Before Bay Area native Jacob Sullenger managed a pizzeria in New Jersey, he had made “emo songs” with his brother at home. By 2016, when he was 20, Sullenger decided to pursue music more seriously and moved to Philadelphia to be near his musician friends. Now, he’s even adopted the city’s all-purpose noun “jawn” for his stage name.
For his first three years in Philly, though, he made music as Johnny Utah (inspired by Keanu Reeves’ character in the 1991 film Point Break) and was still working in the food industry (at a local fried chicken restaurant). But in April 2019, his career took off after he independently released the groovy “Honeypie” via AWAL. The music video, in which Sullenger pursues an actual pie, has over 5.6 million views on YouTube.
The track caught the attention of several major labels, but it was Interscope that won him over. Aaron Sander, an A&R executive at the label, first heard “Honeypie” last May on a blog and soon after was sold on what he calls Sullenger’s “hilarious Instagram page.” That June, Sander flew to New York to meet the funk-pop artist, now called JAWNY; by the end of 2019, Interscope signed him to a recording deal.
“He really understands how to play to his strengths and play off an audience,” says Sander. “He becomes friends with his fans — they know who he is as a human being and [an] artist.”
Sullenger, now 23, has since relocated to Los Angeles. He started dating Doja Cat, whom he met last summer after the rapper commented on an Instagram post of his, and is gearing up for a busy 2020, with separate nationwide and global tours, festival appearances and an as-of-yet untitled project.
“I’m not trying to just [do the] get-rich-quick, blow-up-viral-TikTok — all that s–t,” says Sullenger. “It’s more important to me to grow [with my team], to build a narrative with them — and they’re going to help me execute my craziest f–king ideas.”