At only 20 years old, Taylor Upsahl (known professionally as UPSAHL) has made female empowerment and being unapologetic her personal brand. Bold and brash, she holds nothing back. Her songs exude both dark and sexual vibes, with lyrics about having sex on her mind, only attending a party for the drugs, and all the people she doesn’t like. This type of free expression is more associated with male artists (and more accepted by the industry) — but UPSAHL is breaking down those stereotypes
“I feel especially now in music, women are starting to own their shit a lot more and be a bit more unapologetic and do whatever the fuck they want,” she says when we speak after her newest single “MoneyOnMyMind” just came out. “I mean, the #1 song in the world is called ‘Wet Ass Pussy” — we’re just owning it now! Which I think is so fire. I just want to be a part of this movement of women being unapologetic, you know?”
Her second EP Young Life Crisis, released October 30, is described by UPSAHL as being “more vulnerable;” but it is in no way softer than her other music. The EP contains 5 songs ranging from “Money on my Mind,” which is about feeling “money as fuck,” to “Fake Bitch,” whose biting name is belied by the softer guitar chords behind it. UPSAHL is all about the juxtaposition of the soft, sexy, feminine with the badass bitch mentality of alternative rock women before her.
“I grew up listening and watching music videos of like, No Doubt. [I saw] Gwen Stefani and I was like ‘oh she’s so hot, she is the frontwoman of this band of these dudes who just back her. She’s such a badass!’ and I think that’s what really put me in that mindset of just wanting to be on some bad bitch shit.”
As I (virtually) sat down with UPSAHL on a Friday afternoon, her confidence and “bad bitch shit” were tangible even through the computer screen. With songs such as “Drugs”, “12345Sex”, and working with Dua Lipa on “Good in Bed”, UPSAHL is joining the ranks of kickass women in music.
How have you coped with Covid-19 and everything going on?
UPSAHL: I’ve been good, it’s definitely been the weirdest year of my life. I feel like it’s been the weirdest year of everyone’s lives. But right before quarantine, I was on tour with Christian French [and] ready to tour all summer. We played one show and then got sent home. I was like ‘oh bummer, but now I have a couple weeks off, I’m gonna go back to Phoenix and see my family until this dies down in a couple weeks’ and then 5 months later I was still in Phoenix and the world was still in shambles. I just got back to LA a couple months ago and I’ve just been chilling and working on finishing my EP.
I feel like being able to do Zoom sessions with producers and work over Zoom has been what has kept me sane through all of this because I’m still working everyday which is good. But it’s trippy, LA is different. Life is strange for sure.
How are the Zoom sessions?
I ended up writing my whole EP over Zoom and recording all of the vocals. I had to teach myself how to track vocals, because I couldn’t go into the studios, so the majority of the EP vocals were recorded in my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house. I’ve had a really cool experience with it. I think it’s made me even more involved on the production side. There’s a lot of back and forth now rather than just like leaving the studio and the song is done. Now it’s a lot easier to collaborate. Some people feel differently, but it’s been dope for me, I love it.
Is this EP different since you did it at home versus the studio?
Totally, I think the EP is basically narrating my young life crisis that I went through this past year [laughs] so it’s very much however I was feeling that day, which normally was a shitshow. And these poor people I would hop on Zoom with would have to play therapist and be like ‘okay, guess we’re writing about that event today.’
And then, without me even noticing it, we pieced the EP together at the end and I was like ‘oh this is literally narrating my past year, it’s crazy.’ So I’m hoping that when people hear it they can relate in some way.
Tell us about Young Life Crisis.
It’s five songs; a couple of them are already out and some no one has ever heard. And it’s the most vulnerable I’ve been on the songwriting side. Like I was saying, it’s literally me just narrating my life pretty much. So I feel like I’ve gotten a lot more vulnerable and emotional on this one. I feel like this one’s a lot more dancy, but even if you wanna cry while you dance, that’s a vibe too. Some of the songs are bummer songs but they’re still hype. I feel like I am at a place in my life where I feel super secure in the music.
