Emily Modaresi caught up with The Aces at Birmingham’s Hare & Hounds, as well as witnessing their excellently groove-heavy set afterwards
The Aces, composed of lead singer Cristal Ramirez; guitarist Katie Henderson; bass player McKenna Petty; and drummer Alisa Ramirez, embarked on their first UK and Ireland headlining tour this November, stopping in at Birmingham’s Hare and Hounds on the 14th, treating the venue with a dazzling night of indie-pop and electronic rock. I was lucky enough to bag an in-depth interview with half of the band, sisters Cristal and Alisa, who embraced me with wide smiles and welcoming hugs. The band, hailing from a small, relatively religious town in Utah, have been together for over a decade, surprising as its members are still in their early twenties. After talking to the girls, what became increasingly clear is they have worked their socks off to be where they are today.
Alisa explained how the band formed: ‘Me and Cristal are sisters, we always wanted to be in a band. We started when I was about 8 years old and Cristal was about 10, and we pulled in our bass player Mckenna because Cristal and her were best friends.’ Cristal added: ‘Yeah, well she’s my best friend and has been since we were little kids.’ The girls then found guitarist Katie in middle school, interjecting endearingly: ‘It’s crazy, it’s just something we did all throughout our childhood, it became a staple of our identity. We can’t remember a time when we weren’t doing it. From the time we were young, we weren’t trying to be famous, we just loved doing it.’ What really came across was the authenticity and genuine love the girls had for their craft. Alisa explained: ‘We’ve been doing it for pretty much forever. We went out for it, and here we are.’
After asking how and why Lorde winning two awards at the 2014 Grammys was a defining moment in their career, Alisa keenly put: “It was crazy seeing her win. We were like ‘Oh, this is possible. We can do it.’ Here’s a girl, our age and from New Zealand, that’s pretty much more out of nowhere than Utah is! It just kind of like gave us a surge of confidence and possibility, opened up our minds. There is no reason we shouldn’t try.” After the band ended up with Lorde’s manager only a couple of months later, lead singer Cristal told me: ‘Honestly, we genuinely are big believers in putting out what you want into the universe, and that things will come back to you! There was this defining moment: we were all sitting in Katie’s car, she drove to my house after watching the Grammys… at that point we were more leaning towards the band breaking up… it was emotional.’
Chatting to some of the fans as I arrived, whom had been waiting eagerly at the venue since 4 O’clock that afternoon, one boy proudly enlightened me that the gig would be his 15th time seeing the band play, flying straight from their gig in Paris the night before. Another lady had travelled for over 40 hours from Australia to see the band play. Whilst jokingly adding I had only caught a ten-minute Uber down the road, I was particularly struck by the level of devotion and commitment to the girls. After letting the band know of these conversations, and asking how they react to fans getting tattoos in their name, Alisa joked: ‘There’s gonna be an army of mums that want to hurt us!’ whilst Cristal sweetly and humbly added: ‘I just feel very honoured that people are attached to our music… we’re the same. I love bands, there are certain bands that mean everything to me. I know how it feels and I just feel really lucky that I can do that for somebody, well we can.’
We then dived into talking about the differences the band have seen between the European and American crowds. Cristal remarked: ‘You guys are just so much more polite. There is just a different approach to the way crowds treat bands on stage here”, with Alisa adding: ‘The states just go buck wild.’
Moving on to a more serious topic about the band’s representation, I inquired, as an all-female band, if they had ever faced any barriers in the music industry. The girls were very eager to talk about the subject and were passionate in their answers. As Cristal said: ‘It’s interesting. The only thing about it which can irritate me is when people compare us to other female acts, it’s a cop-out to me. It doesn’t feel like they are actually listening to the music, or what we actually have to say. It’s like they just see the females and think we are all just the same’, with Alisa agreeing: ‘I think because there are so few of us right now, people are under the impression that we are all are making one type of music, versus actually looking at us as a band.’ One thing that I particularly appreciated was their unfiltered confidence and willingness to accept their differences; Cristal stated: ‘Honestly, I love that we are all females, I love that it makes us different, I love that it makes people pay attention to us. I feel very proud of it.’ After noting how I found their message extremely empowering, Cristal agreed: ‘Yeah, it feels so good.’
On the topic of the Aces’ debut album, When My Heart Felt Volcanic, released earlier this year, Alisa explained: ‘We pretty much put everything we’ve ever been through [into their writing]’, with songs dating back to when the sisters were only 15 and 16 years old, noting British influences such as The 1975 and the likes of like Michael Jackson, Paramore, and The Weekend. After letting the girls know of my appreciation for the candour, Alisa opened up and explained how writing for her is a therapeutic process: ‘I feel like that’s where I need to put it. Writing is where I go to put those more intensive messages into the music, so I feel good when I let stuff out like that. I know I always appreciate when an artist is very raw.’ Similarly, as Cristal perceptively added: “You’re not doing anyone any good when you censor yourself. I think as raw and honest as you can be, that’s when people are like ‘Woah, me too.’ And that’s healing, that’s like the whole point of music.” The sincerity and uncontrived nature of their answers were endearing. What’s not to love and respect about a group of successful young artists who have perfected their craft for over 10 years, slowly dominating an industry in which they love?
The girls took to the stage for an hour set at their sold-out show. Opening with the track ‘Put It on the Line’, the band continued to play a handful of songs from their debut album such as ‘Stay’, ‘Bad Love’, and ‘Lovin’ is Bible’ as well as tracks such as ‘Baby Who’ from their 2017 EP I Don’t Like Being Honest. Despite a few awkward silences between songs, fans largely sung word for word on almost every track, and looked longingly at the band in the intimate venue. Their sound is an exciting melting pot of compelling grooves, with hints of 80’s electric pop, funky hooks and slapping bass. It was every teen’s retro dream with songs so catchy it was impossible not to dance. Guitarist Katie remarked to the crowd how touched she was seeing them sing their lyrics. Disarmingly put, she beamed to the crowd that we are ‘all going through the same shit… you may be far away but not that different.’
The girls left the stage and were beckoned back on by a chanting crowd. The remarkable performance of their more mellow track, ‘Hurricane’, showcased the unique and impressive tone of Cristal’s voice, intensified by the honey-like harmonies from guitarist Katie. Ending with arguably their most popular piece, ‘Stuck’, which has garnered over two million plays on various streaming services, the crowd jumped along with the band matching their energy one last time before departing.
The girls were simultaneously effortlessly cool, yet charmingly sweet. The band sang about heartbreak and the roller coaster that is life, a recipe for success. I didn’t know what to expect from the band, in all honesty, but after watching the gig and meeting half of the quartet, I couldn’t have been more impressed and pleasantly surprised by their performance and personable and kindhearted nature. If you’re anxious about what The Aces are up to next, rest easy – ‘We definitely have some things coming up. We just announced a headlining tour in America… just definitely more music.’ These small-town girls have done good, not through luck but hard work, passion and determination. In front woman Cristal’s own words, this is truly ‘just the beginning.’ I really do believe the band have a bright future ahead of them.
‘When My Heart Felt Volcanic’ is available now via Red Bull Records.