Stephen Sanchez is infatuated with love — but he’s not interested in approaching it from a 21st century lens. “I think it’s a lost art to tell somebody that you’d pull the moon down for them,” he tells Billboard. Growing up listening to ’50s and ’60s records on vinyl in Northern California, he has always been drawn to an old-school charm within his own music. The inspiration ultimately led to his breakthrough hit, “Until I Found You,” which became his first Billboard Hot 100 hit and has remained on the chart for months.
Penned in May 2021, just six months after moving to Nashville, Sanchez felt there was something special about the heartfelt song straight away — and another six months after its release that September, it debuted on the all-genre songs chart at No. 100. Since, it has spent 23 weeks on the list, reaching a No. 38 high this October, and continues to climb elsewhere, hitting a new No. 3 peak on Billboard‘s Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart dated Dec. 17.
Despite being more than a year old at this point, the timeless-sounding pop hit has experienced one resurgence after the next, be it through an Em Beihold version of the track that arrived this April, on TikTok or radio airplay. But even as the song still reaches new listeners, the 20-year-old isn’t slowing his output: in August, he released EP Easy On My Eyes; in November, “Missing You,” with Ashe, arrived; and in 2023, he’ll kick off the year with a new single, followed by his first headline tour and then a debut record that’ll come in the summer.
Below, Sanchez reflects on “Until I Found You,” teases an impending sonic shift in his music, discusses why he wants to “flirt with the audience” during his live shows and more.
Where did the inspiration for “Until I Found You” come from?
I was in a serious relationship at the time. There was a lot of back-and-forth toward the beginning because I was super fearful of it, and I pushed her away because of that. We had established a very solid friendship before then, and it isolated us from even having that. I moved to Nashville months later, we reconnected and I took her out on a date. The song is just reflecting that time: When I was without her friendship and loving, it was so hard. I just remember how shallow that time felt in my life. [When] I wrote the song, we were very much in love, and it made that moment of our lives more beautiful.
[With regard to its sonic inspiration], I grew up on ’50s music. My grandpa has this amazing property in San Jose, California, and there are two barns on either side and the house sat right in the middle. It’s on top of this hill, and you can oversee all of San Jose. In the mornings, they would make me breakfast, and then they would tell me to go out in the barn and pick through vinyl. My grandpa is 85 years old at this point, so the only records he has are records from the ‘50s and ‘60s. I would pick through vinyl and just get inspired. Even now, I still do that every time I go up there.
Was there a specific moment that you knew you had a hit on your hands?
I don’t think I ever thought that a song of mine would do this well and throw me in the position to be in the shoes of my heroes. However, on the other side of that, I think the moment when I felt like I had something that was really special … I was making very poor financial decisions when I realized it. I went to Carter Vintage [Guitars] in Nashville, and I bought this old Rickenbacker and old amp, and I wrote the song on that — I [already] had the first part, and then I finished the rest of it on that. That’s what gave it that ‘50s and ‘60s sound. I was playing around with other ‘50s covers — like Paul Anka and The Penguins — and then that song popped out. It felt like it was pulling from my roots in a very huge way.
How much tinkering was there between your initial vision and the finished product?
I think the main thing I couldn’t get over [was] how much reverb was being used. There are small, petty things that I always get caught up on within every song we’ve ever released, and I feel like that’ll be true to me for the rest of my life. It took a day or two to record the whole song and get it done, and then Georgia, whom the song is about, came in and sang on the song. It made it even more special — it’s a very amazing immortalized moment in life right there.
You’ve mentioned the song’s old-school charm. Was creating that more of a concerted effort or a happy coincidence given what you were listening to at the time?
I think it was just a happy coincidence. I really just love that music so much. As far as artistry goes, I think I’ve always fallen into the category where I feel extraordinarily safe picking up a guitar and hiding behind that and adept lyricism and all that stuff. That music makes life fun. It makes love fun. It makes it really emotional. I think it’s a lost art to tell somebody that you’d pull the moon down for them. For that to fall out in such a natural way, that feels very special, and this year, I’m chasing that — but also not trying to force it at all.
It definitely takes a specific tact to write a song that adequately captures all of the emotions that get wrapped into love.
