Flaunting a familiar, empowering ethos seen in bands like HAIM and MUNA, the Aces want to be respected for being a great band -- not just a great "girl" band. Two years ago, the four-piece, made up of sisters Cristal and Alisa Ramirez and their friends Katie Henderson and McKenna Petty, broke out with catchy pop gem "Stuck," but they had been making music together for over a decade. Singing about defying expectations ("Baby Who") and wanting more than just sexual intimacy ("Physical"), the Aces mix catchy '80s pop with classic rock undertones, but their sunny melodies would fool you into thinking they're from California (they actually hail from Utah).
Their debut EP I Don't Like Being Honest dropped today. We chatted with sisters Cristal and Alisa Ramirez over the phone about being in a band since they were kids, teaching cynics they're more than just a girl band, and possibly being the voice of the next generation.
How long have you guys been making music? Did you grow up doing it?
Cristal: We've been making music for 10 years now. I think I started writing songs when I was 10, and now I'm 21. And Alisa started drumming when she was really young too, like 8 years old, and she's 19 now.
How did you guys come up with the name "The Aces" for your band?
Cristal: Back when we were really young, it was more like, "Oh, we need a band name, we're gonna play a show." I had a friend tell me, "If you pick a color and a thing and put it together, then it's, like, band name equation: done." So I ended up shortening the name "The Blue Aces" to The Aces. It felt like a bit of a step in a more mature direction, because we had been a band for so long. It was kind of us introducing our new sound and our new image. 'Cause we've been in this band for so long, we were so young that once we decided to take it seriously and really make a career of it, we really found our sound and started really considering our branding and the kind of band we wanted to be. So that's when we were kind of like, "Okay, well, let's take out the 'blue' from the name." It just kind of felt like the becoming The Aces was "the real deal" -- that this is the band that we want to be forever.
So, do you guys feel like you're the next HAIM or MUNA? Do you get that comparison a lot?
Cristal: I mean, we definitely do get compared to [them] – I wouldn't say we feel like we're the next MUNA or HAIM, but I like to think above and beyond, honestly. I don't think we're the next Beatles or whatever. When I think of our music and I think of our band, I don't really think of the other female acts associated [with it]. I don't feel that we sound too similar to either of them. I think it's just kinda – "I wanna be the next great thing." Obviously, more power to women in bands. We all are huge fans of HAIM and huge fans of MUNA. But we've been making music for so long; we started making music before we knew who either of those bands were. So, I'd say no, we don't think we're the "next them," but we do love the association with strong, powerful women in the music industry.
That's great. So how did you come up with I Don't Like Being Honest as the title for your EP?
Cristal: Yeah. We were in LA, and we started brainstorming. We came up with I Don't Like Being Honest because we found that our moments of extreme honesty and the things we were all going through – relationship-wise and friendship-wise – were a lot of hard decisions and a lot of heartache during a lot of that time. It's about becoming a young adult and figuring out which people you wanna keep in your lives and which people you don't wanna keep in your lives. I think each song is extreme honesty.
Alisa: Our songs are about coming into your own, and I feel like in those moments of big decision, you really have to be vulnerable, and that's kind of an extension of this title too. It's like – being vulnerable and honest are kind of one and the same.
Cristal: And it can be really hard to be honest sometimes. I definitely have felt like I'm exhausted that I have to be so honest with myself, when I have to be so honest with other people. It can feel tiring, and you don't wanna hurt other people when you have to be honest.
How did you land on "Physical" being the first single off the EP, and what's the song about?
Alisa: I think it just felt kinda right; it's the next step after "Stuck," So I guess technically it's the second single off the EP. It felt like the perfect evolution: the feeling and sentiment from "Stuck" gets you [transitioning into] "Physical". I think we were just all in agreement among the whole team that it's kind of what we wanted.
Cristal: I think sonically, ["Physical] is kind of like "Stuck's" sister, but it's darker. And "Physical" is about a physical relationship that you know isn't going anywhere, and you know that the only real thing that you two have in common is the fact that you are physical. Not even necessarily one specific relationship. I think it's kind of about the dating game in general and the game of going through these phases when maybe you just hook up or maybe you just do this. That's kind of in the chorus, when we wrote, "Set it up / Spin me 'round…." It's the whole adventure of hooking up and being a single young adult. But being bored with that, you know? 'Cause the whole thing is, like, "Here we go again," but there's nothing else there and we both kind of know it. And then in the bridge, there's a lyric, "You say that you know me / You say that you love me, but you don't." I think it's not necessarily about being heartbroken, if that's what that relationship is, but it's just like, it is what it is.
What did you guys grow up listening to?
Alisa: Ooh, lots of good stuff. I think me and Cristal were raised on a lot of '80s pop -- a lot of Michael Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire -- and I think that's where me and Cristal [learned how to] write the lyrics and melodies, and I think that's where we get a lot of our influence from. Whereas Katie and McKenna grew up listening to alternative [artists] like, Depeche Mode and Toto. And Katie also grew up listening to Queen and a lot of classic rock bands, like the Beatles, so I think there's a good mix in there. We started more like a pop band and then Katie and McKenna are more like the alternative and rock end. And when we put it all together, we just made our sound.
How did you guys all meet and become friends, and how do you balance that friendship with being in a band?
