Yellow flames lick steely twilight hues on the cover artwork for Under My Influence, the striking sophomore record from The Aces. Sparks tear through a thin milky film, exposing the four band members’ solemn faces through the veneer — an unveiling of sorts.
Mirroring this artwork’s intense vulnerability, The Aces effortlessly craft music ranging from bubbles of joyful indie pop to piercingly tender alternative ballads. In an interview with The Daily Californian, guitarist Katie Henderson, bassist McKenna Petty, drummer Alisa Ramirez and lead vocalist and guitarist Cristal Ramirez discussed how they’re making their most honest music yet.
“It’s been fun because with this new music we’ve been working on, we’ve just been trying out different creative processes,” Petty said. “It’s been a lot more collaborative, which has been cool. It’s always changing.”
Traditionally, Cristal and Alisa often focus on the group’s songwriting, while Petty and Henderson generally attend to production. However, with the band’s increasingly collaborative approach to music-making, its creative process has blossomed with newfound blitheness, ease and even a little nostalgia.
“It’s just gotten a lot more playful and a lot more childlike,” Cristal described. “It’s gotten a lot more like it was when we were kids, and we were just in the basement playing and making music together.”
Growing up in a music-loving household in Provo, Utah, sisters Cristal and Alisa had always wanted to form a band. By junior high, the siblings had joined forces with close friends Petty and Henderson, rehearsing in their parents’ basement and regularly playing local venues.
While the conservatism of The Aces’ hometown increased venue accessibility for the group in their youth, it also influenced one of the band’s most vulnerable songs. “801,” named after Provo’s area code, is inspired by trips to Salt Lake City’s gay bar, The Sun Trapp.
“ ‘801’ was definitely a really kind of scary song to share,” Cristal said. “It’s really close to home for us, growing up really religious and three of four of us being queer … and kind of coming into a space where we felt comfortable (with) who we were.”
Although being so vulnerable with the world can feel intense, The Aces have found strength in their unflinching openness: “Those songs that push the boundaries, though, are always the ones that are so powerful,” Henderson shared. “They can feel a little nerve-racking to put out, but (they) carry a lot of weight and can feel really empowering.”
There’s power in translating this universality into music, and The Aces often chase this feeling in the studio, sharing deeply personal stories about relationships, queerness and mental health.
“My Phone Is Trying to Kill Me,” in particular, strikes a chord with the overwhelming, addicting magnetism of modern-day technology. The enticing track is one of The Aces’ many songs that make the most out of a frustrating moment’s ubiquity.
“Cristal was really feeling just so distracted by her phone and just feeling like, ‘Why am I waiting for this text from this person? Why can’t I just be in the moment, be in the studio and write?’ ” Henderson remembered. “Then they were like, ‘Well, let’s write about it.’ The first time they showed me in that demo, I just remembered feeling, like, ‘Everyone feels this way.’ ”
Amid the pandemic, the world’s reliance on ever-present telecommunication intensified, with technology serving as one of the few safe ways to keep people connected. During quarantine, the Aces were separated. Half were in Los Angeles; the others remained in Utah.
“That’s probably the longest we’ve been apart in years,” Henderson noted. “I don’t remember the last time we spent more than a couple weeks apart from each other.”
Hundreds of group FaceTimes and Zooms later, The Aces finally reunited for their electrifying headline “Under My Influence” North America, UK and EU tour. Their tour poster proclaims ‘LIVE/IN PERSON’ in thick red, donning the mark of post-quarantine. Now more determined than ever to make the most of their time together, The Aces have rejuvenated their music-making process with newfound optimism.
“It’s opened up this really carefree tone approach that I don’t know if we had before, because I think we were just a little bit harder on ourselves,” Cristal said. “There was a little more pressure we felt making previous bodies of work, whereas like this one that we’ve been working on, I just it’s honestly been like the most fun we’ve ever had making music.”
Considering their friendship goes all the way back to middle school, The Aces’ impressive chemistry is no surprise; their laughter is as infectious as their singles’ hooks. On the band’s YouTube channel, fans can see the group’s friendship captured in endearing vlogs, filmed and edited by The Aces themselves — and titled in all uppercase in true YouTube creator fashion.
“We’re always laughing so much when we’re together and making fun of each other,” Cristal said. “I will say props to YouTube creators because it’s so much f—ing work … We don’t have all the time in the world to make videos, but when we do, it’s really fun.”
Whether their elation is captured on camera or not, The Aces’ music encapsulates vivacity, and the group’s return to performing music live is nothing short of a triumph.
“More than anything, playing a show — it’s just f—ing fun, you know?” Cristal said. “Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in feeling self conscious and scared … At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter.”
Taila Lee is a deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].