The Aces delayed their album release because of the death of George Floyd. Not wanting to distract from the Black Lives Matter movement, they paused. Now they’re ready. And the Utah band – singer and guitarist Cristal Ramirez, drummer Alisa Ramirez, guitarist Katie Henderson and bassist McKenna Petty – are excited for fans to hear their second album ‘Under My Influence’. An album they said they had to dig deep to write – going places that felt “really vulnerable, scary and uncomfortable”. With songs which deal with growing up in small town Utah and the horror of Trump’s America, it’s an indie pop tour de force.
How does it feel to have your album out in this difficult year?
Cristal: I am really excited for everybody to hear it. We wish we could play it live. We’ve been working on these songs for a long time and we are really proud of them. When lockdown started, we just knew we were going to have to make some adjustments and this wasn’t going to be a regular album release. We had a lot of in-person events planned with the fans plus pop-up shows and a tour. We took all of the ideas we had for the real world and converted them for online. We pushed the album back to July because of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. It didn’t feel appropriate to be self-promoting and we didn’t want to take away from that and not use our voices for anything but amplifying and pushing back so there could be a whole ton of change.
What were the aims for this album?
Alisa: We wanted to try new things and stretch ourselves artistically. We wanted to write songs that had the attitude of The Aces 2.0 and chase things that we’d never talked about before and go deeper than before. Ultimately, that is what the title was about.
We wanted to go from our absolute core and our experiences and be as upfront as possible. ‘Under My Influence’ came from growing into our own power and making an album that was as honest and as vulnerable as we could make it.
Cristal: Sonically and production-wise we were going for sounds and instruments and we didn’t turn anything off. We weren’t actively listening to or referencing particular artists, we were just going in and making what felt really good. So a lot of the production and overall feel of the record comes from artists we grew up on.
How has your outlook changed from writing your first album to this?
Cristal: Our perspective of the music industry, what it is to be successful as artists and our overall perspective on life has shifted and changed from when we were 16 to the way we look at it now as 21 and 24-year-olds. Especially in the year 2020 with things so crazy.
Alisa: We’ve grown so much and figured out who we are and what we want out of life and what really is important which is very few things. It’s the people around you, it’s creating things that you actually really love and care about, it’s saying things that you want to say – you really truly only have one life.
What did you go through personally making this record?
Cristal: This record feels like there is no room for interpretation. We really tuned in when we were writing and took excerpts from journals and poems we had written. That became like the real strong energy of the record – just going places that felt really vulnerable, scary and uncomfortable. It was this big circle of experiences. I remember being really uncomfortable – but in a good way. I knew that it was something important and I was breaking into a part of myself. I listen to songs on the record and they are so personal and because of that reason, I think we have never been prouder of our music.
How has it made you stronger as a band?
Cristal: The girls, Mckenna and Katie really allowed Alisa and I to just go for it lyrically, just really explore, and there was no place we couldn’t go. There is a really strong trust between us and to make ‘Under My Influence’ that trust really grew and it got a lot stronger. This is the next chapter for our band. The Aces really is the most beautiful thing in my life.
Tell us about the song ‘801’?
Cristal: We grew up in a really conservative, religious town called Provo in Utah where the way to live your life was to get married and have children and stay in your hometown. But we didn’t want that, none of us wanted that. The symbolism behind The Aces is that you can do anything. You can really take your life into your hands, you don’t have to do what people tell you that you are supposed to do, especially as a woman.
Alisa: It’s about a gay club out in Salt Lake City. It was really about the first time we went and I remember seeing tons of kids from school and that I grew up with that I never imagined were accepting of queerness or even queer themselves. I wish I’d known that when I was younger as I was so scared back then and never thought these people would ever accept me.
Why was it important to use gender pronouns on this album?
Cristal: I came out when I was 19, Alisa when she was 17 but Katie came out very recently but was out in her personal life. We were never hiding our identities and there were plenty of pictures of us with our girlfriends.
When we started writing ‘When My Heart Felt Volcanic’ we were so young and there was a lot of self-discovery on that album. I think we were still figuring out our sexuality and what we wanted to say. Now it’s five years later and there’s growth and experiences. Those songs are the stories of our lives and who we were and three out of four of us are queer. So to not have used pronouns would have been like blatant censorship and so dishonest.
Katie: Growing up we didn’t really have a lot of artists to look up to and feel connected to. Tegan and Sara was a big one for me. Now it’s amazing to be a part of a band that is representing the LGBTQ+ community. Giving kids artists they can look up to and feel like they can relate to.
How dangerous has President Trump been to the LGBTQ community?
Cristal: It’s just fully turned into like a circus over here. He’s just a terrible, horrible person and his administration repeatedly attacks the LGBTQ+ community. We identify as queer, but I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to be trans. Those are the people that are really getting attacked and their rights are repeatedly being revoked and repealed. The more educated you are, the more you can work towards the change. We are very much about making sure we vote.
What about the track ‘My Phone Is Trying to Kill Me?‘
Cristal: It’s about how our generation are connected to each other to the point that it is maddening. You can track someone on social media, can see when they are active, when they’ve followed someone – it’s really creepy! And we are always checking our phones and this creates anxiety. There is not a lot of pop music or alternative rock music that talks about this.
‘Lost Angeles’ is one of the darker tracks. What inspired it?
Alisa: Everyone who hasn’t been to LA has this idea that it’s like Hollywood – prestigious, beautiful and glamorous. You can find that lifestyle for sure, but this song is about getting swept away by the not so good things about LA. Hanging out with the wrong people who don’t make you feel so good all the time.
How important is success to you?
Cristal: As a band you want commercial success, at least we do. We are very aware of our goals and ambitions. The bigger the better for us, we want to reach more audiences. But at the same time the things that are important are the people around you, our relationship to each other and our families, health and this year has brought that very much into light. As long as we are making something that we feel so proud of then we are successful.
What are you most excited about post COVID 19?
Cristal: We want to be in the UK. It’s a bummer, but I just can’t wait to travel again and I will never complain about jetlag again.
Katie: I can’t wait for festivals. We had some good ones lined up for this summer too. We had our first international ones in Germany and the UK. Hopefully next year.
The Aces‘ album, ‘Under My Influence’ is out now