Released today on Arista Records, UPSAHL’s Lady Jesus is an incredibly bright debut from one of pop’s best newcomers. At only 22 years old, UPSAHL has written hits like Dua Lipa’s “Good in Bed” and Madison Beer’s “BOYSHIT” — so, to be clear, she knows her way around a good hook. Over the course of its ten songs, Lady Jesus takes listeners on a journey that begins as a standard breakup record and slowly evolves into something much greater; it’s a grand rumination on self-discovery that’s equal parts moving and super fun to listen to. The record veers wildly between sounds akin to pop titans Julia Michaels and Charlotte Larence to a more chaotic energy that reflects UPSAHL’s punk upbringing in Phoenix, Arizona. “Notorious” crackles with electric, M.I.A.-esque bounce, while “Time of My Life” pensively reflects the highs and lows of life over a thumping bassline that seems designed to dominate the radio waves. This record feels like it was constructed in a lab to work its way into your head, with its pop maximalism showing off the young songwriter’s incredible talent and ability to create something both engaging and entertaining. With a fall tour lined up supporting Olivia O’Brien in support of Lady Jesus, we spoke to UPSAHL about the record and how it came to be; in conversation, she’s delightfully engaging, like a firecracker with unbridled enthusiasm about what she’s creating. Check out the transcript of our chat below, and stream Lady Jesus here on whatever streaming service you desire:
Melodic Mag: How’s it going? You’re a week out from releasing your debut record — what are you feeling?
UPSAHL: I’m feeling a lot of things. I guess like, I’ve never been this nervous about a release — and I think it’s a mixture of me, you know, putting out my first album and worrying that people aren’t going to fuck with it, but it’s also because this album and writing process has been so deeply personal. The record is just deep — it’s super autobiographical and tells the story of my past year, and it’s weird to, like, give that away to other people. But it’s a good kind of nervous; I’m anxious, but I’m also ready for it to be out there.
It is incredibly autobiographical — there are fuckboys and bad dates all over this record! Do the folks on this record know that they’ve been written about?
Yes, they do. It’s funny, because I started making the album Summer of 2020, and I thought I was going to make a full breakup album; I thought that this album was going to be the story of that, and then as I grew out of it and kind of healed, it turned into Lady Jesus which is more about this feeling of renewal, healing and learning to be myself again. It definitely starts as a breakup album, but it’s more about my growth as a human and a sort of rebirth that I had to find when I was on my own. That being said — my ex 100% knows it’s about him. I mean, if you’re going to break up with a songwriter, what do you expect?
It’s fair game!
Taylor Swift is the immediate example that comes to my head of listeners giving her a hard time for writing about exes, but like, come on — you’ve got to know what you’re getting into there.
Totally. It’s not my problem! If you fuck me over, it’s done. Don’t give me shit to write about!
There’s a lot of genre-hopping on this album, which I LOVE to hear on a pop record; I hear traces of Elton John on “Melatonin”, M.I.A. on “Notorious”, and so much more all across the album. What were you listening to when you were putting these songs together that came through on the album’s overall sound?
That means the WORLD that you hear M.I.A, because I feel like when we were recording “Notorious” I was constantly saying “we need to channel M.I.A.” (laughs)
So much of it actually came from my punk rock background. My dad came up playing in punk bands in Phoenix, so that was some of my first exposure to music in general; you know, waking up every morning and finding a new touring band sleeping on your couch was a rad way to learn about music. So there’s the live bass and live guitar that comes through, but also slammed up against pop music that I love. There’s shit like OutKast, or M.I.A, or Nirvana. And I mean, “Melatonin” — that “Elton John” piano was actually inspired by “Clair de Lune”! So we really just pulled from a lot of what I loved and grew up on. Wherever we found inspiration, we just kind of rolled with it. It’s fun because a lot of these songs started with me and my friends in the studio just listening to music we were fucking with and saying “I want to sound like this.”
You brought up something interesting regarding your dad playing in punk bands; you’re my age, and it’s always fun chatting with folks in our generation about how they were introduced to music. At what point did you decide “I love this” and made it something you wanted to pursue?
I don’t think there was ever like “a moment” — I think it’s just something I’ve always wanted to do. You know, with Dad being in bands, we didn’t have a living room; we had a band room with guitars, basses, and a drum set. When you’re surrounded by so much music, it’s impossible not to dive in and fall in love with it. I was also just infatuated with the punk scene and the fun it created — waking up and hanging out with touring bands when I was twelve years old was just eye-opening. I was obsessed; I wanted to tour and crash on people’s floors. Since then, I’ve just wanted to be a part of that scene.
One thing I didn’t realize about your career was just how much you’ve written for other people — you’ve got Dua Lipa, Madison Beer, and so many others on your resume and you’re only twenty-two years old! Is there a difference in your process when you’re writing for yourself versus writing for other artists?
I didn’t really know that I could write for other people until I was in a session a few years ago writing a song called “Good in Bed” that I really liked. And you know, we finished the session and the song went into a Dropbox folder just to sort of sit as songs do, and then I randomly got the news that Dua Lipa heard it, loved it, and wanted to cut it and put it on her album. I was just like “…that’s Dua Lipa. I’ll believe it when I see it.” And it ended up happening! That kicked the door open to work for and write for other artists, and I’m really grateful for that. It’s really cool when you’re writing for other people to let go of your personal ego and just write what’s good for the song instead of writing for yourself, and now I have a nice little balance between writing for myself and writing for other people. Future Nostalgia is such an iconic record, and it’s really an honor to be a part of it that way.
If you had to pick a favorite song on the record, what would it be? I’d love to hear about how that song came together.
Oh man, that’s tough because it changes every day! In preparing for the livestream, I just fell in love with each one. “Melatonin”, “Sunny D”, and “Notorious” were all written within 36 hours — my friends and I were just writing like crazy and it’s so rare to get one half-decent song in one day, and three great ones just popped out of nowhere in a short amount of time. I remember with “Sunny D” we were thinking that no one at the label would let us put that on the record because it’s so weird — we were just spending all of our time listening to the demo and watching, like, Tokyo Drift videos to get the vibe right. I think that ‘s probably the one for me.
Lady Jesus is one of my favorite album titles of the year; it’s a pretty loaded phrase that stands to create some controversy. Do you feel as if your album has an overarching message that we haven’t talked about yet?
The play on Lady Jesus is definitely going to piss some religious people off. I’ve chalked it up to this idea that as a society, we put so much power and trust in religion and in these higher powers, and we rely on that to take care of us in times of need. And I found that when I needed help the most, I had to put power into myself to get better and heal from a very tough situation — I think this album is about finding that savior figure in yourself and putting that power and trust in yourself. When I started making the record, I had put so much of myself into this one dude, and this album is the journey of me finding myself and really learning who I was.
I love that reconstruction of the religious narrative; like, you’re flipping the script and trying to get people to put faith and trust in themselves. I’m not religious myself, but I think that a lot of folks need to hear that.
Yeah, I grew up in the church and my Grandma hit me up and was like “Taylor what the FUCK” about the album title (laughs). And I’m not trying to hate on anyone’s beliefs or religion or whatever! I just want you to take that love and give it to yourself.
What can we expect from the tour with Olivia O’Brien?
I think this is the most rocking and raging live set I’ve ever put together, so anyone that’s coming to the show: be ready to go the fuck off.