The rising band talks to V about their decade making music, their debut album, and the new single "Fake Nice" premiering exclusively on V.
The rising band talks to V about their decade making music, their debut album, and the new single "Fake Nice" premiering exclusively on V.
Text: Jake Viswanath
It's been less than a year since The Aces started taking the music scene by storm, but as the girl group has proven with their EP I Don't Like Being Honest and tunes like "Stuck" and "Physical", the Aces are already bringing their A-game. Now, Cristal Ramirez, Katie Henderson, McKenna Petty, and Alisa Ramirez are ready to aim for the big time. Their debut album, When My Heart Felt Volcanic, comes out on April 6th, and the lead single "Fake Nice" is premiering exclusively on V.
Not one to veer off their chosen path so quickly, "Fake Nice" falls in the vein of the '80s funk tunes they're becoming to known for, with a little added bite for good measure. The feel-good guitar hooks and irresistible melodies give you that sugary sweet blast we especially need in the winter, but the sassy lines heat things up just the right amount. To mark this major release, we caught up with all four of the girls to chat about the new music, their experiences as a band over the last decade, and where they hope to go in the future.
How are you guys doing this morning?
Cristal: So good. We’re just in L.A. hanging out, about to go do some rehearsal.
I’m jealous you’re in L.A. I’m missing the warm weather right now.
Cristal: Is it cold there? Are you in New York?
I am in New York. It is cold. Not as bad as these last couple days, but it is freezing. And I’m from Orange County, so I miss the warm weather right now.
Cristal: Well, we’re from Utah, so we’re loving it out here because it’s really cold there right now.
Speaking of Utah, let’s go back to the beginning. Tell me about your guys’ upbringing and what brought you guys together as a band.
Cristal: Alisa and I are sisters, and we just started playing music together at a really young age. She was eight and I was 10. It was more just... I think we just really wanted to be in a band. I don’t necessarily know where that stems from, but we just really wanted to be in a band. So we started playing together, writing music. McKenna and I have known each other since we were in kindergarten and have been best friends ever since then. For Christmas, I was just like, "Dude, get a bass. Be in our band." She got a bass. And then I met Katie in junior high, and we all started playing together, playing shows and trying to convince anybody we possibly could to let us perform for them. We’ve been a band now for about a decade.
That’s awesome. Wow, a decade. That’s a long time. Did your upbringing in any way influence the music you’re creating today?
Alisa: Oh, yeah, definitely. I think Cristal and I being sisters and growing up in the same household, we were raised listening to Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson and that awesome pop in the '80s thanks to our parents. I think that definitely influences the way we write lyrics and melodies, as well as McKenna and Katie, who grew up listening to more alternative bands, such as Depeche Mode, and Katie loving more classic rock, like the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. That influences the way they play, and when we come together, I think it’s this cool melody of alt-pop-rock that makes The Aces.
Let’s move on to the new single that we’re premiering, “Fake Nice.” Really, really good, by the way. Where did this song come from? What was it inspired by?
Cristal: We had a really, really fun time writing that one. It’s actually the only song on the record that is produced by a female, her name is Wendy Wang. She’s so awesome. Alisa and I went in the room with her, first writing the song, and we were just vibing. And she is so guitar-driven, and she’s played in a bunch of bands. I feel like we got on a really good level together and were really understanding each other sonically. And she just started playing that guitar line, and Alisa and I were like, “Ah, that’s awesome.” Then we started getting into it, talking about what we were going through at the time, which, you know, I think when you’re in your early 20s, you meet so many people. Especially with us traveling, we just have met so many people, and you’re constantly socializing and sometimes you interact with someone who’s just a little bit fake nice.
Alisa: It’s also kind of like when we first started coming to LA, like a lot, last year — and we love LA, we really do. There are a lot of good people here. But when we came to LA, we had a few experiences that were just like, "Hmm, wow." You’ve been to LA, right?
All the time.
Alisa: So you can probably tell where we had some inspiration.
Alisa: So it’s kind of like, we’re these kids from Utah, we’re pretty green. Then we come here and we’re in this culture of networking and oh, what do you do?
Cristal: I think it’s very interesting, and I think that can happen in any big city. So we just learned a lot coming out here. Like, whoa, our eyes are really open. We’re in a big city, we met a lot of people, and just kind of wanted to play off that idea. It ended up coming out lyrically, I think, interesting, kind of sarcastic and fun.
I think it’s such a relatable message no matter where you are. So, let’s talk about the album. I’m not sure what you can say. Going into your debut album, this is a really big mission statement. What was your guys’ goal?
