The Aces: “We’ve made this next album from really pure intentions, you know, every time commercialism or capitalism came knocking at the door, we told it to fuck off.”
Jade Poulters | 14/12/2022
It’s been four years since indie-pop quartet The Aces released their critically acclaimed debut album, When My Heart Felt Volcanic and catapulted themselves to the top of multiple “ones to watch” lists. Since then, they’ve released sophomore album Under My Influence, supported 5 Seconds of Summer, X Ambassadors and COIN, and sold out their own US headline tour. They continue this success while supporting The Vamps throughout their 10-year anniversary tour across the UK this winter.
Consisting of sisters Cristal and Alisa Ramirez, and childhood friends McKenna Petty and Katie Henderson – The Aces met during their school days in Provo, Utah and began playing together as preteens. Now in their 20’s the group have been redefining what it means to be an indie “it” girl, fully embodying a strong, confident, modern woman creating universally relatable, yet deeply personable music that speaks to this new generation of listener. It’s their trust in each other, built over their childhoods, that has allowed them to delve headfirst into unabashed honesty as they explore growing up and falling in love in the 21st Century.
With total global streams reaching 200 million, UK numbers climbing every day, and numerous stops at Pride Festivals across the county in the summer, The Aces used 2022 to make their mark on the UK scene, priming themselves to dominate it in 2023. HATC caught up with the girls the day after a rousing performance at the O2, chatting about life on the road, their refusal to be seen as a girl band, and their plans for the next year coming.
HATC: Hi guys, wow last night was amazing! We’ve wanted to catch you guys live for ages and what a venue to do it in, the O2, was this your first ever arena gig?
THE ACES: We have done a few before on tour with 5 Seconds of Summer in the US, but they were smaller arenas – that sounds mad doesn’t it small arenas – but this was the O2 we’ve never played anything like that. It was our first iconic arena; you know up there with Maddison Square Garden or The Forum.
I mean we played to 16,000 – 18,000 people last night and looking out at it was crazy. It meant so much, you know coming from the States we’ve dreamt of being able to travel the world and play our music in other countries, so to do what we just did, IN ENGLAND, yeah it was definitely a first for us.
HATC: The last time you played in the UK was Electric Ballroom which is about a 1500 capacity right?
THE ACES: Yeah, and our first headline show in London was in Dingwalls (now known as PowerHaus) above like a garage in a tiny little room for about 100 people, so what we are doing now are the biggest shows we’ve ever played.
HATC: That’s crazy to make two huge jumps in audience size like that each time! What was it like to step out on that stage, was it a holy fuck sort of moment?
THE ACES: It felt like it was meant to be. I felt natural, weirdly, like we were nervous but also so excited, and as soon as we stepped out on stage and saw the crowd in front of you it was like – fuck yeah – it felt amazing. Sometimes actually those smaller intimate venues can feel so much more nerve-wracking, because everyone is so much closer and, in your space, but being in the arena with the sea of people, and big stage, big lights the energy just feels bigger.
Our music does feel like it’s meant for those big rooms too, so it did feel like it was where we are meant to be this is how our songs are supposed to sound. You know, we have taken all those other steps and now and reached our destination, this is how it’s supposed to be.
HATC: You guys looked like you were floating on air, did it feel that way too?
THE ACES: Oh, I (Cristal) kept wishing my mic was cordless so I could just take off down the runway. It was just fun being able to run around like that when I’m just used to being on smaller stages and not being able to move so much. My mum texted me afterwards, she must have found a live stream and was like ‘I’ve never seen you take up so much space on stage before’ because I just felt like I was doing gymnastics or something, I was pouring with sweat after. It doesn’t help that we are known for wearing like all over leather, but if you’re gonna do it you gotta do it right, I was suffering but I looked cool.
HATC: It must have been so fun then to do a whole tour of that! How did being on the road with The Vamps go? Actually, how did it all come about; did you know each other before?
THE ACES: This whole tour was like years in the making. We actually mutually worked with the same marketing person at some point in time and she had one day while hanging out with The Vamps, shown them our music and she told us about it later saying “oh they love you; they think your stars and want to do something with you” which we were like oh that’s cool, that’s exciting. Then out of the blue like, two years later, Bradley just DM’d us saying “lets tour together”.
We were like “oh yeah sure” not thinking it was that serious, but they did a tour like last year which they invited us on, but we couldn’t make it work, so when this one came around they invited us again. It was nice that, we felt seen and remembered in away. Like we had always caught and admired each other online and stuff and kept saying “yeah one day we’ll figure it out” and then this came through so effortlessly so obviously we just took it.
