Earlier this year, up-and-coming indie-pop artist Taylor Upsahl – who goes by the stage name UPSAHL – made waves when she opened for Max Frost at the Marquis. If you missed that show, there’s no need to fret – the upbeat singer will bring her unique stage presence back to Denver alongside alternative group PVRIS. She’ll rock the stage at the Marquis once again on September 10. We got a chance to catch up with everything that’s been going on in her world since her last visit to Denver, including her Lollapalooza debut.
303 Magazine: Last time we talked you were on tour with Max Frost – now, you’re about to head out on tour with Tessa Violet before you join the tour with PVRIS. It seems like you enjoy life on the road, or at least playing shows, does that feel true?
UPSAHL: It’s funny because I’m obsessed with it. Whenever I tell people who have been touring for way longer than I have, they’re like “just wait. You love it now but just wait until you get a couple more tours under your belt.” But I love it.
303: What’s been your favorite thing about touring?
UPSAHL: When I first moved to LA I went through a whole year, basically, of not playing any shows at all. I was in the studio every day. During that year I was like “yeah, I love being in the studio.” It was like that was my favorite part of being an artist – the ‘behind the scenes’ of it. Then going on tour and playing so many shows and getting to be face to face with fans and meeting people who are new fans is just – it’s so addicting. Being on the stage and just being able to meet the people who are listening to your music. I love it.
303: I know you also played Lollapalooza recently, can you tell me a little bit about that?
UPSAHL: It was insane. It still, honestly – I don’t think it will ever set in that I got to play Lolla. It’s been a dream of mine forever. I got there, and I was actually watching Tessa Violet – she performed right before me – and I was freaking out. I was thinking what if no one shows up to the set? Is this going to be so awkward? Then a bunch of people showed up and everyone knew the words. It was kind of like a moment for me. It felt like I was doing a karaoke dance party with my friends. I feel like I got just a little taste of what I want the rest of my life to be like, which is just partying with fans honestly. It’s so much fun.
303: You released an EP earlier this year, can you tell me about that EP?
UPSAHL: The first year that I moved to LA – I was 19 and I pretty much moved here alone. I had just signed a publishing deal with Universal Music Publishing, and they just started throwing me into a bunch of sessions and meeting strangers and writing with them all the time. It was a crazy time in my life ‘cause I was trying to figure out what kind of music I wanted to do. I was trying to navigate Los Angeles as a college-age student not being in college and trying to meet people. It was just wild. I was also just trying to figure out how to be alone and how to be okay with that and I was finding my independence. So I would just kind of roll into these sessions and just vent about my life to my cowriters or producers and we would end up just writing a song based on however I was feeling that day. So Hindsight 20/20 is very representative of that year of my life. Literally, those songs were like therapy sessions to me. It’s very true to what that year was like for me.
303: It sounds like that was the same method you used for writing your most recent single, “Wish You’d Make Me Cry,” can you tell me a bit more about that?
UPSAHL: Yeah! I was working with a good friend of mine, Pete [Nappi] – he also did some songs on Hindsight 20/20. I came in, and earlier that day I think I’d gotten in a car accident on the way to his house for the session. So I walked in and I was already complaining, like “you wouldn’t believe this happened.” Then I started telling him about this guy, ‘cause he was so nice – but I love drama. I just wish this dude would make me cry. Then [Pete] said it was so good and we had to write the song. Literally, he started this beat, and we wrote the chorus and then the rest of the song happened in 45 minutes because it was just me venting about my life. I feel like that’s how a lot of my favorite songs have come about – they’re just like a very real conversation, you know?
303: I think that speaks to the nature of your lyrics on a larger scale. A lot of your lyrics seem to be focused on topics that I think everyone can relate to, but more than that it seems like your music also reflects your desire to blend genres. Does that feel true to you?
UPSAHL: Totally. My dad was in punk bands, so I grew up in a very punk, alternative world throughout my childhood. Then I developed a massive appreciation for pop music and started listening to Outkast and people like Gwen Stefani. So I kinda grew up on a mixture of a lot of different genres. When I moved to LA and was trying to discover my sound – just in a way that lyrically the songs relate to me, I feel like the sound is a combination of all the shit that I grew up listening to. And I also feel like, now we’re in an age where genre doesn’t even exist. You have someone like Billie Eilish who is taking over pop radio and alt radio – like, what does that even mean? I think it’s very freeing for artists right now because we’re not being put into boxes like we used to be. It makes it so much fun to just experiment with different sounds.
303: We’ve definitely seen a rise in artists pushing genre boundaries. What do you think that means for the future of the industry?
UPSAHL: I think it’s so exciting. I feel like music always goes through phases. Popular music and mainstream music has different phases, and normally I feel like it transitions between pop, hip hop or rock, and now it’s like a mixture of all of those things right now. I’m really excited about it. I also just think that lyrically and brand-wise, artists now are giving a little less of a fuck and they’re giving the whole version of themselves to their fans. Which, I think is really exciting. There’s no bullshit anymore. What you see is what you get. I think that’s really exciting too, just for the music industry.
303: Are there any genres that you haven’t experimented yet that you’d like to play with in the future?
