Maxim Meyer-Horn

20 May
Music

Interview: We Took UPSAHL for a Walk in Brussels to Talk About Her Music

It’s nearly impossible that you haven’t heard of American singer-songwriter UPSAHL in recent months. The “Drugs” singer is on a famous rise, which finally brought her to Europe as the supporting act of FLETCHER. With her debut album ‘Lady Jesus’, she managed to effortlessly convince us, and her live reputation is also undisputed. Later this year, she will release a new EP, which she introduces with her new single “Monica Lewinsky” today. We visited UPSAHL during her stay in Brussels and gave her a tour of the Belgian capital, where she finally discovered her love for the famous Liège waffles.

How’s tour life so far? Are you enjoying it, or is it somehow a bit stressful too?

It’s been fucking amazing. It’s super exciting because I haven’t been to most of these places. The only show I did in Europe before was in London, so it’s my first time in all these cities and countries. It’s also very overwhelming because I’ve toured in the States multiple times and feel like I’ve finally got into a rhythm of touring. I thought it would be the same in Europe, and now I know it’s quite different with the customs, how we’re selling merch, etc. It’s been a real learning experience, and I’ve learned the role of the punches.

We’ve been stuck inside for such a long time. How is it to finally perform at all these places you’ve never been to before and meet all these new people?

It’s a trip for sure. When you’re opening for someone, you don’t expect anyone to know you because they’re waiting for the headliner. Every night has been very special, though, with people in the audience who know the words to my songs. I’m always like, “Wait, I’ve never met you, we’re from a different country, and you know the same words that I know.” It’s such a cool way to connect to people, and my favorite part of touring is definitely meeting people and hanging out to get to know everyone.

You released Lady Jesus, a very personal album, last year. Do you find it easy to share your stories with the world, especially, because they have been yours for so long? 

Lady Jesus is obviously a very autobiographical road through my breakup and healing process. I was very unapologetic throughout the writing process. There’s a song on it called “Lunatic” where I sing: “I’ll punch you in the tiny dick”. That is a lyric I would never write down, but I had in mind that these songs would never come out, and it would be fine. Then it came out, and I was thinking that I was maybe a bit too unapologetic on this. It was a fun process for me to realize that as an artist, the point of dropping songs and releasing music is that you should be a little scared to share it with the world. That makes music exciting for the listener too. Once I got over that fear and dropped Lady Jesus, it was no longer mine but everyone else’s. It’s been super cool to see other people connect to certain songs, and I feel like the whole idea of Lady Jesus has taken on a life of its own because of my fans.

Is there something specific you wanted to showcase on the album? What’s the purpose of Lady Jesus?

Selfishly, it was just free therapy during COVID, going through a breakup. It gave me an outlet to talk about how I was feeling, but then I quickly realized that when I’m feeling some type of way, there’s no way I’m the only person who feels these feelings. When I was piecing the album together, I kind of realized that I accidentally told the story of my life over that year in chronological order. I knew that I had to sequence the album in that order and tell the story from beginning to end. That’s kind of the point of listening to it from top to bottom. It felt a lot—musically and sonically—like going back to my roots. I grew up with my dad being in punk bands, and I haven’t got to explore rock elements in production before. I was really into it when making the album, so it was great therapy for me.

Your music is pop music with rock influences, which has become very popular again. What’s the key to success for pop-rock in 2022?

People connect a lot to hearing real acoustic instruments. For a while in pop music, whether it was a good or bad thing, we didn’t have a lot of live instruments. Someway or somehow, people started to pick up guitars again and record those as the main part of the track. As songwriters, we’re mostly writing over guitar anyways, even if it doesn’t end up in the actual song. It feels rawer. Coming out of COVID, it’s kind of what people are craving. They want to feel like they’re in the room with the artist, so it’s cool to strip it all back and throw in some real instruments.

How do you reflect these influences in the visual part of your project?

