Stephen is many things - a singer, a poet, a teenage heartthrob. But above all, he’s a romantic. The Nashville-based artist is buzzing with a disarmingly nervous energy as we chat before his show in London. It has been a chaotic day for the young performer; a delayed flight into the UK, broken guitar chords and an afternoon spent cavorting in grassy Hackney Marshes before Rebecka Slatter’s lens. Still, he exudes excitement as we discuss his music, the conversation reflecting the raw honesty and unfiltered emotions that are characteristic of his languid love ballads.
Stephen is a performer. His classically American charm manifests itself in a mesmerising onstage persona complete with fluid movements, hip thrusts, strikingly unruly curls, and carefree knowing smiles to the audience that seem to hide personal connections and inside jokes. The vintage-steeped aesthetic would feel carefully constructed if it weren’t for his sincerity and the fact that the young poet wears his heart on his sleeve. Despite having found undeniable fame across social media, Stephen emphasises that he’s not in it for the viral moments. “I'm just a kid who really loves music.” His candid lyrics and catchy melodies straddle the line between belonging on a cherished vinyl and trending online. And now, despite a plethora of adoring fans, numerous viral tracks, and tours across the UK and USA, Stephen is still grounded in humility and gratitude.
His old-world Americana tinged with modernity is emphasised by stylist Abena Ofei, whose leather jackets and easy suits sans shirts paired with classic Chuck Taylors lend a breezy air to the singer’s animated shots. Sanchez’s dreamy demeanour may play a part in his popularity but an insight into his poetry and his signature notes of nostalgia reveal it’s the warmth of sentiment nestled in his personality that has catapulted the singer to success.
Jump into Stephen's world with his new EP 'Easy On My Eyes'. Out now.
All of your tracks are grounded in poetics. If Stephen Sanchez were a poem, what would the first line be?
I think probably the most dramatic thing would be “beautifully distracted” which could be, I guess, another way of looking at love. I’m always beautifully distracted by something.
Music has always been an important part of your life. What drew you to music?
I grew up seeing 50s and 60s music. And there was always this view on love that I grew up with personally that was so different from what those writers were writing and singing about. That was something that I just fell in love with because it was something that was super foreign to me. Listening to that music really made me a romantic and made me appreciate love. But it also sparked this fire to express how I feel about another person, situation or circumstance. I feel like I could talk circles around all the things that have happened in my life, but it has been the easiest for me to express that within three minutes.
Would you consider yourself a romantic?
Yeah, for sure.
How hard is it being a romantic when everyone around you is mostly just cynical?
Everyone is a little cynical. I think it's hard because some people don't know how to receive that kind of love.
Talking about the music you grew up with, has there ever been a concert that truly moved your soul?
I think one that impressed me more than anything was Bonobo who I just saw in Nashville, Tennessee, which is where I'm from. It was an unreal experience. He makes music that is so different from what I make and so there's a deep appreciation for his expression and how he kind of rips his heart out of his chest and shows everybody who he is. It was super inspiring and really beautiful. There were songs that I grew up listening to by him that I never thought I’d hear live and it took me back to those moments in life before I started song-writing, where I would listen to other artists to try and express how I was feeling. It was unreal and wonderful.
Apart from music what else gives you pure joy?
I honestly really like grabbing breakfast with people. There’s just something about food and talking and I think you can bring out the good stuff in people over breakfast because I feel like people are more awake in the morning and you can kind of catch them off guard - get to who they really are right away.
Who's the best person you had breakfast with?
Probably my friend Watson who's in the band.
You grew up in California, but then you moved to Nashville where you found a musical community. Do you think the places around you have influenced your music?
I think so, to some degree at least. Universally, amongst artists there’s this phenomenon where they'll see and hear how another artist presents themselves in a different way and how they express themselves lyrically and melodically. So wherever you go, you kind of get inspired by that and then pick up whatever they're doing. I definitely think that there's been a lot of inspiration within Nashville. Even with my new record that’s coming out in August, Easy On My Eyes, it's filled with Americana full key anthems. That's very different from what my first EP was, and so that feels really exciting and good.
You’re undeniably a social media sensation. Do you think social media fame helped develop your career in a way?
I think so. I mean, I definitely wouldn’t credit TikTok or Instagram reels entirely to the success of my career but I think it's a massive help for when you have music that no one's listened to, and you can present that for free to the world and people get to decide whether or not they like it. That’s a really exciting thing. But sometimes songs that end up doing really great in other ways, don't do great on TikTok which is crazy. But I would say it is definitely a help when it decides to help.
