“We're just getting started.” - Cristal Ramirez
Four women from Provo, Utah have grown to become true rockstars in the West Coast indie-pop scene. These four multi-talented musicians, sisters Cristal and Alisa Ramirez (vocals/guitar and drums, respectively), McKenna Petty (bass), and Katie Henderson (lead guitar/vocals)— joined forces years ago to become the band many now know as The Aces. After a few EPs under the name, Blue Aces, and another after the Red Bull Records signing, they erupted onto the scene with their debut album in 2018, When My Heart Felt Volcanic (yes, pun intended). Their single "Stuck" became an instant sensation and brought them right into the Billboard charts.
Well, now the group is back with their invigoratingly new album, Under My Influence. While their first album finished with "Waiting for You", frustratingly hoping for someone to return, this new record begins by showing The Aces basking in their wonderful independence in "Daydream". They began this new era by releasing four different singles prior to the album's release: "Daydream", "Lost Angeles", "My Phone is Trying to Kill Me", and "Kelly".
The Aces experienced some curveballs, along with the rest of the world in 2020, that caused them to decide to postpone the album's original release date. On the brink of police fatalities and acts of authoritative injustice, the music industry had to take a halt. The band stood in solidarity with the greater movements happening in the world. They shared via social media, "As we all know, we are in the middle of a very important movement. We don't want to take away from this crucial need for change. Therefore we have decided to push our album so we can continue to use our voices and platform in the fight against racism & social injustice."
The pandemic hasn't been easy for everyone. Especially a group made up of inseparable best friends who now have to pass the time on their own. Guitarist Katie Henderson expressed, “For me, I feel like it has all kind of changed. In the beginning of the quarantine, I think I was listening to a lot of singer-songwriter peaceful stuff. That just made me feel really good; now, I'm listening to a lot of feel-good, dancey, upbeat music all the time. As far as watching stuff, I've been watching a ton of cooking shows. I don't know what it is. I think I just don't have to think too hard about it, and it's easy and calming. I just don't have any interest in watching something that's scary or intense right now.”
Drummer Alisa Ramirez has found other outlets to release the built-up energy from not being out and performing on tour. “We end up just turning on some Kim Petras and vibe out so hard here cause there's no way to spend your energy out the way you'd normally do."
It’s been over two years since the quartet dropped their critically acclaimed debut When My Heart Felt Volcanic. But in just those two years, the band achieved a sold-out headline tour, supported acts like 5 Seconds of Summer and COIN, and becoming a recurring name on the top Billboard charts.
Their lead vocalist, Cristal Ramirez confessed, “Our band's growth has been so healthy and steady. In entertainment in general, there's this expectation unless you're the biggest superstar to live and breathe on the planet that you 'could've done something different'. There's a lot of critique and comparison to other artists. Hearing you say that our first record was super successful, but as an artist, you're always critiquing yourself. So, I don't think in my head I was thinking 'oh my gosh, I have to make a record that lives up to My Heart Felt Volcanic. I wasn't even there. What my mindset was going into the second record, I was like 'we're just getting started'. I loved My Heart Felt Volcanic but that was just the tip of the iceberg. I think that's me be hard on myself, but I didn't personally feel that pressure because I didn't think I thought we were successful as maybe we are. The important thing to us with this second record is that we didn't make the same record twice.”
Their latest record Under My Influence has clearly shown an evolutionary leap for the band though. The songwriting is just as candid as it's always been, but they've begun to specify more with their storytelling. Compared to the penmanship of their earlier work, this new songwriting seems more personalized, and thus more vulnerable. The band closed in open interpretations and used gender-specific pronouns adding a more honest confessional layer to each track.
“In the first record, we were a lot younger and still figuring stuff out as people and as artists as well. With this one, it just felt really right and really natural,” said Alisa. “When we started writing for this album, (we) had tons of demos that had "girl" and "her" and pronouns and stuff like that in it. We were like, 'Do we wanna roll with this? What do you think?' And we were like I think we have to because, at this point, we would be consciously taking it out and censoring ourselves that's the death of art, so why would we do that. So, we rolled with it, and it felt totally right. No one really questioned it which was great.”
Three of the four members of the band sexually identify as queer and stepped into it more with this next single. For earlier fans of the group, it was a personal journey and growth into their own identity that you were almost privy to follow along with through their music and videos.
"Kelly", the most recent single from the new record, was intentionally dropped at the start of Pride Month. It's an inspiring pop cut that takes listeners through a teased queer romance over a Caribbean style rhythm. The instrumental break that follows the hook provides a quick opening to allow Henderson to freely shred a mesmerizing guitar riff and highlights the growth of the band as musicians as well.
Alisa shared, “'Kelly' is actually my favorite song on the record. The day it came together was really fun! How our writing process works is, Cristal and I do lyrics and melodies. For this one, we worked with a guy named Kyle Shearer (Tove Lo, Carly Rae Jepsen) and another guy named Nate Campany, and the four of us went into the room. It's the first day any of us have ever met, and we're just kicking it, rolling joints, talking, smoking, hanging out, listening to music. It was summertime. I remember we wrote it so fast, in within 45 minutes or something. We just looked at each other, 'Is this like the f*cking craziest song you've ever heard? I'm obsessed with this song.' The moment the chorus was birthed, Cristal originally was singing 'Hey, what you doing,' and I said, 'No, we got to put a name there. We've got to make this about somebody. Because it was inspired by real romance and stuff.”
"801" is another single from the new record that exemplifies the group's storytelling ability and the effortless way they can paint a picture through vivid lyricism and music. "801" tackles the certain obstacles and experiences many people would face when coming of age. It's this type of relatable, open-book honesty that continues to draw in such loyal fans. “We grew up in this community where we all kind of grew up religious. It was very in a lot of ways a repressed culture,” said Alisa. “It was crazy to go to this gay club and I remember this song kind of stemmed from this poem (Alisa) wrote and then she read to me. It was right before we moved to LA last year. She was like, 'It's just so crazy. We got out to this bar and we see all these people that we went to high school with who were all part of the same religion as us. We were all taught the same things. It's like this safe space for all these people just doing whatever the f*ck we want, really owning who they are, and taking up space in a way that we were never really taught to do.' It was just so crazy and almost unifying. It felt really special. A lot of the lyrics in the song were (from) that poem she wrote. For us, in our experience, it's about being queer and feeling alienated in that. But I think, there's so many people who just don't feel like for whatever reason they fit in to what they're taught.”
The relentless positivity of much of the music—no matter what’s going on– is confirmed at the end of the project with messages of hope. Drummer Ramirez spoke about how they want people to leave feeling better than they did when they started the album. "Zillionaire" is the perfect completion of the excursion. Alisa expressed the group genuinely realizes the only reason they're a band is that they honor the importance of the relationship they share with one another. They challenged the notion that money is all you need with the mentality of relational love and bonds are what truly matter.
Alisa explained how difficult it is knowing this record was meant to be toured all of July. “All the festivals that have been canceled. That's probably been one of the biggest bummers of the whole thing and not being able to do that. It's our forte and our element. So what we've been kind of doing is figuring out how to bring more of that live performance element to a livestream or a virtual kind of show.”
Under My Influence brings fans closer to the group more than ever before. It offers a new side full of funk-tinged romance and breakups compared to the more inherently catchier pop-rock of their debut work. But at the end of it all, it's a clear showing this is an amiable band that's constantly evolving and growing. Keep a watchful eye out, because there are sides to this group we have only just started to see.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.