Josef Salvat opens up about being a queer artist in the music industry and releasing an album during a pandemic

Salvat joined GCN’s Conor Behan on the phone to discuss the journey to be comfortable with his identity, and the queer themes on his new album.

A young man in a vest and shirt poses moodily while lit by neon light

Releasing a new album during a global pandemic may not be ideal, but queer popstar Josef Salvat seems up to the challenge.

Salvat was calling from London, but at one point it seemed he would have to spend all of lockdown in his native Australia after a planned family visit got extended. After his first flight was cancelled, a ten day trip turned into a six week stint. Salvat describes his family as living in the “middle of nowhere” which brought challenges. “Just at a time when the whole world goes online,” he says, “I couldn’t access internet, so I couldn’t do any live streams, I couldn’t work.”

Salvat finally flew out of Australia to arrive to London as the UK was in its own lockdown – only a month before the release of his second album. “At no point did I ever consider not releasing the album because I think it’s actually a really appropriate album to be released at a time like this,” he confesses.

modern anxiety, the title track and album opener, is a clever pop song about the intensity of life and social media pre-lockdown. While it feels very 2020 it was actually written in 2017 when Josef Salvat was living in Berlin. “I’d had this incredibly heady six months,” he recalls, then “all this negative stuff happened and my bubble of joy burst.”

Salvat didn’t leave his Berlin apartment for six weeks, taking the time to figure out the beginnings of his new music. He recalls “I had this butcher’s paper all over my apartment where I was trying to map out what the album is about … and scribbled on this huge thing was ‘this is an album about my queer experience.’”

A young man in a vest poses moodily while lit by neon light

Salvat had moved to Berlin feeling frustrated with where he’d ended up following his successful debut album Night Swim. That album saw him tour the world and find chart glory across Europe, but personally and professionally, he was finding it hard to know who he made music for and what he wanted to say.

“I just wasn’t comfortable with myself,” he admits realising that “unless I heal this relationship with myself and understand what my sexual experience is then I can’t release another album and I can’t keep doing this. Because I’m not gonna be able to tell my story authentically”.

That time away allowed Salvat to find a label that worked for him. “I think it was overcoming identity barriers such as bisexual or gay, because I wouldn’t call myself either of those things. But I’m very comfortable with the word queer.”

Salvat shared, “I feel like I have a community now that I really fucking love and value and have learnt so much from in terms of how to be a better human and how to love, and how to have compassion, and how to love yourself most importantly.”

That comfort with his identity has afforded him the freedom to tackle a variety of topics. Album standout, ‘paper moons’, sees him discuss his experience with a friend who had “fallen down the rabbit hole of chem sex”. They were based in New York and as Salvat recalls, “he would call me from an apartment and he didn’t want to be there and he was in this drug paralysis and I spoke him out of the situation until he got into bed.”

One mammoth phone call saw Salvat late for a writing session that lead to the creation of ‘paper moons’. “The sentiment was there,” he notes. “I’m pissed off but I don’t judge you and I want the best for you. There’s tenderness there, but there’s a lot of frustration.”

Salvat recalls how the album allowed him to release shame placed upon him by others “I don’t need to own this anymore. And I’m going to write my way out of it.” As he tackles these themes Salvat admits, “I can actually have conversations with people now.”  

“I wasn’t happy, I couldn’t open myself up to love,” he confides. “It was just very inhibiting in my whole life and now, oh my god, it’s like a whole new world. It’s so free, so wonderful.”

The new album by Josef Salvat, ‘modern anxiety’, is available now.

© 2020 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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