When The Aces released ‘Daydream’ back in March, they weren’t just ushering in their new era, oh no. As the world slowly went into complete lockdown, the lyrics to their comeback single started to hit a little bit differently. Daydreaming about your other half because something’s keeping you apart? Yep, this song written about being away from your loved ones for a long time is an accidental quarantine anthem, it’s sparkly guitars and peppy vocals ringing in a summer that’ll likely only be enjoyed in back gardens.
It seems appropriate then that Dork meets the four girls over Zoom* (*not sponsored by Charli XCX), where they reside in their Utah homes. Vocalist Cristal and her sister, drummer Alisa, have just woken up and do the interview from their bed (rock’n’roll), while guitarist Katie and bassist McKenna join in from their own homes too. The isolation doesn’t seem to be getting them too down, in fact, they’re getting pretty creative.
“I’ve actually really enjoyed it, and I think the girls feel the same,” says Cristal. “Getting to connect with our fans and give them new music at a time especially like now feels like so necessary, not just because our fans love it, but we need it just as badly, you know what I mean? So it’s been really therapeutic weirdly enough to put out music right now.”
Aside from the Digital Wellness Tour they embarked on – which included meditation with Cristal, cooking with McKenna, a workout with Katie, and yoga with Alisa – and covering (checks notes) ‘Toosie Slide’ by Drake, there’s the small prospect of releasing new album ‘Under My Influence’ during this particularly strange time, but it’s something The Aces are taking in their stride.
“I think like we live in a world where the majority of people who are listening to music and digesting music, they’re not doing it live, like you’re never going to get to play to everybody that listens to your music. So I think it’s really important to keep fostering that community online and keep giving people something to look forward to and keep people positive,” says Cristal.
Alisa adds, “I think the number one [piece of] feedback that we’ve heard from fans and from people while releasing the first two singles was like, ‘thanks so much for still putting out music, so many people are stopping, and we need music, we need stuff to look forward to’.”
Nurturing that online community is essential for The Aces, and not only while we’re all isolating – connecting with fans virtually and IRL has been the way for the girls for quite some time. During the years between their debut ‘When My Heart Felt Volcanic’ in 2018 and the creation of ‘Under My Influence’, the band spent a lot of time with their fans, learning about their experiences and how the band has impacted them. “They mirror us a lot, which is really cool,” Cristal notes. “We always say that we would hang out with our fans and like, we would be friends with all of them.”
They’ve grown with their fans too. The Aces have been together since they were kids (and known as The Blue Aces), and their last album was written back when the girls were still teenagers. On their debut cycle, they toured the world in support slots for indie unit COIN and Aussie pop giants 5 Seconds of Summer, alongside their own US and European tour.
“When we were writing our first record, we were like 17, and Alisa was 15, so the difference between writing a record when you’re 17 versus writing a record when you’re 23 is huge because you’re a whole different person in that time. You’ve experienced so much more, you’ve matured so much,” says Cristal. “Now we’re like, grown women who know a lot more, we know how to articulate ourselves a lot better, and know how to express our emotions on deeper, more vulnerable levels.”
She continues, “We’ve toured the world, we gained a following that we didn’t have when we put out the first record, and this really strong, solid, core fan base. I think that having them makes us feel a lot more able to experiment and explore creatively. We feel so lucky, they’re so dedicated and so committed to being along for the ride with us that it makes us feel like we can kind of do anything and go anywhere and they’ll be there for us.”
As a group, they’ve been getting closer and working towards developing a stronger bond. With over a decade spent together, it’d be easy to assume they’re already sick of one another, but that’s not the case. On tour, they’ve set rules that prioritise their relationships, strengthening both their group dynamic and songwriting.
“We’ve really taken the opportunity when we tour to get to know each other better and better, even though we’ve been lifelong best friends”, Cristal explains. “We have a rule when we tour that every night we change rooms, like when we share rooms with a different girl every night we rotate, and it’s been so helpful for us.
She continues, “I think we’re always just finding ways to get closer, and I feel really proud of us for that. Because even after ten years of friendship, we’re still learning about each other. We’re still learning to understand each other and each other’s quirks and different things, I feel like it’s really just made our band stronger.”
The trust between the four of them shows itself in their music this time around. Where they’ve always told honest and universal stories, they’re opening up and reaching a more personal place on ‘Under My Influence’, and pushing each other to do so.