Alisa: I feel like balancing friendship with a band has always been one and the same, 'cause we started the band when we were so young. It's like I don't even remember our friendship without the band. It all began at the same time.
Cristal: We've known each other forever. We've kind of grown up together. Me and McKenna met in sixth grade and were super, super close friends, and then me and Alisa started playing music. And I was like, "Yo, McKenna, you should get a bass and be in our band. You wanna be a band?" And she did it. So we were playing for about three or four years, and then McKenna went to a different junior high. I met Katie when we were about 14, and we all started hanging out and became super good friends. Katie's brothers were in a bunch of bands and she had all this equipment and this band room, and we started practicing. Katie was an amazing guitar player, and I was like, "You should play a show with us." She played a show and it's been us ever since.
Wow. That's a long time.
Cristal: Yeah, definitely. But the balance of our friendship, like we just said, is that we just genuinely grew up together. We know each other so well that I feel like all four of us are biological sisters. And we basically are, 'cause we just grew up together. I think we really, really love each other. We really respect each other. More than anything I wanna make sure that everybody's comfortable, everybody has a big say in everything we do and we try to make it feel very equal between the four of us. We get along really well. It works out really nicely. We really enjoy working together and just being friends.
Alisa: We hang out when we're not working. We call each other on the weekends. We're together a lot, so obviously there is space needed at times, but it's very normal for any of us to text each other and be like, "What's everyone doing? You guys wanna watch a movie?" We are good friends outside of just working all the time.
So how long have you been working on your EP, and do you have a full-length coming out?
Alisa: Yes. We do – we should have a full-length coming out this year, but we've been working on this EP. Honestly, It's been a minute. I mean, we wrote stuff two years ago. Then we wrote "Physical" this last summer and the last song that came out, we also wrote two years ago, in the same timeframe that we wrote "Stuck."
Cristal: We've been working on the EP for two years, and now we're really in the writing stage of the album, so we have a lot more music coming – just a lot more music, more music videos and just more content in general.
Tell me about your experiences as a young female band in the industry. Has it been easy for you, hard for you, what challenges have you faced?
Alisa: There's definitely been so many experiences that we've had where we've gone to a festival, or a show, or even competitions where we're on the bill. We used to do battles of the bands when we were younger where these older guys would just look at us and almost laugh. They would just not take us seriously and totally discredit us. And then we'd get onstage, and we'd win the competition, or we'd just get offstage and their jaws would be hitting the floor. They suddenly they respected us. But initially, they did not. It's strange.
Cristal: I remember we would hear the sentiment, or the phrase "Dude, we're getting beat by these little girls," all the time. Like, "I know, why did you think we wouldn't be good? Was it because we're girls? Is it because we're, like, a few years younger than you…?"
Alisa: I feel like a lot of it is just annoying things that irritate me: stupid, snarky comments or how you can tell someone doesn't really take you seriously. I've had weird conversations with people. I'll be saying, "Yeah, I'm in this band. I play drums." And they're like, "Oh! You play drums. Can you play as good as a guy?" And I'm just like, what are you talking about? I can play just as good as any guy – or better. What does that have to do with anything? We just have to deal with a lot of petty stuff, but we also have had a tremendous amount of love from our hometown, a lot of support as well. I think we're in a time where people are so hungry to see females onstage, especially young girls. Females like them, doing what they want to do, and being like, "Oh! I can play bass. I can play drums. I can play guitar. I can sing. I can be in a band." I think that we're in a time that's crucial. I do like it when people can be like, "Oh. You're just an amazing band. Not that I'm dissing females, but you genuinely are just a great band."
What do you think makes you guys potentially a voice of Generation Z?
Cristal: Those are big shoes to fill! I think that we're just trying to be honest and to translate some of the experiences that everybody goes through. To me, the biggest compliment would be if somebody was like, "Oh my gosh, I heard your song, and that was exactly how I felt and that meant so much to me because that's exactly how I felt." And I think that's just what we have to do as songwriters is to connect people to each other. I think that's the most important thing.
Alisa: For me, I think the reason that we could somewhat be the voice of this next generation is because I genuinely think there are no rules anymore. At least, I believe that in the way I create my art, in the way we perform, there are just no rules. It's just do whatever you want. You're so free to express yourself and to feel comfortable in your own skin and to not be shy about it. With the things we think about and the things we talk about, we're not worried about people's perception or what's gonna come of it. We're just doing simply what we want, and we're just truly being ourselves. I think that's the next generation: They just don't care.
Cristal: They're just trying to be honest and authentic.
Let's talk about your most recent single, "Baby Who."
Alisa: We wrote "Baby Who" right after we signed the [record] deal. I feel like it was just a big F-U to expectations, and the feeling of needing people to like you or needing outside approval other than your own. I think "Baby Who" really was a healing, liberating song for us to write.
Cristal: It's obviously not angry, but it feels very much to me like just letting things evolve as they do. We call it our "feeler" on the EP 'cause it's just very much like, "Trust time and trust yourself, and you'll understand things if you give yourself time." Things will happen as they're supposed to. We just felt so lucky. We had just signed a deal with this amazing record label and such an amazing team, and there's such good energy between everybody. So we were starting to see payoff in some ways, and we just felt really grateful and excited.
Photographer: John Deeb; Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos.