When we chatted at the top of the year, the most distressing thing in Josef Salvat’s life that night was trying to stick to a diet he’d slapped himself on to prepare for a year of relentless touring.
It’s quite unfathomable to consider how much in the world has shifted since that conversation – and even since this one.
For full disclosure this chat was recorded nearly two months prior to modern anxiety coming out – and the world has changed again. And again. The modern anxieties of the world now go even further beyond the superficial, they feel tangible and like live-wire.
Nic Kelly in bold, Josef Salvat in not-bold. I’d spent the morning laying on the beach, mere days after learning the phrase ‘social distancing’, and had a track standing out in my head.
This interview has been condensed for the purposes of it actually making sense.
When you repeat the words “trust me, there’s going to be better days,” on No Vacancies, that was a helpful thing to hear. I don’t know if you had pre-empted this situation. But that’s that’s kind of how I felt.
I mean, kind of! I was sort of living in my own version of it in 2017 in Berlin. I definitely didn’t leave my flat for at least like two or three weeks at one point, in summer, in Berlin. That’s when I wrote modern anxiety and shit. No Vacancies was written in 2017, too, whilst I was in Berlin, just before summer and it was really depressing, it didn’t have that middle-8 in the bridge. I added that in at the end of 2017 when I’d left Berlin, I was actually kind of nowhere, I was just floating around writing everywhere and I was like, “this is really depressing.” And it’s not accurate. Also it didn’t have a middle-8! It’s not complete.
Do you feel that ruins of the sanctity of a song, when you’ve written a song that doesn’t have that beautiful kind of… resolution, of saying things are gonna get better? And then you add that in a few months later, does that ruin the sanctity of a song for you at all?
I think why you’re adding it in. If you’re adding it in cynically, because you think the song needs it to work better as a pop song, absolutely. In this case, it wasn’t cynical. In this case, it was like, “I don’t feel like that anymore, this story isn’t complete.” Also, when I say don’t feel like that anymore, nothing is as grim as it seems at any given point in time, you know? Things do get better – and then worse again – and then better and worse again – so it was just like, popping that into an articulate way.
The record is ten tracks. I want to thank you for this, because the last major album interview I did was with someone who’s album was twenty-one tracks and that was just too fucking long.
It is right? Too long! You can’t engage with it!
Not at all. I didn’t feel like I could properly connect to it. Whereas with this, it’s very easy to connect to. There’s always a good story surrounding why an album is a certain amount of tracks long. Why is this album ten songs?
Is it a good story? I don’t know. I just walked out of the last one and was like, it’s got to be ten tracks. I was listening to a lot of albums during 2015 and 2016, all my favorites, they were ten songs long. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac, ten songs. Pure Heroine, ten songs. Then Drake released that never-ending fucking album on Spotify and I was like, I can’t. Like, I can’t take this in. That’s kind of when I really disengaged from Drake for a little bit. I couldn’t keep up with it. It was just too much. So in writing, I always had this ten song thing, then it looked like it was going to be thirteen, which I think moves into ‘too many’. That’s when I start to lose track. There is another ten track album, like a Modern Anxiety 2, which is sitting there, which I’d love to put out this year. Not like a deluxe, just like another ten songs that also populate this world that wouldn’t work on a third album, if that makes sense. Who knows whether it will come out though, with everything happening.
This is the thing that I find interesting. If songs are done, songs are not something that should need to be affected by this. I understand release plans and touring schedules interact with albums, but my feeling is that if the songs are there, get the songs out.
I agree. See, if everybody’s sat inside, it’s a great time. But you know, lots of stuff has changed. The whole landscape of how you release music has changed so much since I released my first album. Spotify and even just how we consume creative products, in the way we consume them very quickly, but actually, has never taken longer to break songs? It’s really weird. But I agree with you. And there are a lot of songs that get written – and I’ve got plenty like this and I know a lot of other people do – that just really fit a moment and if you miss a boat to release the song, they just don’t come out, because they just don’t feel right anymore, even though they did for a specific amount of time.
Night Swim was exceptionally personal, and whilst this feels personal as well, it feels like you were a little bit more adventurous with your collaborative nature on this. Is that true?