UPSAHL: I’ll always have a sweet spot for alternative music. Just because that’s kinda what I grew up on. I love playing guitar live, so that’s always going to be a part of me and the music I make. It’s also been really fun – I’ve done a couple of sessions writing with DJs and putting pop lines over dance beats, and that’s been so exciting. I’m really open to doing whatever, honestly. It’s just fun to be in a very experimental phase right now.
303: Between thinking creatively about genre, putting out new music, touring extensively and playing Lollapalooza, do you feel like this last year has been a year for growth for you?
UPSAHL: It’s definitely been the best year of my life. At the end of last year, I said that because I had moved to LA and was writing songs and signed a record deal. Now, just looking back on just the touring that I’ve gotten to do and the people I’ve gotten to meet and playing something like Lollapalooza – I got to play one of the biggest venues in my hometown last week. That stuff is insane to me. I just feel so grateful. I also just – you know, it’s hard too. Hustling every day, you’re either touring or your doing presS and then you’re also trying to find time to write and find time for your personal life. I feel like I’ve grown a lot this year in my independence and just in working my ass off. Music is just what I love to do. So, the fact that I get to do it every single day pretty much full time – it’s a dream, it’s insane. It’s definitely been the best year of my life. I feel super lucky.
303: It’s definitely been a busy year, and you mentioned trying to find ways to balance music and your personal life – how do you do that?
UPSAHL: I don’t have my shit together most of the time, so I don’t know if I’m the best person to give advice on that. I guess, like advice for people doing music and being busy as fuck with it? I don’t know, for me, it’s an all-encompassing job. Music is just my lifestyle. I wake up and I’m already writing before my session, or I’m on tour and I’m writing. It’s just become my life. I try to just surround myself with friends and family who are supportive of that. Luckily, I come from a very musical family and all of my friends are either dancers or writers or producers, so I feel like we’re all on the same page of like, this is just our life. We’re just doing music because we love it. So, I guess just surrounding myself with people who get that hustle has been helpful. But I also just never have my shit together. I’m always just running around Los Angeles trying to get things done.
UPSAHL: Yeah, for sure. But, I also just have to remind myself whenever I get in that mindset that this is a pretty good problem to have. Being busy doing music? I was dreaming of doing this five years ago. I just feel lucky honestly. I feel like it’s a waste of time to be stressed or get overwhelmed with something as fun as music.
303: Do you ever find yourself thinking about what you might be doing if you weren’t making a career out of music?
UPSAHL: It’s weird, because there was never a moment in my childhood or growing up where I decided one day that I wanted to pursue music. Ever since I could talk that was just my identity. People would come over and it was always like, yeah, Taylor is singing or Taylor is putting on a performance for everyone, go ahead and sit down – ever since I was like five. I think I just always knew that I wanted to do it. I started going to a performing arts school in Phoenix when I was 10, and still was just pursuing music. Then I started writing albums in Phoenix and playing shows – it was just such a natural trajectory that it was never something I decided I wanted to do, it was always just the only thing I was good at and the only thing I wanted to do. It was stressful going to a college prep school in high school because it was like “Oh shit! Everyone is going to college, but I really just want to do music.” There was no other option for me. Honestly, if I wasn’t doing music right now I just wouldn’t be happy. I’m going to do it until I die, so it’s really the only thing that’s fulfilling for me.
303: You graduated from The Arizona School Of The Arts fairly recently. Can you reflect on that experience now that you have a couple of years in the music industry under your belt?
UPSAHL: When I first heard about it, I was like 10-years-old, and it was like “oh my god, this is amazing, it’s like High School Musical. I’m going to be the next Vanessa Hudgens, let’s go!” Then, kinda started going to the school and I think the biggest thing – aside from the musical training there – is that it is just the coolest culture. It was the coolest place to grow up. It’s just a bunch of creative, weird people who were there to just support each other. I think it definitely gave me a very strong foundation of friends and of people who have just been so supportive of me pursuing music. I mentioned playing that show at one of the bigger venues in Phoenix, and a bunch of my old teachers came. They didn’t even tell me, but I saw them there. It was just the coolest environment to grow up in. I felt so supported – everyone was supported, and everybody was so inspiring. So, looking back on it? I’ll hype up that school all day long. It was the best thing that my parents ever did for me.
303: Do you ever get homesick being away from the community that you built back in Phoneix?
UPSAHL: Totally. What’s cool is that a lot of my best friends from that school live in LA now. We all do music or dance or are in the entertainment industry somehow. It’s really cool to have that piece of Phoenix with me out here in LA. I definitely miss it. It was a whole different time in my life. I just feel lucky that that’s what got me to where I am today, you know?
303: We’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on how you got to where you are today. Can we wrap up by talking about what’s in store for the future?
UPSAHL: More music for sure. Whenever I’m in LA, I’m in a different session every day writing new songs. I feel like I’ve been in a very good groove, just the last two months of writing and just with the sound of all the songs. I just want to put out as much music as possible before the end of the year. I don’t know if that’s going to be an EP or an album or just a bunch of singles, but definitely just more music is my goal for after this tour.
UPSAHL will rock the stage at the Marquis alongside PVRIS for a sold-out show on September 10.