The Aces: “For the first time, The Aces are fully an open book”

A period of forced introspection has seen THE ACES digging deep and laying everything out.

Words: Neive McCarthy.
Photos: Julian Burgeno.

The Aces have always, always had an interesting story to tell. Through the rollercoaster ride of their first two albums, they’ve consistently been thought-provoking, examining and introspective with every infectious pop anthem they create. However, as they return with their third album, ‘I’ve Loved You For So Long’, that rings truer than ever. They’ve dove deep into their own world.

After releasing ‘Under My Influence’ into a locked-down world, Cristal and Alisa Ramirez, McKenna Petty and Katie Henderson had something of a mountain to climb. Left with a lot of time on their hands to take an inner look, the four-piece had to scale the heights of everything that had gone on in their lives thus far. A few years later, a weight has lifted, and they’re floating down the other side of that gargantuan mountain. On ‘I’ve Loved You For So Long’, we meet a different band in a way. Matured and more understanding, we find them truly, truly in tune with themselves, their inner child and, more importantly, each other. 

“Without the pandemic, I don’t think that ‘I’ve Loved You For So Long’ could’ve been made,” admits Cristal, the band’s lead vocalist. “That forced introspection was a really big catalyst to being able to make this type of record. Our two previous records were externally based, but this record is internal. ‘Under My Influence’ coming out at that time was hard. We had all these preconceived ideas of what we wanted for that record – the travel, the show, everything around it. To have that taken away so quickly was devastating, but it also forced us to get real about who we were, what we wanted, the direction of our career and the kind of art we wanted to make, and really, what was important to us. It was connecting with the fanbase and making music that is more than just us.”

The story they unfold on this album is a poignant one. It has that pure The Aces essence musically, of course, but it also marks their most personal release yet. Casting their minds back to their younger selves and allowing them into the studio with them, they recognised that there was a narrative to be told that they previously shied away from. Now, they were ready to document it for the sake of their younger selves and their younger listeners, too. 

“That was a big part of this record, really inviting our younger selves into the room and into the sessions when we were creating,” Alisa, The Aces’ drummer, recalls. “Really going back in time and putting ourselves in the shoes of what it was like to be that 14-year-old girl who was miserable and scared. How do we tell her stories? It felt like we’d pushed her away for a long time. Most of our music has been about being out, being queer, leaving our hometowns, and moving to the city. We skipped over telling the story of what it was like to be a teenager in the town that we grew up in, so it was important to explore that on this record.”

All four of them hail from Provo, Utah, and have been making music together since they were those young girls, grappling with the often terrifying world ahead of them. They didn’t go into the studio with the intention of unravelling this story, however. Rather, faced with a seemingly unlimited amount of time, they found themselves making music for the pure enjoyment of it – experimenting and seeing their instincts through. In channelling that childlike freedom of creation, they started an internal conversation that plunged them into a world of understanding for their younger selves. 

“The deeper we went, we realised we had to go back to the source,” Alisa continues. “It became important to me to go back to those teen years and sit in that for a while and unpack that to be able to talk about it. I think something beautiful happened to Ken and Katie as well. We were all just in the same place in our lives. We had all come to this point where we had stepped away from this religious upbringing, and we were finding ourselves in this time of our life for the first time at the same pace. Because of that synergy, we were able to go there and talk about these things in a way that felt truthful, and at times painful, but really cathartic and healing together.” 

“As an artist, it’s our job to explore the really scary stuff”

Cristal Ramirez

McKenna Petty, the band’s bassist, adds: “The ability for us to be able to make this record as a band came from all of our different journeys lining up for the first time ever in our adult life. It’s also just age – being able to reflect in that way is something that comes with emotional maturity. It was impossible to do that before. It couldn’t have happened without that time. It was a place for us to progress individually in a big way for us to be able to reflect in this way too.”

They explore what it was like growing up closeted amongst small-town mentalities on tracks like ‘Suburban Blues’, or elsewhere delve into panic attacks, anxiety and the struggle mental health can present on tracks like ‘Stop Feeling’. They examine the lingering fingerprints of their Mormonist upbringing, and they accept that it’s okay to be 25 and still unsure of things. No stone is left unturned on the album, and no lesson is learnt that isn’t set to a delicious cocktail of sprightly, hopeful indie rock. Lyrically, it can be quite heavy with honesty, but in their deliciously bright guitar riffs and bouncing vocals, they never let that weight fall onto their listener’s shoulders.

