From the moment a close friend sent me the music video for This Life by Josef Salvat, I was obsessed. Almost bordering on indecent, his infectious beats are woven with introspective lyrics that feel intimate. Just in the span between our interview and the time of publication, Josef's song Diamonds (the track penned by Sia for Rihanna) was used in a Sony advert and recording indie artist Banks nabbed him to support her on the British leg of her Goddess tour. It looks like 2015 might be shaping up to be a good year for the artist.
The 25-year-old Australian (now signed with Columbia) grew up surrounded by music. While his parents—who are of the "bohemian persuasion"—weren't necessarily musical (though he thinks his maternal grandmother may have been), they were huge fans and had a piano in the house, making it quite natural for young Josef to tinker around on it. "I didn’t have the patience to learn properly, so I started doing my own thing," he explained. Using songwriting as a way to communicate certain feelings, instead of simply speaking, Salvat created a routine for himself: "Watch a bit of TV, write a song, do homework."
He wrote his first song when he was around 12-years-old, a two-part love song he penned after the death of his grandmother. "I had half of it and then I would just play that half […] over and over again for six months, and then I wrote the second bit of it." To this day, he still considers it to be "one of the best structured songs" that he's ever written. "[It] was really good. That was the only reason why I kept going 'cause what came after that was a lot of sh*t—a lot of really dreadful, embarrassing sh*t," he laughed.
After a brief rebellion period where he went against expectation and enrolled in law school, Josef left Australia and headed to London. He immersed himself in the city's music scene and met his producer Rich Cooper (who he's worked with on everything, including the upcoming album). Through collaborating with the same person for three years, Josef has been able to explore his sound and learn how to produce his own work. "I write my stuff on piano, so often […] the songs don’t come with outfits," he explained. "I would kind of generally know what I wanted to do with them and where I wanted them to go, but didn't have the skills to do that myself back then. The discovery of the sound just kind of happened and it has happened in quite a nice way, because I've had the luxury of that relationship for such a long time."
With the internet's role in music, Josef found himself garnering a fan base before he was even signed. He likened putting songs on the internet to throwing them at a wall to see what would stick. When they did stick, he still had to duck away, figure out his sound, find a label, and make a full-length record. "Time is definitely a good thing. In the age that we live in, where sh*t is so immediate and fast, and culturally our attention spans are so short now—and I'm just as guilty as that as anyone else—you just gotta beat your own path," he explained. "I think if it's a good song, it's a good song. [...] There's a lot to be said for hype, and it certainly can make people, but […] at the end of the day I think it is the music that counts."
Thankfully, yes, he has really good music. From song to song, Josef explores some pretty dark themes and mixes them with bright, poppy music. The combination allows the listener to digest little sneak-attack, emotional time bombs without realizing it. Most of his music has an element of confession or truth, something real that gave him a reason to write it in the first place. "It is very cathartic, sitting down on a piano and writing, it's almost like a type of meditation." It may seem strange for some to hear songs with seemingly different tones lined up next to one another—like pairing the hopefulness present in Open Season with the loneliness of Shoot and Run on the EP—but for Josef, life is bittersweet. "Good sh*t happens, bad sh*t happens, and often it happens at the same time. That is the business of living and that's what I write about."
He is also influenced heavily by his environment, finding inspiration in what he considers to be even the most banal of topics, like the weather. "The cities that I go to and how I enter spaces […]—all this stuff [is] actually incredibly influential on what sound I want to create or what chord sequence I want to use." Josef also draws from the experience of people, whether it's from past extreme relationships (both platonic and romantic) or his connection with family. Open Season was written in 2013 after he moved to London, leaving a lot of his loved ones. "I had this kind of epiphany that the most important thing, for me personally in my life, is a sense of community, to have people I love, […] and it was actually quite a big thing for me to realize." So, instead of immerse himself in sadness, he chose to look for the light and wrote something positive and bright.
"Some of the darker songs were written at relatively peaceful, stress-free times, when I had the space in my head to think about some of the more challenging aspects of being alive, because when sh*t is actually challenging, I can't go there. It’s just too hard. I can wallow in the song when I don't have to wallow in life [laughs]. It's about the dichotomy and […] I'm obsessed with that conflict and that contrast, and how to manage it and how to negotiate it."
The themes lead to music that's very visual, with lyrics bringing forth tactile references that are cinematic in nature. "When it comes to thinking about the art, I draw a lot of ideas from film and […] favorite directors—like [Jean-Luc] Godard and Wes Anderson." Naturally, his songs lend themselves to film clips incredibly well and if given the chance to compose for the cinema, Josef would grab it immediately. "I'd be so up for that, because you're working in a completely different format. […] There's only so much you can do within a three and a half minute song—which is part of the reason why it's fun to write like that and to produce within that context."
While there's no date specific for the LP release just yet (though it will be out sometime this year), Josef has been performing in random pockets around Europe (not to mention his tour with Banks) to build support leading up to his LP—next month he'll be in Dublin and Ireland, and then goes on to Glasgow, Brighton, France, and Switzerland. He can't wait to get started on a national tour and is especially excited to hit the United States (especially Los Angeles and its "relentless sun").
Photo Credit: Mark KeanPhoto Credit: Sam HiscoxPhoto Credit: Victor FrankowskiPhoto Credit: Victor FrankowskiPhoto Credit: Victor FrankowskiPhoto Credit: Sam HiscoxPhoto Credit: Victor Frankowski