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Stephen Sanchez: Rebel With a Cause

His song “Until I Found You” launched him to superstardom. But he was headed there anyway

According to the late astronomer Carl Sagan, “we are all made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” Science tells us that a star’s formation is a messy, complex process that, to us, appears perfect and bright. But it involves heat and pressure, and some stars even leave behind other heavenly bodies, which, to the naked eye, add a dusting of mystique to a night sky.

This also explains Stephen Sanchez, who, at just 21, could easily be classified as a supernova. 

For as harshly critical as today’s media-minded audience can be, if they love something—or someone—they really love it, the kind of love that knows no bounds. This might help explain some of Stephen’s story, or, rather, his first sensational hit single, “Until I Found You,” off his debut EP, Easy on My Eyes, released in September 2021, two months before Sanchez turned 19. The fact that it peaked at No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 seems peripheral compared to the song’s undeniable emblazonment on the hearts of all who heard it. And we all heard it. Aside from the original version there was the sped-up version, the instrumental, the multitude of covers, and even Sanchez’s duet with singer Em Beihold. Thanks to social media, the song was and still is quite literally everywhere, often an accompaniment to videos showcasing the more heartwarming side of humanity. Included on the tracklist of his 2023 studio album Angel Face, “Until I Found You” eventually hit No. 1 on the Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart on March 18, 2023—a full year and a half after its initial release.

Photo Credit: Connor Petersen

The song, and the man behind it, are an undeniable phenomenon. Armchair analysis illuminates their success as a unique reflection of its audience. “Until I Found You” found us at a time of uncertainty and upheaval, over a year after the COVID lockdown and caught in a seemingly perpetual loop of new virus strains and threats to our human existence, its ‘50s/early-‘60s sound offering the innocence and escapism associated with a promising post-war, it’s-all-gonna-be-okay-now lullaby. On stage Sanchez embodies the rakish, brooding crooner, costumed in carefully curated retro tuxedos and mid-century silhouettes, his strong, dark, and handsome profile completed by a slick pompadour. There’s an unapologetic sweetness to the song—all of his songs—but like his tattoos, they add a welcomed edge to the ultimate product he’s selling: true romance. 

On stage Sanchez embodies the rakish, brooding crooner, costumed in carefully curated retro tuxedos and mid-century silhouettes, his strong, dark, and handsome profile completed by a slick pompadour.

It’s mid-May and almost officially springtime in the U.S., but for the last two months Stephen Sanchez has been 14 hours ahead, down under in Sydney, Australia. That means he was in Australia for the end-of-April release of Angel Face (Club Deluxe), a follow-up to 2023’s Angel Face, his first full-length LP. Along with the Em Beihold duet version of “Until I Found You,” Angel Face (Club Deluxe) includes five new tracks, each more stargazey than the next. At the end of the month he headed back to America to play his home state’s Bottlerock Napa Valley on May 26, then his current home base of New York City’s Governors Ball Music Festival on June 9. His U.S. tour officially launches on August 1 at the Ohio State Fair, with dates running through the end of October. 

Photo Credit: Connor Petersen
Photo Credit: Connor Petersen
Photo Credit: Connor Petersen
Photo Credit: Connor Petersen
Photo Credit: Connor Petersen
Photo Credit: Connor Petersen
Photo Credit: Connor Petersen
Photo Credit: Connor Petersen
Photo Credit: Connor Petersen
Photo Credit: Connor Petersen
Photo Credit: Connor Petersen
“Fans are great. They’re really sweet. The true ones are, for sure.”
Stephen Sanchez

But for now, he’s enjoying the last of his stint in the Land of Oz with his Australian girlfriend: “It feels safe. It’s beautiful. People are awesome here.” In these off hours, there’s little semblance to the cool character he depicts on stage and in song. Today, he sports a boyish ball cap covering his dark locks; a simple, striped button-down, and flashes a warm, wide smile generously and often. There appears to be no affect, no “interview persona” created for the “real” version of Stephen Sanchez, which is a relief. Despite only being halfway through his 21st year, he is sharp and thoughtful, mature and confident. And honest, too. Straight off he reveals that the last few years have been “a lot,” as one can only imagine, referring to his success as “good stuff on paper,” which for him translates as “tiring and exhausting.” He is delicately revealing something about his life here, without an ounce of self-pity or complaint: “It’s a very appealing on-paper gig.” 

He says he refuses to pretend it’s something it’s not, adding that performing live is “a tremendous gift…the fact that anyone would show up is a tremendous gift.” 

“Holy cow” is his response, when asked if people recognize him on the street, out of costume, assuring me that he’s only had good experiences, no one “weird or rude or anything like that.” Then he adds: “Fans are great. They’re really sweet. The true ones are, for sure.”

“For you, there’s nowhere to hide,” I say.

“Except in Australia,” he says.

Photo Credit: Connor Petersen
Photo Credit: Connor Petersen
“It still doesn’t feel like life,” he says. “If I ever see a picture of my face on a billboard or a poster, I’m just like, ‘Is that me? Is that me?’"
Stephen Sanchez

“What makes somebody a sensation?” Stephen asks me, after I openly label him as one. I awkwardly explain his own history, his signature song forever altering our cultural heartstrings, reflecting a softness to humanity in a hard world. 

Having written “Until I Found You,” his first hit achieving 3x platinum status, while only 17, you’d think it possible that he’d get enveloped by fame.

