QRO spoke with the women from “The Aces”, sisters Cristal and Alisa Ramirez (vocal, guitar and drums), Katie Henderson (lead guitar and vocals), and McKenna Petty (bass), while at Shaky Knees Festival. The soulmates from Utah, have known each other since elementary school, and it shows. They are sharing their personal stories in their latest album, Under My Influence. From the joys and sometimes injustices of being women, queer and Latinx, this band is at the intersection of multiple communities, not the least of which is their community of ardent fans. These women have a lot to say as they travel on their journey to “world domination.”
QRO: Let’s get right down to the most important question: You were originally known as “The Blue Aces.” How did you lose the “Blue(s)”?
Cristal Ramirez: (laughing) The “Blues” got knocked out when we came out of our small town and signed a record deal. Everyone was already calling us “The Ace Girls” or “The Aces.” It just rolled off the tongue better.
QRO: Your music is so fun, hopeful and inspiring, even when your themes can be quite reflective. Katie, I know you have said that it’s all about sending “the message of joy and positivity,” Where does that joy and positivity come from?
Alisa Ramirez: I think for me and Cristal – and for all of us – we grew up in a household where music was always there, so it was always like: “If you’re sad, turn on the music, dance, express yourself. That was always what made everything feel better. It was a creative outlet too, so we wanted to make music that was an escape, so we could take people to a place where they feel good – and if they can enjoy, and dance, if they’re going through a hard time, we can give them something fun and positive, to help them get through it.
QRO: Your latest album, last year’s Under My Influence covers a lot of ground: love, loss, and even the potential negative influences of social media (“My Phone is Trying to Kill Me”). What is your collective creative process in making a record?”
AR: Our writing process has changed a lot. In the past, Cristal and I would just go into a room with things that we explored, and we would bring some ideas, lyrics and melodies to try to get the demo going, and then take that to the girls, and we would all decide on the demos that we liked the most, then we would go in together and work on it – but the way we have approached this album [Under My Influence] was that the song writing came first. We became our best songwriters with this album, because we just wrote our asses off. We wrote 60+ songs for the record exploring different topics. A lot of the record is themed around love, about sexuality, about our own stories.
CR: It’s been very interesting coming up with topics, about what is happening to us, in the moment – and how we’re feeling that day. I remember when we wrote “My Phone is Trying to Kill Me,” we were going through a time when social media was such a source of anxiety. Any time we looked at Instagram, we were seeing a bunch of shit we didn’t want to see, all designed to make you feel bad about yourself. I feel like everybody goes through this, and we wanted to find a way to talk about this in a way that everyone could come together and understand it. It kind of sucks that we’re all exposed to it. So [writing] is just whatever we are feeling in the moment.
QRO: I’ve read that you (sisters Cristal and Alisa) started when you were both eight years old. Then Katie joined up after she received a bass for Christmas, and Katie joined while you were all still in high school in Utah. That is a LONG time to friends, sisters, bandmates, and remain close.
Katie Henderson: It was actually in elementary school when we first came together. It was when Cristal was eight and Alisa and we were ten, then a couple of years later, McKenna joined us when we were about thirteen, in Junior High.
QRO: Wow! Junior high! Well, that brings me to my next question; that I am sure you get a lot: How the heck are you getting along so well, and having such a great time?
CR: (laughing) We do get that question, and honestly, I don’t even know – or I do know; I feel like our band is just one of those things that just “is.” It’s that weird thing of just knowing – and having that friendship and sisterhood. There was never a time when we weren’t going to do it. I think we talked about it in high school, with college being an option, but it was just always there. It doesn’t ever go anywhere. I don’t know how else to explain it It’s like a sisterhood.
McKenna Petty: I feel like we’ve formed a really familial bond at such a young age, from being childhood friends, that by the time we reached our teen years, and going through all of that hormonal, dramatic time, we just already had this “We’re sisters” [mentality] and you can’t just get rid of your sisters. Friendships come and go, but I feel like our bond has always been familial. We can fight and get over it.
We became our best songwriters with this album, because we just wrote our asses off.
KH: I also feel like it takes a special group of people to be able to spend this much time together, and work together for as long as we have, and I really feel like we are good communicators with each other, and we put each other first. That’s why we’ve made it so long; we really do care about each other; first.
AR: I also think there’s also an element of luck with that. We’re lucky that we have the personalities that we have; some people are more submissive, some people are people are more dominant. It works very well. We balance each other out.
CR: I think with The Aces, it was always a part of our identity, because we’ve been in our band for so long – since we were little kids – so it feels to me like an extension of self. It doesn’t feel like I’m in a band. It’s hard to explain, but it just feels like its “there” without trying.
MP: It just feels like a family. We’re family. It’s like we’re “here.” We’re just existing.
