When Chris Sanchez promotes one of his frequent gigs on his social media pages, he’ll likely do one of two things: update his status with a lyric from a favorite songwriter, for instance Kris Kristofferson or Tom Waits, or enhance the gig details with a picture of Mazie, his almost 11-year-old bluetick/St. Bernard mix. “I found her in a Walmart parking lot in West Virginia,” he says. “There was a guy that had a sign that read ‘dogs – $12.’ I just wanted to know the reason for this particular asking price. Mazie jumped in my lap, I had exactly $12 in my pocket, and we’ve been together ever since.”
Catching up with Sanchez isn’t the easiest task. He’s always somewhere, doing something, and most of it revolves around music … or beaches … or music and beaches. A flurry of emails and direct messages later, here’s his story.
The obvious, glaring first question: What is a singer/songwriter/guitarist from Texas doing in North Carolina? Isn’t Texas the hotbed for what you do?
The songwriters and musicians that I admired were kind of vagabonds, or at least seemed to be. Life experience and travel seemed to be the most fun way to gather songs. I had romantic visions of Robert Johnson jumping trains and Bob Dylan hanging out with painters, writers, and pretty girls that wore gloves and smoked cigarettes through long cigarette holders — kind of the “Hemingway in Paris” sort of thing — so I traveled around wherever the rhythms took me. North Carolina just happened. It was certainly not a straight shot. I came here by way of Padre Island, New York, and the Cayman Islands, with a lot of stops before, after, and in-between them all. You think I should go back to Texas?
Most musicians looking to make a move would have gone directly to Nashville. Was that something you considered?
For a long time, going to Nashville seemed like trying to open a taco stand in Mexico. I did some recording in Nashville several years ago, but I didn’t really stick around to make any friends. I still consider Nashville. I was there a couple months back and the whole damn town was closed! I don’t really blame them, though. I don’t like cold weather either.
Your music moves seamlessly from one genre to the next, or to a blend of genres within the individual songs. Has that made it more difficult to book gigs because club owners can’t label you as “this” or “that,” or has it made it easier because club owners see you as an artist who appeals to diverse audiences?
Thank you. Yes. Not being absolutely identifiable makes explaining what I do difficult. I am not interested in being all things to all people, but there is a pretty diverse appeal. It is certainly not on purpose. It would be much easier to be a “blues player” or a “country guy.” I have found that people coming to the shows and enjoying the music is what defines the genres. The crowd will explain what they are hearing. Sometimes I ask them to describe what they just heard. It’s kind of fun to do that. It’s like they want to get the answer right. I also like to persuade their requests. I give a free CD to the first person to yell, “Play a train song.” I typically announce this sometime during the first set. I get confused looks, then someone inevitably does it, and they are always a little confused and delighted when I toss them the disc. But I digress.
Let’s back up. Which appealed to you first, songwriting or playing guitar, and when did you discover both?
Guitar playing appealed to me first because it seemed more masculine than singing. It just looked cool and girls seemed to like it. Any guitar player that tells you that he started playing for the love of music or some other lofty, fancy idea is lying. We do it for the chicks — at least in the beginning. Later, we mature and play for acceptance, attention, and there was always alcohol. Funny thing about booze: club owners like to pay us in booze and then get mad when we get drunk. I never really understood that.
What steps did you take to hone your talents during the early stages of your career? Did you focus more on writing and practicing? Did you gig locally in order to work on your performances?
I started writing songs early on because I am lazy. I would start learning a cool song and often come to a part that I couldn’t figure out, but I had some chords that worked together. I would take those chords, change the order, and tell you about how bad I felt after “she” kicked my sorry ass to the curb. I have never practiced much. Practice isn’t as fun as playing. I’m sure I would be much better if I had, but who wants to sit around and run arpeggios for hours when there are fish that need immediate attention? I have always gigged as much as possible and I almost never say no. I am fortunate like that. I keep a very busy show schedule. I suppose I’m getting better. I hope I am! “Almost never” — that doesn’t really make sense, does it?
At what point did you begin to understand the craft of songwriting?
Oh man! I wish I understood songwriting! I have examined songs that I have never tired of, and the common denominator is great lyrics. I have looked at song forms and found why things work, and learned some things here and there, but a true understanding of songs and songwriting eludes me. For instance, I have read that it is typically best to use the chorus form after a bridge in a song, then I hear “El Camino” by Amos Lee and the song doesn’t really have a chorus. It has two bridges, and after each one (both bridges have different forms) he goes to the verse form. So there ya go. By the way, “form” just means the order and time of the chords.
From Texas you moved to the Cayman Islands, where you lived for three years. What led you there, and how did that complete change of scenery and lifestyle influence your music?