Do you ever worry about being pigeonholed as a 30-second TikTok or Instagram reel singer?
Oh, not at all. I think I make real music for real people. And I think it's hopefully translating in a way that sets me apart from TikTok. I never grew my artistry through that. And so, for me, I feel like it's more or less an advertising situation. I wouldn't say that people would associate me with being a TikTok artist at all which feels good.
Do you feel that social media fame has ever impacted your soul or your musical process?
No, I don't think so. I think it's just a great way to advertise those emotions that are already there. If you're trying to look for an emotion within the app, that might translate weird, but if you have the emotions that you've sat with and you're feeling all of that and just singing the truth, then that dulls down the stigma of whether you lose out on emotions when posting music on social media.
What would you say is the hardest part of your job?
Probably that I never want to feel like I'm any more than the person that I am deep down. I'm just a kid who really loves music. I never want to feel like I’m any more than who I am. It’s hard when you’re perceived as more than that when people say “Oh, you’re Stephen Sanchez!”, which is cool but I’m Stephen Sanchez the human too. It gets tough with imposter syndrome because all that stuff has happened really quick and it can feel very anxiety inducing. Sometimes I feel like I’m being presented and seen in a particular way, but I don’t necessarily feel that way internally which is a hard struggle.
How do you cope with impostor syndrome?
It’s about making a persona onstage, mainly in the way that I move not necessarily the way that I talk because I feel like I present myself exactly the way that I am offstage. But when I’m moving onstage and focusing on how the music moves in me, I feel like a different person. It feels really magical, like I can float off the stage through the ceiling and that helps me to let whatever that is take control.
Since you're talking about things you like about being a musician, what's your favourite part of being a musician?
Oh, man, I think probably shaking my butt on stage. I’ve realised I also just stand on my tippy toes the whole time during shows which are so fun. I love seeing people's reactions to that.
Do you think you draw from performances of the past for your persona?
Oh, yeah definitely! I think there's a level of watching Elvis, growing up and even artists like Harry Styles who jump around on stage. There's a level of sensuality when it comes to moving with love songs and letting them move you. It's really exciting to lay out that sensual rhythm, gyrating along to the music or whatever you'd call it onstage because it gives me an outlet that I don't really get to engage in apart from that. It also lets me add a lot of feelings to my performances.
Since we’re talking about feelings, I have a confession. I may have texted my ex crying while listening to What Was, Not Now last night.
I’m sorry about that, but if my listeners cry while hearing my music, I love that. And I mean that in the best way because crying is just good sometimes.
Well, What Was, Not Now is essentially a snapshot of an entire relationship. How much of that was drawn from personal experience?
All of it. Every bit of music that has ever come out, that has ever been released and will be released is all based on real moments, real people, real stories. Kayla’s a real person, Lauren in I Want You is a real person. It's all real. And that can be a tough thing sometimes but it's all exactly how it's presented. Even the timeline of that all happened exactly as it played out where it went from being very joyful with Hold Her While You Can, exploring new relationships with Kayla, then the mental health stuff with Love Life, and then I Want You with Lauren after we broke up, and then The Pool showing the entire timeline of that from when we were very much in love and trying to figure out if we were in love.
How do these real people feel about you basing music on them?
I mean, I've never written a diss track or anything. I'm sure it's a little weird with sentimental moments because the song’s out forever. But I feel like I’ve tried to be mindful and spared intimate details on certain things just for the sake of respect. But for the most part, I feel proud of what I’ve said and I guess it kind of immortalises the moment in time. And if it was a beautiful moment, then why not?
The videos for your music are beautifully evocative. Do you consider the visuals while making the music?
Oh yeah, every time. There are so many different ways that a song can be seen by every person. So I try to be mindful of that while also focusing on what the song feels like to me. How did I envision it when I first wrote it? So, for the I Want You music video, that was running around and being blinded by the blindfold but for Until I Found You it was all about the 50s and 60s.
Coming to Easy On My Eyes, what was the process like creating your second EP?
It was a breeze actually. We did the whole thing in a week and did the mixing the next week. All the songs are so fresh. I think it was harder with the EP What Was, Not Now because the songs were done two years before a label ever showed any interest in me. So, the emotions in those songs were heavily worked through and I hadn’t thought of them in a long time so it was very weird. But with this, I’ve got some skin in the game now and it was just such a beautiful process. I was very happy making it.
