Punk and “pinch-me” moments: catching up with UPSAHL

Punk and “pinch-me” moments: catching up with UPSAHL

by Ollie Cox
13 min

UPSAHL has just finished a European headline tour when she calls us from her hotel room in Lisbon, fueled by the adrenaline of playing to packed-out crowds. Her songs have a punk sensibility, something she attributes to the music she was raised on. However, the music the 25-year-old makes deals with very modern issues, including the perils of social media, relationships, and star signs. 

When we first met, her Sagittarius traits shined through, seen in her enthusiastic responses and positive demeanour.  UPSAHL has amassed nearly 500 million combined streams and achieved an international appeal, aided by her one million follower-strong TikTok presence. Her recent EP Sagittarius features tracks such as “Into My Body,” offering a reflective look at the internalised thoughts we experience when looking at our screens. This transparency and open-book approach to her music is something she feels we should all strive for, and definitely strikes a chord with her fans. 

As well as producing her own music, she has spent time in the studio writing with artists including Dua Lipa, Yungblud and Fletcher. We caught up with the star to learn more about life on the road, navigating the music industry, and time in the studio. 

How is it being on tour in Europe? 

Tour is fucking amazing. I always joke that I could just live out of a suitcase and just stay on the road all year. It’s just so much fun. This tour, specifically in Europe, has been really cool. I feel like I’ve gotten to see some places I’ve never been before like Lisbon [and] Madrid. I’ve been to a couple of other places, and I’m opening for Marni Martinez, and her fans have been so warm and welcoming, it’s been a blast. I’m so sad it’s over. 

What’s been a highlight? 

My birthday was a couple of days ago in Madrid, so that’s how I got to celebrate my birthday, [by] playing a show in an arena. It was fucking sick, so that was definitely a highlight. I got to play Wembley, which has been a dream of mine since I was a kid, so that was really cool. This tour, in general, is some of the biggest venues I’ve ever gotten to play [in]. It’s been full of a few little “pinch me” moments, for sure. 

What is your favourite city to perform in? 

I feel like it depends. I love Berlin, I feel like everyone goes so hard in Berlin. London is my favourite place to headline. It’s so much fun. Amsterdam. I feel like they party pretty hard in Amsterdam. I think my favourite show on this tour was actually in Prague, which I had never played before. 

Why is London your favourite city to perform in? 

I feel like if I’m opening or if I’m headlining, it doesn’t matter. I feel like the people are just down to have a good time, down to bring the energy. I’ve never had a show in London where I walk off stage, and I’m like, “Eurgh, they could have been more hyped.” They are always just hyped, it doesn’t matter what day of the week or what time. It’s always a blast. 

“Drugs” blends pop influences with grunge influences. What artists/musicians have informed your output until now? 

Growing up, my dad was in punk bands, so I was always obsessed with random punk music and all the shit he was making and listening to, so I think that’s where I got the punk influence. Outside of that, I loved Gwen Stefani. Her whole era of No Doubt in the ‘90s and then going into her solo project in the early 2000s inspired the shit out of me. I’ve been listening [to a lot of] Outkast. My parents would make me little mixtapes with Outkast songs, so I would listen to a lot of that. I feel like it was kind of all over the place. But I would say punk is the main influence I had growing up. 

@UPSAHL

You talk about wanting to be “cold, hard and ruthless” but not being able to and being trapped in your own head. Is music something that helps you with these emotions? 

Totally, I feel like as humans, and this generation in general with social media, the idea of being a baddie and being cold-hearted and unbothered – people strive towards that and have no feelings. But for me, I think deep down, I’m an insanely emotional person, and songwriting is definitely [is] my outlet, and that’s how I get in tune and in touch with those feelings. That’s kind of the whole point of songwriting to me. 

You’ve sung worldwide; you’re in Europe right now and performed on shows such as James Corden’s Late Late Show. These are all pretty big accolades. Is there a particular “pinch me” moment that stands out? 

This tour has been fucking awesome. Just playing big venues, like the biggest venues I have ever played, has been crazy. I think my favourite moment this year has been playing at Lollapalooza in the States. That was a big full-circle moment for me because I played the smallest possible stage at Lolla four years ago and that I was like this is the coolest day of my life. Like 100 people showed up and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. And then, a couple of years later, getting to play the main stage and having everybody show up was a cool full-circle moment for me. That was my “pinch me” moment this year, for sure. 

Do you prefer playing to bigger audiences or more intimate shows? 

I don’t know, I love both, I think I just prefer just in general headlining, obviously, which for me right now means smaller, more intimate shows. There’s something about playing a sweaty club show that is so magical. I can’t decide. I was talking to my band about this the other day, like if I can go on a tour and one day is a huge arena, and the next is headlining in a small club, it’s nice to have the balance for sure. Each has different energies. 

Can you talk me through a day in your life while producing The PHX tapes?

I wrote most of the PHX tapes when I was in LA, which has been kind of rare this year because I have been touring so much. When I’m home, I go to a session, and normally I’ll come in with either a song title or a lyric or a feeling that I’m feeling that day, and then just kind of fuck around and hope a song comes out of it. One of my favourite songs, “no hands,” I wrote at a writing camp in Berlin. I wrote “0-100” when I was on tour in Stockholm, so all of the sparks of inspiration can come at random moments. For me, I wouldn’t say there’s one, “This is what my day looks like.” Most of the time, it’s boring, I just wake up, think of an idea, go to a session, make the song and play it on repeat all night. 

