The AcesPhoto by Jason Lee, courtesy of Red Bull Records
The Aces don’t fit the all-female band paradigm. Unlike The Go-Go’s or The Bangles or Hole, they’re so not So Cal. They hail, unexpectedly perhaps, from Provo, Utah. And, unlike L7 or Bikini Kill or Sleater-Kinney, they’re not a punk act. They play, unexpectedly perhaps, perfectly honed and highly refined pop music. As the band’s drummer Alisa Ramirez tells it, their sound owes more to the Jonas Brothers than the Deal sisters.
The beauty of it all, we say, is the band is breaking the confines of a mold cast for all-women acts. It’s exciting because the group, which brings its Under My Influence Tour to Warehouse Live this Friday, is gaining a huge audience with mainstream sensitivities for the progressive messages their music delivers. And, it is a huge audience, nearly a million monthly Spotify listeners pulled into The Aces’ fold by their 2016 hit single, “Stuck,” their 2018 debut album When My Heart Felt Volcanic and last year’s Under My influence.
Ramirez said she was only 8 years old when the band first started, a couple of years younger than her sister Cristal, the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist, and their childhood friends bassist McKenna Petty and Katie Henderson, who plays lead guitar.
“At the time when we were coming up and gigging around Provo and Utah County, we were kind of an anomaly. There really wasn’t any other female band representation at all. The last thing we could even look to in history was probably The Go-Go’s or the Runaways," Ramirez said. “We just all loved making music and we were friends from school and me and Cristal are sisters so we always had a dream from the time we were little to be in a band.
“We grew up in a household that was always just full of music,” she said of she and Cristal, whose older brother played in bands, too. “We were always encouraged to learn how to play instruments, so me and Cristal always were driven to put together a band. We met Kenna and she also came from a musical family and then we later met Katie. But yeah, at the time we were kind of this rare thing, there wasn’t really anything like us, especially not in our hometown, but kind of in the world at the time too, there was a lack of female musicians just being represented in the media.”
Ramirez said Provo informed The Aces’ music the same way Hollywood informed The Go-Go’s, by giving them space to play and support from a music community. Now that they’re touring headliners, they’re learning how newer bands from Utah have fallen under their influence.
“Luckily, we were really supported in our hometown from a young age, at least by the local venue owners. Like Corey Fox, for instance, he owns probably the most iconic venue in our hometown, it’s called Velour, and he always put us on stage and put us on bills with people and it took a while to get our peers and people around us to actually support what we were doing. Eventually they came around.
“Now I think it’s great to see there’s another female band coming out of Utah that looks up to us a lot, they’re called The Rubies, and we’re starting to see more girls in bands and more girls starting bands and coming up to us and being like, ‘We started a band because of you. You were that representation to us when we were young,’ you know, that kind of thing we really didn’t have. It’s been cool to see it evolving that way.”
The Aces have the pristine sound that a band gets from performing together literally most of their lives. They might have ruled any genre they chose, but Ramirez said they’re a pop band for specific reasons.
“We were kind of looking up to what we saw on TV as children. We were so little, we were watching the Disney Channel, seeing the Jonas Brothers, watching Nickelodeon and seeing these tiny, little put-together TV show bands and we just loved them, so we were like, ‘Oh, we want to be them, but girls,’” Ramirez said. “I think we just make the style of music that is natural to us. We grew up listening to a lot of pop music, a lot of ‘80s pop, a lot of ‘80s new wave, and just married a bit of disco pop and new wave into one sound for us and it’s a poppier sound. As an artist, you can only really make the style of music that is authentic to you, right? Otherwise, it’s probably not going to be very good.”
“We’ve been talking about this a lot on this tour. As a band and as artists we just don’t want to do anything that’s expected of us. We didn’t start a band to fit a mold like that or to follow a trend or do anything like that. We’re just artists and musicians that love making music and we’re always pushing ourselves to make the most authentic music we can make. We don’t care if that comes off as pop or if that comes off as whatever.
“I think some artists do the opposite and they kind of want to fit a mold or follow a trend and I just think that’s kind of the worst thing you can do,” she continued. “I think the best thing you can do is do something completely unique to you and something that’s gonna turn heads and not be a typical thing that people are used to seeing. So, we're always try to do that.”
Ramirez said “it’s really fucking cool” that “most female bands are pretty punk and they have more of a political agenda to what they’re doing.” In that way, The Aces aren’t that different from their punk-band sisters. Three-quarters of the band is queer, including both Ramirez sisters, and the music, especially songs from Under My Influence, reflect their ideals with explicit gender pronoun use and exploration of queer themes.
“It’s interesting to tour the world and tour the country and go to certain areas where people are all about it and then other areas where people are not so much about it. And, I think what’s interesting is we’ve become way more forthright about our identities and our sexualities in our music and stuff and I think that’s done a lot for us and it’s been a big win for the LGBTQ community, the community we’re part of, and we’ve felt more connected to our fan base that way.
“I think playing in places like Texas and the south in general and places like our hometown in Utah, it’s really amazing in a way that it kind of feels like we’re kind of carving out and creating a space for some of the misfits of the city a bit,” Ramirez noted. “It feels like an escape for kids that are from those kinds of towns and that feels almost more gratifying than playing to someone in San Francisco or New York.”
Ramirez added The Aces love playing in those cities and enjoy “crazy, crazy” shows there but “queerness, progressiveness in general are mostly accepted in those cities. There’s kind of a different energy when you play to a small town in Texas or anywhere else in the south because these kids really appreciate that you came to play for them and they really need it. They need that escape.
“You know, we have a lot of fans that come to our shows and say, ‘You know, this is the only place where I’m truly out, where I’m myself, this is the only place where I feel really safe, the only place where I feel like I can be myself,’ and that’s the kind of stuff that feels so much bigger than the music, a concert. It’s really important to us to play those types of territories where those kids really need that safe space, even just for a night. It kind of feels like a higher purpose for us in all this.”
Of course, the pandemic has kept The Aces and those devoted fans apart for the last couple of years. The hiatus struck just as the band was hitting its stride following the success of When My Heart Felt Volcanic. Because they’ve had to jump start a vehicle that was cruising before COVID’s roadblock, we wondered whether recent live shows feel similar to the first they played all those years ago as Disney Channel-watching grade-schoolers.
“Playing shows is like our bread and butter. We were gigging before we ever went in the studio, before we ever got a record deal, before we ever did anything else with music we were just practicing in our parents’ basement and then playing at the local venues. So, I think shows are like these really special places where we all feel at home and like we’re really connected to what we’re doing.
“I get the same feeling when I walk onstage to a sold-out Webster Hall that I did when I walked onstage the first time we sold out our hometown 100-cap venue in Provo,” Ramirez said. “You just feel so grateful. It’s kind of out-of-body. You just feel like, ‘Wow, these people are here for me and they like my music and like what I’m doing.’ It’s hard to put words to it but it’s just a really amazing, overwhelming feeling and I think that luckily it keeps getting better and it keeps getting bigger and all we can hope for is it continues to stay that way. But, we’re just really grateful, especially after these past two years that have just been so awful for so many reasons but also not being able to do what we love. Getting to tour, it feels like we’re finally ourselves again.”
The Aces play Warehouse Live, 813 Saint Emanuel, Friday December 17. Doors at 8 p.m. for this all ages show. $20-$70.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.