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Rising Australian Singer Josef Salvat: From Studying Law to Studying Sia

Josef Salvat, 2014.
Mark Kean

Josef Salvat

The 25-year-old is signed to Columbia and prepping an album for next year, but his new EP, 'In Your Prime,' is already gaining steam.

Josef Salvat is an Australian singer-songwriter based in London who deals in soulful, and sometimes sorrowful, electro-pop. His debut EP Hustler was released last year, garnering more than a million plays on Soundcloud and sparking comparisons to Morrissey, Lana Del Rey and Gotye

Salvat's new EP, In Your Prime, was released Sept. 22 through Columbia Records and is generating some Stateside buzz ahead of an album release early next year. The compilation only has four songs but offers plenty to get excited about, particularly his candid and contemplative lyrics. At times, he seems to allude to a quarter-life crisis (Salvat is 25, so it would seem fitting). "Open Season," one of his more upbeat tracks, opens with, ?"I've bitten off more than I could chew, felt the sting and slap of failure, missed my due."

The last part is debatable. He studied law at the University of Sydney before pursuing music full-time, and spent the last three years working with producer Rich Cooper (Mystery Jets, Razorlight) and Gustave Rudman, who handled the orchestral arrangements. Rudman has also done arrangements for Woodkid and Clean Bandit, whose song "Rather Be" is nearing the top of Billboard's Hot 100. He writes his own songs, which might explain why they feel so intimate, but even his stripped-down cover of Rihanna's "Diamonds" packs twice the emotional punch of the original. 

Billboard caught up with Salvat about his new EP and his "bingo" moment listening to fellow Aussie Sia.  

What artists had the biggest impact on your sound?

Bjork, because of her utter disregard for how a song "should" sound. Florence and the Machine taught me that an album full of bombast and vocals layered a million times could be brilliant. And Sia, because of her writing, both pre-world domination and post. When I first heard Sia, I realised that I had total freedom in how I delivered a line or wrote a melody. There were other artists like Nina Simone, Chris Isaak, Chris Martin and Amy Winehouse who helped me discover that, but I had my bingo moment with Sia.

Why is it important to you to write your own songs? 

I work with a pretty tight team, actually, but with the exception of "Diamonds," obviously, everything was written by me. My album is shaping up to look that way too. I like co-writing, I've done a fair bit of it, and I love the songs that have come, but there will only be one body of work that I've spent my life writing, and that will be the first album. So as long as no one objects and tells me I don't have a single or whatever -- and so far they haven't, bless them -- then that's how I want to play it.

Is there a particular song on the EP that captures you as an artist?

For me, the EP isn't about any particular song, but more this invisible spot between "Open Season," where I wrote specifically for other people, and "Shoot & Run," where I'm at my most indulgent. I like that contrast, I find life to be full of it. I feel like I can wholeheartedly stand behind what I do as long as I've communicated my truth. 

It's a funny thing when you release music. People think they have your whole life nailed down in a single song. They want to know exactly which box you fit into. And you can't really fight against that, but I like to think you can at least hop into the box on your own terms. I don't know if people who listen to my stuff will like every single song I put out, but if they love one, then I'm happy. 

Why did you choose to cover Rihanna's "Diamonds" for your EP? 

I love it. It's one of Rihanna's best, and it was written by Sia. Sia's first albums soundtracked my adolescence, and she's been an incredibly influential figure in my musical life. The song is such a beautiful moment -- finding refuge in another person and submitting together. It's something I've experienced a lot, so I try to write about it. Personally, I didn't feel the need to convey what a great pop song it is because Rihanna did that and ruled the world with it. I wanted to slow it down and dwell in it, to try to communicate the weight these lyrics held for me.