UPSAHL on why her debut album ‘Lady Jesus’ feels like a personal rebirth
Growing up, having a number of bands crash at her house was simply commonplace for UPSAHL. Her father, Mike Upsahl, was deep in the alternative music scene in Phoenix and was connected with bands such as post-hardcore unit Stereotyperider. UPSAHL was fresh into middle school when she began writing songs, self-releasing them at age 14 under her full name. After going to art school and subsequently “full sending” it in music, she wanted a moniker that was both cool and represented her spirit perfectly. So what better name to choose than something that pays homage to her roots both as a person and as a musician?
UPSAHL has all the makings to be a household name. With addictive hooks and a passionate voice, her songs are equally unique and soulful. An expert storyteller, she paints perfect imagery of the stories told within her lyrics. Best of all, it can evoke a wide spectrum of feelings. Her ability to be versatile in an emotional capacity means that anyone can listen to her songs and relate them to however they’re feeling in their own life.
With her debut full-length, Lady Jesus, set to arrive Oct. 8, UPSAHL isn’t taking it easy. Collabing with artists such as Mike Shinoda, iann dior, DREAMERS, Big Boi and Feder is just one side of the coin. She also frequently writes for other artists and has songwriting credits on Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, Madison Beer’s Life Support and Anne-Marie and Little Mix’s collab “Kiss My (Uh Oh).” Get ready for the future because it’s all coming up UPSAHL.
Your stage name, UPSAHL, is actually your last name. Why did you decide to use it instead of your full name or a different name?
I put out three albums when I was in high school under my full name, Taylor Upsahl. Once I accepted the fact that I was moving to L.A. and not going to college, I was like, “You look at artists like Lorde or Lady Gaga. That’s sick. They walk onstage, and it’s like their alter ego, and it’s this different name.” So I spent a long time trying to find a name. I tried so many different names, and then finally I was like, “I should just go by my last name.” My family played such a role in me doing music. So it’s also for them, too.
As the daughter of a musician and being someone who went to art school, how did your formative and teen years contribute to the artist you are now?
My dad was in punk bands [while I was] growing up. I would literally wake up in the mornings [when] I was 5 years old, and there would be some random band that was touring through Phoenix crashed out on my living room floor. And I would just hang out with these people who are touring musicians. I was obsessed with that whole community. And I was like, “I need to be a part of this somehow.”
We had a band room in the house with a bunch of instruments, and I started learning classical piano when I was 5 from my grandma. Then my dad started teaching me the guitar. Music [has been] the center of our household since I was a kid. Both of my parents have always just been so encouraging of me being creative and let me pick up any instrument I wanted.
Then when I was 10, my mom was like, “I found this performing arts school downtown. Do you want to go?” And I was like, “Fuck yeah, I want to go. This sounds amazing.” I went there until I graduated high school. It was a college prep school, so they were very big on, “You have to go to college” or whatever. My parents sat me down, and they were like, “Just so you know, we don’t give a fuck. You should move to L.A. and pursue music. We really think you could do this.” And I was like, “I’m sorry, you’re my parents. You’re not supposed to say that.” They were just super cool about it, and I’ve been doing music out here since.
You have new music out, and then your full-length is coming later this fall. What are you most excited about, and what do you hope fans take away from it as a whole?
I’ve spent the past year putting everything I have into this album, so I’m very excited to release my first big project. I feel like so many people went through breakups in quarantine, including myself. The album tells the story of me at the start of that breakup to where I am now and the personal growth and rebirth that I feel like I experienced. Each song is representative of a different kind of phase in that journey for me. So my goal would be that everyone can find at least one song that they feel they really relate to. That’s the goal.
Was the creative process different than in the past since you were holistically working on these tracks for a full-length rather than an EP or single releases?
It’s very different because now we’re looking at the bigger picture of, “How do we tell this story in the best way? How do we make sure that this video ends in a way that opens it up to whatever the next video is?” It’s really fun to look at [the] bigger picture. It’s also changed the writing process as well. Once I was getting toward the end of writing the album, I had a tracklist, and I was like, “Oh, I’m missing a song at No. 6 and No. whatever.” I want the songs to have this sort of feel like it becomes much more focused, and it’s a really cool way of creating; it’s new for me, too. I’ve always written a song and just seen what happens, and now it’s like, “OK, this is exactly what we need.”
Besides your own music, you have also collaborated with artists, like your feature with iann dior on Mike Shinoda’s song. With everything you do musically, what do you do to stay creative and feel inspired while creating this art?
I’ve started to take advantage of the fact that inspiration can really just come from anything. I’ll be at a party, and I’ll overhear someone say something that sounds cool. Then I’ll open up my little Notes app, and I’m like, “Maybe that’s a song idea for later.” Just being open to everything whenever inspiration strikes. I also feel lucky ’cause I have a really dope team of writers and producers that have been in the trenches with me on this whole project.
So much of your work is really empowering for women. What do you hope your music says to people in terms of being a strong woman in the modern world?
For me, when music makes me feel powerful, that’s my favorite type of music. So that’s the kind of music I try to make for other people. For me, as a woman, I feel the most empowered when I’m really vulnerable and real. So when I’m writing songs that are vulnerable and real and “This is me, sorry about it,” that’s when I feel the most badass. So I hope that when people listen to my music—and maybe it is a really sad song about being completely heartbroken—that can make them feel like, “I’m not alone. Someone else feels this way too.” To me, that’s what music is all about.
You already have an enormous catalog of work to your name, even though your album isn’t out yet. Is there any song in particular that you would say is the most authentically you?
My song “Drugs” has always been something that was a big point for me as an artist of realizing that I wanted to say whatever I wanted in my songs. I remember when I wrote “Drugs,” I sent it to my team, and I was like, “This is definitely not for me. This is for another artist. We can pitch it. I would never say that.” And they’re like, “But what if you did?” And then I realized I was terrified of the song, and I didn’t want to piss people off with it. Then I reached this turning point where I was like, “If you’re not saying something that maybe will piss people off, or if you’re not being a little scared to release a song, then what the fuck is the point?” That was a really big turning point for me as an artist and as a writer.
What do you hope this album does for you in the future?
I hope that as many people as possible listen to the album. I’ve had to think of what I do in a way of like, “I’ve already made it,” in my head because I get to make music every day. That’s my “job.” There’s always end goals that everyone is always working toward, but in this past year—especially being able to make the music that I’ve been making—this is my own little version of personal success, getting to make music every day. So if people fuck with the album, that will be sick. That will just be the cherry on top of the cake.
This article originally appeared in issue 397, available to purchase here.