The Aces: Sweaty Rock From Utah
© Dan Gentile
Don't let the pop polish of the Aces fool you, they’ve been rocking together since middle school.
AUSTIN, Texas — With a median age of 21, girl next door looks, and stage presence beyond their years, the Aces seem like they might have been dreamed up by a record executive. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Everyone thinks we were auditioned,” says bassist McKenna Petty. Her bandmates all chime in with similar sentiments.
“It's annoying that because we're girls, there's automatically a lot of preconceptions, that we suck or that we're put together,” adds lead guitarist and backup vocalist Katie Henderson.
The alternative pop quartet comprised of sisters Cristal Ramirez (vocals, guitar) and Alisa Ramirez (drums), plus their best friends McKenna and Katie, formed over a decade ago in the small college town of Provo, Utah, where they sharpened their chops playing hundreds of shows at local venues like Velour before signing to Red Bull Records.
Listen to the Aces's new song "Physical"
The conservative character of the Aces's hometown was actually a boon to the band, as it made shows more accessible to younger crowds, even if the band's poppy hooks sounded out of place among the city’s folk and indie scenes.
“Provo is very religious, so there's no alcohol,” says McKenna. “It was awesome for us, because we were so young, but were still able to play at any venue. At 12, we were playing the same venues as 27-year-old guys. No one's drinking, so everyone's there to hear the music.”
The Aces had only played outside of their home state a few times before traveling to Austin last March for SXSW, where they performed a whirlwind seven times at venues ranging from a Daytrotter studio session to an acoustic performance on the rooftop of Whole Foods Headquarters. Such an intense schedule leaves little time for pretense, making the festival an ambitious but exciting proving ground for young bands.
“We're sweaty, our make-up's running, we're like fuck it, we're playing music,” says Cristal.
Their decade of live experience translates to a steely confidence that helps them weather tough conditions, like blistering sun at their rooftop performance or a rough sound mix at their official showcase. Despite the setbacks, Cristal commands the mic with pop star authority while her bandmates riff along. Henderson hammers out lead guitar melodies inspired by her love of classic rock, McKenna’s bass dutifully lays the foundation for the pop hooks and Alisa’s steady drumming keeps the energy high. The musicianship is solid, but what stands out more is a chemistry that resembles a group of best friends — they formed for a school talent show — and part of the secret to their longevity.
“People always ask us how you manage to stay a band for this long. We're all so close it's like family,” says Cristal. “The band was such a big part of us growing up and our identity, you were never going to quit the band. That was just not a thing.”
The rest of 2017 will be busy for the Aces, with an EP release in June and an album in the fall and a packed tour schedule, but the first big event is their single “Physical,” a sing-along pop tune that’s heavy on the woah-oh-ohs but has an underlying message that’s not as rosy. The song tells the story of a relationship that’s become more physical than emotional, but it isn’t about a woman scorned.
“Hooking up is really glamorized, but we're just a little bit bored with it,” says Alisa.
“It’s like, here we go again,” adds Henderson.
It’s a theme they think will resonate with their young fanbase, who they connect to directly by personally running all of their social media channels.
“Anything you felt someone else felt. As an artist, that's the ultimate challenge, putting that in a song so that someone is like, woah, that was my experience too,” says Cristal.