KH: It’s like family and also, we all work at it every day. We want to make sure that we [continue] to work at it.
QRO: As an all-female band, I am sure you’ve experienced some inequity in the business. How have you experienced it, and how have you dealt with it?
CR: I think that in the past, honestly, I don’t want to say that we were timid, but we weren’t as outspoken about it in the very beginning, we didn’t know how to handle it – we didn’t know how to talk about it – but I think it was worse when we were a lot younger. It has definitely gotten better, especially in the past two or three years. I feel like there are a lot of people in this industry that are very aware of that, and very vocal about it, and fighting against that. We, for the most part, in the circles that we’re in and surround ourselves with – we don’t have to deal with it as much.
KH: It’s definitely still an issue, though.
CR: The more you travel and the more you do – and put yourself out there – you can create your own safe spaces, but you go out of that for two seconds, and it’s like “Holy shit! This is still a thing, this is still going on.” But, as I said, now we’re a lot more outspoken and won’t tolerate it.
AR: I think you have to develop a tough skin, and take up our space. I think the biggest way that we feel we’re helping with that issue is by continuing to do what we do and get on stages in front of people who aren’t used to seeing women take charge, which is so crazy that in 2021 people are still. It’s not a novelty; women can do the same things as men – it’s really dumb. We talk about it, and we try to give opportunities to other female musicians. We’re doing a tour with an all-female line-up. We’re taking a band called “The Beaches” and we’re also taking a woman; “Madeline The Person” and “Sawyer”. Anywhere we can, we shout out other female musicians as much as we can, to get rid of the “novelty” and just make this normal – no stigmatizing of women musicians.
I also feel like it takes a special group of people to be able to spend this much time together, and work together for as long as we have
CR: The problem too, that we haven’t talked about much, that we want to talk about more, is the perception as an all-female band is that other women are your competition. They try to make you think that. They try to make you think there can only be one. You can be pitted against each other, one and told that you [shouldn’t] share the spotlight. It’s a weird thing that I don’t think is talked about enough, but my biggest goal is to bring us together and say “That’s not a thing. That’s a load of bullshit.” The more we can unite in numbers, and be as loud as possible, together; lifting each other up, put each other on stages and talk to each other and be friends, we can make that stigma, that “novelty” idea go away. There is power in numbers. There is power in voices together. That’s what we’ve tried to do before and what we continue to do.
AR: Social media is hard, but cool things about it. At one of our concerts, we experienced a slur, and we set up our Tik Tok that night and said; “We’re going to talk about this, and work to create a change.”
KH: It’s easy to forget that stuff still happens. We were kind of taken aback, like; “What?” It had been so long, but it’s us taking up our space, like Alisa said. We can talk about it. We will talk about it and we’ll continue to create space for everyone. You see those girls in the crowd that you can tell you really connect to – and give them hope for whatever they want to do. Most industries are male dominated, but we can take up our space no matter what.
QRO: You’ve said that “there’s room for nuance and empathy for people who are different” and I know you have a strong connection with the LBGTQ community. It is reflected in your life and work. What advice would you give young LBGTQ fans who may be experiencing discrimination in their communities?
AR: I think we just try to be as active as possible and as vocal as possible, especially on social media. I think you have to continue to remember that the majority of this country is still very homophobic and transphobic. Just because you’ve gotten yourself out of those circles, doesn’t mean there aren’t kids suffering every day in those circles.
KH: And listening, just opening up to see other marginalized people, with intersectional identities. If they want you to put pronouns in your bio, put pronouns in your bio. Make people feel like you’re supported here and welcome here and make them feel comfortable. We just opened a Discord, and one of the requests was that the usernames include pronouns, so we’re making that an option, so everyone can be faithful to who they are.
AR: And we want to do a lot more of that too. We have some goals. We definitely want to do more. We’ve worked on the Trevor Project, and we’ve been working with charities to pair up with, especially during Pride, and not just about us selling Pride-themed shit and making money – No. How can we help people and create spaces and go to places that the need a band like ours? A lot of times we have kids come to our show and tell us that it’s the only place they can be “out.” It’s the only place they can hang out with friends that are like them and represent themselves in the way they feel most comfortable – and that’s really powerful. To be honest, the main reason we do what we do is to provide those spaces.
The problem too, that we haven’t talked about much, that we want to talk about more, is the perception as an all-female band is that other women are your competition. They try to make you think that.
QRO: You cut your first LP, I Don’t Like Being Honest in 2017, then just a year later “When My Heart Felt Volcanic”, then “Youngblood” – and then you came up against the pandemic. Up until that point, It seems like you had a lot going in a short amount of time. How have you dealt with that? It sounds very stressful.
AR: You know, it’s weird, because all of that happened two years ago, then the pandemic hit – so it was everything, then nothing. It’s crazy to think about how much we were traveling, then how much we were doing before the pandemic, and now it’s getting back into all of those things. It’s just been a crazy couple of years.