I naturally gravitate towards specific color pallets with reds, black, and white. That makes my life so much easier for a photo shoot because I’m just like: “Here are the colors. Let’s go.” Gwen Stefani has always been a massive inspiration to me growing up when she was in No Doubt. I always wanted to be her, and she’s so fucking cool. Whenever I’m styling or figuring out outfits, I always want ‘90s Gwen Stefani and early ‘00s. Just the whole energy of chicks during that time was so raw and super IDGAF. They wore whatever they wanted and were so empowered. I try to bring that into what I’m doing now. It’s fun because I’m still figuring out my style and think I’ll always do that.

Is the person you are now very different from the person you were, for example, two years ago?

I hope so. It’s funny to start out young in a job; I was eighteen and graduated high school, and to look back on some of the music I dropped … It’s so embarrassing, but it’s part of the growing process. Also, my outfits or how I wore my hair … like, “Girl, what the fuck were you doing?” But it’s nice because I have my whole catalog of music to narrate my life. When I’m old, I can listen to the songs and remind myself how I was feeling when I was eighteen.

This new generation of artists has new tools to promote music, like, for example, TikTok. How is it to use TikTok to promote music?

It’s a trip. I’ve been talking to my other friends who are artists too, and we were all agreeing that we don’t know what the fuck we’re doing. TikTok is a thing now, and the way of marketing songs now has been flipped on its head. It’s completely different now, and it’s so freeing, in a sense. The music industry and what songs are becoming hits … it’s not being run by old white guys in an A&R office anymore. It’s literally run by the people on TikTok you connect with, and that’s what’s so cool about it all. It’s a free focus group once you post a new song because people will let you know if they like your song or not. It eliminated the middlemen to put out music; you can get in touch with fans and literally see what they want from you.

UPSAHL with FLETCHER backstage in Brussels

“Drugs” became a massive hit on TikTok. How was it to see that the song took off and went viral?

It was definitely weird because I dropped “Drugs” four years ago when I first went to LA. It was on my birthday, actually—during COVID—and people kept sending me links to TikTok. Some famous people started using it, and I didn’t understand what was going on. It kind of became viral overnight, which is a bit how it goes on TikTok. For me, it’s been shocking. “Drugs” was always my baby because when it hadn’t even reached a million streams, I felt like the song is special and always said that people would get it one day. It was cool to see people catch on and feel the same way about the song as I do.

ENFNTS TERRIBLES stands for everyone that is unapologetically themselves and dares to stand out in a crowd. Would you consider yourself an ‘ENFNTS TERRIBLES’?

I didn’t know what it meant; I love that. I 100% identify as an ‘ENFNTS TERRIBLES’. Weirdly, I take comfort with being uncomfortable, which is something a lot of artists relate to. Being the outcast in situations is what makes me excited about life. So I do feel like an ‘ENFNTS TERRIBLES’, and I absolutely love that name.

You’ve been teasing a new song called “Monica Lewinsky”, which is out today. What can you tell us about the song?

We’re all so heavily influenced by pop culture, so without much thinking about it, I write about it in some songs somehow. “Monica Lewinsky”, which is out today, is just the pop culture song for me. When my friend Johnny and I were writing this track, we just loved Monica Lewinsky. She’s such a badass. The media put her through the wringer, and she came out on the other side like this amazing symbol for women and feminity. One day, we were drunk—not even in the session—and came up with “Wanna make history, like Monica Lewinsky” and wrote the song the day after.

It’s a fun song about bad bitches throughout the nineties and the early zeroes. I feel like that was such a weird time to be a woman. Now, everybody is freer, and I walk out on stage with my tits out without anyone giving a fuck. During that time, women were dragged for doing that or for expressing any sort of emotion. “Monica Lewinsky” celebrates that freedom and is an ode to Britney, Lindsay, Monica, Miley, etc. The women who’ve paved the way and had to go through a lot of shit to create this safer space we have now.

We’re almost halfway through 2022. What are you planning for the upcoming months?

Touring Europe has always been a massive goal of mine, so the fact that I’m even here every day and wake up in different cities every day is so cool. I’m going to put out an EP in Fall that I’ve been working on. Further, we’re doing a headline tour in the States, and we’re announcing a European tour soon. This year will be busy with a lot of new music coming out and putting out my album. I’m a completely different person, and I’m super hyped.

UPSAHL’s album ‘Lady Jesus‘ is out now on all platform, just like her new single “Monica Lewinsky“. 

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