Is this a different direction than your previous singles?
Nah, it’s totally on the same wavelength. I also think there’s a lot of power behind being vulnerable. I feel like a lot of people view it as weak, but I think that it’s really hard to release songs that are genuinely about you having a mental breakdown. That’s a hard thing to do as an artist, so I think for me releasing a song like that is super empowering. It shows people ‘oh, someone else feels the same way I do’ so the whole experience, whether the songs were sad or not, has been a really empowering thing for me, especially as a woman in the industry.
One of your previous songs went viral on Tik Tok this year.
Yeah, “Drugs”, people started listening to it a year or so after it came out. It was cool for me because that’s always been my baby, I love that song. And it was weird too because it was the beginning of quarantine, so while the rest of my life was falling apart kids on Tik Tok were like ‘we actually like your song now!’ and I was like ‘oh, sick, let’s go!’ So now more than ever I have gotten closer with my fans, in quarantine, through just leaving my dm’s open if they wanna send me demos and it’s just become much more of a community for me which has been really dope.
You helped write “Good in Bed” with Dua Lipa, which made it on her album. What was that like?
That was crazy! I started the idea with Melanie Fontana and Lindgren (who are this bad ass couple production writing duo). So I rolled into the session and was talking about the dude I was seeing. I was really annoyed at him when I was coming off tour but even though we were fighting and half broken up, I still slept with him and it was great and I said ‘I think us hating each other is what makes us good in bed.’ And Melanie was like ‘oh my god that’s great, let’s write that song’. And then, somehow, Dua heard the demo and was like, ‘oh this is tight, I wanna finish this song and make it my own’ then she hopped on it. And then Daytrip (a production duo) hopped on it and made it what it is. But yeah, that was a crazy experience when I found out Dua Lipa had heard my voice on the track. I was like ‘are you kidding me?’ That’s my life goals. I’m just honored to be a tiny part of the album for sure.
Who is your dream person to collaborate with?
I don’t know, I mean anytime I get to work with a dope female producer, that’s really fun for me because I feel like women producers are more rare in the industry now. It’s such a man-dominated thing so any chance I get to work with a dope producer that’s a chick is so inspiring for me, I love that.
It’s SPIN’s 35th Anniversary — if you could see 35 years into the future, what do you hope to have changed in the music world by then?
Oh, that’s a really good question. I think a lot of it has to do with women in power; meaning we have more female producers and more female writers in the room. The majority of the time it’s rare to have more than 2 women in a writing room. Which is so stupid, what the fuck is wrong with that? I think that is gonna change, I hope it will change. I think we’re seeing the beginning of the movement of women being so unapologetically sexual and not giving a fuck which I love.
I also feel like there’s this pressure put on the artists, especially young women, to photoshop photos for press, or to make sure you dont eat before your video shoot today so you look ‘snatched’ and I’m just like ‘what the fuck you’re not trying to be some like Victoria Secret model, you’re an artist who makes music and people want to relate to!’ I feel like that needs to change. And I personally might try and change that, like I had a fitting where someone told me I needed to lose ten pounds and they’re like ‘don’t eat for the next few days before the shoot.’ I was like ‘fuck all of you’ and went and got Popeyes and that moment just clicked for me, I was like ‘it’d be so sick for a young girl to see my body, [and think] oh that’s like a normal chill body. Word. I have the same body, let’s go.’ So I feel like that is also something that we’re already seeing being changed in the industry but I think it will continue to snowball.
If you could send a message to yourself 35 years in the future, what would you say?
Oh wow, that’s a hard one. I would probably just be like ‘hopefully you’re doing good, hopefully, you didn’t go bankrupt from buying too much sushi. I hope you’re doing okay.’ I don’t know, I just hope 55-year-old Taylor is kicking ass. I don’t fucking know, hopefully, she’s good.