Last year, singer/songwriter Angel Ascencio founded Dirty White Shoes, a Portland, Oregon-based project characterized by its distinct electronic pop rock foundation and retro visual aesthetics. To date, the band has released five singles, their latest being “One More Night,” which came out in late July.
I caught up with Ascencio, having last spoken with him back in May, prior to the release of their previous single, “Pretty Face and Tattoos.” This time, besides discussing current material, we also talked about how quarantine has affected his songwriting process, looking back on his first year with Dirty White Shoes, and the essence of familial and fan support when it comes to his pursuits of any kind.
How has everything been during quarantine?
Honestly, in the first couple of months, I felt like I had a chance to sit down and actually write songs, you know? It was a time to really focus generally, by myself, and without any outside noise. After that, it became a bit harder to accept the new world, especially with not being able to do live shows. This year, we had so many big plans for doing a lot more shows, and performing more regularly. But overall, it’s been alright.
Were you surprised how much you were able to get out musically?
Yeah, I was actually very surprised! Where I work, we quarantined for about two weeks, just as a precaution. I thought to myself, “Man, if I was doing this every day,” – like I was for those two weeks – “Who knows where I’d be right now, whether I’d still work here, switch to music full-time, or would write for others.” But even with that weird thought, I’d gotten so much more done; I felt like creativity was flowing through my blood. I admit that at times, it wasn’t all fun and dandy; you start getting tired of it. But it’s still cool to be able to recognize my potential and what I’m able to accomplish.
I saw that you have one year now with Dirty White Shoes. How do you feel?
I feel pretty good! One thing I’ve always struggled with is being able to complete things. I’ve always been a visionary, like, “Yo, I have this idea, with these plans,” and if I’m being completely transparent, I never follow through. I stop halfway through and then give up, and just say, “Well, it was worth a shot.” But my family has always been supportive of what I do, whether it’s related to music, or to clothing brands I’ve started in the past; they’re genuine about my passions. This feels different for me, because going on a year of trial and error, and changes with bandmates, it taught me to be consistent; it taught me to be true to myself; it taught me to grow up, you know? I think to myself, “If you really want this, you’re going to make it happen,” and take one day at a time. But it’s a great feeling to have done this for a year.
You mentioned previously having had big plans to expand. Do you miss playing live?
Absolutely, and I wish we could still do it. We had shows lined up, and even hired a manager to book more shows for us. We were getting ready to do more, but then the pandemic hit. I really miss having that opportunity to express how I felt when I wrote those songs, in a live setting. The cool thing is, we get a lot of good feedback on our music, like, “Hey, your new song is great. I love it. Can’t wait to see you play it live,” but hearing that, I’m like, “Ahh man, I’d give you the world if we played live again!” All I can do for the time being is keep those times in my head, and never forget them.
I saw one of your family members shared “One More Night” on Facebook. Tell me more about your family, in terms of how they’ve been supportive of all your endeavors – even the ones besides music.
Oh man, this one is huge. First things first – my mother has always been my biggest fan, from the time she was raising me and my older sisters as a single mother, to being happily married to my dad. She’s always been consistent on showing that she loves what I do, and that she’s passionate about what I’m passionate about. I remember the days when I was just learning to play guitar. I would always point out this electric guitar to her that I wanted, and she worked extra hours and weekends just to be able to buy it for me. For her to do something like that, it was what kept me going. But yeah, my family loves sharing my music – my aunts, my grandma, and even my family from Mexico, on my dad’s side. This level of support gives me my drive, and makes me feel grateful in representing my family name. It means the world to me.
For “One More Night,” you did a lyric video with your friend Sydney Standish. How did you go about the process, especially given these new circumstances?
Sydney is awesome. She recently graduated from Washington State University with a Bachelor’s degree. I consider her our creative director for Dirty White Shoes. I had a vision, and she just killed it; she did an amazing job.