Cristal says, “Something I think is really amazing about this new record is that we’ve been able to go to more honest places and be really vulnerable because of that trust between us four, and because we’ve built that over such a long period of time that I think Alisa and I, when we go in to write songs, the girls really trust us to tell those stories and to like take up that space, and then as a band to really own all of that. And I feel really, really proud of us for that.
“I knew when I was writing lyrics, like if I was kind of scared, then we were doing the right thing. If I was kind of like, oh, that’s really vulnerable, and whoever I wrote that about, if they hear that they’re gonna totally know that’s about them. I remember looking at Alisa and being like dude… I don’t know about that one.”
“I love listening to record and just being like, ‘Oh damn! They did that!’ I love that,” adds Alisa. “So that’s what we were after. It was more of a feeling, like an honesty, a rawness. I think those were like the main things we were chasing.”
One of the more prominent changes of pace on The Aces’ follow up record is the decision (quote unquote) to use gendered pronouns in their lyrics. Although a natural progression as Cristal discussed her relationships in writing sessions, it’s a notable one, as it tells both her and Alisa’s stories in the truest way.
“I think on the first record, we didn’t include pronouns for multiple reasons, just because it felt safer, and also it was a little more inclusive,” Alisa explains. “But on this record, one of the main things we wanted to do when we were creating this challenge, any fears or insecurities we had, we just wanted to be as honest and vulnerable as possible. And I don’t think you can really create art to its fullest extent if you’re censoring yourself.”
Cristal adds, “I kind of approached the girls and I remember having this conversation in the car with Alisa, we were driving to the beach one Saturday. And I was like, ‘We actually haven’t talked about this, like, how do we feel about including pronouns?’ And Alisa was like, ‘You can’t go back. Like, I don’t think that you can not, because I think at that point, you’re going to start being dishonest because you’re starting to like, not really tell those stories for what they were and you can’t be afraid’.”
Alisa later mentions that it’s not a conversation we’d be having if the girls were straight, and of course, she’s right, but it was something they wanted to challenge societally – why shouldn’t they be honest in their own songs? It’s just one of the ways The Aces are defying expectation on ‘Under My Influence’. On track ‘801’, they discuss their lives growing up in Provo, Utah, in a largely sheltered suburb, where they spent their early band days playing local clubs (which was totally allowed when they were kids due to the town’s sober nature).
“I think a lot of people grow up in places that feel kind of stifling for them,” says Cristal, “that they might not fit into the mould or to the box and they might not be doing what they’re supposed to be doing. We as four women from like a small, religious, suburban, hometown, were never expected to ever really get out, to ever travel, to be in a band. All of these things are so foreign to a lot of people we grew up with.”
On the other side of that, there’s ‘Lost Angeles’, a track about feeling uncomfortable in the city, which Cristal describes as “just as soul sucky if you’re not doing it right”. Other highlights include bass-heavy anti-social-media anthem ‘My Phone Is Trying To Kill Me’, the disco-fuelled friends to lovers story ‘New Emotion’, and firm favourite across the board, the candid ‘Cruel’.
“That song was so healing for me,” Cristal says. “It really connected me back to the reason why I make music and how healing it can be. We wrote that song in Malibu, and I was like just going through it with a relationship that I was kind of reaping and letting go. After I wrote that song, it felt like I had just taken this massive weight off my shoulders and was able to see the situation kind of more from a bird’s eye view and really do a lot of necessary healing that I’d been needing to do for a long time. And I was like, oh my god, music’s just as important to me as it was when I was nine years old and that was like a really special moment throughout the process for me.”
Katie agrees, saying: “‘Cruel’ really does throw me back like Blue Aces days with a simple acoustic guitar writing out like a heart and soul. I love that song so much, and it’s also one of my favourites to record on because we did that in the UK. And that experience of going to the UK and working on four different songs that are on the record, was so cool. I think us four going out there and spending so much time just in the studio really honing in on this record was really special.”
The record closes on the bouncy ‘Zillionaire’, which leaves The Aces believing their own hype. You’ll be under their influence in no time.
“When we decided to named record ‘Under My Influence’, it felt very much like a taking of what was ours, you know?” Cristal explains, “and I want people to feel things that we collectively feel. We want anyone who listens to just be inspired to own their space and take what’s theirs and to really create in a way they want to, because that’s what we did with this record. And so it feels like when you listen to this record, you’re under our influence, and we hope that people feel inclined and inspired to do the same thing. Especially, women, and I hope that that translates.”
Taken from the June issue of Dork. The Aces’ album ‘Under My Influence’ is out 17th July.
Words: Abigail Firth