MANILA -- A woman of the arts -- this is the lasting impression that Nicole Laurel Asensio exudes when you meet her.
She was the frontwoman of all-female rock band General Luna from 2010 to 2013, and later performed on lead vocals for Razorback.
Her vocal prowess extends beyond musical genres though, because she also regularly performs as a jazz singer. As of late, she also dabbled into acting in musical productions both in film, and now, theater.
Fresh from a creative retreat and having just arrived in Manila at around 8 p.m., Laurel Asensio jumped into our call with enthusiasm and openness to our questions.
While most of her work has mainly centered on music writing, production, and singing, she also talked to us about her brave exploration into theater and film acting during the pandemic.
“I never really trained for it [acting] formally,” she humbly quipped, “but I discovered that I liked doing it.”
Her first film "Katips" is a period musical drama by Vince Tanada that tells the story of student activists during the imposition of Martial Law in the '70s. Her performance as Lara Quimpo earned her a 2022 FAMAS nomination alongside veterans Charo Santos and Sharon Cuneta.
She was also recently cast to play Sisa in "Ibarra," an upcoming stage musical adaptation of "Noli Me Tangere" by Tanghalang Una Obra.
While she has been navigating the creative industry for most of her life, she gets real about the work that artists need to put behind the scenes. “The glitter and glamor – that’s only the fingernail,” she emphasized as she talked about the trade-offs and paying her “share of being beaten and broken.”
She is reminded of an insight shared by fellow artist and collaborator Chito Miranda: “We don’t get paid simply for rocking out on stage. We get paid for the years and years of practice, rejection, and absence for your loved ones.”
She spoke of “giving even when you are empty” and recalled how she instantaneously slipped into the persona of a performer just a day after her father died in her arms.
“This level of commitment is not always given attention because what people usually see is the glamorous side of it,” she said.
She candidly spoke about how artists are often in survival mode, trying to make ends meet. For her, this meant taking various side jobs like jewelry design, clothes thrifting and upcycling, interior design, and being an English diction teacher.
While difficult to imagine the direct link with music and the arts, Laurel Asensio said no skill is lost in taking those jobs. It is through those jobs that she learned to network and how to dress herself during performance. She also spoke of the performative aspect of teaching, which she was able to leverage when performing on stage.
As far as performing on stage goes, Laurel Asensio excitedly talked about how she is preparing to immerse in the role of Sisa for "Ibarra," which is set to open in June at the GSIS Theater.
Veteran actor Piolo Pascual stars as "Crisostomo Ibarra" -- an opportunity that she is very excited about. More than that, however, she called the role a “dream” because of the significance of Sisa to her family’s artistic heritage.
“Our family has a lot of roots in that role,” she said.
About 50 years ago, her grandmother, National Artist for Music Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, played the same role.
“This theater journey is a way to pay tribute to my grandmother Fides,” she said. “I will play it differently; the vocal texture will also be different – it will not be classical like the rendition of my grandmother.”
Laurel Asensio has also been writing songs that she aims to release as singles in the future. A couple of offers to act in period films are also on the table. She doesn’t take these opportunities for granted, and she said she will keep “creating” as long as possible.
“You decide that you’re not who you are without it [the arts]. There’s that artistic inclination that always comes through, manifesting somewhere. I want to be myself, I don’t want to be a shell of myself,” she said.