Katie: We’ve been together for over 10 years, and we’ve never had a full-length album. I think this album means so much to us. We put years and years of writing and recording into this process. It’s really cool because I feel like throughout the album, because it was a span of like three years writing it, so much happened. We signed to Red Bull Records. We met our management. We built our time throughout this whole experience. We started traveling to places we’ve never been to before and getting out of Utah. All those experiences are tied into this album, and I think it’s just a big coming-of-age, this big moment of us. It’s the first of hopefully many, and we’re really excited to release it to the world and let them know who The Aces really are.
Cristal: Yeah. I think, just to tie that up, we also sonically really wanted to explore a couple different versions of ourselves. Like she said, we put our heart into this. We wrote tons and tons of songs for this, and we picked what we thought represented us the best and resonated with who we are as a band with this first album. We’re just stoked. Really excited.
How would you describe the sound of your album?
McKenna: I don’t think we’ve talked about the sound of the album as a whole. It has some moodier songs, but I think overall, it’s a lot of really fun, upbeat, good pop songs. Interesting guitar sounds.
Alisa: I think actually a good way to describe the sound of our album is probably through the album title. The album is called When My Heart Felt Volcanic, and I think that’s the perfect way to describe the sound of the album. I think every song is super passionate, and we’re capitalizing on whatever emotion that is so extreme because it’s about being young and about everything feeling like the end of the world. That’s why we named it that. Whether it’s being heartbroken or being so stoked to be somewhere new for the first time or angry, whatever, it's just all so passionate. I think the album title says it all.
What it sounds like to me is a very emotional album, not in the traditional sense but that it explores different emotions to the fullest extent. Does that sound right?
Cristal: Absolutely. We’re all in our early 20s, and I think, traveling especially, we’re experiencing so many things that I think a lot of people our age don’t get to experience. Just because of our schedules, it’s ever-changing, constantly traveling, and I think we just tried our best to write about that and be really honest and authentic about the different relationships we go through, whether that’s with friends or family or a romantic interest. I think it’s just all laid out on the line.
You guys released an EP last year. How is this album a progression from that EP?
Cristal: We always say the album is like the extended, bigger, better version of the EP. There’s just so many more moods on it. It’s still that quintessential Aces sound, you still have those guitars, still have that vibe, but it’s explored in new ways and moods.
Katie: I think with the EP, it was the beginning of starting to collaborate with different writers and different people, which had never happened before. I think, when you’re 19, that can kind of be intimidating to go in with a producer and try to make a guitar line with someone who is so successful. We had our start with the EP, and then throughout the album process, we just got really comfortable, just started [to feel] really able to explore and be creative. I think we got in our element, and the album just became the bigger, better version of the EP.
I know throughout your career, you’ve gotten comparisons to bands like Haim, MUNA, those sort of bands, how do you feel those comparisons? How do you guys think that you stand out?
McKenna: We love getting those comparisons because we love HAIM and MUNA, love those great bands. Sometimes, it’s kind of funny to us because we just feel sometimes the comparison is only because we’re all female. And sometimes our songs don’t sound exactly the same, but we still love those comparisons and listen to those bands a lot. We just more love being an all-female band and wanting to inspire girls to start bands. If that’s how they look at us, that’s a really cool thing because then it can inspire other girls to start doing the same thing.
Cristal: I think it’s tough because we do feel like it is gendered a lot of the time. We’ll be like, ‘Well, do we actually sound like them?’ Alisa and I have had this conversation. It’s just interesting to talk about. All-female band isn’t a genre. I think people think it is when we all do make very different music and we’re all very different people and come from very different backgrounds. But, again, we love those bands. We’re in good company, at least.
When you guys create music together, how do you collaborate?
Alisa: For us, we’ve kind of nailed down our routine. Cristal and I, we usually go into a room with a producer. We used a few different ones on this record, but depending on who it is, me and Cristal go in the room and usually do lyrics and melodies over a bass track that the producer has pumped out and we’ll work together on it. Then once we have the bones of the song down, melodically and lyrically, then McKenna and Katie will come in and they’ll spice it up with their musical stylings on guitar and bass and stuff. I’ll track out my drums, and Cristal will obviously lay down her vocal. We just build it from there. We add layers and synths, and it starts to become an Aces record.
Have you had any disagreements? And if you have, how have you handled it?
Cristal: I feel like we really get along really well, actually. We’ve grown up together for years, so it’s kind of down to a well-oiled machine at this point, especially through this album process. I know we’re gonna look back on this in three albums and be like, "Oh my gosh, we had no idea what we were doing." But I do feel like we have gotten to a place where we really understand each other, we really trust each other, and we have those conversations. For us, it’s just about having an open line of communication, being honest with each other and open to each other’s ideas. It really works for us. I don’t feel like we get in hardly any disagreements, and I think that we all have pretty similar taste in music as well.
