Taylor Upsahl, AKA UPSAHL, is getting restless.
The Phoenix-born, Los Angeles-based alt-pop artist—who’s previously said that “performing every single night and watching people react to your songs is the most rewarding thing about being an artist”—has spent the last few months finishing her yet-to-be-announced sophomore EP over Zoom. In normal times, she’d celebrate the project with a major tour, but these aren’t normal times.
“I feel like everyone who’s used to touring is heartbroken that we can’t do it,” UPSAHL tells American Songwriter in an interview featured below. “But obviously we gotta do what we gotta do until it’s safe again. I miss it the most out of anything. That’s why I’ve been doing all these little livestream shows, ‘cause this is the only thing keeping me sane is this mini-version of my actual tour.”
UPSAHL likely won’t be hitting the road anytime soon, but you can still catch a performance of hers below. Today she shares a new live video for her 2020 hit “12345SEX” which comes on the heels of another live video for her latest single “People I Don’t Like.”
We caught up with UPSAHL by phone last week about her recent singles and her forthcoming EP, which is expected this fall. She also spoke to us about attending lame Grammy parties, embracing vulnerability, and co-writing Dua Lipa’s “Good in Bed.” Check out the full interview and watch her new “Drugs” performance video below.
American Songwriter: Tell us a little bit about your latest singles “12345Sex” and “People I Don’t Like.” What are they about?
Taylor Upsahl: With “12345Sex,” it took me a few months before I actually ended up getting it right. I tried writing a song with that title multiple times and was just overthinking it forever. I was like, “I need to make it super clever,” and then I remember one day I was in a session with Rick Nowels who produced and co-wrote the track, and it hit me: “This can literally just be a song about being horny and feeling sexy. That’s it.” I basically wrote the song based on that, and we tracked the vocals all the way through in the session as we were writing it. We ended up using that vocal. You can hear how hype we are in the song, which is cool. I’m pumped on that one. I feel like it’s the first song I’ve put out that’s super unapologetically embracing my sexuality, which I feel like—especially in quarantine—everyone needs a song like that. So I was stoked that it got to be released during this shitshow.
With “People I Don’t Like,” this song I wrote during Grammy week in LA this year, which is every January. Everybody in music just goes to a bunch of different music industry parties everyday. It was my first time really, properly doing it and going to these events and I started to realize, by Wednesday, I’m reintroducing myself to the same people everyday! We all know we’ve already introduced ourselves but we’re just doing it anyway. We’re exchanging numbers to never talk to each other again. It’s just the fakest thing. And then I rolled into the session with my friend Jonny [Shorr] and my friend Will [Jay] and I was coming from one of the parties and I was a little drunk and I was like, “This is the most bullshit thing ever. Why do we do this?” and they were like, “Taylor, you can’t talk shit. You’ve been going to all the parties too, you’re one of those people!” and I was like, “Oh yeah, you’re right.” So we ended up writing “People I Don’t Like” based on all those people, but also being part of the bullshit that is LA in Grammy week.
I think I’m a lot more vulnerable on this one. As a songwriter and as a listener I think there’s so much empowerment that comes along with being super vulnerable and being able to be like, “Yeah, I feel sad,” or “Yeah, I feel heartbroken.” That, to me, is empowering. And this EP definitely is that. I feel like it’s reflective of my past year in LA, but also of quarantine. Everyone’s lives have changed drastically since quarantine started. The world as we know it is changing, so this EP is super reflective of that. It’s a lot more vulnerable and even a little bit more relatable than the last one.
Who are some of the folks that you worked with on the EP?
I worked with one of my favorite writers ever, Sean Kennedy. He co-wrote on my song “Drugs,” which is still one of my favorite songs I’ve put out. We worked a lot over Zoom on it, which is so weird to say. We wrote most of the EP over Zoom. I worked with my friend Pete Nappi a bunch on it, who did some songs off the last EP. And then obviously Jonny and Will—the “People I Don’t Like” crew. I worked with Absofacto on one of the songs on production, which is super exciting. I’ve looked up to him as an artist and a producer for a minute so I’m stoked that he’s a part of it. It’s been cool because I got to start it outside of quarantine then finish it over Zoom with my friends. It’s the most involved I’ve been in production. I got to record all my own vocals in my room for it.
Were you in Phoenix or LA for that?
It’s a mixture of both. I wrote some of it in Phoenix, I wrote some of it here. But a lot of the vocals I recorded sitting in this chair—I’ve never got to be a part of the production in that way.
I wanted to ask about your writing credit on Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia. How’d you get involved with that project? And how did “Good in Bed” come together from a writing perspective?
I feel like all of these [co-writes] happen randomly or by accident, but I had started the idea for “Good in Bed” with my friends Melanie Fontana and Lindgren, this powerhouse production-writing duo. We had been writing a bunch and I had just gotten back from tour and my boyfriend at the time missed my LA show because he got too high or something, and I walked in and I was like, “Fuck this kid—I can’t believe he missed my show. And then I fucked him after! Why did I do that?” Then I was like, “I feel like because we fight so much, that’s what makes us good in bed.” We started with that idea like, “Is it crazy to call a song ‘Good in Bed?’”
Dua heard the begining of the what we had and was like, “Oh I fucking love this, I need to hop on it,” and she finished the song with the production duo Take a Daytrip. Then it ended up on her album, which is like nothing I could have ever dreamt up. I’m just honored to be a part of something that big—a very small part. I’ve been a huge Dua Lipa fan since before I even moved to LA and was doing sessions. To get a co-write with Dua was an amazing dream come true. Like, I still don’t think it’s fully hit me that it’s on Dua Lipa’s ALBUM. It’s crazy.
Do you approach writing for other people differently than writing for yourself?
The way that I got into writing for other people was by writing for myself, so when I go into sessions specifically for other people I try to keep a little piece of my artist self when I’m writing, just because I think other artists will relate. But it’s definitely cool for me, especially this past year, to have this separation between “I’m writing for my artist project, the production needs to be perfectly me, everything I say I have to be able to own on stage, it has to be true to me,” versus being able to just let go and be like, “I’m just going to write a dope song today.” The pressure is a little less [intense]. It’s been nice to have both worlds.
Is it weird that you won’t be able to support any upcoming releases with live shows? In the past you’ve said how much you love touring and being on the road.
Yeah, it’s so sad! I feel like everyone who’s used to touring is heartbroken that we can’t do it. But obviously we gotta do what we gotta do until it’s safe again. I miss it the most out of anything. That’s why I’ve been doing all these little livestream shows, ‘cause this is the only thing keeping me sane is this mini-version of my actual tour. It’s sad and it’s scary because you have all these local venues that you would normally roll through when you’re on tour who are probably going to shut down and we don’t know when [everything’s] going to start up again, so support local venues if you can!
What are you looking forward to right now?
Just the EP! I’m the most hype on these songs. We’ve done so many rewrites and so many re-productions. I’ve been really trying to get it perfect, which is a different process than my last EP. So I’m really, really stoked for everyone to hear it and hopefully we’ll be doing more livestreams on Instagram and Youtube to pretend that we’re at an actual bar on tour!