“My main instrument has always been my voice because I never had to practice, you know?” says Josef Salvat, who has been singing professionally since “before my balls dropped.” Salvat’s first introduction to professional performance came when he was still in primary school in Sydney, Australia. He landed a part in Puccini’s acclaimed opera Turandot, and toured with the national opera company, Opera Australia. “That was an amazing experience to have! I sometimes worry that I peaked too early.”
Although Salvat is certainly gifted, he has continued to adapt, grow, and experiment since his early start. The singer has dabbled with other instruments, including piano, violin, flute and French horn. “I sort of became obsessed with the French horn, only to discover that it was the least sexy instrument in the world.” However, he has always returned to focus on vocals because “you can turn the voice into whatever you want.” Since thirteen, Salvat has been writing music that is “vaguely about love,” but the artist admits that “obviously when I was thirteen I’d never been in love, so it wasn’t that kind of love that I was writing about.”
Ever since he began songwriting, Salvat has been focusing on channeling his emotions and experiences into personal songs with universal themes, apparent in early singles “This Life” and “Hustler.” “If there is a strong narrative of something in a song, it’s often inspired by an experience I’ve had, or it’s just a big metaphor. My songs are generally about emotions because that is the one thing I definitely know is real.” His EP, In Your Prime, was released on September 19th, 2014, and heralds the release of an album sometime soon.
Salvat’s influences fall on a very eclectic scale, ranging from artists Billie Holiday, Michael Jackson and The Beatles to “little sugary pop shit” that he grew up on such as Kylie Minogue, Aqua, and The Spice Girls. Expect to hear these influences and more in his upcoming album which is untitled as of yet and still in the stages of early development. At the time of this interview, Salvat didn’t know if he would release the EP or not, saying he was “just working on making an album. It’s a really interesting project; the title will probably come later. It’s kind of one of those situations where it is ready when it is ready.” The EP and his current tour will have to keep us happy for now, until his debut album is released later this year. For Salvat, the best is yet to come. “I still feel like I’m on the incline.”
Salvat is currently on tour through the end of September, with a full length album in the works for this coming year. Check out our full Q&A with Josef Salvat below and pick up a copy of The Untitled Magazine‘s “Legendary” Issue 7 or download the free “Legendary” Issue App on iTunes now!
IC: How did you get started with your songwriting? I understand that it was a very early start, from the age of thirteen?
JS: There was a piano in the house, and I always liked music. I couldn’t really play piano very well, but I would try. I would try to play stuff that other people had written and I couldn’t – at that stage I couldn’t really read music, so I just started making my own shit up! And eventually, one day, it formed a full song. It was good enough for me to keep going. It was vaguely about love, I guess.
IC: ‘Vaguely about love,’ that’s very cute. Is that your main inspiration for your song-writing— emotional odes?
JS: I mean, it changes. It’s really interesting, because it goes through a whole bunch of different phases. Obviously, when I was thirteen I’d never been in love, so it wasn’t that kind of love that I was writing about. But that vernacular of being in love is something that I think everybody is familiar with, because it’s just everywhere. So I did write in that vernacular, but I wasn’t writing about being in a relationship, because I hadn’t experienced that. And then, the way I wrote about being in a relationship and the content of the songs changed when I was actually in a relationship. If there’s a strong narrative of something like that in a song, it’s often to hang an experience I’ve had off. It’s just a big metaphor, or something like that. Yeah, it’s generally emotions because that’s the one thing I definitely know is real. That is when I’m feeling something bigger.
IC: How long have you been performing your work?
JS: My work in its current form has been a year. And the way the songs sound now, it’s really only a year. When I was back in Australia, and when I was at University studying, I performed a lot, but it wasn’t like I perform now. I would sit at a piano, just me, and it was acoustic. I had a whole bunch of friends that were very talented musically who would sometimes help out when they were so inclined. But it was mostly just me on piano, and I would play it like that. Before that, I never performed my own stuff; I performed other people’s stuff.
IC: What sort of instruments do you play, aside from the piano?
JS: Well, nothing anymore. I hardly even play the piano anymore. I play it when I write, but I would never call myself a great piano player, just because I’ve moved around too much over the past couple of years, so I haven’t had an instrument. I took lessons in like violin, I took lessons in French horn, and flute—Did you ever watch Narnia, as a kid?
IC: Yeah, of course!
JS: Do you remember that French horn solo at the opening of the Narnia gate?
IC: I can’t actually recall to such a detailed extent, but I believe you!
JS: Well I was in love with that. I sort of became obsessed with the French horn, only to discover that it was the least sexy instrument in the world. So, I gave that up. I’ve dabbled in a lot of stuff. But the main instrument has always been my voice because I never had to practice!
IC: So you prefer to focus on sexy instruments, which, I guess lips are probably the sexiest of that lot.
JS: I’d say so. You can turn the voice into whatever you want!
IC: Do you remember the first time you were performing in front of an audience?
JS: I’d always done performance, even when I was a really small kid. I’d just hold relatives hostage, that sort of thing. And I sang a bit as a child, at school. The school I went to was quite supportive, musically, of its students, because it had chosen to be; it wasn’t a stage school or anything, just a regular school that had some really great music teachers. They always had me singing. This is before my balls dropped, when I was still a little-boy solo kid— all treble, when my voice was high. Then Opera Australia, which is the national opera company in Australia, and sometimes goes to schools and gets kids to audition for its operas, came to my school. My school put me forward for the audition, and then I went and auditioned, and the first time I did that, I got into Turandot, which is an opera by Puccini, and that was the first time that I probably performed in a professional capacity to a large audience. I was part of the children’s chorus and everything like that. It was an amazing experience to have! I sometimes worry that I peaked too early!