It’s been amazing, they are so sweet and really cool, just lovely boys. They are very down to earth and normal, which I think – outside looking in – feels like a hard thing to do, to remain so normal and nice when you’ve been as famous for as long as they have for as young as they are.
HATC: For readers who may not have heard of The Aces before, or have only gotten into you recently, tell us a bit about the set-up of the band and how you came to be?
THE ACES: (Alisa) So me and Cristal are sisters, and it was like, from birth, our life mission to start a band. We started, when we were really little, auditioning kids in our neighbourhood you know, seeing who could play guitar, who could play bass. I don’t remember why I settled on drums, but Cristal always wanted to be a singer, and when she became best friends with McKenna when they were like 10, she pushed her to ask for a bass guitar for Christmas so she could be in our band. Imagine that, asking for a present that would become like your whole life. And the bass was bigger than her, like McKenna was so, so small the thing covered her whole body.
We were so eyes on the prize even back then, we saw all these Disney stars and bands do it and thought, we aren’t going to wait around were just going to go for it. I don’t know where that tenacity came from at that age but looking back it’s made me think maybe it is good to start these things as a kid, because you have so much more confidence that once you get into your teens just goes away.
(Katie:) So then I met McKenna in Junior High (Year 7/8 for us Brits), and I was basically doing the same thing just a few blocks away. I taught myself how to play guitar really young because I wanted to be in a band and tried to get all my friends to play instruments as well, so when I met McKenna, and we became such good friends she sort of merged the friend groups. I invited them round to come over to my basement and jam.
(Alisa:) That was a holy grail moment because Katie’s older brothers were in a really popular local band, so when we go to her house, she leads us down into her basement and it’s a huge fucking professional rehearsal space with like a full drum kit, a wall of guitars and bass’, full PA set up, microphones.
(Cristal:) And at that point we had like, all hand-me-downs, hand-me-down guitar, a beat-up hand-me-down drum set, a tiny speaker that we bought from our neighbour for like $100. So, we walk into this room and it’s like ‘Oh my god, you’ve got two mics”
(McKenna:) So then we just started playing together and did like a talent show together, we were like 13 years old and now were all like 26/27 so we’ve been a band for over 10 years. All thought high school we played local gigs but when we graduated high school, we all started to do it professionally, started travelling to LA, found a manager online and had to work all these crazy odd jobs to put money towards those trips to LA. After a while we signed our record deal, which we are still on now and, here we are!
HATC: Over the past few years there’s been a lot of discussion around the visibility of women in music, especially when it comes to placements on Festival Line-ups, and It’s brought the phrases “female fronted” and “all female bands” really front and centre of the discourse. You’ve always rejected that label of gendering your music. Was that something that was important to you from the get-go?
THE ACES: We feel like the idea of a ‘female fronted’ and ‘all female’ band doesn’t exist. It’s just misogyny. There isn’t a blueprint or set of rules for being a female in a band or a band full of females, it’s just when people see women play music they get carried away because they don’t see that many of us doing it so are like “BAM I’m going to label you this”. It’s so fucked up, that’s why we push against it because “female” isn’t a genre, like listen to our music, come to our shows, get to know us and what we do.
It obviously wasn’t something we noticed when we started you know, when we were kids, it was just so pure, we just loved music. We didn’t even realise we were different. It was as we got older and started touring that we started getting feedback like “oh I really liked you for a girl band” or “oh you sound different to this other girl band”. But If those people saw a bunch of white guys rock up on stage, they’re not going to make those same assumptions because a bunch of guys in a band is just a band, but we aren’t given that same respect.
We walk on stage and are instantly compared to like other female bands people may have heard of like The Runaways or maybe HAIM or even the Spice Girls, or people would even completely dismiss us and be like “this isn’t for me” before we even start a song. That’s something we’ve been combatting our whole career so far. It’s even things – like, we only get compared to other female bands, never any all-male bands, and sometimes we check what bands we are being compared to and it’s like that’s not even accurate, we don’t sound the same at all you’re only comparing us because you’re seeing women playing music and it’s easier for you to just lump us together. Let’s be clear the bands we are being compared to are amazing right, we love them and feel like we are in great company, we just don’t sound like them so why are we being put in the same category?
