Many musicians move to Los Angeles with big dreams that take years to realize, if they even come true at all. But 20-year-old Taylor Upsahl from Phoenix, signed her first major label deal within her first year of moving there.
Not that the move, which she embarked on alone, didn’t bring challenges. The singer, who performs and records as UPSAHL, titled her recently released EP Hindsight 20/20, a title borrowed from a lyric in one of the record’s songs, “Smarty.”
“When I moved here, it was a real slap in the face,” says Upsahl. “Everyone is part of the creative industry in L.A., and you’re not the only person doing what you do. You’re in this sea of crazy talented people. It was intimidating getting here, but in the past year, I’ve learned how to be comfortable being alone and going out by myself.”
Before L.A., Upsahl got a full-ride scholarship to University of Arizona out of high school. As a young teen, she thought maybe she’d go to medical school. But the Phoenix native has been releasing music and performing at venues like Crescent Ballroom for years. If anyone was going to make it in L.A., she had the chops to do it.
When Upsahl graduated from Arizona School for the Arts in 2017, she got the blessing from her parents to head out west. She got an artist deal with Universal Music Publishing Group and focused on songwriting sessions with L.A. producers around six days a week. She calls writing “therapy” and estimates she has written more than 200 songs in the past year.
“You’re going in and meeting this stranger who knows nothing about your life,” she says. “You can unload and tell them everything you’re feeling. Once a song is done, I feel like you always get clarity on the situation. I’ve learned so much about myself and how I cope with things.”
Since signing with Arista Records last fall — she was the first artist to sign on after the label’s relaunch in 2018 — the singer has been curating the five-song selection that makes up Hindsight 20/20, released in March. Early fans of Upsahl who are used to quieter indie tunes will notice a stronger move toward a poppier, more electronic sound the artist has been cultivating since working with producers. The EP also includes influences from genres like big band and R&B.
The EP kicks off with the insanely catchy, piano-driven “All My Friends Are Rich,” which took just 30 minutes to write after she sat down at the piano with her producer KillaGraham. KillaGraham also produced “Drugs,” the EP’s first single whose psychedelic video has the singer and friends doing drugs made out of glitter and crystals.
“Just stop the faking, not here for nameless faces,” she sings. “Pointless talk in conversations.” The song was inspired by Upsahl’s time in L.A., which started off lonely and isolated for the singer.
“‘Drugs’ is about dealing with fake people,” she says. “All the people I’ve met in songwriting sessions are incredible, but if you go out to brunch in Hollywood, you see all these people trying to flex on this material stuff or drop a bunch of names.”
Another track on the EP, “Stressed,” was inspired by Upsahl’s first-ever trip out of the country, a songwriting trip to Europe. Upsahl, who says she gets overwhelmed easily, traveled alone to Stockholm and London.
“Obviously I would have loved to bring a parent or a friend, but I felt like that was something I had to do by myself,” she says. “It was scary, but once I got there, it was very empowering to be there alone.”
Her father, musician Mike Upsahl, says he never worried.
“She’s got a really good head on her shoulders,” Mike says. “I’m a super-proud parent and am super-stoked for her. She’s a very hardworking girl. If she wants something, she goes for it.”
Upsahl and her father talk often. Mike says their relationship is more than just parent-daughter — they’re close friends as well. Mike, who has been in Phoenix bands since before Upsahl was born, plays bass and sings in Surf Through Death and plays guitar in We Were Stereo.
The family has always had a music room, where Upsahl practiced. Her father helped her book shows and has even played with her on stage. She started writing songs when she was in sixth grade and released a self-titled album at 14, subsequently releasing another full-length album and an EP.
“How she writes music and her approach to everything musically is amazing,” Mike says. “She’s an amazingly talented lyricist, and how she structures songs is unique to everything you hear out there.”
The national tour Upsahl recently embarked on supporting Max Frost — who is also her roommate and has produced for her — is Upsahl's first time playing shows outside of Arizona and a Hotel Cafe show in L.A. She comes to Valley Bar in Phoenix on Saturday, April 6, and will be playing all the songs from her new EP, as well as recent singles.
Upsahl also heads back to the United Kingdom in May to perform overseas for the first time. It’s safe to say she has grown since her first trip to Europe.
“Everything this year touring-wise is going to be very new to me,” she says. “It will be very stressful but very exciting, and I’m looking forward to meeting and engaging with new fans.”
UPSAHL. Opening for Max Frost. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 6, at Valley Bar, 130 North Central Avenue; valleybarphx.com. Sold Out.