Is there anything a step above a triple threat? That’s UPSAHL. If you don’t know her yet, she’s the unstoppable force behind the TikTok hits “Drugs” and “People I Don’t Like”. In the last week alone, she’s released singles with Mike Shinoda & iann dior and DREAMERS & Big Boi. She wrote the track “Good In Bed” from Dua Lipa’s 2020 album, Future Nostalgia. Her EP, Young Life Crisis, is on constant replay in my car and home, and her stripped down live-looping versions of her tracks will leave you with no choice but to love her too.
I had the chance to chat with her about creating while isolated, the horrors of music industry parties, connecting with fans through TikTok, and making everyone feel a little more empowered and badass. You can read our full interview (and listen to some of my fave tracks from her) below! Taylor, I’m holding you to that promise of tequila shots when this is all over. And then I’m going straight home.
Taylor! SO excited to be talking with you. I discovered your music early in quarantine and it was… I think it just pulled me out of the quarantine blues, and I really appreciate that.
Thanks for doing this, I’m stoked!
In a really weird year for everybody and everything, I feel like you’ve been having a lot of really cool successes and great things happening. How has it been from your perspective?
I feel super lucky. I mean, just the fact that I’ve gotten to figure out new ways to work during quarantine, I feel really lucky to be able to do that. And yeah, weirdly enough, having more free time at home and more time scrolling through TikTok, I feel like more people have found out about my songs, which is everything I could ask for as an artist. As much as this year has sucked emotionally for everyone and it’s been a shit show, I do feel very fortunate for the new fans I’ve gained. I feel like I’ve been able to connect with them on a deeper level through social media than I ever really have before. It’s cool.
Which is really interesting, because I feel like a lot of bands have been missing those new connections right now without touring, whereas I feel like you’ve kicked it up to a new level with 600k people following you on TikTok (editor’s note: between doing the interview and posting it, UPSAHL gained 200k followers, holy smokes). Do you feel like that’s the replacement right now for human contact and actually meeting new fans? Do you feel like you kind of have to keep up with TikTok in a way that you would have to keep up with touring or other parts of your career?
Yeah, I think in my head I had this moment at the beginning of quarantine — because I was on tour when everything went down and I got sent home and I was like, alright, cool. If I’m not going to be able to actually meet people on the road and do the thing and hang with fans, how can I connect to people? ‘Cause that’s why you’re an artist and that’s why you make music, is to connect with people. So I very quickly dove into social media and I was like… Word, we’re making TikToks now. Like I made my first TikTok in quarantine. I just started at the beginning of last year and it’s been cool. I feel like everyone is alone at home, just doing their own things. Any sort of human interaction you can have means the world. I’ve definitely been utilizing social media as much as I can right now.
Which is great, I find a lot of bands have trouble adapting to that side of things because they don’t feel comfortable being social on social media and sharing so much of their lives. But I mean, I feel like you’re proof of why it can be helpful. You’ve been able to adapt to something that a lot of people haven’t been able to adapt to.
Yeah. It’s a tricky time in general. And that’s the other thing, I was talking to this other artist, VÉRITÉ, about this yesterday. We were like, we’re expected as artists to show people this exciting life everyday. But in the past year, everyone’s just sitting at home, there’s not much to show. I feel like it’s been such a humanizing thing for all of us, like your favourite artists are also literally just sitting on their couch watching Netflix, which is fun.
It definitely makes it feel more like we’re all on the same level, you know? And I think it’s really killing celebrity culture too.
Which I love. It’s like everyone feels the same, everybody hurts the same. I think it’s definitely connected people on a much deeper level this year.
It’s weird, the places you find the silver linings in all this. And in addition to your own music, you’ve also been writing music for other artists. You wrote a song that’s on Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, which is so cool. What’s the difference for you between writing for yourself or writing for other artists? Or do you write songs not knowing which way they’re going to go?
The way I got into writing for other artists was by accident, kind of. With the Dua record, I went into a session thinking it was for me. We wrote the demo for “Good In Bed” and then randomly a couple weeks later, I got an email that was like, “yeah, Dua heard this, wants to finish it and make it her own.” And I was like, cool. I had no idea how that even happened or how that worked, you know? And then she cut it and I never thought it was actually going to come out. Once it did, people were asking, “do you want to start writing for other artists?”
I’d never really gone into a session thinking like I’m writing for somebody else, so I’ve just continued doing what I do. I always have that artist perspective, but it’s been a nice balance and break for me. I feel like when I’m writing for myself, it’s super focused and I tend to overthink a lot. Would I say this? Is the production right? Is this bass sound right? But when I get to go in and think like, “well, maybe this isn’t for me,” it’s the most freeing feeling ever. I can just sit back, let the ego go, and write a cool pop song. It’s definitely been a cool balance for me in the past year, for sure.
Yeah, I always assumed for songwriters, it would be cool writing for other people because you don’t have to worry if it sounds like it would come from you, because it’s not going to anyway.
You come from a very musical family as well, so I feel like you have a different perspective from a lot of artists because you were raised with it. Do you have anything you’ve learned from your parents, from the music side of things, that you found to be really helpful in your career?
That’s cool. That’s a good question. My dad was in punk bands all throughout growing up, so there was a band room in my house. I was kind of a part of the music scene from a young age and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I was like, “I need to be a part of this.” I guess the biggest thing that I’ve learned, from just watching my dad, is just owning your shit. I think as such a young artist getting into the music industry and then moving to LA when I was 19, the biggest thing that I took from my dad was that if you don’t know who you are and know what your music is supposed to sound like and own that and have creative control… there’s no point in doing it, you know? I always tried to take that with me and I feel like that’s been super helpful cause he’s the happiest dude ever. He doesn’t do music professionally now, but he’s still making music every day and loves it. And that’s the whole point of it, at the end of the day. I think that’s been the biggest thing I’ve learned from him.
I think that’s a good lesson. Owning your music is so important, especially in this changing landscape. As somebody who is so involved in your music, where do you find inspiration for new sounds or new approaches you want to take to things? Do you have anywhere specific you like to go to be inspired or look for new things?
Listening to the new music coming out right now and then listening to throwback old classic music has been the most inspiring thing for me. Just pulling ideas for drum sounds from Prince songs or, you know, listening to Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd has been big for me this past year. And then listening to modern shit like Billie Eilish, Frank Ocean, SZA… all of that kind of comes together to make the kind of shit that I make. I think just listening to other music and seeing things, like how they did that baseline with this melody. If I can pull inspiration from that, that’s what I’ve definitely been doing.
That’s so cool. This last year, I feel like everybody’s approaches to a lot of things have changed. Have you found that being at home has changed your work-life balance, or have you picked up new hobbies or found any different ways of living?
When I went into quarantine, my only hobby was going out to dinner and shit with my friends. That’s what I did for fun. So I was like, “I need to find some new things to do.” I tried to learn how to surf, right now I’m trying to learn how to snowboard. I’m just trying random shit to get out in nature because it’s very easy to go crazy right now. It’s also really hard because now my whole life, and all of our lives, are just on Zoom. Which is rad that we get to still work, but when you’re sitting at a computer for eight hours a day and then you close your computer and you realize you’ve actually just been alone all day, it’s a weird feeling. I try to get outside as much as I can, I think that’s been the biggest change in my lifestyle.
Yeah. Being in LA, I guess that’s a little bit more doable. It keeps snowing up here.
Oh yeah, you guys are locked in, huh?
Yeah. We’re in full lockdown for at least a few more weeks, so we can’t do anything. But as long as it ends this thing and we can go back to shows…
Yeah, like I’ll stay as long as I need to. Get me back to live shows.
Yeah, my whole life before this was just live music! I was at shows almost every night and it’s like… what do I even do anymore? I’m watching all these venues close. All my friends in bands are like, “maybe we don’t want to be in bands anymore, let’s get real jobs.” It’s like, no don’t do this.
Come back, wait it out please! Yeah, it sucks. The venue thing is really sad. I think once life does start to get back to normal, we’re all just going to have to make sure that we’re there to support local venues and make sure that they’re able to stay open and shit. But I feel like we’re on the up and up. We’re almost there. We’re almost back to touring, I feel like.
