The Aces on music, identity, and queer camaraderie

Life on the road can be a reckoning for some, but for queer indie-rock darlings The Aces, it’s a victory lap. The quartet — sisters Cristal and Alisa Ramirez (lead vocals/guitar and drums, respectively), Katie Henderson (lead guitar/vocals), and McKenna Petty (bass), are wrapping up their “I’ve Loved You For So Long Tour,” supporting their latest album of the same name. 

The record sees the band looking back on their childhood – growing up closeted and suppressed by Mormonism – and unpacking how those early experiences influenced their relationships, anxiety, and current identity. Despite playing shows across the country with music that confronts these challenging issues, backstage for their first headlining show in Cleveland, Ohio, the band appears at ease. They are not only more in tune with each other, but deeply tuned in with their devoted queer fanbase.

The Aces performing at The Roxy in Cleveland, Ohio (Annie Schutz)

This sense of camaraderie within the band comes at no small feat while embarking on their third headlining tour. The all-women, alternative pop-rock band met as kids in Provo, Utah, and formed the group when they were between 8 and 10 years old — and have each had their own unique journeys navigating their relationships with Mormonism, the religion in which they were raised, as well as with embracing their queer identities. 

Now, three albums in, they’ve found their sweet spot. Their latest record, I’ve Loved You For So Long, is a through-line journey exploring their tumultuous upbringing, battling ongoing issues with mental health, but most of all, offering a celebratory sense of becoming amidst a soundscape that is a mix of 80s pop and 90s alt-rock influences. 

The album title is an ode to one another, knowing after 15 years together, the band is the greatest love of their lives, and that type of harmony is palpable not only with their fans waiting outside The Roxy, but in conversation with members Cristal, Alisa and Katie before the show. 

So, this is the band’s third headlining tour. How is it going? Have there been any good fan moments on this tour? 

Cristal: It’s been great and super fun! I feel like every time we go on tour we get reminded of how really dedicated our fan base is, which is really cool to see and very reaffirming for us to continue to create and make music.

Katie: We’ve had some really sweet VIP moments, like today we had a couple that we met and one of them recently had a stroke and this was his first concert he’s been to since that experience, so, it’s touching when we get to hear these personal experiences or hear about how our music has helped someone through a hard time. Those are some of the moments that feel really special on tour. 

Your latest album, I’ve Loved You For So Long, gets pretty personal, specifically with your upbringing in a deeply religious town in Utah and your bandmates journey with queerness. Can you share how these experiences have influenced your approach to making music as “The Aces”? 

Cristal: I think who you are and how you are raised is ultimately the lens in which you see the world. I think a lot of who we are and a lot of the reason our band exists today, and the fact that we’ve been together for as long as we have, is because of the way we were raised. It was a lot of that pressurized feeling of not belonging and a feeling of desperation to create our own life. That was really the driving factor behind why our band started as kids. It was always an outlet or an escape. A fantasy we could see us being a part of in the future. Whether that was in moving out of our hometown or just getting to do our own thing outside of the guise of this really intense, religious culture, or to be able to be ourselves, to be queer, be out and live authentically, The Aces was always that hope. It was a window into what we could become that we have now actualized. 

It’s clear you’ve all undergone significant growth and self-discovery since your early years as a band. How has that evolution influenced the band’s dynamics and the way you create music? 

Alisa: I think that because we are all more on the same page as individuals, it does feel easier to explore all kinds of topics. We’ve been in a band since we were young and we all have different journeys and different timelines with leaving the religion, finding ourselves, coming out and things like that. So, maybe there were certain topics that me and Cristal were ready to speak about on the first record that maybe McKenna and Katie weren’t ready to speak about, and that’s one of the special things about being in a band. You have to really work with each other, communicate and not jump the gun on things because everyone has to feel good about it. So, I think getting to this place now, this record was really easy to write. We all felt super aligned with what we were speaking about and we all finally arrived at the same place in our identities and our journeys, so I feel like this record really couldn’t have been made maybe two years ago or a year before. 

Cristal: Yeah, I think if you come from a place of religious trauma, it’s tough. Specifically with the culture where we came from, Mormonism has a really intense rule that if you leave the church, it’s fine if you left, but you’re just not allowed to talk about it. You’re not really allowed to talk down on it or explore that trauma. They essentially want you to leave it alone. So, for a while, when I left religion and our hometown when I was 18, I didn’t care to really talk about it. I thought “that’s that”, and I didn’t care to talk about that anymore because I’m someone different now and doesn’t feel relevant to me anymore since I was living the life that I wanted to live. But, when those things live within you, if you don’t address them or call them for what they are and address the tragic experiences and realize that that is a massive part of your story; they don’t just go away. And that’s what this record is really about. Like “Oh, wow, I’m 26 years old and living in Los Angeles, I have a successful career and I’ve made it out of my hometown. I’m out, I’m in a relationship and I should be fine, but I’m miserable all the time and I can’t figure out why.” Going back and reflecting on everything from when I was growing up, all of these really traumatic feelings started coming to the surface during COVID, because there was no way to distract me. Nowhere to hide, no tours to go on, just endless days of being in your own head, and that’s when that exploration really started happening and that’s where this album was born from. That place of stillness, forced self-examination and self-reflection. ♦

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