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Stephen Sanchez's album 'Angel Face' takes you back in time


Stephen Sanchez is a 20-year-old with an old soul.


STEPHEN SANCHEZ: (Singing) There must be something about her.

SIMON: On his debut album, "Angel Face," Stephen Sanchez imagines a vintage world in which a troubadour falls in love with the girlfriend of a mob boss.


SANCHEZ: (Singing) She was kinder to me than most girls would ever be. I'm over the moon.

SIMON: Stephen Sanchez joins us now from New York. How are you?

SANCHEZ: Really well. How are you?

SIMON: Fine, thank you. And tell us this story about this wonderful voice encountering Evangeline and what they see in each other.

SANCHEZ: So the Troubadour Sanchez, he's this famous crooner whose career launches in 1958 after playing on the "Connie Co Show" with his band The Moon Crests. And they skyrocketed to fame over years, and they're touring. And I mean, it's such a wild story of their, just, musical success, which then turns into this singular career, the Troubadour Sanchez, you know, because of his mighty voice that's leading the charge. Six years into his career - now it's 1964 - he lands a residency at this club called The Angel, which is owned by a club owner named Hunter. To the Troubadour's knowledge, he does not know that Hunter is a mob boss who is dating Evangeline, whom the Troubadour meets at The Angel Club when he first arrives there. And Evangeline is waiting for Hunter to arrive at The Angel Club. And so the two meet - the Troubadour and Evangeline - and their love is next to immediate. The Troubadour is tired of all the fame and the glory. Like, he wants to run from that. And for Evangeline, she doesn't want this life of crime and of fear, but she wants one of love and of gentleness.


SANCHEZ: (Singing) It must be more than I need you. More than I love you.

SIMON: Sounds like you've learned a lot about love.

SANCHEZ: I've learned more and more recently that grace is kind of the driving force that allows forgiveness and understanding. And I think this record for me is all that. It's all deep-rooted passion of longing and wanting to understand and be understood and all of its faults being seen, but, like, not shied away from but embraced.


SANCHEZ: (Singing) I couldn't have said it. You must have just read it in my eyes.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. What a voice you have. You hear people make a lot of comparisons to Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke?

SANCHEZ: There's obviously been a lot of artists, you know, before me who loved that music and have released it in their own way. And there's definitely so much to be said, you know, about them maybe sounding like Elvis or Sam Cooke. But this is my interpretation of, like, what it would be like for me if I was back in the '50s and '60s, you know, singing and how I would sing. And so I'm definitely trying to stay in a lane of my own, for sure. But it's not bad company at all to be compared in any way. It's really nice.

SIMON: I want to play a little bit about the story of your characters as reflected in this - in the song "Shake."


SANCHEZ: (Singing) Well, she was, uh, shakin' to the east, shakin' to the west. An Elvis-movin' pelvis underneath, uh, that, uh, dress. So come over, little baby, and shake it over here with me. Uh-uh-uh, oh-oh. My heart's a-beatin' like a drum, just a-lookin' for my tambourine, woo-ooh.

SIMON: What led you to create these characters and tell a story through them, whereas, understandably, so many young artists write songs and sing about - well - themselves?

SANCHEZ: I wrote previously about moments in my life and things that I'd felt, and a lot of the songs and stories I was writing in those songs about my personal life, you know, I was kind of processing that very quickly. And so I felt a bit of a disconnect when it actually came down to playing them live because it was like, wow, like I've spent all this time, you know, recording this music and writing this music and sitting in this story, and now it's, you know, six months later, and I'm actually OK. And there's definitely something to be said to reflect back on where you've been. But I think that I tend to have a hard time connecting with things that have happened in my life because you just move on. And I think for me, with this story, like, to create characters and kind of be the third person watching this story unfold, I think that I can connect with that more because it leaves more room to play and be playful. And I think with this music, it just makes it more exciting.


SANCHEZ: (Singing) ...With me.

SIMON: I don't want to reveal too much about this story, but let's just say it's ill-fated.


SANCHEZ: (Singing) Oh, my love, they've come for me. They've one bullet saved.

SIMON: What do you think we can take into our own lives from this love story?

SANCHEZ: I don't feel like a teacher just yet. I feel like a constant student all the time. So I think for me to create a record like this, you know, it definitely is not for the purpose of telling people what to do with it, but more necessarily that I think it allows, like, a vulnerable space for people to be caught in a feeling long enough to actually chase it and do something with it. And I think that that's kind of the desire for people. They feel a sense of freedom to be caught in that feeling and that chase, that pursuit that might feel hopeless or hopeful or the most peaceful thing ever. You know what I've learned in loving someone is that life gets ahold of them before you do. And the moment you meet them, they are bringing in everything that they have experienced, that they have thought, that they have felt. And it's a choice to recognize that and to choose that every single day.

SIMON: Stephen Sanchez. His new album, "Angel Face." Thank you so much for being with us.

SANCHEZ: Thank you so much for talking to me.


SANCHEZ: (Singing) I said a man rich with love... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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