Did you feel any pressure while making the second EP?
No. It felt very free and very hands-off. I just let it move in the direction where it was supposed to and that felt really good. I wasn’t trying to control everything about it and just let it exist as it is.
Where did the title come from?
It's kind of mirroring this idea that on a personal level, the songs are very intimate and it's saying that they are easy on my eyes. They're beautiful to me, these moments in the song are beautiful to me. And rather than saying the phrase easy on the eyes, it's just more personal, with easy on mine. It's also saying that I wish life would have taken it easy on me. While there are beautiful things that have happened, there were definitely moments that I wish didn’t happen. Moments that happened at the hands of heartbreak that were tough and awful and that I could have avoided if I didn’t fall in love. But there’s only one song talking about that. The rest of it is very joyful.
What is your personal favourite song on the EP?
Oh my gosh, sonically, it would have to. be Head In The Clouds and my favourite song to play in general would be See The Light.
Your songwriting has been described as diaristic and poetic. How is your music a window into your world?
It's just about saying how everything is exactly. The songs are written days after the moments have happened to me and so I’m enabling a certain level of intrusiveness into my life by presenting those experiences in my songs. It has bitten me in the butt a few times. I mean, when you write a song about your ex and it blows up like Until I Found You did, that is kind of intense.
Do you feel like you treat songwriting as a sort of personal creative therapy outlet?
It’s definitely a creative outlet for sure. Venting all these emotions and feelings in music and expressing that in a way that is beautiful helps me process the emotions.
Talking about therapy, let’s talk about feelings. What is your favourite feeling?
Oh, having a crush! The giddiness and that feeling right before you kiss somebody where you’re just going: ‘Oh my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Are they going to do it? Are they not going to do it?’.
How would you describe your sound personally?
I think it's the classic sob in the car, slow dance in the kitchen type music. I think there's a level of association with those moments and in my music. I hope that people hear that.
You’ve stated in previous interviews that Noah Kahan is one of your favourite songwriters, and you're going to be performing together. How does that feel as a fan and an artist?
It feels pretty unreal. There's been a lot of full-circle moments that have happened and that is the biggest one. I saw him in Nashville in November of this last year. I jokingly mentioned to him that he should be my first tour support. Then I met his manager and we became acquaintances, you know? Noah and I are friends now and it makes the whole thing a lot easier. He’s just someone I like and admire as a human.
What do you do when you need to unwind from everything?
This is a very honest answer but sometimes I will just leave situations. I’ll say I’m going to the bathroom and just sit on the counter in the bathroom for a little bit or something.
What about when you're relaxing at night? What do you think of just before you go to sleep?
I throw on a YouTube video and fall asleep to it. I just have Cody Ko or Noel Miller on the background and I just fall asleep to that.
Do you ever, in moments of introspection, sit back and go through all of your performances and overanalyse them?
Yeah, I think that usually happens right after a show. But I think we've gotten our bearings pretty solid now and the last few shows have been great.
How do you deal with the fan adventure?
It's a lot but it's really a gift. It's a huge thing to have people love the music that I’ve made. I would rather just have my music be famous and me not so much. I’d rather have my involvement in the music just be in the song-writing and the singing. I think there’s this culture amongst the fans where they’ve been using my songs to soundtrack their love stories which is just so beautiful and I’m so glad to be a part of that in the musical sense rather than anything I’ve personally done. I’m really grateful for that.
Have you ever had an experience where a fan has gone overboard?
Ah, no, not at all. I had a fan cry when they were hugging me, which was a really wild thing. You have so much power in those moments and you can just focus on loving another person. Being a musician has given me that opportunity and I never want to lose sight of that and I want to keep loving on people and being intentional with that. It’s just such a great feeling.
What legacy do you want to leave behind?
I think universally there's a sense of fear and losing sight of who you are as things progress and as people put labels on you and say who you are. And I think I just want to leave this legacy that I danced my ass off and I sang with my heart outside of my chest and I loved people well.
What does the future look like for you as a creative, as an artist and as a human?
Hopefully, I get to do this for a while. I’d just like to do more tours, more shows, make more music and meet more people. I’ve got Easy On My Eyes coming out in August and then the tour in the autumn with Noah Kahan. That’s it so far. I have no idea what's happening next but we'll see.