I was thinking – since we couldn’t travel around and get footage in these cool, faraway places – that it would be good to do a lyric video, and she was like, “I have an idea!” I was like, “What is it,” and she was like, “What if we do a serene country road?” Then, I said, “I love it, let’s do it!” So, we went through Instagram, and just looked through random places that resembled what the song was trying to portray, which was that small-town feel. Then, she got her gear, and we just drove to one of them. We picked up this janky speaker from Fred Meyer for like 20 bucks, played the song, and then I just gave it my all as if I was performing at a live show. After that, we looked at the final version of the project on the computer, and it blew my mind. I was amazed at how far she’d come as our creative director – from doing simple album art for our singles to a full-on lyric video.
That’s cool how you not only recognize the growth in yourself, but the growth in your friends as well.
Absolutely, I love them so much.
When it came to the setting for the song, how did you end up thinking about the countryside?
Well, it goes back to what we talked about in our last interview – about going on a journey. With this song, I had this thought come to my mind, while playing piano, about someone from my hometown, and it just brought back a lot of memories. It was all about good times, and heartwarming moments with your friends, that you don’t experience in the city anymore, like beautiful skies. I wanted to say, “Hey, I know what it’s like to live in a small town; I was in one for most of my life. But imagine having your own place to escape to. What does that place look like to you?”
I see, so it’s connected to the theme of your first song, “Hollywood Looks Good on You.”
Exactly, it was an extension of that. As I was thinking about this person, I thought about how they moved to a new place to better themselves, and they’re content with it. When you’re stuck in the same place, you start to think, “They just moved somewhere new and are doing these great things, and I miss them.” But in a way, I’m inspiring people to chase their own place that suits them, whether it resembles that countryside, or New York, or Hollywood. Just because that person you loved left you, or chose a different path, don’t let that hold you back, or dictate your future.
It all goes hand-in-hand, from song to song.
Yeah. Everything’s connected; everything!
Since releasing this new song, do you feel stronger creatively?
Yes, I do, actually. I don’t know if it’s because of Covid forcing me to find new outlets, but it’s pushed me to bring out what Dirty White Shoes stands for – like really express saying “Hey, we’re all in this together,” but without being in front of or around people.
In our last interview, you mentioned eventually putting these sentiments into an EP, or even a full-length – about being initially tattered and torn, but then learning to gradually love and accept yourself as you grow. Would you say you’ve gotten better these days at understanding that theme?
I have. Recently, the musician Jordan Waller reached out to me because he loved the messages in our music, what they were conveying, and what they represented. We had a deep conversation about expectations and where I wanted this thing to go, and making it a real brand I want people to be a part of. I want to be able to create a story that connects the songs to this EP that I have in the works. Right now, I’m writing songs left and right. Some of them people may never hear, but I’m still working, and beginning to understand how I work. Then, I have Jordan fleshing out these songs, which makes it easier. The EP is definitely coming soon.
Having someone like that reach out to you and want to collaborate with you, does that give you the necessary encouragement, and assure you that you’re in a better place than you were before?
Yes, you couldn’t have said it better. As an artist and musician, my thoughts and feelings are out there for everyone to see, and to have someone believe in my work enough to want to work with me, that kind of thing tells me I’m doing good for myself. I’ve stopped hurting my own feelings or ways of thinking, because if I allow that to consume me, how could I continue to write music, or help people going through something similar? Music is my escape, but it’s also my way of telling people that regardless of what they’re struggling with, they’re going to be okay.
Lastly, anything you’d like to say to your fans?
I want to thank them for one year, and for giving me their time and positive energy. This whole year has been insane, but I want to thank everyone who has supported me in some way, or has shown some sense of love. What I do with my music is for all the people who are side by side with me. Everything I’m chasing is for my friends, and especially for my family – my mom, my dad, my sisters, my brother; it’s for them. And I’m going to keep pushing and keep going. If I fail or come up short, at least I know that I did what I’m passionate about. But in the meantime, let’s go for another year, and many more!
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