We are so fortunate that we are living through a time where there is a visible and successful influx of female musicians and bands, and we couldn’t be happier to be part of that movement, but we just wish it will get to a time where there are so many “female fronted” or “all female” bands that it’s seen as just as normal as an “all-male” band. The categorisation, for us, has been a up and down thing right, because at some points we did want to lean into it and saw it as a strength because visible representation in what we do is really important but that can sometimes overshadow the music, it’s not all about that. We are just people in a band, we should be given the same fair chance as any other all dude band, or mixed band to get on a stage and tell people who we are.
HATC: Obviously, two of you are already sisters, but you can tell there is a real bond of sisterhood between you all that has obviously been growing for so long. We often talk to people about life on the road being incredibly difficult being away from friends and family for huge stretches at a time and how this industry takes a toll on your mental health. How much of a support system are you for each other? Do you lean on each other a lot?
THE ACES: It’s something we talk about often, actually, how grateful we are that we are a band – we have a lot of friends who are solo artists, and we can’t even imagine touring alone. You know if you have a bad show, it’s just on you, or if you have a great show, you don’t have those people to share in it with. So, we are really grateful to have each other to go through the highs and lows with, like we’ve gone through breakups on tour before, and when you are a band no one at any point is ever really alone so someone has always been there. We’ve become really great living partners, and it’s because we have a respect for each other, but also because we keep cultivating that respect and that love, it’s something we’ve had, and we’ve worked on practically our whole lives. We always say if you can get through like years 14-20 with someone you can get through the rest.
HATC: Let’s talk about what’s coming next, obviously the first album came out in 2018, the second in 2020 but the pandemic sort of put a bit of a spanner in the works there – how have the years since been and did you sort of instantly get started on what is coming next?
THE ACES: Literally, the day we shot the Daydream video was the day they announced like the global shut down. Days before had huge marketing meetings about the release and how 2020 was gonna be THE YEAR and then suddenly there was nothing. We had such high expectations for what it was going to be, we did so much crap making it, then prepared all the press, a whole tour and to have it all ripped away was really kind of traumatic for us. We went through like the whole grieving process, mourning what was supposed to be, but then there was this other element of that time that was really humbling. Those few months it did feel like someone pressed the cultural reset button, people were pulling their heads out of their assess and looking around to see the world was not okay, we all got that memo that it really was THE time to start tapping in and doing our part to look after each other and the world around us. So, we go from grieving this sense of lost opportunity to realising how small it was in the grand scheme of things.
It also stemmed a transition of us as artists, we really got time to evaluate why we make music and how we make music. You know we’ve been doing it since we were kids when it was still this really pure, authentic thing and then when you sign to a label and start getting that taste of success it’s really easy to start listening to, the label or management about what you need to do to become more successful and get stuck in that loop. It’s especially hard as first-generation entertainers who’ve never seen behind the curtain before, because if you’re not a success you’re fucked. We come from a town where everyone pushed us to go to college, become a doctor or a lawyer or something more practical because we “weren’t going to make any money as starving artists” and we really fought against that to chase our dreams and make this a career. So in-between the first and second albums we sort of let that very limited idea of success sink in, you know we needed to succeed, because to succeed is to propser so we need this second album to be big – because we don’t have trust funds to fall back on, we aren’t nepo babies, we have to pave our own way. But the pandemic really allowed us that time to be alone and reset and re-establish why we wanted to make music and be in a band and what it all meant to us. Like what is the purpose of everything we’ve done, and we realised it’s so much more than just commercial success.
HATC: So, after coming out of that negative space did tackling the (sometimes dreaded) third album process feel more invigorating and exciting?
THE ACES: We feel so excited, so at peace, so right and just – honestly, like completely different people. We’ve made this next album from really pure intentions, you know, every time commercialism or capitalism came knocking at the door, we told it to fuck off. We have just been chasing a feeling, express ourselves in a cathartic way and heal through an expression of art. So, this new album was so much more fun to make, it felt like we had reverted back to how we did things when we were kids, just the four of us jamming in a studio, getting our feelings out. It’s a major shift from the second album, even the recording process, like this time we did everything analogue and that’s something we are so passionate about. Being able to play around with sounds like when we were kids is part of why we love music.
So now, we are just really looking forward to getting it all out there. You know there’s still a lot of places we haven’t been, Asia, Australia, South America that hopefully this next record takes us. We haven’t played proper festivals in a while, so we are really excited to do that next summer. We’re just excited to have a normal album cycle – put it out, do press, tour it, stuff we didn’t do properly last time.
The Aces previous two albums are available to own and stream now, keep your eyes glued to @theaces for news about their upcoming third album.
Words: Jade Poulters