Interview with the Aces: Utah’s Music Scene, Old Band Videos, and Making New Friends

Film photography by  Gabriella Hughes  

Film photography by Gabriella Hughes 

We were able to talk with The Aces in Houston, Texas, opening for COIN during their North American tour. This all-female indie-pop band from Utah made up of Cristal Ramirez (lead vocals), Katie Henderson (guitarist), McKenna Petty (bassist), and Alisa Ramirez (drums). We discussed the unique music scene in Utah, embracing all differences, and touring with COIN.

How did the local music scene in Utah help further your career?

Kenna: Growing up in Utah was a huge part of how we were able to be a band, especially so young. It’s very religious and conservative there and many of the venues are all ages. At thirteen years old, we were able to play the same venues as older guy bands and it gave us a good platform. 

Cristal: Tons of our family members are in bands. I don’t think people expect it, but it’s quite a musically driven place. 

Kenna: There’s a really cool music scene in Provo and a lot of big bands come from there. There’s a cool venue called the Velour, which is a super great platform lots of artists.

Katie: It’s so accessible. I think about it now as we’re touring. Many of these venues house touring bands. As for [the Velour], it specializes in hometown bands and helping them build a fan base there, which is not very popular in other places. 

Cristal: Seeing as we grew up there and travel a lot now, we realize how unique and special our hometown is. It was such a goal for us and it gave us something to work towards as kids, which was very crucial. 

How did you guys form the band?

Alisa: We formed in 2007. I was eight and [Cristal] was ten. We came out of the womb wanting to be in a band. We were inspired by our older brothers constantly playing music and having it played in the house by our parents.

Kenna: I met Cristal in kindergarten. I always had family in music too. Then Cristal and I became really good friends in fifth grade. 

Cristal: We were so young. If we wanted someone in our band, it’s going to be my best friend, Kenna. She got a bass for Christmas and then we started the band. It was just us three and we were called The Blue Aces. Then Kenna went to a different school for junior high where she met Katie. For a long time, I just learned to play guitar to sing to and for rhythm purposes. We were looking for someone to step in and be a great guitar player. We were close friends with Katie and it just kind of fell into place nicely. I know that we were always very ambitious kids, so we always had goals and always wanted to make music a career. What was really driving us more was our friendship and how much fun we had together.

Katie: There are so many old videos of us in my basement during band practice. I remember after we would write songs and be stoked on them for days. 

On Twitter, there’s an update account that posts a lot of these old videos. It’s quite adorable!

Alisa: Our parents want to count that as straight savage. 

Cristal: Yeah, they find that stuff! Again, we don’t want to hide it by any means, we just laugh about it. We do have such an extensive history, even though this is technically our first tour. We’ve been a band for a decade. 

For being women of color, Alisa, and Cristal, how does it feel to be in a white male-dominated industry?

Alisa: That is a very interesting question and thank you for bringing it up. We always talk about how people automatically discredit you and assume that you’re not going to be capable. It’s such a shame and I think we’re just changing peoples’ minds one show at a time. I feel so empowered doing this, especially coming to places like this where there are bigger Latina communities. I see girls of color in the crowd and I love that! I love that culture and I’m so proud to be Latina. 

Cristal: When you’re talking about women of color, we’re quite privileged. Quite honestly, I pass as white a lot of the time. Alisa has a bit more of an olive tone. I think that’s such an important issue. That’s why we speak candidly about being Latina. We always talk a lot about our heritage and that’s really important. We’re just here and want to be friends with everybody and try to represent as many people as we can. We’re all so different. 

Alisa: We’re proud to showcase that diversity among the four of us and bring these different cultures into the melting pot of what The Aces is.

Cristal: It’s quite interesting too when I think about how we all look completely different. I get that I’m Asian a lot of the time. We all have such different looks in the way that we present ourselves and that’s what we’re trying to do. Regardless of how you look, your background, your race, you can be in a band together!.

Alisa: I feel blessed to have this platform to show that naturally amongst the four of us, we’re so different and we’re an existing example that none of those things matter. 

Katie: Play some music and have some fun!

Kenna: Even our song “Lovin’ Is Bible” can spread into this as well. It’s important to merge all these communities and cultures together. 

From your experiences on previous tours, what was the atmosphere like and how did it vary city to city?

Alisa: It’s polar opposite. We’ve seen with COIN they’re a big market, whereas Joywave was a small market. COIN’s smaller markets are Joywave’s bigger markets. They’re quite different. 

Kenna: It’s fun too because lots of COIN’s fans are girls our age. We’ve made so many friends and it’s really cool. 

Katie: Joywave was a fun start because it was really unexpected. We got to play in front of a lot of people who probably wouldn’t have heard us otherwise, and we won a lot of them over. It was really good to put us in front of that crowd.

Cristal: Being a mostly white male, older crowd, it was important to be that kind of example every night. 

From my perspective as a fan going to more local shows, you can tell that live music changes everything. 

Katie: Live music is everything. We saw Twenty One Pilots and I thought they were a great band with a ton of hits. I wasn’t a huge fan. When we saw them live, I was so inspired.

Cristal: When they played old clips of themselves playing in tiny rooms, they worked so hard for [their success]. They’re amazing musicians. Live music is such a different game. It’s not like hearing a record, it’s a whole experience. 

Interview with the Aces

How was the production of the music videos? You had a lot of creative input, so what was the process like?

Alisa: It was an interesting process because I’ve directed a few of our videos, but for [Volcanic Love] we were thinking of hiring an outside director. We went through a few directors, but something about us is that we’re very hands-on, artistic people. It’s impossible for us to just hand over creative control to someone and expect them to create something we like. After realizing that, I had this great idea of having the girls each pick a different movie and we wrote this treatment. We found Nico Paolillo and were like,”If we use your resources, are you down to direct the treatment that we wrote?” Directors usually don’t take a treatment from someone else, usually, they write their own. He was down enough to let me co-direct with him.

Who are your favorite female music influences?

Cristal: Hayley Williams is a huge one for me. I’ve been into Dua Lipa lately. She’s a force to be reckoned with. The other day we were talking about Joan Jett, I model my style after her all the time. 

Alisa: As far as drummers, Meg White paved the way for many female drummers. SZA’s new album has really moved me this past year. Vocally and lyrically, she’s so raw and authentic. Same with Kehlani’s, she’s blowing my mind.

Katie: My biggest female inspiration is Brittany from Alabama Shakes. She’s this dope woman and an amazing guitar player. When she goes on stage, she demands the crowd.

Kenna: Honestly, I love Hayley. Shania Twain is an amazing performer with a cool career. She went through so much as a person. 

Cristal: If you guys haven’t read her autobiography, you have to! Shania has been through some shit, and she is such a strong woman.