Photo: Luke Rogers

Stephen Sanchez

The exciting new troubadour of pop music talks debut album 'Angel Face,' old-school lyricism, and more

With Grammy nominations set to be announced in just over a month, one can only assume that Stephen Sanchez, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter known for his intricate and genuine homage to classic doo-wop, soul, and rock music, will be among those considered. He is, undoubtedly, everything “the industry” likes: young, hungry, traditional yet contemporary, and extremely marketable. Being a handpicked protégé of Elton John, who he shared the stage with at Glastonbury over the summer, doesn’t hurt his cause either.

If a certain Bronx-based rapper wasn’t in the picture, Sanchez would likely be one of the favorites for the Best New Artist award, while singles “Evangeline” and “Be More” are strong contenders for both Song and Record of the Year. Sanchez’s biggest hit, “Until I Found You” with Em Beihold, which surged in popularity on social media and on radio this year, is not eligible. Though certainly a bold comparison, Bruno Mars’ history with the ceremony may be indicative of what is to come with Sanchez.

Even though that time is over…” 

Sanchez’s debut full-length album, Angel Face, is out now. “It feels different this time,” he said. “The last two EP’s weren’t substantial in their launching of things. However, we played a tour, and the fans knew those songs. Songs about my personal life.” This record, a conceptual project beginning in 1958, follows the story of the fictional Troubadour Sanchez who meets the enchanting Evangeline in 1964. From that moment, despite the tumultuous ramifications of their love, their stories are intertwined till the end.

As an overall body of work, Angel Face is an old-school project fit for the era of The Beatles but will be released and performed in the era of TikTok and two-and-a-half-minute pop songs. “To make a modern record that is set in the 1960s with 50s and 60s style sounds, lyrical play, and even the dictation of the vocals and the way it is being sung is extremely exciting,” he said. “It almost feels like a ghost. Even though that time is over, the music is still living.”

Multi-generational Fans 

“I think a lot of our fans… the demographic is spread pretty wide,” he said on the breadth of his reach with listeners. “I think our generation is probably the most ‘musically adept’ generation as far as ripping through catalogs. Because of that, young people are listening to 50s and 60s style music because their parents or grandparents showed them and there is this appreciation for that music. There is a fresh love for that music. There are fans who are listening to this kind of music for the first time, and it’s exciting and fresh. And then there are fans who are a bit older… the ones who are like, ‘This brings me back to when I was dancing with my wife.’ It all starts from somewhere leading down to these young fans that have an appreciation for this music.”

Angel Face/New vs. Old

The record peaks at the midway point, with a remarkable stretch of energy and musical variation from “Until I Found You” through to “Doesn’t Do Me Any Good.” “Shake” sees Sanchez tip his hat to “Hound Dog” era Elvis while “Doesn’t Do Me Any Good” goes for Sam Cooke style tension, release, and drama: “She got me cryin’ to the LORDDDD / Screamin’ outtttt / OHHHHH, someone come and save me.” Two essential pieces of Sanchez’s existing catalog, “Fame and Fortune” and “Stay,” the latter of which has become his live performance encore of choice, are not included on the record. However, Sanchez stated that one of the tunes may appear on a later edition of the project.

A critical aspect of Angel Face are the lyrics. Songs like “Something About Her,” “I Need You Most Of All,” and “Caught In A Blue” are classic 60’s lyrical poetry. On “Something About Her”, he sings, “She was kinder to me than most girls would ever be / I’m over the moon, and I’m sad to see it end so soon.“ “It kind of gives you a blueprint of what love is, what it could be, and even parts of what it isn’t,” he said. “A lot of the songs back then were very straightforward. I remember this record by The Platters called ‘I’m Sorry.’ It’s, ‘I’m sorry for the things I’ve done / I know that I was the foolish one.’ It’s so simple. I think, universally, people can get behind something that is accessible like that feels like everyone’s story.”

While certainly a student of the classics, Sanchez cites a deep connection to and admiration for contemporary artists such as NEEDTOBREATHE and Lord Huron. “It is unfair to say that modern music isn’t relatable, because it is,” he said. “I just think the way that it’s being written is not how it used to be. It’s not this, ‘You are supreme, I’m a fool,’ or ‘I’m turning stones in your eyes to find my future,’ kind of thing. That kind of songwriting feels mystical and magical. Modern music feels very conversational. Almost like a vent, more than a poem.”

Troubadour Sanchez 

The final moments of the record see Troubadour Sanchez killed off in the aptly named, “Death Of A Troubadour.” Almost an old western-type aria, Sanchez bids farewell to his beloved character: “Oh my love, they’ve come for me / They’ve one bullet saved to gun me down / Though in the ground, my heart for you will stay.” The last track, “Seal My Heart With A Kiss,” is the Troubadour’s tender, lullaby-like confession of love for Evangeline from the grave: “I may not leave for a long time / Still I feel that my soul cries for your love… your love, your love, your love.”

“I love this ending, and I love the characters in it,” said Sanchez, who does not, at this time, see an opportunity for this concept to live on in future projects. “I feel like if there was more about these characters, I think people would appreciate this record less. I think I could explore something else, but, for right now, I’m loving writing these stories and these characters. I’m not really sure what another 50s and 60s style character looks like.”

All On The Stage 

In three weeks, Sanchez and his band, decked out in classic performance attire, will head out on tour across the US until just a few days before Christmas. During this time, the record will finally be allowed to flourish, and Troubadour Sanchez will have the chance to relive his love story every night in front of crowds representing multiple generations of fans. Meanwhile, young Stephen will embrace his creation and leave it all on the stage.