Totally. With Night Swim I did the whole thing, like, on my own essentially and then Rich Cooper produced it. And I’d already produced a bunch of it before I even jumped into the studio, on my own. So this was a thing, when you are with a major label as a solo artist, they love you to co-write and all that sort of stuff, which I really resisted on the first album. But it’s kind of a lonely experience making it and and then when it came out, I was like, “oh, I don’t have anybody to share it with.” I love working with other people – making music with other people is kind of the pinnacle of enjoyment – I love writing a song on my own, but I also love getting into a room and working with people. I realised that I don’t have to think of this as like a co-writing merry-go-round. It’s literally just finding people that I like to write songs with, because I do love it, and working with them more and more. The only way to do that is to kiss a few frogs along the way and then you know, you find your people. You find your crew. That’s what I did for four years and it was great. The only problem is that I’m not one of those writers that just spits out a song. Some people are very, very good at that. That’s not really me. I’ll spit out an idea very quickly – and it will be excellent – and then I’ll just sit on it. For maybe a week, maybe a day, maybe six months, maybe a year? Then I’ll come back to it, whenever I come back to it, and then spit out the rest of it. So when you’re working with people in a room and you’ve got to come out with a song, at the end of the day, I think you can sometimes compromise on the quality, cut corners, but not all of the time! Sometimes you just have a synergy with the person and then there is a song and it’s beautiful. That’s every single song on the album. Like Human, we wrote that in like two hours together. It just doesn’t always go like that. It doesn’t always happen when I’m writing with other people. But then, it doesn’t always happen when I’m writing on my own, either. It’s just that when you’re riding with other people, there’s that added social pressure of like, “we’ve got to do this!”
It’s also contextual to how you’re feeling on the day and circumstantial for how the other person’s feeling if you’re in a collaboration. There’s a lot of variables that can go on in those kind of environments.
It’s like speed dating! You sit down with like ten people in a row, or like a couple-of-months period of a bunch of one night stands. You’re not going to have great sex every time, one out of ten is going to be amazing, that’s kind of the way it goes.
I like Melt a lot.
That’s one of the few songs I wrote on my own. I wrote it on my own, produced it to a certain extent, went in with Rich and that’s what came out.
Melt is probably the most impeccably produced song on the record. If you’ve got co-production on that, then that’s very impressive, because it’s a very expansive sounding song.
I think that’s Rich and I working together. When we did Night Swim, neither of us had ever made a record. He’d never produced a record. And we did that together. Fast forward, like, four years and we walked into do this and he’s produced so many other people’s records and written so many other songs, it’s amazing.
I know you worked with Banx & Ranx too.
I did. They gave modern anxiety that extra pop.
Before I let you go, I want to do a quick welfare check. Last time we talked you were on your ‘elimination diet,’ are you still on your elimination diet.
In addition last time we spoke you were off alcohol, are you still off alcohol.
They were the two things that you were holding yourself accountable to. The only other one was doing an Australian show this year, but I’m gonna let you off the hook on that one.
I’m still gonna push for that! We’ll just see how long this takes. I’m still going to push for that. The guys at Liberation are doing such an amazing job, I feel like this music is connecting with certain people that Night Swim didn’t connect with? Which is great. And that should create some more momentum. Even if the show is just tiny? Even if it’s just me? When I left the UK, Christine & The Queens had done a show at Moth Club where I did my show a few weeks beforehand, I saw all these videos of it and it looked fucking amazing. Obviously if you can have a band – ideal – but like, costs! Time! My main thing is just to be able to play in front of people. I’m very open to mixing stuff up and loosening my restrictions that I’ve had in the past, like, it having to be presented in ‘this’ type of way. Because ultimately, it’s about getting in front of people and communicating with them and meeting them and having them meet me.
Do you think you’re becoming a bit less precious as time goes on as well?
Absolutely. Less so about things I used to be precious about and more precious about my flow of creativity. And preserving that and serving that, at all costs, not serving other people’s expectations. Less about what other people think, what other people want, what other people expect and more about what I want. I need to service it and keep it healthy. When you start thinking about other people, in the wrong way, I think your creativity can get really compromised.