“It still doesn’t feel like life,” he says. “If I ever see a picture of my face on a billboard or a poster, I’m just like, ‘Is that me? Is that me?’ I know that’s me, but…these are two different people that people think they know…”

While many musicians have a performance persona, few are as strongly steeped in the Twin-Peaks-meets-early-Ricky-Nelson fantasy Stephen he’s created. That guy is perfectly preserved in a retro wonder world, perfectly coiffed, singing in polarizing settings, either in black and white or in front of fluorescent sunsets. “People make you whatever they want you to be,” he says. “The reality is…I’m none of those things, really.” He says that off stage, he doesn’t “feel sensational or famous or a hit-maker or a superstar.” He goes on to say that, “I thought at some point you’re supposed to feel that way, but I definitely don’t.”

“It’s a very weird thing to be praised for something you do. It’s unnatural, I think.” He really just wanted to tour and play shows, not realizing he’d be expected to “be anything.” Again, he uses the word “exhausting” when describing maintaining a persona. “It’s a unique job. I’m very grateful for it. It’s awesome. It’s just hard to…be associated with the thing when I’m off stage.

“I just don’t feel that I’m that off-stage.” 

The five new songs on Angel Face (Club Deluxe) are perfectly aligned with the Stephen Sanchez people think they know: lyrics of poetic longing, sway-worthy melodies of retro-modern love. Two of his earlier records, he explains (EPs 2021’s What Was, Not Now and 2022’s Easy on My Eyes) were designed for what he thought people wanted to hear. “I really didn’t have an identity at that time,” he says, reflecting on the two aforementioned projects he released in his late teens. It wasn’t until he wrote “Until I Found You,” and applied his “deep love for ‘50s and ‘60s music,” that he unearthed his true sound.

Photo Credit: Connor Petersen
“I thought it would be fun to write a '50s-style song because I loved the '50s. I was obsessed with the idea of being an artist back in that time and trying to be up there with the competition of the day. Then it just worked out with that song, which is crazy.”
Stephen Sanchez

But it was all an accident. “I was messing around,” he says. “I thought it would be fun to write a '50s-style song because I loved the '50s. I was obsessed with the idea of being an artist back in that time and trying to be up there with the competition of the day. Then it just worked out with that song, which is crazy. Then [2023 single] “Evangeline” was something that came shortly after that, which also came very naturally. Then that was it. Then the record sprung from there.”

He’s well aware that his style is different from many of the “pop-driven” hits out there. “I just want to make something that I really like because if I really like it, I'll be able to live with myself,” he says. “I think if I started making music that I thought other people would like, and then they stopped, I think the value of that would be destroyed forever.”

Now, at 21, he doesn’t see that ever changing. “I feel very stubborn, creatively.” 

Elvis Presley first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in September 1956: 11 years after WWII ended, three years after the end of the Korean War. And while its boppy, die-for-love sing- and dance-alongs reflected the need for innocence and escape, the ‘60s were the start of a full-blown revolution—including the sexual revolution—not to mention a continuation of international conflict. Though it seems ridiculous now, Elvis was a disruptor, with rock ‘n’ roll believed to be the catalyst for inspiring America’s youth’s bad behavior. Some might also say that a great fear of rock ‘n’ roll, the melodic mediator, was its inevitable blending of races and cultures. All of this adds up to the start of something big—big and disruptive.

Photo Credit: Connor Petersen
“I just think there’s a time when you’re growing up where you feel like you got to just shake a fist at the world and go your own way.”
Stephen Sanchez

Stephen predicts a definite change in music, because of the inevitable change in its audience, predicting a trend towards “real art and real vision and real creativity.” “Music's really great in the sense that it points an arrow, either at yourself or where you should go. I feel like [a lot of] music and the pop world isn't really doing that. It's a whole lot of fluff, but no teddy bear.”

Angel Face, he says, is “done.” He’s moving on. “This era, this style, the sound is over. It's over because it was super cool for what it was. It will always be cool because it was never expanded on. It was just like, that's cool. Moving on,” he chuckles. “I think we need more of that. We need more of that space.”

All that said, his is the only original song included in the new Beach Boys documentary, released on Disney+ in May. “Baby Blue Bathing Suit” is inspired by the Beach Boys' lighthearted ‘60s sound. It’s really just another day in the life, Stephen Sanchez style, an opportunity that came about when John Stamos brought Beach Boy Mike Love to a show. “I think it’s cool that I get to be a part of their story, their history, to a small degree. It really feels like a renaissance in a way.” Stephen says.

Photo Credit: Connor Petersen



With full reverence to his life thus far, he’s brimming with ideas about new projects, approaching “albums like movies…each album has characters and a story and all different, but under the same director.” 

I couldn’t let him go without asking about the tattoos on his hands, perfect black hearts etched between his fingers’ front knuckles. He explained that he got them as soon as he could, a week after he turned 18. “I felt very rebellious at the time because I think I didn’t feel very understood. I just went out and got a tremendous amount of tattoos, and that was great.

“I just think there’s a time when you’re growing up where you feel like you got to just shake a fist at the world and go your own way. I think that was my moment of like…’I’m just going to get a bunch of tattoos and find different outlets to express myself.’ I think that was ‘I’m just going to rebel.’”

And a beautiful rebellion it is. The fist he’s shaking at the world carries the symbol of love.