Next Wave #1113: bb sway

A songwriter of real depth and clarity...

Having emerged in 2019 with their ‘cosy’ EP on Matthew Herbert’s NX Records whilst studying at Goldsmith’s, the last four years have seen bb sway – real name Ash Johnston – release a string of music culminating in their new EP ‘How Will I Get There?’ on current label 7476. Whilst showing a lot of promise through their early releases, it is on this new EP where everything they’ve been working towards is realised in crystalline clarity with subtly astonishing songwriting and a breezy, infectious confidence that belies the subject matter they tackle on the EP. In truth it’s been even longer coming as Ash told Clash: “I loved music before I could speak – my favourite toys as a kid were always musical toys. Music has always had the ability to transport me to a different place, and I’ve always loved the magic in that.”

Although that love for music has run through them from the beginning, it wasn’t necessarily the inevitable conclusion, as Ash explains: “I was originally planning on studying fine art for university, but I ended up deciding to study music” – indeed, it was during those studies that the bb sway project was born. Starting out minimal and lo-fi they explain that whilst their ‘Pearl’ EP “was also self-produced but a bit more full and sonically diverse; the new, third EP (‘How Will I Get There?’) involves much more creative collaboration and brings the bb sway sound to a whole new level.” And it’s this growth which is key to the intrigue around bb sway, both as a person and an artist. They have a knack of writing songs that sound like a friend engaging you in a meaningful conversation, striving for better things together.

There is something undeniably magical about the music bb sway creates; it has a soft power that explores surprising places without ever sounding forced. In the process of writing and recording this EP, bb sway has been undergoing a transition and the EP not only marks part of that journey but is also possibly the last time bb sway will sound like this again as they explain: “Transitioning means my voice will shift, and my sound will evolve. There will be lots of experimentation and collaboration in the new year.” Elements of that are unsurprising, given that they have always been an artist that is interested in growth and playful exploration, but you can also be sure that it will be an intriguing next step and one that will spawn some fantastic new music.

Taking cues from the likes of Aldous Harding and Hand Habits on ‘How Will I Get There?’, bb sway has leant on their influences to create something that sounds at once classic and fresh. Clearly possessing an ear for melody, there is an apparent ease with their songwriting as the top lines meander gracefully around elegant chord structures with lyrics that have an inherent depth but could also be interpreted to fit the listeners narrative as deep topics are explored with a considered universality.

Although currently residing in their home country of Hong Kong, bb sway has spent the last few years playing and writing with some leading names in UK indie like Shura and Matt Maltese who both had small parts to play on the EP. And although they’re enjoying the relative warmth and burgeoning music scene in Hong Kong, bb sway will be returning to these shores in the summer, hopefully kicking off work on their debut album.

Words: Nicolas Graves

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.