A recently proposed method called estimation of primaries by sparse inversion (EPSI) avoids the need for adaptive subtraction of approximate multiple predictions by directly inverting for the multiple-free subsurface impulse response as a collection of band-limited spikes. Although it can be shown that the correct primary impulse response is obtained through the sparsest possible solution, the original EPSI algorithm was not designed to take advantage of this result, and instead it relies on a multitude of inversion parameters, such as the level of sparsity per gradient update. We proposed and tested a new algorithm, named robust EPSI, in which we make obtaining the sparsest solution an explicit goal. Our approach remains a gradient-based approach like the original algorithm, but it is derived from a new biconvex optimization framework based on an extended basis-pursuit denoising formulation. Furthermore, because it is based on a general framework, robust EPSI can recover the impulse response in transform domains, such as sparsifying curvelet-based representations, without changing the underlying algorithm. We discovered that the sparsity-minimizing objective of our formulation enabled it to operate successfully on a variety of synthetic and field marine data sets without excessive tweaking of inversion parameters. We also found that recovering the solution in alternate sparsity domains can significantly improve the quality of the directly estimated primaries, especially for weaker late-arrival events. In addition, we found that robust EPSI produces a more artifact-free impulse response compared to the original algorithm.