2, 4, 6, 8 we appreciate... josef salvat

Born and raised in Sydney, but now living in London, Salvat makes the sort of wide-screen emotional pop that sounds as good blaring out of a radio (his current single Hustler is nestled on the Radio One playlist) as it does soundtracking one of those...

by Michael Cragg
31 March 2015, 9:55am

Late last year Josef Salvat released the critically acclaimed In Your Prime EP, lead by the dramatic sweep of Open Season and his hushed, torchlight interpretation of Rihanna's Sia-penned Diamonds (the latter has gone on to become a massive hit across Europe). Having supplied the vocal on Tourist's future hit Holding On, and with his debut album forthcoming, we thought it would be a good idea to find out what makes Josef Salvat tick before he gets too famous to even give us the time of day.

2… favourite buildings in London

1. Balfron Tower
"I draw floor plans, I always have and I'm interested in architecture. I've been doing it ever since it was a kid, like 'What would your ideal home look like?'. When I got older I'd look for plots of land on the internet and try and work out the topography and try and figure out how I'd build a house on that bit of land. So yeah Balfron Tower, which was designed by Ern?' Goldfinger in Bow, is one of my favourite buildings in London. It has this massive lift well with all these little bridges going across to the main bit. It was designed as this utopic, community housing thing, but the apartments themselves were really generously proportioned. Each floor is two storey's high. On each half storey there's a laundry room and then the next one down would be a children's play area. The idea was that it would be a proper community project that would just grow up into the sky. I think it's really beautiful."

2. Goldfinger's House
"It's on Willow Road in Hampstead Heath. His house is preserved exactly as it was, another one is rented out and the other one is a trust house that you can hire. I love it; it's just very intact. It feels like somebody's just left the room when you go in. It's a really cool insight into his mind as well."

4 favourite Sia songs
1. Breathe Me, obviously. It's still incredible. This was was my entry point to Sia. Breathe Me was, to my ear, an identifiable pop song, it wasn't really anything else. It feels like it just sort of snowballs into this bigger and bigger thing. It's not trying to be anything or make a statement, it's just about an emotional sentiment.

2. Then there's a song called Sunday, where she uses a mellotron sample, which was the first time I'd heard a mellotron being used outside of The Beatles. It's just a cool little song from the Colour The Small One album. A lot of my favourite songs are from that album actually.

3. Of her more recent songs I really love Elastic Heart, it's just epic. I like Chandelier but I don't really choose to listen to it. It's so ruthless just in terms of how it's structured. The very first line of Elastic Heart, "why can I not conquer love", the way she sings it is such a mess, so odd, but it's also so perfect. Sia never follows songwriting rules. When you write a song you follow speech patterns so certain words have natural stresses, it's like writing poetry. Generally when people break those rules it sounds fucking terrible and they shouldn't be writing songs. Sia breaks those rules all the time and it sounds perfect, like on that first line of Elastic Heart. The stresses are all over the shop, but it's perfect.

4. Titanium is brilliant. The top-line she wrote for that is just fucking amazing. I think that's what broke her into that world too.

6 cities that have shaped him
1. We moved a lot within Sydney so that probably shaped me more than the city itself growing up. There's the ocean right there, which was a big thing, and my part of the city interplays with the water a lot. I miss that. It's open, there's space in the streets, it's safe. I love where I'm from and it's imprinted on me. I'll always need to go back.

2. When I was 15 I lived in Paris for eight months. It was an exchange program that just spiralled out from two months. I just went to school there and smoked cigarettes.

3. Canberra is in-land and it's like a giant social experiment. I went there for University and I missed Sydney terribly. There are some people that don't need aesthetic beauty to live, but I have to have it and that's probably because I was born in Sydney. Canberra is not like that. It's like a tiny version of Washington DC; very planned, a proper Government city. There's this curious mix of people too; a lot of refugees, a lot of drug addicts, it was the Australian heroin capital for a long time, it's a big student town. Lots of things were legal there when they weren't elsewhere - so brothels were legal for a while, prostitution was legal, it was the porn capital for a while. Shit goes off in the town centre on a Saturday night, definitely. The they always assumed I'd go to a performing arts school so I didn't want to conform to that. Then I realised I just needed to live for myself and I started doing music.

4. Then I lived in Barcelona. My dad's family is from there so I went to learn Spanish. I was there for about a year. Although the real reason I did it was to get closer to London but it has a beach.

5. This is tenuous, I didn't really live there, but I spent three months in LA. I fucking loved it. LA's like Sydney but twenty times bigger and with a lot more opportunities.

6. London's hard. I've renewed a commitment to this city now but it's a hard place. You know that line in New York, New York - "if I can make it here, I can make it anywhere" - I feel like that's London now. It's so competitive, it's so expensive and to build stuff from scratch here is so difficult. But at the same time, London's great. Arguably the most interesting and influential acts have come out of London. If you can get through then you're just allowed to be yourself.

8 things that have influenced his album
1. Not setting out to make an album.
I didn't write an album, I was just writing songs in the same way I have been writing songs since I was 13. This album is a collection of the songs that hold together the best.

2. Not being afraid to write a pop song.
So I remember when I put out Open Season there was some snarky comment on Twitter about how I'd signed to a major label and so now I was releasing "pop shit". I wrote that song well before I signed that deal and I produced that song without any A&R. I wanted to write a pop song that I believed in and wanted to set that challenge to myself

3. Overcoming a love for all things naff.
Some of my songs that don't see the light of day are incredibly naff and naff is not so good now. It was never good actually. I could give them to other people but I'm not sure anyone is naff enough. Maybe Meghan Trainor.

4. Classical music.
When I say 'classical music' I mean a certain period of about a hundred years of music. Like Mozart is classical. Then you have impressionist music like Debussy and piano music and I really love that kind of shit. It's very visual music. Then German expressionist music and operas too. A lot of it seems unlistenable at first but once you keep listening it becomes like in the Matrix when the real world breaks into code and then you realise this complicated music is made up of some of the best pop hooks in the world.

5. Soundtracks.
The first albums I brought were soundtrack albums. So the American Beauty soundtrack for example, that was a perennial favourite. Also Vangelis' soundtrack work and Mike Oldfield's The Killing Fields soundtrack. It's all just so visual, and it was contextualising a lot of the music that I had grown up with in a new space. It was glamourous.

6. Paul Epworth and Mark Ronson.
I produce all my demos but I am not a good producer. So I looked up to people like Paul Epworth and then before that Mark Ronson. I really liked Lily Allen's first album and Amy Winehouse's Back To Black, and then Florence & The Machine's Lungs was a huge influence on me too.

7. Split personalities
Sometimes I get a notion in my head that comes with a character and a world. Like a little fantasy. So I had this idea of the hustler character and the song initially was going to be an R&B song. That whole song was stream of consciousness, I wrote it in twenty minutes, and that motif of the hustler just seemed to fit perfectly. One of the biggest conflicts is that my moral code is really apposite to my instincts as a human being.

8. Knowledge.
Keeping a shell of self-confidence despite things that signalled that it might not work. But unfortunately that was broken last year. Completely shattered into a million pieces. I'd never felt as unsure of what I was doing as an artist before. In fact I didn't even see myself as an artist before. I wasn't comfortable with that word; I was a songwriter who was making a product. Then when I listened to the songs that I wrote I realised what I was doing. That knowledge is back now; I know this is going to work. I can have detractors and shit, but I know this is going to work.


Text Michael Cragg
Photography Mark Kean

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