“For the first time, The Aces are fully an open book,” Alisa exhales. “Before, there were certain areas we didn’t want to go. We didn’t want to talk about being raised Mormon; we didn’t want to talk about the reality of what that was. We all left that faith at different times, so it felt hard to talk about that too. Now, we’re all aligned and on the same playing field. We’ve all left, we’re all out and living our adult lives, and we’re all happy. Now, we feel confident to talk about those things – talking about mental health and being really honest about that. You get scared to own your truth this intensely and as raw as this…”. 

Luckily, Alisa’s sister Cristal has a solution to bate that fear. “As an artist, it’s our job to explore the really scary stuff that people feel and are scared to say and then hear through a song and feel seen and comforted. That’s the point of what we do. A main mission of ours is healing through our music. We’ve had so many fans come up to us and say that this song was the only thing they listened to for the two months they were depressed, and it was the one part of their day that they felt better. These things are so powerful. That feeling of fear that we feel it’s this guiding light of intuition. That’s hard to remember sometimes, but that’s actually the magic and the important thing.”

In reminding themselves of how they might guide their fans, many of whom may well be those anxious 14-year-olds The Aces get back in touch with on this record, they also guide themselves – towards peace, acceptance and love. Of course, there’s the knowledge that the world will hear this vulnerability. ‘I’ve Loved You For So Long’ is as much an act of healing for The Aces as it is an act of guidance for their fans. ‘Person’ seems to epitomise that. The guitars are akin to an absolute blast of powerful heat as they remind themselves: “We’re all just a person sometimes”. And that’s completely fine.

“There’s a peace that comes with really owning your story,” McKenna reflects sagely. “It’s like the final acceptance of the inner child work where you’re not ashamed of yourself or your past. We’ve all said that we’ve never felt this way about a record where whatever happens, we feel this underlying peace with what we have created and the stories that we’ve told. I think that’s something really cool – the process of feeling more fear is the biggest gift you can give to yourself.

Not just a give to themselves as individuals, however, ‘I’ve Loved You So Long’ is a shared experience and gift to one another. That love that echoes through each beat and strum is a love between the four of them – the ones who have stuck beside one another through all those life lessons and remained there to learn their effect. The music video for ‘Solo’ sees Cristal rise from her bed to find the others in her bedroom already, already geared up and ready to play her through the day. It’s a striking image that accompanies an equally striking glimpse at Cristal’s own vulnerability.

“To me, that is so symbolic of my whole life,” laughs Cristal. “The girls are always there with me, playing me through the events of my life. We always have this constant of the band. One of the only reasons we were able to get out of our hometown and explore and figure out who we were and have this career was because we had each other. Making this record together was realising that this band is everything to me and to the girls as well. It’s my family, it’s my sense of belonging, and my sense of purpose – it’s my labour of lifetime love. There are ups and downs, and sometimes it’s hard, and you’re questioning everything, but there’s always this guiding, soft reminder when we’re together with this energy of this is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing. That was so evident throughout making the record.”

Somewhere along the way, that discovery allowed the band to capture that energy when recording. The sheer joy of what they were doing and being able to have this life together seeps into the album. They went back to the core of who they are, but that core is entangled with one another and with the absolute adoration for this band. There’s no surprise, then, that ‘I’ve Loved You So Long’ shimmers with hope and optimism and glee even as it considers the darker sides of life. 

“The whole thing was just so fun,” the guitarist of the band, Katie, reminisces. “We did the entire record analogue, which we hadn’t done in the previous records. To just line up amps, pedals, and all be so creative on the live aspects felt so reminiscent of when we were kids. Finding different pedals and being like, ‘Oh, this sounds sick! Let’s use this!’ It was all playful, and authentic and felt really fun and exciting. I felt this deep sense of trusting our instincts. When you’re a kid, you don’t double-guess yourself as much. You wear it with your whole chest.”

That’s precisely what The Aces have captured here – it’s a portrait of themselves, old and new, worlds colliding and sliding into one to create the band as they are today. They end the record with ‘Younger’, a gorgeously melodic, The Cure-esque track that is both tinged with yesteryear and looking bright-eyed towards the future. “I wouldn’t change anything,” Cristal’s voice rings out across the track. That shining optimism and appreciation shine on the track and on the album as a whole – the journey has made them who they are and allowed them to create some of their strongest work yet. It’s an album for themselves, past and present, and delights with promise of a future well and truly at peace. ■

Taken from the June 2023 edition of Dork. The Aces’ album ‘I’ve Loved You For So Long’ is out 2nd June.