a hit, rekindling with authenticity and leaving an honest legacy behind.
On the 2-year anniversary of signing to Interscope, West Coast progressive pop artist, JAWNY, reflects on his music career and the evolution of his sound. He speaks unguardedly of being catapulted into a level of artistry that he wasn’t necessarily ready for, cajoling a blip in his music-making where commercial success corrupted his creativity. It was extremely refreshing to hear an artist speak so honestly about the feelings behind the facade; JAWNY has certainly set an example for artists across the world to speak their truth from the Wild West that is the music industry — “who cares what people think about you, just fuckin’ do what you wanna do”.
JAWNY is back with “Best Thing”, an irresistible, scintillating, and disruptive alt-pop track that cuts through the ubiquitous musical landscape to bring a fresh dynamic sound to 2021. The release supersedes the critical and commercial success of last year’s debut project “For Abby”, a 10-song suite that distinguished JAWNY as one of the most exciting artists to break through bedroom pop. The project concluded with the stellar viral hit “Honeypie”, a track that has accumulated over 200 million global streams to date.
The hitmaker sets the scene for “Best Thing” — “the high-pitched vocals give Tyler the Creator’s ‘Igor’ an illustrious nod as Hugo categorically fails every boyfriend test thrown his way, frequently apologizing for “obsessing” over their relationship. By the end of the track, we discover, from Hugo’s voicemail, that his partner has met someone new, and that she’s sorry, and if Hugo’s not sad, he will be soon”. The track has garnered UK support from Annie Mac, Jack Saunders, and Zane Lowe, who has “never been more excited about a hybrid artist since Beck”.
We caught up with JAWNY in his LA studio over Zoom; the positivity, buoyancy, and personality-packed energy he channels through his music is certainly replicated in his enigmatic character. Read on to discover what it takes to make a viral hit, why artists should embrace negativity, and an exposé of his secret story that has never been told before…
JAWNY! How have you been over the last few months? I imagine the success from last year’s debut “For Abby” is still sinking in?
I feel like I’ve been as good as anyone else can be. I feel like it would be weird if I was like “oh yeah everything’s great”, ‘cause you know, this crazy virus has come in and changed life as we know it. Humans are resilient and through all the shit we find a way to make light of things and that’s what I did. It was a weird situation because all the touring got cancelled, all the flights were getting cancelled. On top of that, I just moved to the city where I don’t know anyone so it was a weird adjustment but I made it through.
I moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia where my parents lived over the bridge in New Jersey so it was like I had my own little support system back home. And I thought that when I moved I would be touring so I could still see everyone, but nope! It was a big deal but that’s what we have to go through. I was alone for those first few months but once the world started opening up I could hang out with my friends again and make a bunch of art. Some of it’s out in the world, like my last project, but some is yet to come now I’ve started making new music again.
“Honeypie” is no doubt a highlight from the project, racking up over 200 million streams! Talk us through what it takes to create a viral hit.
I don’t know what it takes to create a viral hit because I feel like mine was just being in the right place at the right time. But what I can definitely open up about is that I can tell you confidently that at the time I wrote and made that record, I definitely wasn’t ready for what was to come and that was a beautiful learning experience. I was not ready for the level of artistry that it catapulted me into accidentally. If I had gotten 10 million streams on that song I would’ve been equally as happy. It felt like this song was mine and I made it and had this idea, and then it just snowballed to the point where it wasn’t mine anymore. The people just kinda took it and I don’t mean that negatively, everyone had their experience with it, whether somebody wanted to make a TikTok or YouTube video out of it, it kinda just became this beautiful thing. I don’t know how you do it, ‘cause I don’t know how to do it! It just fucking happened. Man… right place, right time. And what a beautiful thing to happen.
I got to join Interscope over here in America and I’ve always looked up to them. My team and I became stronger, more doors and opportunities opened up for us and what more can you ask you for. My job is making art! The 2 year anniversary is today. I’ve grown! Only a year ago I learned how to properly be an artist, I’m here now. When that happened it was almost as if this rough draft of a song blew up. Not even on a job level or an economic level but on a skill level, a sonic level and a producer level. I just wasn’t ready to take that on yet, I was still learning. It humbled me fast.
It’s so important to have that nurturing environment around you, I think that can make or break an artist.
It’s all about who you surround yourself with at the end of the day. Especially in music, it’s about finding good people and staying around them.
Who have been your influences when cultivating your sound?
You know every month or so your cycle of music kinda rotates, you listen to the same 15 or 20 songs and the same couple of records, then a month passes you kinda flip it. I feel like that’s how I’ve always been as an artist. At the time I made “Honeypie” I was listening to a lot of Prince, Luther Vandross and a fusion of a bunch of things which at that time inspired me to make that record. But then there’s always the Jacob who listens to a bunch of bands like Pavement, The Gorillaz and stuff like that. I think it’s really hard to answer that question because I feel like my influences change all the time. More recently I’m digging back into The Arctic Monkeys again, I love MGMT. I always loved Tyler The Creator, cause I grew up with him, not personally, but him and Mac Miller were the first artists I started listening to when I was a similar age bracket and I grew up to their sound.
Tell us about the story behind “Best Thing”.
I went to the studio for 9 days straight. When I signed to a publisher I didn’t do the whole sessions thing cause that’s just not how I work. I’ve always done everything myself a little bit. I can only work comfortably with either me alone, that’s how I was as a kid — building legos alone in my room — or I can work comfortably with someone I’m really close to. So I went in with my two homies and started writing, I wrote 2 songs. I had “For Abby” which was this fictional tape of a dude and his obsession over this chick. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re writing, so I wrote a few songs and it was kinda, not to be pretentious or anything but it was like a light bulb went off in my head. I think this is the precursor to “For Abby”, this was a dude who made this tape and I got there. And once I got there on that day I was like well ok how does the story start. And with “Best Thing” it was this dude who loves this girl way too much who doesn’t love him back.