Is consistency important when it comes to writing new music? 

Yeah! For me personally, I don’t like to write on tour that much. I like to separate songwriting and touring. It’s nice to go on the road, experience life, and write down a bunch of random ideas in my notes app. Then, I get to come back to LA and write about all of those experiences. So yeah, I guess that’s sort of inconsistent, but I like that kind of separation. It’s nice just to get out of my songwriter’s head for a month and just go on the road and experience things and write about it after that. 

You have worked on songs for Dua Lipa, Little Mix and Yungblud, to name a few. Does this impact the music you make yourself in any way? 

It’s both. Any chance I get to be in a room with another artist who inspires me and get to help tell their story, it’s always so inspiring. The artist who inspires the shit out of me, who I’ve gotten to write about a lot, is Reneé Rapp. I love watching her exist and have an emotion and tell the whole room about it and then have everybody write a song about it. I’ve learnt so much just from writing with her to take into sessions when I’m the artist. Yeah, just trying to like soak it all up when I’m with these people because they’re all so intelligent and such good writers and such inspiring people to be around. 

Is there a trick or way of working or something you’ve picked up from this? 

The biggest thing is owning and being emotional. Being in a session and someone will just cry about whatever we’re writing a song about. To me, that’s uncomfortable at times for some people, but that’s where I feel the magic of the emotion comes to play in the room. Yeah just watch other artists like Reneé or Dove Cameron. Watching them just own the shit out of how they’re feeling is so cool, and I think I try to bring that sort of energy into the room when I write. 

In your new single “Snowglobe,” you talk about losing sight of what matters. What do you think can cause this, and how do you keep on top of what matters? 

Oh my god! Cool question. The world we’re living in now with social media, we’re just constantly being bombarded with content and so much excess information. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught in the whirlwind of all that, or the whirlwind of chasing an artist career. It’s so easy to get super busy, and I think for me, “Snowglobe” and the whole emotion behind that is that sort of grounding moment that I get to have. Every summer, when I get to go home for the holidays, I get to be around the people that I love, who I maybe haven’t gotten to see that much that year, and I think we’re all very lucky to have those people in our lives. I think as cheesy as “Snowglobe” is as a little holiday song, it’s so real. Everyone in my family is like, “This is so real.” I think we all go through that.

You have a notable online presence, with your songs trending on TikTok. How important is social media for musicians today? How has it helped you in your career?

Extremely important. I think it’s really easy for artists to complain about having to make TikToks, because it’s not the most fun thing in the world sometimes. But I think for me, this year, I’ve sort of fallen in love with it because the idea of it has changed the landscape of what being an artist is. As artists, we sort of have control of reaching whatever niche audience we want to reach, and so for me, I’ve just used it as a way to connect with people more, to connect with fans. And I think I’ve found and cultivated a following of very likeminded people, who are the people who show up to my shows and are great to hang out with. 

I think using it to connect with people is important. With that being said, there’s obviously a million things wrong with social media, and you are only posting the highlight reels and no one’s posting the real shit. So I think we’ve still got a way to go, and I think it’s our responsibility as artists or people who are influencers or people with followings to try their hardest to show the ugly side of things sometimes, which I try to do in my writing. 

When searching for inspiration for song ideas, where do you seek it from and why? 

I find so much inspiration in talking to people. Half the time, someone will just say a couple of words that will sound cool, and I’m like, “oof, got to write that down in the notes app and bring that back later.” I think being open to it in daily conversation [is key]. Movies give me a lot of inspiration, like movie soundtracks, really cinematic movie soundtracks are inspiring on the production side. Honestly, just talking to people and hearing their stories. Just keep your eyes and ears open for random little pieces of words that sound cool or little melodies you hear. Just constantly being aware of that has been helpful for me. 

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to make music and looks to you as an example? 

I think just force yourself out of your comfort zone and fucking do it. There’s so many people I talk to that are like, “I want to do music, but I’m scared to release it because I’m scared of what people will think.” But I just think owning the fact that sometimes people are going to hate your music and some people are going to love it. That’s not on you. The only thing you have control over is making music you love. I think just going for it and trying your hardest to not give a fuck what people think is my biggest piece of advice.

How have you come to terms with not giving a fuck? 

I feel like it’s a “Fake it til you make it” type of thing. You sort of have to convince yourself that you don’t care. For me, I used to care so much, and then I would just keep telling myself, like fuck that. Sort of just deciding. The only thing we as creatives have control over is us loving whatever it is we’re making, and once you give it to the world, it’s no longer up to you, and it’s completely out of your control. Just owning what you are in control of, which is your creative freedom, is the biggest thing I try to remember, you know?

Finally, is there anything else you would like to share? What does the future look like for UPSAHL? 

The future looks like I’m working on an album, so I’m putting out an album next year, which I’m really excited for. I haven’t done that in two years. I’m opening for Madison Beer on tour, which will be really cool next year. Her fans seem so cool, so that’ll be fun. And definitely a headline tour again in the US and Europe and the UK in the fall once my album is out, so lots of shows and lots of music. I’m very excited. 

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