When he began working in earnest on his second record, Josef Salvat tried to unlock his central artistic conundrum. ‘I love pop,’ he says. Salvat’s speciality is for electronic music with a human pulse, drawn in bold, technicolour stripes with indelible hooks and grown-up themes. His music roams circuitously around his search for identity, never quite touching a conclusion which feels a whisper out of its author’s reach. Salvat works in the tradition of pop as therapeutic personal man-management.
He wrote his bold introductory suite Open Season between the ages of 18-23. When it came to selling it to the world, he was 27. ‘I was a different person.’ Promoting a record with a central global hit called Hustler, a propulsive pop song which took him to the top table, wasn’t lost on him. ‘Hustler is all about shame, presenting life as nihilistic and posturing. It’s not just shame about sexuality, it’s the shame of how I felt as a man.’
Promoting a record glistening with disguise began to take its toll on his self-worth. ‘I was really desperately unhappy.’ To ease the pain, Josef threw himself at love. There was the long-standing boyfriend he knew he didn’t love from the first date. The girlfriend who shared his bohemian appetite for self-discovery. The alt.rocker he met at a party thrown by one of his earliest mentor’s, TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, while suffering a crippling bout of imposter syndrome. The sister of his best friend. The Danish pop star who decided he was in love with his straight friend during a night on MDMA. And for a flourishing finale, the New York dude who got in touch on Instagram, asked ‘do you want to be my boyfriend?’, proceeded to take Josef on the date of his dreams, art-directed like the opening scene of a movie (‘met outside the Vice building, a power move, went to the last dive bar in Williamsburg, took a yellow cab across the bridge and had oysters in some trashy bar before walking back to my hotel in the torrential rain’) and then promptly told Josef he had a husband. That one probably lasted longer than it should’ve.
All of it, he decided, this time, would go into the record. ‘These are a series of postcards, snapshots of my life,’ he says. They could all be addressed to himself. ‘Music is my way of finding out who I am.’ You can feel the echoes of these trysts entrenched beautifully, directly into the music. The boy who likes to dress up as a girl (‘all of my wildest fantasies come true’) and the imploring line ‘I’m not your father or your cure’ on Paper Moons. The sad lament that ‘this modern life is getting the best of me’ in the chorus of Modern Anxieties. The acquisition to himself, ‘sorry for making such a mess of things/where do I begin?’ on I’m Sorry. All underpinned by the comfort blanket of Salvat’s musical predilection for matching melodious pop optimism with its dysfunctional twin, untinged sorrow.
‘I needed security,’ he says now of the madness that followed his love life from London to LA, New York to a particularly bleak spell in Berlin. ‘My family is on the other side of the world, and I hadn’t had that phase of life where you discover yourself in my teens and early 20s. I was jealous of people who had. I felt my youth running away from me. I did my best to juice the last of my youth before it ended. I was a fucking basket-case.’
Josef Salvat still finds himself asking difficult questions of himself. ‘The most pressing question I have is, how much of my sexuality can I take control of in my musical narrative?’ The answer appears to be now within his grasp. ‘The lyrics on my first album were so indirect. It was all about hiding. I was trapped in my psychological and emotional development. This album was about making the record of who I am.’
Those strides continue. ‘I’m not uncomfortable with my sexuality anymore. The whole first album was trying to walk this tightrope, being this person with tortured darkness hidden beneath. I love the album. But only half of it was what I truly wanted to say. This is all of it, for now.’