The music video is certainly a talking point! Explain to us how the visuals bolster the track and your narrative.
I try to do the opposite of the video telling the song’s narrative. The music video has nothing to do with the narrative of the song at all. There’s no love story about it. We took the concept of let’s do something that has nothing to do with the song but still make it a good visual piece for the song. We just wanted to do this balance of a crazy love story and this insane night at the gas station that makes no sense. And we made it work. They’re great visual guys and we make cool things together.
Is there a wider narrative behind your music? You are very close to your fans, what message do you hope to relay them?
Even though a lot of my stuff is fiction, a project may be fiction, there’s still emotions in parts of songs. It all starts from something very real. It starts true then it kinda evolves from there. I feel that if it starts with a base of truth, anybody whether it’s a fan or even somebody stumbling across it for the first time, they hear it and they can feel something. When someone listens to my song I want them to feel like I mean what I’m saying. If someone can connect to that message or that story and get something out of it, even if it’s a happy song, then I’ve done good. If somebody’s having a shitty day and my song can turn their day around then that’s my overall message. I don’t have a deep and cryptic story, I’m really just trying to make music for people’s moods.
Commendably, you’re not afraid to address the negative comments on your socials. Tell us about how this is important to you.
I started doing that at first not thinking anything, that’s just me and my personality. There becomes a point where you do realise your status as an artist, I feel like if I can show those 1-100 people who like look at me that people call me fucking ugly and I get that all the time, just fuck ‘em. Maybe that will reflect onto other people’s lives and help them get through. Who cares what people think about you, just fucking do what you wanna do. You can paint whatever narrative you want through social media but I like to keep mine honest.
Who are you listening to at the moment? Have any new artists caught your ears?
I listen to a lot of my friends a lot, I listen to Still Woozy and Remi Wolf. My homie Jared, he’s really awesome. My buddy David Marinelli is awesome, he makes music with this awesome upcoming artist named Wallace. Spill Tab is awesome. Maise is really cool. My brother Christian Blue is pretty fire. I recently found this band Junior Varsity.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I’m gonna tell you a story, and I probably shouldn’t but I’m gonna. We talked earlier about “Honeypie” and how I wasn’t ready for it. I signed to a major label and they gave me some money and I didn’t really know what I was doing and I made a song. That song is “Anything You Want”, which is my second biggest song, it’s almost got a million streams. I fucking hate that song! I didn’t do it for disingenuine reasons, I did it for the fans because I thought that’s what they wanted from me. But it wasn’t me. I tried to recreate something that I didn’t try to make in the first place. I got in a scared mindset after “Honeypie ” because there was so much to live up to. People like me for this, so I have to do this. But people don’t like me for that, they like me for making what excited me. The song did well but that’s not what I want my legacy to be. I felt like a fraud, but I’m not a fraud because I made the song to be famous, I made it for my fans because I thought that’s what they wanted from me. But I thought at the time “this is not what gets me excited”… That song wasn’t organic because I tried to recreate something that had already happened. I didn’t care if I had to take a break but I knew that I was never gonna put out music that doesn’t excite me anymore. And I haven’t since. That’s what I want my legacy to be, I never made art for the wrong reasons. If the ship is sinking and I go down, I always stuck to what I love and what made me excited. I wanna follow my head and my gut.
It all ties back to your first question, “how do you make a hit”? It’s such a confusing question because no one knows. It’s like Sam Ribeck who’s the head of A&R at Interscope, and they won’t mind me saying this but they don’t fucking know! No one knows. When I made a song that is a hit, I made a mark on music history. But I didn’t have all these thoughts that I had after I signed to the label. I just made it cause I liked it. So when I got signed I realised that this is my job now and you’re writing music with a different mind set. After Honeypie when it came out, now I don’t have this mindset, but after you’re sitting in your studio realising how many people are going to be listening to your next song, there are more people judging it. There’s a lot of added pressure. For the first 8 months to be completely honest I hated it! It ruined it for me.
I love “Honeypie” and what it’s done for me and I will totally admit that at one time it scared the living shit out of me! When that shit had 60 million streams I wasn’t celebrating, I was wondering what the fuck I was supposed to do next. There’s a lot of thoughts, “am I a one hit wonder, is my career gonna be over in a year?”. You have all those deep narratives in your head. You don’t go to an interview with Rolling Stone all scared worried about if your career is gonna be over in a year, you wanna act cool.
I think it’s really important to normalize that, it’s important to voice these feelings that artists experience — no one really talks about it because they want to put across the best image of themselves and not show any weaknesses.
It’s all weird. No one’s ever happy. No one’s ever living in the moment. You think everything is gonna change, like “I’ve got 100 million streams so I’m gonna feel this way” but it’s always onto the next thing — there’s another goal I have to hit… I could never celebrate my success, but it took time to learn how to be an artist and now I’m living in the moment.
I think being an artist is following your soul and progressing society by embodying your struggles and perspectives through art, an experience where you can’t really believe that it’s your job. But in so many cases artists do find themselves distanced from that authentic embodiment because their creativity is coerced and manipulated by the industry.
Yeah! If you don’t enjoy it while it’s here, in however many years time, you may wash out or retire or whatever it is. You’ll look back realising you spent the whole time worrying about the future and what’s next on the list instead of just enjoying it. So here I am living in the moment, it took a long time but I’m here.