Australian singer songwriter Josef Salvat has been described as “the male Lana Del Rey” and is the darling of music bloggers across the globe. Yet his website is virtually barren and his tweets are short, sweet and often cryptic. “I’ve never really been comfortable communicating a lot online” Salvat explains, “I am used to feeding off another person’s energy or conversation”. Yet as his profile rises and bloggers and fans become eager to know more about the man he admits he finds himself revealing more and more about himself “I think of it as a relationship. In the early stages you don’t just give everything away at the beginning. As people get to know me and I get to know them I’m more willing to reveal stuff. It’s a progression”.
Despite having only released two tracks – This Life and Hustler – Salvat has gained a lot of critical attention very quickly. Instant internet fame can be a blessing. It can also be a curse and Josef is well aware of this: “the internet is great because you can release material to a large number of people and create a buzz. That’s what happened with artists like Lana Del Rey and Azealia Banks. However, there is no chance to make any mistakes because everything is under such scrutiny so early on. You have to undergo this learning curve in public. I doubt if David Bowie had been under the same pressure he would be the David Bowie we have today. People get scared to experiment and take risks for fear of tripping up”.
Salvat says he is prepared to take risks because “both personally and artistically I’m still very much figuring myself out. The sound I wanted to produce last year isn’t the sound I want now. I’m in development.” This process of development is a theme that can be identified in Salvat’s work particularly his latest single Hustler. “The song is about any kind of destructive behaviour. I was at a place where I was doing harmful things and needed to face reality and come through it. Things are brighter now”. I ask Salvat if all his work is autobiographical: “there is a lot of material. But not all the songs are about my life. I write for all different reasons. Sometimes it’s not about an event, it can be a mood, a feeling I want to express”.
Back in his native Australia Salvat studied law at university. Whilst still studying he came to London in 2009 and asked a fashion friend to take him out and about around town. Whilst out Salvat would “foist” copies of a homemade demo CD on people. Back in Australia Salvat then received an email from his current manager who was “very patient” whilst he finished his degree. Upon completing he was able to focus on music: “music was the light at the end of the tunnel. I needed a qualification. The world is a scary place without resources.”
Now that he has come out of the tunnel Salvat is unleashing his creative energy. “Music videos are important to me. When I write it is visual. I want the videos to have a drama to them”. The video for Salvat’s debut track This Life has been described having a touch of ‘insta-grain melancholy and nostalgia for a carefree childhood” by The Guardian’s Paul Lester. Yet the video does have that “drama” Salvat sets out to evoke. Like his music, his visuals are both hauntingly honest and unnerving. The combination of the audio and the visual is a twisted fantasy that has the unusual power to stay with you hours after having listened to the piece. Again, a lot of this down to the lyrics: “You will call me a harlot, you will call me a whore … I’ve got the heart of a hustler … the body of a lover with a masochist’s brain.”
As well as videos Salvat is keen to present himself in a way that suggests “power”. When I recently saw him play in a tent at Lovebox Salvat was wearing a pastel Saville Row suite: “it was a wet fucking dream”. Salvat knows how to make an impact both with his music and his stage presence.
I ask if he prefers British festivals to Australian festivals. “I didn’t attend many festivals in the twenties back home. But I think back home there is a broader mix and they are slightly more relaxed. More anything goes. The tradition in the UK is a lot older and the formula is more established.” As well as recording his upcoming EP Salvat says he hopes to travel back to Australia and “pay his dues” with some live dates. Once the EP is out later in the year Salvat explains the plan is do more live dates “with a greater body of work”. At the moment, Salvat reminds me, it is “difficult and expensive” as a solo artist to do a lot of live dates “it takes up too much time and money”. But “as more doors are beginning to open things are beginning to change”.
Salvat is a man to watch. Despite numerous blogs and journalists attempting to pin him down, he is an artist who is on a self-conscious artistic journey that promises to be fascinating and rewarding to follow.
This Life and Hustler are available from iTunes now.