April 16, 2018
The Aces were last in Charlotte as part of WEND’s Not So Acoustic Christmas 2017, opening up for X Ambassadors. This time around, they’re the headliners, promoting their debut full-length release When My Heart Felt Volcanic. I caught up with them as they toured through the Carolinas this past weekend, working their way up to the Queen City for tonight’s show at the Visulite.
“Hey, you’ve got The Aces!” A cheery voice answers my call, and three others quickly chime in.
Cristal Ramirez (lead vocals and guitar), Katie Henderson (guitar), McKenna Petty (bass), and Alisa Ramirez (drums) are careful to maintain a united front, even in interviews, and rarely talk to media as anything but a foursome. Cristal and Alisa are sisters and have known McKenna and Katie since elementary school and middle school respectively. Though they’re just in their early twenties, they’ve been a band for almost a decade already, and know what works for them.
“It’s kind of interesting, we’ve been together so long, it almost feels like we’re all sisters,” says Alisa. “Not that we ever fight a lot or anything, but we have the type of relationship where things go over really easily, and we care about each other and our friendship more than we care about anything else. We’re definitely grateful to have this sisterhood dynamic between the four of us.”
The band, who originally went by the name The Blue Aces, were able to get their feet wet early on when a venue back in their hometown of Provo, UT allowed them to play, even as teenagers.
“I think it was always a dream to turn professional. When we turned 18 and we were graduating from high school, we were really like ‘let’s see how far we can take this band,’” Cristal shares. “From the start, there was never a set where we weren’t playing at least two or three original songs.”
“We did have some pretty great covers, though,” a voice pipes up from the back of the van they’re all riding in.
“Yeah, it was The Jonas Brothers when we were 11 and 12 years old, then Hall & Oates when we were 15 and 16,” Cristal explains.
“Oh, I forgot about Hall & Oates!” Katie laughs. That balance between enjoying the music of the day and appreciating something a little more old school goes a long way toward understanding The Aces’ current sound. Their first full length album, When My Heart Felt Volcanic, captures a mix of modern pop blended with the timelessness of solid harmonies and enduring themes of relationships, romance, and real life. The release was also perfectly timed to provide the soundtrack for your summer road trips.
“You gotta roll those windows down and hit the highway!” Cristal agrees.
“There was a lot of good love and support around the EP, but now this feels like a next step of being able to put out a whole body of work that we spent so much time creating,” Alisa shares.
Touring now to promote the album with a mix of opening slots and headlining shows, the band says they want to make the audience at their live shows dance, feel, sing… “Cry!” they all say in unison. But an all-female band in 2018 can’t help but represent something more substantial. “Something that’s really cool about our live show that we’ve noticed people really hold onto and think is awesome is just seeing four girls playing instruments on stage. We hope to inspire people to go do something that maybe not a lot of people like them are doing,” says McKenna, and the energy in the conversation ramps up as we all find a topic we’re passionate about.
“It’s something we’ve become more aware of since we’ve been touring, because we’re realizing how many people feel that way, like they can’t do something just because they’re a girl or because they’re different,” she continues. “We were just talking about this with some friends the other day,” Alisa says. “That a lot of our interviews do almost become political and almost like an activist thing. And if you think about it, it’s funny, because we’re just musicians, we didn’t really sign up for the activist part of it, but I think we’re, like, a walking example of something that’s new and different and a direction that we want to see the future going in.”
There have certainly been all-girl acts before, and The Aces aren’t totally alone even on the charts today, but there is still a certain novelty to seeing not just a female singer, but an entire band made up of women rocking out, playing their own instruments. I mention that when they were here back in November, I reviewed the show, saying at the time, “The Aces play with a precision that makes you forget all about gender roles and stereotypes, and respect that their band is simply made up of solid musicians.”
“WAIT, THAT WAS YOU, MICHELLE??” someone exclaims, and here’s where talking on the phone with four similarly sounding women becomes difficult to sort out.
“You literally touched our souls!”
“That’s one of our favorite quotes we’ve ever gotten!”
“We literally talked about that for days!”
“Thank you so much!”
After profuse thanking all around (them to me, me to them…), I explain that at that show, I had no connection to them, had never heard their name or music, but was blown away by the energy they brought to the show, even in the short time they had on stage as the openers. “To get a review like that, and to have someone say that is just so…it’s so what we’re going for,” says Alisa. “Of course, we feel very empowered by the fact that we’re all women, and we don’t try to hide that or anything, but it’s so nice to hear someone say you guys are just musicians.”
“When we started the band, [being an example like that] wasn’t our goal or our intention, we were just kids, but it’s definitely something we’ve grown into and that we’re so proud of,” Cristal says. “It’s not like a ‘responsibility,’ but – in some ways – yeah, it’s a responsibility to set an example, and we try to do that by getting on stage every night and doing what we love to do.” “And it’s kind of beautiful because it makes it bigger than just us and just the music,” Alisa agrees. The Aces bring what’s becoming their signature brand of girl power-pop to the world.