UPSAHL, ‘Hindsight 20/20,’ and finding your artistry in a new city

Upsahl
photo credit: Shervin Lainez

Moving to a new city can be one part exciting and another part jarring. You have to make adjustments to who you were to this new frontier of people and places. When you’re a musician, this is a very palpable situation for material that chronicles this process in a way that’s unique to your experience.

Taylor Upsahl, known as UPSAHL, moved to Los Angeles when she was 19 years old. Originally from Phoenix, Arizona, she graduated from the Arizona School for the Arts in 2017, and the combination of working on her craft and following her heart led her to California. From there, she became the first signee of the reformed Arista Records.

Hindsight 20/20 is a cohesive collection of songs that speaks to specific experiences that UPSAHL had during her first year living in Los Angeles. The subject matter involves learning about the city’s culture, to love, and finding her place within it all. This EP is eclectic, lively, and reflective. It’s a promising and enjoyable narrative from a young, confident artist that is actively carving out a space for herself.

You started off with singles like “Rough,” “The Other Team,” and “Can You Hear Me Now,” as introduction to your music career. One cool thing is that as Arista Records is starting up again, they sign you to the label. It’s like all these new beginnings came together at once. Tell me a little about how that came to be as you go on this journey to Hindsight 20/20?

It’s been crazy because I met David Massey before he was at Arista and right when I first moved to LA. I was releasing singles and trying to figure out what kind of music I wanted to make. Just learning who I was as an artist while also trying to navigate moving to LA at 19. It was just a crazy time in my life.

Then when David reached out and was like, “we’re re-opening Arista and we want you to be the first artist signed to it,” it was something you don’t say no to. It was the craziest opportunity I’ve even been given. I also felt that every person on the team at the label understood that I didn’t want to be put in a specific box. Just to do pop or just do alternative. I very much wanted to be a mixture in different worlds. It was just the perfect timing for everything. Simultaneously, I was going into sessions everyday and writing a lot of different songs. Writing very quickly became therapy to me. So, however I was feeling that day, I would go in and vent to my co-writers or producers about it.

When piecing together Hindsight 20/20, it was very much, “ok, how do I pick five songs out of the 200 I wrote this year?” It was about picking the five that best represented the past year of my life. I wanted each song to represent something that had changed or stayed the same within that first year of living in LA. It’s very authentic about that year, for sure.

You mentioned picking five songs that best represented and personified moving to LA. How do you even go through the process of knocking down from the 200 songs that you recorded to a concise five song EP? 

I guess when I put it all together, it was previous obvious to me which songs I wanted on the EP. With the song “All My Friends Are Rich,” we left the studio and was like “ok, we’re releasing this song. This is so dope.” Same thing with “Stress” and “Drugs.” I got the demos back and thought they were amazing. All those songs as I was writing them, I was like “ok, we’re adding this to it.” Then everybody sat down, listened through everything, and pieced together everything else. Those songs and with “Smarty” and “Fine,” I just feel like those represent different parts of my life.

It was an interesting experience trying to piece it together because I have so many songs. I wish I could release a 100 song album and share it with everyone. To try and make something concise and get across everything I wanted to say, narrowing down to five songs was very difficult. Luckily, I just had a feeling about most of them which made it a bit easier.

Getting into some of the songs off the E.P., when listening to “All My Friends Are Rich” and “Drugs,” I felt like there was a synergy that connected both of them. “All My Friends” goes into this certain lifestyle from your eyes living in LA. “Drugs” is really clever in how you wrote the song. It seems like it mocks things from “All My Friends” confined to a party perspective. Can you go into making these songs and if it was a conscious decision to make them about this? 

I don’t think it was a conscious decision. I just think it was a natural thing that happened because of my mindset when I moved to LA. It kind of happens with anyone moving to a big city. You’re meeting these people who have their lives way more together than you. Maybe they have more money and you’re like, what the hell. All my friends are rich. At the same time, you’re going to these events and you meet people who have more than you. Then you realize the fakeness inside that culture.

Those songs definitely go hand and hand, but I wouldn’t say it was a decision to write specifically about that. It was just organically making songs about two different aspects about one part of my life.

I’ve heard that a lot from artists I talked to about either being or moving to LA. You have an authenticity about you and LA can be a place where the appearances don’t necessarily match the motives. What have you learned about moving there and discovering more of yourself in this new city? 

It was definitely a slap in the face moving there. A lot of people who move from to a city like LA come from a hometown where they did music and everything was working out. Then you move to a place like Los Angeles and everybody does something similar to you. Everybody is trying to make it. It’s very grounding for most people. It forces you to ditch your ego and be the most authentic version of yourself which I thought was cool.

Definitely when I got there, I was like “ok. shit. How do I stand out from other people?” I feel like in that year of my life the way to do that is to only make music that you’re stoked about. Seek out and work with people who understand that vision.

Wanted to talk about “Stressed” because the composition of the song is very unique. The horns and the instrumentation go along with the subject manner as being very lively and chaotic at the same time. I would imagine moving to a new place and finding your way brought out this feeling in you. 

The day I wrote that, I wrote it with a really good friend of mine, Pete Nappi. He’s one of my favorite producers. It was the day before I was supposed to leave for a writing trip to Europe. I had never been out of the U.S., let alone by myself, so I was losing my shit. I rolled into the session and started venting to Pete about that. Then we just kind of wrote the song about that.

He kind of had this little horn sample he was messing around with in the session. Then, he sent me back the demo a couple weeks later with this crazy composition. That was the moment I talked about in the beginning where I said, “ok, we have to release this. This sounds insane.” The horns kind of being all over the place and the highs being very high and the lows being very low feels like being stressed out. I credit all of the composition to Pete. He’s one of the best producers.

In the song “Smarty,” you mention the title of the EP and it’s basically a middle finger to all the bad relationship you’ve had. With “Fine,” you’re taking a look back and you’re reflecting where you’ve could have done better. I thought these songs were a really mature take on love. It’s good to discard and expel these bad relationships. Then, there are situations that we can look back on and figure out our parts and grow from that. What have you learned from love that you can take into the future based on what you’ve said in these songs? 

I feel like “Smarty” and “Fine” are two different phases of getting over a relationship. “Smarty” is the initial phase. Oh, fuck you. I’m better than you. You ruined my life, but I’m coming back on top, basically. Then a couple more months later, I feel that you get a bit more sentimental as you get reflective on it.

With “Fine,” I wanted it to be from a very vulnerable place which where I was when I was writing that song. I feel as an artist, it’s very important to me to make people feel like a bad ass bitch when they are listening to my music. I also think part of being that “badass” persona is to recognize where you went wrong and be vulnerable. I definitely wanted “Fine” to be reflecting on the relationship that “Smarty” is talking about. In a more, “ok, maybe I fucked up a little, too.”

Watch the premiere of the video for “All My Friends Are Rich” below: