With a dusty baritone as bright as an eternally lit jukebox and tattooed fingers around the fretboard of a rare guitar, Stephen Sanchez tunes into longing and love with the acuity of a tried-and-tested troubadour—yet he’s only 19-years-old.
Transcending eras, he writes the kind of songs that can play just as well from your parent’s vintage record player as they could from the main stages of festivals a la Bonnaroo. However, that’s the magic of his sound, and it’s why he’s tallied hundreds of millions of streams, wowed late-night television, and found his way into the hearts of countless fans worldwide. It’s also front-and-center on his 2022 EP, Easy On My Eyes [Mercury Records/Republic Records].
“Love is a scary thing, man,” he observes. “On the EP, there are a lot of themes about being afraid of love, but also trusting love. That’s the underlying theme of the project. Love can be wonderful, yet it’s awful. It’s never perfect, even though it’s something we all strive for. There’s a balance in the music. For me, all of the pain humanizes love in a big way.”
He possesses an understanding of emotion that belies his age and reflects his tastes. The Northern California native absorbed endless inspiration from his grandparents’ old vinyl, spinning Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, The Platters, and The Ink Spots over and over again. As the story goes, he initially stirred up early buzz with his very first upload “Lady By The Sea,” going viral on social media and establishing rapport with audiences. Not long after, his original breakout “Until I Found You” properly introduced a spirited signature style. Anchored by a dreamy croon and breezy guitar wrapped in silky harmonies, it tallied over 235 million Spotify streams between the original, piano version, and duet with gold-certified pop singer and songwriter Em Beihold. Meanwhile, it cracked the Billboard Hot 100 chart as his monthly listenership on Spotify exploded to the tune of 16 million. He also recently delivered jaw-dropping renditions of “Until I Found You” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Late Night with Seth Meyers.
As the song took off, life twisted and turned for Stephen. Beyond relationship ups and downs, he suffered from muscle dysphonia, losing the use of his voice temporarily.
“It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through,” he admits. “I was sick, and I couldn’t even sing for a few months. I was so discouraged. My mental health declined. Since I was also fresh out of a breakup, it was hell for five months.”
In between, he personally penned each and every track for Easy On My Eyes. Regaining his vocals, he once again recorded with Ian Fitchuk [Kacey Musgraves, James Bay] and Konrad Snyder [Madi Diaz, Rainbow Kitten Surprise] in Nashville, TN. Impressively, Stephen cut everything in one-take performances—a decidedly old school approach befitting of the music.
“You’re capturing three minutes of emotion,” he goes on. “It allows me to really tap into it and give my heart and head a chance to remember to feel. I’m more mindful of how I sing the notes. It brought a lot of character out of the takes. I’m going to continue to record like that, because it feels too good.”
The single “See The Light” pairs his lithe delivery with rustic acoustic guitar as a luminous refrain practically levitates over handclaps.
“When you’re in a season of singleness, it’s very easy to get lonely,” he says. “So, you entertain shallow relationships, because you want to feel great quickly. ‘See The Light’ is about a hookup scenario where you accidentally fall in love with the other person. You realize, ‘Oh, I actually want a real relationship, because you remind me of what somebody else used to feel like’.”
Through lilting intonation on “Hey Girl,” he doesn’t hold back as he sings, “Hey girl with your head in the clouds, I want to love you.” The song itself details, “meeting somebody for the first time and really knowing you like them, what you want from them, and where your intentions lie,” as he puts it.
Guitar upholds “Mountain Peaks” where he faces the anxiety of a new romance. “You see all of these things about another person, and you’re afraid to fall in love,” he elaborates. “It taps into the fear in relationships.”
Elsewhere, the lush “Easy On My Eyes” doubles as what he calls, “a prayer or a plea to God or the universe to not show me all of these beautiful moments because I’ll never get to experience what they feel like again.”
“Please Don’t Go Home Yet” grasps the memory of a fleeting moment of elation as it slips back into the ether as softly as the strains of his voice over understated strings.
“I tried to pursue this girl, but she wasn’t ready for a relationship,” he recalls. “She agreed to have dinner with me one evening. We ended up kissing and had a great night. I knew it would be over in a moment, and I’d never get to do it again though. The song is about really wanting to hold on to love.”
He initially generated enthusiasm for “Because of You” on social media, and it serves as a full circle piece for the EP.
“It really shows hope for a new chapter in life,” he notes. “At the same time, it taps into the idea of meeting somebody sometimes who makes you feel more like yourself.”
Like any troubadour worth his salt, Stephen won’t tell you how to think at the end of the day, but he will undoubtedly make you feel.
“I hope you feel whatever you need to,” he affirms. “I went through a lot to get here, and I’m just telling you the story. That’s all.”