I hope so. Everybody’s gotta stop asking for guest list spots and pay for their tickets to help out.
I will pay literally as much money as you want just to stand outside and listen, I don’t even care.
I did also want to ask you… so when I first discovered you, it was through the song “People I Don’t Like”, and it was big for me cause I used to work in the music industry full-time and it’s SO real. Every time you walk into a room, people get that thousand yard glare where they’re looking past you to see if there’s someone more important behind you. It’s just impossible. I was wondering if you have a worst “people I don’t like” moment where you were like, “oh my god, I never want to do this again.”
I mean, I wrote “People I Don’t Like” about GRAMMY week in LA. I think that whole week was very — I love being around people obviously, but those kinds of events are just a recipe for social anxiety. It sucks. And that was my first time ever really doing GRAMMY week. I was losing my mind. Half the parties, you don’t get to bring a plus one, so you just roll up alone and you have no clue if you’ll know anyone there. I met some really dope people at those events, but that whole week was very overwhelming for me. I actually wrote “People I Don’t Like” coming from one of the events and I was a little drunk or whatever. I went into the session and I was like, “What is this GRAMMY week bullshit? This is crazy. Everyone’s fake.” And then the co-writers I was with said, “well, you also go to the parties, which means you’re also fake.” So then we wrote “People I Don’t Like” about all those people and also about me being a part of the problem, I guess.
It’s a great song and it’s very true because it’s like… we all complain about it, but we’re also all still participating.
Yeah, and it’s good to know. Everyone in the music industry is always like, “yeah, I feel that song.” Everyone, I feel like, relates to it in some way.
I feel like everyone tries to put on the air of “I am comfortable here and I am in control of the situation” and all of us on the inside are just like *screams*.
Yeah, exactly. It’s good to know we’re all in it together.
We really are. It crosses borders, we all just hate it! But I mean, you’ve had this really cool year. You’ve been doing things like GRAMMY week, but you’ve also been collaborating with blackbear, writing songs for other artists. It just feels like you’re doing a lot of really cool things. But that’s from an outside perspective, obviously. In your eyes, what is the coolest thing you’ve done so far where you were like, “that’s one for the bucket list.”
I think getting to tour as much as I did in 2019 was like a dream come true for me, so that was really exciting. I hope I can get back to doing that again, I’ll literally live out of a suitcase and be totally fine. In this past year, the biggest moment for me has just been meeting all these new fans through the internet that have found out about my music through “Drugs” and TikTok or wherever. It’s been an absolute dream come true. It’s made such a shitty year way more bearable for me, for sure.
I’m really glad that it happened this year. It’s a rough patch for everybody, but it’s good to have those really nice moments. Is there anybody who you’d still really like to work with or write music for, or a team that you’d like to try writing with?
I mean, my dream collaboration has always been Doja Cat. She’s the baddest bitch, that would be so fun. That will always be the thing I’m manifesting all the time. As far as writing and being a songwriter for other artists… any young female dope, cool, bad-ass artists, I’d love to be a part of their world and their project in any way I can. Any opportunity I get to write with people like that, I’m definitely down for.
I feel like just being home and trapped here is really making me realize how much I love working with other young women in the industry and like… not talking to men anymore.
Straight up, yes. I feel you.
This has been like the nicest interview ever. Sometimes I interview men and then I’m like, “why do I feel bad about myself?” And then I made the connection.
Literally. It’s because of a MAN. Girl, I feel you.
Which leads to my final question. With the music you’ve been creating, it’s powerful and kick-ass and really empowering. It makes me want to stomp around and stomp on people, and just… be powerful. What do you hope people take away from your music?
Exactly that, I feel like.
Perfect! Mission accomplished!
I want people to feel a bit invincible, a bit crazy, very bad-ass and empowered. That’s always been my goal with my music, so that’s dope that that’s how it makes you feel!
I’m so glad. It’s been great, I keep going back to it a lot. I hope that the world gets better so eventually one day you can go on tour and I can hear these songs live and —
Party at a show!! We’ll take tequila shots together, I’m ready.
We can go, but be like, “this is great, but I also want to leave really bad.”
We’ll be like, “stoked to be here, but also I’m ready to go home!”