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  • Vasili Papathanasopoulos


MAY 2024

Photographs by Vasili Papathanasopoulos.

Styling by Victoria Knowles.

When I first met Stephen Sanchez, exactly twelve months ago in the reception area of Universal Music Australia’s offices, Until I Found You was still charting across the world and he had yet to reveal his debut album to the world. Now, Sanchez has become a household name. Angel Face found it’s way on to the Billboard 200 and ARIA charts, he’s toured extensively across the world and has just wrapped a run of seven sold-out shows across Australia. We meet again, a fortnight after the photoshoot for his MILKY cover to reflect on the tour and the past twelve defining months of his career.

“I did not realise that it was seven shows in only nine days,” he tells me after I ask how he feels having wrapped up his biggest Australian tour to date. “It was really exciting for us, because you know, Australia is quite literally like the furthest place [laughs] from everywhere. The fact that people so far away heard this music and fell in love with this music and wanted to come and see it live, is a really exciting thing and something that I definitely don't take for granted.” His appreciative tone echoes the sentiments he displayed at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney, where he shared with the crowd his love of live music and how surreal it was to be the person on stage sharing his own compositions. Across the seventy minute performance, Sanchez brought the world created on Angel Face to life. Transporting audience members back to the fifties, the stage presents itself as a set taken straight from The Ed Sullivan Show - he’s even created a fifties inspired talk show to fit into the world of the album, dubbed The Connie Co Show. Sanchez and his band mates, Harrison Finks, Brooks Gengenbach, Jesse Houle, Watson Maack and Connor Petersen, put on a masterclass in rock and roll. From their magnetic stage presence, to their fine musicianship skills; a Stephen Sanchez live show has it all. 

Suit, Wynn Hamlyn. Jewels, Bulgari and Millie Savage.

Throughout his Australian tour, riotous crowds packed into some of the countries most prestigious venues for the live experience. Their electric energy feeds into Sanchez’s own experience as a performer, “you walk out there and you're going in knowing I'm gonna give them my all. But you can't expect the same from the crowd. There's not really a guarantee that they're gonna give you exactly what you're looking for back. It's a really amazing thing though to connect with the crowd when you're both on the same page with what's going on… I think no matter what, everybody connects with a certain part of the show, which is awesome that we've gotten to see that.” He likens performing on stage to blacking out, sharing “I'm out there, and then it happened, and then I'm off stage. I'm like, 'oh man. I feel like I didn't like really sit in that as much as I could have.' Which I feel like is a lot of artists’ problem because how do you receive that much energy from that many people in an hour? That's like a lot.” Playing through fan favourites such as High, Evangeline and Be More, he introduced songs from the freshly released deluxe edition such as Howling at Wolves, Fame or Fortune and Emotional Vacation

“I think now that the Deluxe is out and we've told the story, I think these songs just feel like an extension to what I spent so much time and so much heart working on."

The new tracks featured on Angel Face (Club Deluxe) trace back before writing sessions for the album began, with Sanchez citing Fame or Fortune as a catalyst for the albums sentiments. “It was written like pre-Angel Face everything. It really set kind of the stage for just the sentiment, I think. And then it also set the stage for like the next project, which I didn't realise until after the project was done, which is exciting. Some of these were just songs that were just sitting there that we'd written.” Across the album, the musician took a conceptual approach - crafting a world for the collection of songs and characters to bring his compositions to life (most notably protagonists The Troubadour and Evangeline). However, this new set of songs he leaves open to the listeners to piece them into the story. “I think now that the Deluxe is out and we've told the story, I think these songs just feel like an extension to what I spent so much time and so much heart working on. It just feels like a good, 'okay, here are the last few. This is it.' They don't really tie into the story, but they do match the sentiment of it. Because a lot of folks are asking like, 'oh, how does this tie into the story and all that?' It doesn't really have to, but the sentiment's the same. You can tie them in where you see fit, which is exciting because it kind of leaves it for the fans to do whatever they like with them.” He goes on to analyse each song and attributes them to one of the albums central characters. Fame Or Fortune is the sentiment of the Troubadour wanting to leave the fame and fortune behind to be with Evangeline, Howling at Wolves is the revenge song for Evangeline after Hunter killed The Troubadour and so on. 

Cardigan, Zegna. Pants, Zegna. Jewels, Bulgari and Millie Savage.