I moved to Cayman because it looked fun — and it was and still is! Actually, my lifestyle didn’t change all that much. My lifestyle is just more accepted down there. I don’t know how I was influenced, because I don’t know what I am like without the influence. I think we gravitate toward what is natural, and if we don’t, we have a low level of anxiousness and irritability. I have been told that my stuff has a “beach” vibe, but I bet it would with or without Cayman. I still spend a lot of time and have some of my closest friends there.
Before settling down in North Carolina, you continued to travel. How did time on the road help you as a songwriter and performer?
Please don’t say “settle down.” That unnerves me. Time traveling and playing bring perspective for me. I realize how lucky I am doing what I am doing. I have had hard jobs, and being a musician is not hard. Guys on roofs and out to sea have hard jobs. Security is an illusion anyway. When I consider the ridiculousness of what I do, and appreciate it for what it is, I seem to have a better connection with the audience. I don’t know if the performance sounds better, but it certainly feels better.
You released an album, Kinetic Sunshine, in 2011, and an EP, Guilty, last year. How was Guilty the next step forward from your album?
I don’t know if anything is really a step forward. I like to think the writing is evolving and the sound is happening. I was told that the purpose of work, no matter what a person does, is to learn. I am doing my best to learn as I go and to let go of outcomes and let things be what they are. Oh, and it would be cool if “The Devil’s Brother” was the theme song on Shark Week.
Why the decision to invest in the expense of physical CDs in addition to digital releases?
I really like the art, and the cost has gotten quite a bit cheaper for really good production. It gives people at shows something to look at, and I see NO MONEY from streaming. I call CDs coasters that play music, and people still like buying physical stuff. If I was U2 I would plant my stuff on your personal devices. No, I wouldn’t. That would be fascist.
My next release will be digital and vinyl. I think that people who still enjoy album art will buy albums. That’s what I do. Besides, nothing sounds better than records.
It’s often said that the true test of a good song is whether it can be stripped down to a voice and an acoustic guitar. You often perform solo. Do you agree that those settings are a good litmus test for songwriting?
Yeah. A great song can be stripped down as long as you don’t lose the elements that make the tune what it is. In fact, a great song can be performed in any genre. I recently heard some hillbilly cats doing “Thunderstruck,” and it was bad-ass. Who doesn’t love “Gin and Juice”? The Gourds tore that up!
How long has your band been together?
The band lineup is in constant flux, but the current lineup has been pretty steady for the past two years or so. Steve Saldutte has been with me forever on bass. John Spurrier is the primary drummer, with James Brock filling in from time to time. James has played with us off and on for years. I am also fortunate to have Eric Lovell playing guitar and Jason Atkins on piano and organ.
These guys are my buddies. We all rotate and play with other people all around the scene, but we seem to gravitate and float around together and none of these guys take anything too seriously. That makes them alright with me.
You dedicate yourself to promoting your music online, sharing and streaming it on music websites, and utilizing numerous social media platforms. As important as these outlets have become for independent artists, how do you create a balance to work social media without it becoming a full-time job and taking time away from your craft?
Social media and online promotion is important, and it’s tough to find a balance in getting people interested and not hounding them. Social media itself is constantly evolving, and focusing recourses is always a guessing game. Honestly, I play on Facebook like everybody else. I hate to admit it, but I do. If I didn’t horse around as much as I do, it wouldn’t take near as much time. Now, booking and organizing shows — there is a time-suck. However, those are both really good problems to have.
While so many artists find themselves without gigs, or without venues in which to perform, you have steady work. What has been the key to consistent bookings and return engagements?
For me, keeping a busy schedule is greatly due to answering the phone, and hopefully, at least in part, it’s because people enjoy what I do. I swear on my life, the less I worry about things, the better they get. When there is no worry and I’m having fun, I don’t take myself or any of this very seriously, and bookings and opportunities come. I do put the work in with emails, calls, etc., but I try to think about it more like a game.
For listeners just discovering your music, whether via CD, radio, or attending a show, what would you like them to know, and what do you hope they take away from the listening experience?
For listeners, I guess I hope that the songs are relatable and connect and the tunes take the listener somewhere. At shows, the audience is as much a part of the performance as the musician. The music is just a catalyst or a medium for connection.
Are you already in the planning stages for your next release?
I am always planning stuff! The songs are written for the next release and I’ve been trying them out at shows. It’s going to be called The Ballad of Cho Cho Tumbleweed. It is primarily rowdy folk/blues. There will be more storytelling, and I am limiting the breakup songs to one! Well, maybe two.
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Main work guitars
Gretsch Electromatic – flat, black, and sexy
Late 90’s Fender Stratocaster – parts and pieces from graveyard Strats
Peavey Semi Hollow Body
Boss Stage Tuner
Nano LPB-1 Power Booster
Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer
MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay
Boss TR-2 Tremolo
Fender Hot Rod Deluxe
Two Fender Vibro-Champs – small rooms and recording
Martin 000X Concert Grand
Guild Jumbo 2000
Fishman Aura D.I.