Stephen Sanchez – singer, songwriter and guitarist – is gearing up for the release of his debut album ‘Angel Face’ when Clash tracks him down to a hotel in East London. The new release is a concept album spinning the tale of ‘The Troubadour Sanchez’, a successful musician in the 1950s who falls in love with a mob boss’s girlfriend, Evangeline.
‘Angel Face’ follows a whirlwind ride for Stephen Sanchez this summer, notching up a TikTok viral track, playing at Lionel Ritchie’s daughter’s wedding, and joining Elton John on stage at Glastonbury. Out now, his new album cements this rise – chatting amiably to Clash, he free-flows about releasing an album after his hit single ‘Until I Found You’, the pressure it creates, and the goal of expanding his artistry across a whole album. Probing further, we also discussed which songs were harder to write, and locating the balance between honouring the artists you are inspired by and maintaining your own sound.
How are you finding London so far?
I’m finding it very British, full of crisps, full of chips… It’s great!
How do you find the London music scene?
I think British rap is cool. Yeah, I think it’s kind of sick. There’s a lot of really sweet artistry happening out of the UK for sure, artists like Dylan. I love Dylan we got to meet over in Australia when we were doing an international showcase for the Aussie team, and it was just awesome or… gosh, Olivia Dean is great. I love Olivia Dean, shout out to Olivia Dean! We got to meet at Glasto and it was awesome.
There is a lot of Nashville-like, 50s and 60s influence in your music. I know you’ve spoken about being inspired by Elvis and Roy Orbison. How do you balance having obvious references to the artist you like versus not wanting to sound too much like a cover artist?
Gosh, I think it’s definitely safe to say Roy Orbison and Elvis are absolutely tremendous artists, they’re timeless. I am never gonna try and be like Elvis or Roy Orbison and with this new record. Yes, there’s a character and he’s the Troubadour Sanchez and he wears his hair slicked up and he wears suits. Um, but it’s Troubadour Sanchez and he’s moving like the Troubadour and he’s singing like the Troubadour. But there are a lot of sounds and a lot of playfulness on this record that wouldn’t have happened without them.
The album is coming soon, in three weeks, how are you feeling? Nervous? Excited?
Honestly, it feels like time went by pretty quickly. I’m really excited, it’s a really huge deal for me. I think it’s a huge deal for music too. I don’t think there are a lot of artists signed to major labels that are writing concept records that are also in a 50s/ 60s style. I play it for friends and people I trust, I just sent it to Elton John to listen to, and they’ve all been loving it and that’s been really great.
Did you have to stand your ground to do something in this genre? A lot of times when people do something country or old school rock and roll, they feel the pressure to try and make it more pop, to make it agree more with the mainstream.
My team at Mercury and Republic, they’ve only ever been receptive to what I believe is the best thing and as far as creating this record, the single ‘Until I Found You’ had a massive, massive launch and success, so when it came to making that style of record, it just kind of came very naturally. And when I pitched the idea to create a whole album like this, it was received very well. When it was pitched to make it conceptual, that was received with some, ‘How are we going to do this?’ and ‘What does that look like?’ and I didn’t really have an answer for that initially because this record has been so special because it has presented itself very organically and naturally.
Talking about how you’ve had a lot of success. Just do you think that’s put more pressure? You’ve had such a viral song. Do you feel more comfortable that you’ve got this?
There’s a love for that song deeply rooted in our culture now, which is amazing. But as far as creating real fans, that has been something that has kind of been pressure-filled because we’re going to do these tours and now, we’re releasing a record and we’re trying to gain a widespread of fans across a multitude of songs. So, there’s been pressure there I guess just to feel like we’re building fans outside of that song. But I believe in this music, and I think this music is great.
I was going to ask, which is scarier performing at Glastonbury or Sofia Ritchie’s wedding?
Oh my god, I mean there’s more pressure just because it’s someone’s personal life, especially performing during her walking down the aisle. Don’t want to trip her up, don’t want to mess it up. And then I sang her first dance song with her dad and I’m just like, man, I want to be the best that I can for them. Honestly at Glastonbury, I cried all morning, but as soon as I got on that stage, it was just, I just felt fearless.
I guess if anything goes wrong, Glastonbury can just blame it on being rock ‘n’ roll. It was meant to happen, it’s messier.
Yeah, I mean I was just so present. I’ve never been more present for anything in my life other than that moment career-wise, you couldn’t even touch me. I was off the ground, it was amazing.
Which track on the album are you most excited about?
Hmm… it changes a lot. I think I’m most excited for ‘No One Knows’ right now because we did that song with Laufey and I got to write it with the lead singer of my favourite band ever and one of my favourite writers ever, Ben Schneider of Lord Huron. So, to have Laufey, who’s creating 50s-style jazz music and Ben Schneider, it’s so exciting. And I think people are going to love that song so much because it’s very collaborative. It’s Laufey, it’s Stephen Sanchez, and it’s Lord Huron if they created a musical baby, it’s awesome.
Was there a particular song you had more difficulty with? Either writing or recording it, trying to work out what you wanted it to sound like, even if it would make it on the record? The trouble child.
The trouble child was ‘Doesn’t Do Me Any Good’, I was cursing at that song when we were recording it. Recording can be incredibly intense and like feels very intimidating. This record was vocally a triumph for me, it was very new for me and it’s some of my best vocals. With that, the best requires a lot of pining over and digging sometimes. That song in particular was a massive struggle. It was the same with ‘Evangeline’, I was singing with more grit and with a more Otis Redding, James Brown kind of growl. Even ‘Doesn’t Do Me Any Good’ has got the super high, you know, Marvin Gaye kind of thing going. I’ve never done that before and it was very exciting very frustrating, I loved every second of it.
You said you want this album to feel kind of like a soundtrack for people’s great loves. What is your goal for this album personally? What kind of artist do you want to establish yourself as?
The boys and I in the band, we don’t feel like famous rock stars or anything. We all just love music so much and we love our girls back home. We want to go home to them after we’re done playing the show. Faith is huge for us as well. It keeps us incredibly grounded while we’re out on the road. If I could do this for a while and do it really well and make a good living from it. I’ve been dreaming about having a house, I don’t know, just have my lady and you know, making dinner together. Sounds awesome.
Do you have any specific concept albums that inspired you?
Ooh, wow. I don’t know if Hamilton Leithauser claimed this at all, but there’s a record called ‘I Did Dream That You Were Mine’ and he did that record with Rostam, who is part of Vampire Weekend. I mean it’s a whole album about just being a musician and loving that but heartache in that. Also, just growing up and having to grow up quickly because you’re a musician. I love that concept, that character and that story. But also, Lord Huron has made conceptual records since day one. I’ve loved Vee D ‘Noir, which is this more dark-toned record with this like, 60s rock and roll type thing.
My last song, haha I mean question!
Please sing it for me.
[Singing like an angel] ‘Until I Found You’ went viral on TikTok, I was going through some of the videos, most are romantic couple videos, but some are strange. Which is the weirdest TikTok to your song you have found?
Someone drew ‘I Found You’ in blood with a knife on a piece of paper with that song playing. So that was good. There’s something about that time period; the occult and ghosts and shit that makes that music kind of perfect for it, because it’s a bit eerie in a way if you put it in front of the right visual thing.
The reason why I asked is I was looking through them, and I found this account that makes like a bunch of, like, just different potato recipes, but it’s always with your song.
That’s awesome. I love potatoes. I love a hashbrown.
‘Angel Face’ is out now.
Words: Amelie Grice
Main Photo: Caity Krone
Inset Photo: Luke Rogers