Yeah, I think artists need to flirt with their lyrics more. Your audience at a show is essentially someone that you’re trying to win over. They’re the muse, and you’re flirting with them for an hour, trying to convince them to go out on a date with you. And the same way with a song, right? We should be flirting with our lyricism. We should be slow-dancing with it. We should be taking it out to dinner — metaphorically, of course. But just enticing it into this deep romance within ourselves, that way we’re not losing sight of true artistry. I think that it’s easy to jump on TikTok and sing a song for 30 seconds. But where’s the flirting? That’s a one-night stand. Where’s the meat of it?
Is there a standout experience from the song’s success that really resonates with you?
We played [Late Night with] Seth Meyers and my manager was there. My best friends were there with me. We showed up that day, and I almost threw up because I was so nervous. We got out there, and he was saying my name and we sang the song. And then we jumped on a plane and flew right back to Nashville and made it in time [to watch the performance on TV]. All of my friends were in my little 500 square foot apartment, and they were all crammed in my living room. We were all just cheering and screaming at, like, 12 a.m. It was so beautiful.
What about the song lends itself to being such a long-lasting hit?
Gosh, I just feel like it just won’t stop. (Laughs.) Every time there’ll be a time where it simmers down, I’m like, “Cool. That was a great run. Let’s release some more great music.” And then it’ll just pick right back up, and I get texts like, “It’s going off again!” I’m like, “Why? Why is it going off again?” The only comparison that I can give is that I have this old car, and sometimes it’ll start right up, and it’ll be amazing. And then sometimes, I’ll park it back in the garage, and the next day, it won’t start at all. I’m like, “Okay, cool. Maybe tomorrow!” It’s the same with this: it’s very exciting. It’s a beautiful thing, and I’m really glad that it was this song, honestly. If it could’ve been any of [my songs], I love that it’s this one because it is very much my roots. I just love that it’s under Mercury Records, which was an old-school label, and they released old-school music, and this is an old-school song. That’s just so cool.
How has the process of creating and releasing music been impacted by having a label behind you?
It has just given me this immense state of peace. I think that Mercury is an amazing label because it’s run by people that I have real relationships with and that truly believe in me. It’s also an extension to a label [Republic Records] that believes in me. They put their entire being into artists’ projects and it just opens up this space that feels very safe and welcoming to an artist. As far as Mercury and Republic goes, they care about maintaining the integrity of their artists’ music. I truly believe I wouldn’t be able to do that with anyone else.
As you were putting together your debut EP, Easy On My Eyes, were there any core messages or concepts about you as an artist that you wanted to get across to listeners?
Sonically, I wanted it to feel very close. It felt very tender and sensitive within the singing and how we mixed it, but [there’s] also a little bit of lightheartedness in the sense that, when love feels very joyful, you feel that. I did want to feel that differentiating, rollercoaster vibe of sonics and thematics going on, but the whole thing is about love, of course — its beauty, its downfall and its kind of weird in-betweens. That’s a consistent human experience. Whatever your perception is of the circumstance you’re living in, whether it be love or lust, I want this record to feel accessible.
You recently announced your first headline tour, which will kick off in early 2023. What can we expect for that?
Having strangers that I don’t know come out and pay money for these shows … to play in front of them is going to be so exhilarating. I’m excited to dance. I used to go to concerts when I was younger, and the consistent thing I would imagine was feeling the music from the audience, but imagining that I was moving to it on stage. To get to do that for real now is so exciting. I want to make it so that there’s a dance with the audience that’s happening, in the same way that I was saying earlier with the songwriting. Bring them into a feeling. That’s the goal: have fun and flirt with the audience as much as I can.
Is there anything else we should be on the lookout for?
Man, we got a brand new bag coming. It’s going to be really great. We’re releasing a debut record, and it’s going to come out in the summer, and I don’t want to spoil much about it. But we have a new single coming out in January. I don’t want to spoil that, either, but it’s going to be an entire sound change. The whole thing has taken a flip. We’re not doing singer-songwriter, acoustic stuff anymore. We’re hanging up the guitar and swapping it out for a mic.