McKenna: It’s just a matter of respecting each other, and we just love each other so much. We’re all pretty much sisters. So, if we do come across something like that, we just talk about it and listen to each other and communicate, and it just works out. We always say the solution to anything is probably to talk about it and drink water. It’s true.
You guys mentioned earlier how you’ve now traveled to a bunch of different places you hadn’t been before by touring. It kind of seems like it’s a little bit part of your album. So, I want to know, what have you guys learned from going to all these different places?
Katie: It’s really interesting to travel [then] go home to Utah and be in this little serene mountain land, but I think you just meet a lot of people and learn how to work with a lot of people, and you go through all these experiences. I think one thing I’ve personally really learned is how to take situations and handle them, and sometimes we’ll just meet different people that have maybe different beliefs or lifestyles that you don’t have, and learning how to respect each other and learn from each other’s differences. I think it’s actually really beautiful, the things that we’ve learned.
Alisa: Also, I feel like sonically, it’s so inspiring to travel to other places. I feel like when we were on tour this last year, we were going through like Chicago and Detroit and Minneapolis, and I just loved — we all did — learning what cities what artists were from. In Minneapolis, we were listening to Prince. In Detroit, I was listening to a lot of Big Sean and Eminem. In Chicago, Kanye West and Chance the Rapper. So it’s just so inspiring to see, like, "Oh, this is where Motown headquarters were." To be listening to all that music made me want to write songs so much. Going to Europe, there’s such a fresh vibe there, it's so inspiring. We were in Sweden for a while, and I was just like, "Let’s write an ABBA-inspired album." We took those funk elements home and ended up writing a track back here with a producer that spent a lot of time in Sweden that is very funky.
Katie: You just get such new flavors of new places and it brings out different sides of you.
When you perform live, what do you aim to do on stage? What message or vibe do you want to leave with the audience?
Katie: I think being all-female, sometimes a lot of people can have preconceived ideas that we aren’t going to be very good, which is sad, but it’s really awesome to go on stage and change everybody’s minds. I think one of our main goals is to just help people not have those preconceived ideas. Just because we’re women doesn’t mean we are any less capable of being great musicians and great people. We are just four human beings playing music. It’s really fun to go on stage and afterward, have people be like, "You guys were amazing." Sometimes they’ll admit, "At first, I didn’t know how good you guys were going to be but you guys totally blew me away." Don’t think that as soon as we get on stage, we’re not going to be very good, just because we’re women.
Cristal: Totally. I think, from the time we were really young, there is that expectation for whatever reason that we were put together [by a label or something]. One of the biggest compliments, I think, is when we get messages on Twitter or people come up to us like, "Fuck that you’re all women. You’re just a great band. It’s awesome that you’re all girls, we love that, but that has nothing to do with the fact you’re amazing musicians and your band is amazing." I think that our live show is really our bread and butter. It’s what we’ve been doing before we recorded records. We were just playing shows and rehearsing together, and it’s one of our absolute favorite parts of what we do.
Collaborations. Would you be open to them? Who would be your dream collaborator?
Katie: Oh my gosh, we are so open to them.
Alisa: We love the idea of collaborations and features . There’s specifically a track on this record that, it’s a dark track inspired by Banks. We were like, "Ah! If we could get Banks to feature on this record, that’d be so crazy!’" But we definitely have some cool remixes in the works too.
Any other songs on this album you could tell us more their stories or sounds? Songs on this album that really stand out to you?
Cristal: I think that every song on the album has its story. They all come from genuine experiences that all of us were going through and pulling from each other’s energy and exploring what’s the most interesting way we can approach this story? How can we -- and when we go into writing sessions, it’s always how can we, if you’re an eight-year-old little girl to a 60-year-old man, relate to these lyrics and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, totally been through that in my life.’ Or, ‘Oh my gosh, love that. Love that beat.’ We just want our music to really resonate with anyone and everyone and for people to be like, ‘My gosh, I’ve totally felt that way.’ And there’s plenty of songs we hope do that on the record.
Who would you say is your guys’ top music inspiration?
McKenna: We would definitely say The 1975 is a huge one for us. We were super inspired by the guitars on their debut album.
Alisa: I think The 1975 really helped us discover our sound, actually. That was probably the first band that I could say when I was younger was my favorite band. Their guitars and especially their drums as well —so inspiring to the beginnings of the first songs we wrote for this album.
McKenna: We also -- we still listen to them today -- grew up listening to Paramore a lot. We’re always very inspired by them. Cristal loves Hayley and her performance. We had posters hanging up in our band room when we were 12 years old and still are jamming to their new album. They’ve been a huge inspiration to us as well.
Is there anything else that we didn’t go through already?
I think just get ready for more Aces because there’s plenty on the way.