The conceptual approach to Angel Face revealed itself throughout its creation. “It's funny I had the general like idea for The Troubadour and Evangeline and The Moon Crests and stuff. But it all started to unfold as songs were being written. Like the first song we wrote was Be More. I think that kind of set the stage for the sentiment of the longing and this craving from this crooner, you know, The Troubadour. We had Evangeline and Until I Found You from then, and so I was like, 'how can we make this into a story?’” To start, Sanchez began building the lore of Angel Face, and with the music video for Until I Found You, the scene was set. The 6x ARIA Platinum Until I Found You serves as a record that The Troubadour Sanchez and the Moon Crests performed on The Connie Co Show in 1958, establishing a time period for the album to exist within. “I wanted everything to have a time and place for which it existed… and everything exists between 1958 and 1964. So there's like a start and an ending, and there's nothing further.” Still establishing his career at the time, he shares his label were wary of taking such a daring approach. After all, fifties and sixties sonics aren’t at the forefront of contemporary music - the current decades charts have been ruled by pop music, with the occasional deviation into alternative, hip-hop and country genres. By building this aesthetic that traverses the music and visuals, he was able to introduce listeners to the sounds and stylings of the era. “I think I just wanted it to be really digestible in that way because I think that it is very daring, especially like not that I'm not known as an artist, but there's still people discovering the music and it was really important to me that if anyone were to discover this record for the first time, I wanted them to be able to get it.” He continues, “I think it's been really successful in that way just in achieving the storytelling, which has been really exciting. It was definitely really important to me to convey it in the simplest and yet most in depth way that I could. So that anybody, you know your grandmother could understand it [laughs].” Whilst the album takes its inspiration from the scene over sixty years ago, its themes of love, lust and longing provide a universal relatability that transcends time and history - brilliantly proved by the viral status of Until I Found You.

Sanchez notes that not all musical paths followed hold the genuine appreciation for the craft. Whilst social media catapulted him to stardom, he’s aware that the formula for online success can often go through a rinse and repeat cycle. “I think that sometimes labels may put pressure on new artists to create something similar than to create something that they believe in, which is interesting. I feel like that's kind of the direction that music's gone. I feel like there's some artists that are making art out of their own desire to create something different, and it's really interesting to just be on the outside looking in. There are some new artists that are really just like, I feel like they're writing and creating something that just feels like it could be popular.” He admits with his first two EP’s, What Was, Not Now and Easy on My Eyes, he felt he was heading down a similar path - hoping audiences would respond to his music. I think that's kind of how it was for a while where I was just kind of putting music out, really wanting people to like it. And then Until I Found You, it was written and then people just decided they liked it all of a sudden…  But I still had that same mentality, like, 'oh, I really hope people like this record, I really hope they like these songs.’” It wasn’t until he began working on Angel Face that he found more solid ground. He took influence from The Ink Spots and Marty Robbins. “The Ink Spots would tell a story in the middle of the song. it would be some narrator in the middle of this track kind of talking about this broken heart. Or like Marty Robbins who wrote songs like El Paso and him talking about the spaghetti western story about Felina and this gunslinger that fall in love then he gets killed. I just started to fall in love with the idea of telling a story, but doing it for me because I thought it was cool. I really had a deep respect for that music, have a deep respect and it kind of became that all of a sudden… then it just turned into something that kind of felt so out of my control - which I think is a testament to the fact that when you make music that you believe in and don't really care too much for what people are going to think about it.”

Suit, Giorgio Armani. Sneakers, Song For The Mute x Adidas. Jewels, Millie Savage.

“It's very rock and roll to invest in the counterculture."

Whilst tunes from the fifties and sixties can find their way into any music lovers playlists, Sanchez has brought the genre back into the spotlight. His music has entered the mainstream through play-listing, radio plays, appearing on talk shows and the boom of social media. With this, he is a disrupter within the contemporary landscape. “It's very rock and roll to invest in the counterculture. Which I feel like that's what this record is. Fifties and sixties music is not a thing now. Like, it's not in present culture. I think it's something that feels like a personal thing for folks to fall in love with. But it's cool because people who've never fallen in love with that music, I feel like are finding it for the first time.” You just have to browse through the comments on MILKY’s 2023 interview with Sanchez to see his point is proven. Listeners from all ages have landed upon his music, which has prompted them to explore the genre for themselves. That is how music is kept alive, and how artists are immortalised. 

