Full of alluring nostalgic melodies and tender contemporary lyricism.
by Katie Dennis Photographer: Luke Rogers Publishing date: Mar, 01, 2023
Stephen Sanchez is one of those artists who seemingly blew up overnight and attained the much-sought-after virality, namely on TikTok with his smash hit “Until I Found You”. In June 2020 during the peak pandemic panic, most of us were in our baking era and learning TikTok dances. Sanchez, on the other hand, used this time to record and publish a steady stream of content on the platform, allowing him to grow a steady fanbase and soon-after score a record deal. Flash forward almost 3 years, and Sanchez has millions of fans, almost a billion streams on his music, and a massive tour broken up into two parts.
At just 20 years old, his music struck a chord with millions of fans around the world. I caught up with him over the phone ahead of his Canadian dates and it immediately struck me how humble he was, “thanks so much for wanting to talk to me and for listening to my music! I really appreciate it”. When I asked him what he was most looking forward to for his upcoming Canadian dates, he laughs and says, “the Canadians! I’ve never been to Canada but I’ve always wanted to go. Everyone there seems so nice and wonderful. They’re probably just normal humans but in my brain, I think of Canadians as the sweetest, kindest people on Earth”. Here’s to hoping we don’t disappoint you, Stephen!
As he beings to talk about his tour, his enthusiasm is palpable through the phone, expressing his love of life on the road. “I really love the tour life. I didn’t think I would because the van is the bumpiest thing I’ve ever been on but it’s been really fun,” he shares, “even hitting my head in the middle of the night because we ran into a pothole is still [a] good moment”. For Stephen, being on the road has proven the impact he has had on his fans, a topic that makes him emotional. “[The fact that] it means so much to millions of people—it’s indescribable. Actually, the fact that I can even say that sentence blows my mind. I don’t feel I’m that important ever, and so I’m so grateful that that song [“Until I Found You”] has done what it has,” he admits modestly, “someone at the show last night in New York actually proposed during “Until I Found You”, which meant the world to me.”
In that particular song, Stephen reflects on a former relationship of his, however, its meaning extends far beyond and has become the soundtrack to countless couples’ love stories. “It’s unreal. I was on a radio station the other day I got super emotional just talking about it. That song was only ever supposed to be about one person, and it only mattered to me that it meant something to her. I never expected this, but it’s not my song anymore—it’s theirs,” he tells me.
Although he writes songs about his experiences in modern love, he draws musical influence from the 1950s and 1960s. Sonically unique than most new releases nowadays, he embodies a nostalgic sound with a contemporary feel. It’s admittedly less common for someone of his age to be so well-versed in artists from that era, which he credits to his grandparents having a huge part in that by allowing him to listen to their vinyl collection when he visited them as a kid, “they’d make me breakfast and then send me outside to the barn where they kept all of their vinyl, that consisted of Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Jimmy Durante, and The Platters—all of these super influential, amazing artists that have influenced everything that I’ve done”.
As he talks about the influence these musicians have had on him both professionally and personally, he draws the connection as to why he labels himself as a hopeless romantic who feels deeply, “I love people in a really dramatic way. It’s a very poetic type of love. That era was caked with so many problems and when people would sing about the turmoil that they’d lived [through] and experienced. Back then, music was sometimes all people had to survive so their words really mattered. I would hope that music is still a way of survival, and for me, it definitely feels that way with the love songs that I write”.
More recently, Sanchez has been experimenting with writing about fictional characters, like his newest song “Evangeline”. His new record sees him creating narratives and characters and jumps back and forth between the dichotomy of different years and types of love. “On the one hand, there’s the side that is romantic, beautiful, and passionate and the other side of it is very sexy, seductive, and alluring. The melting through concrete kind of thing,” he explains, “we equated those two types of love to dates. The one that’s super loving is 1958 and the one that’s super sexy is 1964 and the whole record goes back and forth between those dates.”
Besides working on his next record and touring, Stephen has also had several massive performances, including The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. He described that experience as “just wow”. Doing live performances of that magnitude is still a novelty for Sanchez—a feeling that he’s able to share with his band, “it’s our first time doing any of this stuff and everyone is experiencing the same “holy shit” moment. And [Fallon] is such a nice guy and I’m a big fan so I was so nervous. It meant so much to me that we got to do that”.
After achieving countless milestones in an accelerated time, he had gotten the opportunity to perform in front of his label, Universal Music, and Sir Elton John. When I asked how he felt going into that moment, he admits, “it actually made it easier performing knowing that he was there. The night before, I got to have dinner with him and we were singing all of these songs to each other—Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, that kind of stuff. I sang to him and Universal the next day, and he had written me this handwritten letter before and it was absolutely amazing. It’s a crazy feeling knowing that the hero of all heroes is acknowledging my music. There’s a boost in confidence that comes with that, but also a vomit-inducing fear at the same time”.
For Sanchez, 2023 is gearing up to be a year of firsts and milestones. Fans can look forward to more shows, live performances and of course, his new record that will be out this summer.