IC: Do you feel like you’ve like had that break-through moment yet?
JS: I have no idea, I really have no idea. I’d probably say that if I have no idea then it hasn’t happened yet.
IC: What sort of musicians inspire your work?
JS: A lot! It’s sometimes frustrating because it depends on what I’m listening to at the time. And I write to that, because I’m in love with whatever that sound is. There are a few things that I return to pretty consistently: there’s a couple of David Bowie record, like the greatest hits record I had when I was a kid; Nina Simone and Billie Holiday; there’s a Bjork greatest hits record that I bought when I was fourteen and really trying to expand my musical horizons, and I surprisingly found that I loved it; and Spice Girls and Kylie Minogue’s period when that “Lalala” song came out, you know, little sugary pop shit. I love that. I love it. Aqua— that sort of stuff. I was just starting to listen to chart music, when Aqua and Spice Girls and all of them were top-of-the-world at that time, so that was like late 90s. They will always hold a really soft spot in my heart. And things like Sade as well…but then also Coldplay! For a moment there, when those first records of Coldplay came out, I was obsessed with them! I’m discovering new stuff all the time. All the time.
IC: Have you ever collaborated with other musicians on your work?
JS: It’s something that has been happening quite a bit over the last six months, which is super exciting. Personally, it’s really exciting because I’ve never really had the opportunity to [collaborate]. There were friends at university who were creative, and musicians, and all that sort, but for some reason we were always just pursuing our own thing. I mean, we were very supportive of one another, but we were always pursuing our own things, and none of us were studying music either, so we were just pursuing our parts and then had our little musical side projects. We would help each other out, but there was never the opportunity to collaborate per se.
IC: Have your recent collaborations been with anybody in particular?
JS: Yeah, exciting stuff; exciting people. I don’t even know if I want to go there yet, but it is wonderful to have those opportunities, because it’s something that I have always wanted to do. Just because that shit challenges you, you know? You learn so much from working with other people, and because I’ve ended up doing a solo thing, I don’t have a band. I don’t know if this is just the inevitability of that path, but sometimes it gets lonely. So collaborations can be a fantastic injection in your energy.
IC: Do you have any words of wisdom that you live by that get you through a really difficult performance, or just keep you going?
JS: There’s a fundamental philosophy that, when I remember it, it fares me well – but you don’t always remember it when you’re freaking out – it’s that everything passes. “This too shall pass—” a variation on that. Everything is impermanent. Every moment goes, and therefore, there’s no point in getting attached to fear because it’s just going to go, and it’s going to be replaced by something else! Probably joy and happiness and all that sort of shit…and then you die.
IC: That’s slightly morbid!
JS: No, I mean, the ending is morbid, but the rest of it is just like–you can’t hold on to happiness, and you can’t hold on to sadness either. So you’ll get both. It’s part of life. Everything passes. That’s a really nice little notion, but the actual practical application of it is really difficult; when you’re incredibly happy or when you’re in the moment, it’s difficult.
IC: The theme of this issue is the “Legendary” Issue, and we’re asking everybody—what, to you, is the definition of ‘legendary’?
JS: Wow, okay, ‘Legendary’. A ‘legendary’ artist in my eyes is somebody who fundamentally changed the way their peers and people in general, thought about music, and listened to music, and what they wanted to hear in music, or how they wanted to act, or how they wanted to paint. It’s somebody who really went to the core of something, co-opted things that people are really familiar with, but then presented them in an entirely new light, and fundamentally changed their environment. That, to me, is what a legendary artist is. Whether it be a legendary musician or a legendary actor, or whatever.
IC: Are there any particular legendary artists that you’re inspired by?
JS: Prince! Prince is definitely one. Again, David Bowie. I mean, The Beatles— I listened to a lot of Beatles when I was a teenager, because it’s The Beatles, and everyone listens to them at some stage in your life. They were pretty amazing: the melodies that they came up with, and everything is quality. They did everything; it was groundbreaking. It was. Then Michael Jackson. I could think of quite a few legends. Billie Holliday was a legend because she sang in a way people had never heard before. She was incredibly influential, and still is today. She really changed it up. In terms of musicians, I think those are some of the legends.
IC: What are the projects that you’re working on at the moment, and what sort of projects do we have to look out for this year?
JS: Just my record. I’m just working on making an album.
IC: And when is that coming out?
JS: I don’t know! It’s one of those situations where it’s ready when it’s ready.
IC: Do you have a title?
JS: No, I don’t. I don’t have a title. I think it’s going to be the last thing that happens.
IC: You’ll be releasing some singles along the way?
JS: I will be. When, and which ones, at this stage, I’m still undecided on. But one will be coming very shortly. It will either be the first single of the record, or it will be a little teaser before the first single of the record. Hopefully that will come out soon, or something will come out soon. But, basically, yeah, that’s what this year is about.
Interview by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine.
Photography by Adam Goodson
This article originally appeared in The Legendary Issue of The Untitled Magazine (2014), pick up a copy here!