Taking point from the eras greats (he cites Roy Orbison and Elvis throughout our time spent chatting), Sanchez was able to create his own authentic presence within the genre. Angel Face and its aesthetic is his own interpretation of what he would represent had he been an artist writing, releasing and promoting music at the time. He questioned himself, 'what if I was an artist back in the fifties in competition with Roy Orbison, and with Elvis, and with Buddy Holly, and Ritchie Valens, what would I want my vibe to be?’ From there he devised the world of The Troubadour, bringing vivid characters to life through effortless yet intricate storytelling lyricism. The songs visuals capture the albums epic love story, and that bleeds into the live show. “If you've seen the show… you know it's very energetic and sporadic and lots of baton shirts and cowboy shirts and slicked back hair and loafers. So I think there's definitely a tremendous amount of influence, even just in the sounds and stuff like, you know, that definitely influences what you wear,” he notes of how his sonics influence his stylings. “You know, you don't make like a fifties country album then go out in like a T-shirt, you know? [Laughs].”

Jacket, Michael Lo Sordo. Pants, Michael Lo Sordo. Shoes, Jimmy Choo. Jewels, Bulgari and Millie Savage.

In the past twelve months since his first visit, Sanchez has racked up his fair share of time spent in Australia. His recent tour marks his second run of shows down under, having performed in intimate venues across the east coast in the second half of 2023. I ask him what he thinks has fuelled his connection with Australia, he replies in a fairly good Australian accent, “It was those bloody kangaroos.” He laughs before adding, “I think just everything. Just everything. There's nothing that I could [pinpoint], it's just everything. Everything. That's the answer. Everything.” He arrived on our shores shortly before starting the tour, spending some downtime with friends and family. When Finks, Gengenbach, Houle, Maack and Petersen arrived, Sanchez took them for a surf lesson in Sydney. “We all went surfing at Manly Beach and I'd been surfing several times and this was their first day and they were standing up finally at the end of the three hour session. It was really special, really special. So I would say that's probably my fondest for sure.” He likens the crowds in Sydney and Brisbane to performing in Salt Lake City, which he describes as “our most insane crowd when we tour the States…  I could move one way or like put a guitar pick up my mouth and they're just like losing their minds. Which feels like a lot of power for one dude.” That in itself harks back to the age of Elvis and Little Richard, who controlled and captivated the crowd with just one movement.

"... as an artist and what's really important to me is that I never try and replicate something for the sake of maybe having it be successful again.”

With the release of Angel Face (Club Deluxe), Sanchez ushered in the beginning of the end of an era. Following a North American tour that will end this October, the musician will farewell his debut album cycle and set his sights on his next project. “I definitely have an idea in the works that's really exciting. It's definitely not gonna be fifties and sixties. I think that Angel Face in that era is going to be forever cool, because I never tried to recreate it. I want that, you know, as an artist and what's really important to me is that I never try and replicate something for the sake of maybe having it be successful again.” His plans to move on from the sonics that made him a star is refreshing, pushing himself creatively to explore new threads of sound. Sanchez acknowledges the ebbs and flows of artistic pursuit, recognising that “there's great success and there's great failures.” He shares his next body of work is likely to take a conceptual approach once again with the creation of characters. However this time around, he’s striving to look more inwards and be even more personal with his devoted audience. “I really want to tell what feels like my story, but also the story of this new world. I just want it to be very honest and connecting in a different way that I feel like things haven't really been before.” Whilst he plans to move on from the sonics of Angel Face, he does admit he would like to one day record an EP full of Roy Orbison covers before opening the next book. 

Shirt, Michael Lo Sordo. Trousers, Michael Lo Sordo. Shoes, Jimmy Choo. Jewels, Millie Savage.

We part with one final sentiment on what the future holds, “I think that I'm, I'm excited for this next chapter because I still feel the sentiment of wanting to tell stories and wanting to carry this. I really believe in this music and I don't really care if people like it or not. I hope they find a way to allow it to be a part of their lives, you know? But that's also out of my control. It's really out of our control hey? I never really know if anyone's gonna like something so why worry too much about it."


Makeup Artist: Kristen Zinghini

Videographer: Blake Lauricella

Assistants: Nelson Clyde and Jazmin Pezzano.

Angel Face (Club Deluxe) is out now!


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