CR: I also think that we’ve been fortunate, in that it may seem quick from an outside perspective, but it feels kind of gradual for us. I think some people go from zero to hero in a matter of a few years, and it’s very stunning for them, so I feel that we’ve been lucky to constantly see the fruits of our labor, growing at a good rate. Nothing has felt too shocking. It’s all come at the right time and it feels like our time.
MP: I feel like the pandemic was a time when everyone was obviously very secluded, so I was super grateful for our fans, because we felt like we constantly had a community that we could reach out to and talk to and share experiences with each other, helping each other get through it. It was really cool to be in a band through a time like that.
The Aces’ video for “Volcanic Love”:
QRO: On a completely new topic, but I have to ask; in your video for “Volcanic Love”, you make a pretty blatant reference to the movie Heathers. Did that come from one of you?
CR: The “Volcanic Love” video idea was spawned from wanting to pay homage to several iconic films that feature “volcanic” romances, so we chose Across the Universe, Heathers, 500 Days of Summer, The Great Gatsby and Comet (which was a super iconographic film and visually, it was very cool). So that’s where the Heathers reference came from. Obviously (Christian Slater and Winona Ryder’s characters) were a murderous and volcanic couple, and it was just too perfect for the four of us to get dressed up as the Heathers, so I’m glad you got the reference.
QRO: You are ALL vocalists in the band, and all sing beautifully. When did you realize that all four of you have great voices that blend so well together?
CR: Alisa and McKenna don’t sing on as much as me and Katie, but on stage, we all do – but it’s basically from being kids. We all just grew up together. One of the big reasons Katie joined the band as well, was not only that she was a great guitar player, but our harmonies really went together so well. When we sang together, it was like magic – and it sounded like we were sisters. They always say that family members singing together is a kind of magic that you can create, because you all have the same tone, or vocal chords, like the Bee Gees or other iconic bands. I think that we play into that as much as possible, because growing up together, and being young together – it really works.
MP: When you’ve got it, use it, I guess (laughter).
CR: McKenna is actually singing more on this third record – with some back-up vocals – which is great!
When you’ve got it, use it, I guess (laughter).
QRO: Cristal and Alisa, you are both Latinx and I know all of you have recorded your ballad “Last One” in Spanish. Do you feel in touch with the Latinx community as well?
CR: Yes, and we’re trying to be more so. Growing up in Utah, which is very white-dominated place – there is a Latinx community, but I think there is still racism toward that community, so I think that even though our dad is from Honduras, we didn’t totally embrace that culture, because we felt that, within our larger community, we couldn’t feel completely proud of our heritage. But as we got older, we realized how proud we are and how much we wanted to connect and be proud of that community – so that was definitely important to us. Our dad the translated the song (“Last One”) into Spanish, and we worked hand and hand with him in the studio, because his first language is Spanish – and it was just very special. It’s been so cool to see the fans reaction to that. We’ve had people from Mexico and Argentina, and everywhere (in Latin America) ask “Are you going to put out more Spanish Tracks? Please put out more,” because it was so special for them, so it’s honestly really special for us to do that.
AR: I feel that it’s a very special part of my identity, and Cristal’s identity, especially growing up as a person of color – and brown, and I’ve always been really proud about it. Learning Spanish, and all of the dances with my dad, and other [Latinx culture], so it’s been really fun to connect with that and we want to always translate our music into Spanish, and be able to celebrate that side of our identity in that way.
But as we got older, we realized how proud we are and how much we wanted to connect and be proud of that community – so that was definitely important to us.
QRO: And Katie and McKenna, I understand you are both very empathetic to the community and both speak Spanish.
KH: Yes, we both took Spanish all through school, and McKenna spent more time with the Latinx community.
MP: Alisa and I were in a really cool program at our elementary school, where we were emersed in Spanish language and learned more about the culture. Now we want to go to all those places and have shows.
KH: We played in Mexico and that was really cool – so, as McKenna said; we really just want to go to all of those places [in Latin America]. It’s been a very cool experience to sing our songs in Spanish, and we hope to do that with more songs.
QRO: One last question; On your website, you are called “a band of four girls preparing to take over the world.” So, what is your next move on the way to world domination?
CR: (laughter) Honestly, just more music. We’re just trying to put out more music. I think that’s hilarious that’s still ln up on our website, I think we put that bio up there when we were about [legit] ten. We’ll have to check out why it’s still up there, but honestly, it’s true – very true. But seriously, we’re just trying to do more music, continuing to tour and continuing to make music.
AR: And not just music, but our best music yet, and our biggest tour yet – and our biggest successes!
QRO: And to infinity and beyond?
ALL: (laughter) Yes!