I meet Josef Salvat backstage before his gig at Glasgow’s Broadcast. It’s his third time in the city, having supported Tom Odell and Banks on previous occasions. Tonight his own name will be gracing the top of bill of the underground venue. Sporting a black turtleneck with a leather jacket, and a gracious, confident demeanour, Salvat seems well versed in combining effortless class and charm. He’s quick to dive into sentiments on record labels and award shows, whilst occasionally throwing himself in the deep end, particularly when he speaks of his inspirations in life.
Born and raised in Sydney, Salvat made the move to London a few years ago to pursue his musical endeavours. This seems quite a length to go to in order to follow his aspiration. When I probe him about his reasoning, he tells me his decision was based on the music that was coming out of the city: “It was all down to two producers, Mark Ronson and Paul Epworth”, he muses, “with Florence and the Machine, Paul Epworth was doing Lungs, and Mark Ronson did Back to Black with Amy Winehouse. Also, I just liked the solo artists who were coming out of the UK. I just wanted to go where what I liked was coming from.”
So Salvat moved across a pond or two to the more compact capital, after abandoning a Law degree that he was more than halfway through: “I was never going to do law”, he confesses. “Law was like a rebellion, my parents were kind of bohemian so they were quite shocked when I told them”. Music was always his main finishing goal, but he’s still thankful for those years in his life: “It fleshed me out as a human being. I learnt lots about life and about the world. I got that uni experience.”
Josef Salvat makes carefully crafted electronic synth pop, mixing trip-hop beats with melancholic tones and throwing impressive falsettos in the mix. He’s clearly fond of creating things the right way, being a bit of a perfectionist in his releases of material. In fact, you’ll only find six songs on Spotify, four of which are from his most recent EP, In Your Prime. He admits that he’s “been recycling” since he began putting songs out in 2013: “I have 15 years worth of songs, but I had only one that I produced to a standard that I was happy with. And only one photo.” That was for ‘This Life’.
Now preparing for an album release in late September, he has to go back to some of that older material: “When you get signed, you enter into the system, and they have their schedules and timings. It’s frustrating for me to go back to it but, at the same time, I understand it. You get signed so you have to play ball.”
Speaking of playing ball, does performing at pre-BRIT awards events fall into this category? I ask him if award shows are worth anything nowadays.
“There’s been awards around for ages and they’re in every industry. They are as useful as awards ceremonies in any industry are. If you’re going to have a problem with the Grammys, you’re going to have a problem with the Oscars”, he pauses, before adding, “I think that everything has a place and if people have a problem with the BRIT awards then don’t watch it, watch the Mercury awards. Award shows exist for a purpose: for emotion and for celebration.”
Besides performing, Salvat has recently brought out a new music video which is quickly gathering traction. He admits that he, “always likes a good video”, despite the decline of channels like MTV. In “Hustler”, a dark, introspective affair, Salvat croons about “having the body of the lover but a masochist’s brain”. He laughs when I ask him what he means by the lyric: “I’m a circumspect sort of person. Specificity, in some songs, I find a bit gross. There’s only certain times you can get away with it, otherwise it sounds heavy-handed, it’s preachy.” Ambiguity seems to be important to him and this seems to carry into his explanations of the video. “It was night time and it was urban. It was high society versus low society. It’s about that conflict between a world of conventions and morals”.
Salvat seems to enjoy toying with these ideas of conventions and breaking norms. Asking him about his inspiration, he explains, “I know this sounds corny but, crazy synchronicities, weird happenings in life. Also, I like having a really superficial conversation and actually talking about something incredibly deep. The meta-conversation that’s going on above. It’s that kind of thing I find interesting.” He adds that he’s interested in how we operate as a society, “how, as human beings, we progress but regress”.
Josef Salvat is a bit of a riddle, and this carries through in his music, but he’s one that is worth your while in trying to figure out.