For centuries people have argued over the origin of musical talent. Theories are thrown around: Maybe music is an ability passed down through genetics, or maybe it’s a skill that can be learned through hard work and determination. It’s an intriguing question because there is no definitive answer, but after speaking to singer/songwriter UPSAHL, a good case could be made for musical talent being learned through osmosis.
“I grew up in a very musical household,” UPSAHL says. “My dad was playing in bands all through when I was growing up, he was super involved in the Phoenix punk scene. I would be, like, four years old, waking up to go have some cereal and there’d be this band crashing on my living room floor. So I’d have breakfast with all these punk rocker dudes and after seeing the culture and the music I was like, ‘I need to be a part of this.’ I was singing and putting on shows, like, before I could talk.”
That was that. UPSAHL would spend all of her free time in her family’s music room, picking up instruments and figuring out how to play them. Music was always around her and it became the only thing she ever wanted to do. “My parents will tell you,” UPSAHL says with a laugh, “[music] was the only thing I was good at.”
The singer has come a long way since those performances for her family and whichever random punk band happened to be touring through Phoenix at the time. Even though she released an album while still in high school—titled “Unfamiliar,” it was the inspiration for one of her tattoos—it wasn’t until UPSAHL made the move to Los Angeles that her career really took off.
Most recently, she released a song called “People I Don’t Like,” documenting one of the most L.A. experiences of all—going to parties during Grammy Week. “Basically, you bounce around to all these different music industry parties,” UPSAHL says, “and you meet the same people every night, but you reintroduce yourself. It’s the most fake thing in the world. I was coming from one of the parties and I was pretty drunk, and I was ranting about it. We all go to the same thing, no one wants to be there, and everyone’s so fake to each other.
“So we wrote a song about it,” UPSAHL continues. “What I think is funny about the song is that it seems like it’s hating on all these people, but I’m all these people. It’s like a self-hate song at the same time.”
There is more than a little irony in the timing of the song’s release—right in the middle of a global pandemic. UPSAHL worried that it may seem rude to be putting out a song about parties at a time when most of the country is on lockdown, but along with her band, she found a fun way to debut the track. They put together a live stream, and while it wasn’t the same as actually being able to play a show in front of fans, it was still a blast. “I haven’t been able to play with my band since the end of 2019, so this was the perfect excuse,” UPSAHL says. “It felt like a release party… by myself. But it was still the most fun we’ve had in a while.”
On her 18th birthday UPSAHL chose to mark the occasion with her very first tattoo. The tattoo, an eighth rest, is on her wrist to serve as a reminder to slow herself down, to take a breath.
That first tattoo ignited a passion for UPSAHL. She’s turned the birthday tattoo into an annual tradition, marking each year with a new piece. She’s even gone as far as to dabble in creating some stick-and-poke tattoos with her friends, usually after a couple of drinks. To put it delicately, her technique could use a little practice.
“The first stick-and-poke I ever did was on my friend, it’s a smiley face and it’s so bad,” UPSAHL laughs. “Then me and my friend did a stick-and-poke on my ankle that says, ‘Power.’ I was wasted, I have no clue why. But it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon, so I just have to own it. It looks horrible, but it was a fun night and it’ll remind me of that night.”
Many of her tattoos have come about spontaneously, but there is one she’s been thinking about for years. Ever since her song “Drugs” took off, UPSAHL has considered getting “Drugs” tattooed on the inside of her lip. She’s yet to pull the trigger on it, but the thought is firmly implanted into her mind.
“Maybe I’ll just tattoo it myself,” she says with a laugh. “Maybe that’s a good idea. Could you imagine? Looking in the mirror, pulling out my lip, tattoo gun in hand… nah.”
Sometimes it’s best to use a little patience. It won’t be too much longer before UPSAHL will be able to get back on the road, spending her nights playing songs to crowds of people singing the words right back to her. And then, once it’s safe to get her lip tattooed again, she can make that lip ink her next birthday tattoo.
Be sure to grab "Young Life Crisis," the new EP from UPSAHL, when it drops on October 30. You can check out the video for her new single, "MoneyOnMyMind" down below.