“…It’s not just about being on stage. This industry is so male-dominated. We need more women in the music industry, behind the scenes: producers, mixers.”
Cristal Ramirez handles the lead vocals and plays guitar for The Aces, a four-piece power pop band comprised of friends who grew up in the outskirts of Provo, Utah. Ramirez’s sister Alisa and two best friends – one of whom has been there since the beginning — round out the band, which played its first show at Cristal’s 11th birthday party. The musicians are in the studio working on their second album, the follow up to 2018’s “When My Heart Felt Volcanic.”
Full of youthful love songs, that record was written while Ramirez was in her late teens. While she talks about her feelings that maturity is a novel ingredient in the new songs the band is recording, it’s undeniable that the simplicity — the make-or-break degree of longing about relationships and intense crushes — is what makes The Aces’ debut-album feel so whimsically relatable.
“I was reading this interview with Halsey,” Ramirez mentions, talking about another musician whose work acts as a running history of growth, not just as a writer and performer, but as a person. “She was talking about her single, ‘Nightmare.’ And looking back on her and the albums she’s put out, it’s so interesting, she said: ‘I’m able to be so much more truthful now, but it’s not casting any judgment on a younger me. That was as truthful as I was able to be at that age.’ ”
Ramirez relates this to her work with The Aces and the time of her life when she was working on the songs that would become the band’s first album.
“That’s as emotionally vulnerable as I was able to be at 19. Those lyrics are true, they’re very real, but I’m older and able to dive a little deeper and that just comes with age and time.”
The includes Ramirez’s younger sister Alisa on drums, McKenna Petty on bass – both of whom have been there since the beginning – and guitarist Katie Henderson, who became friends with the band a couple years later as the older two members were heading into high school.
“We’ve been a band since we were 10 years old. We were kids and we were figuring out our interests. I think the band was always a foundation between us that we could retreat to,” Ramirez says.
With lyrics of teenage travails, and a seriously catchy pop groove underlying most of their songs, it’s no surprise that, at a recent show near the group’s Provo home, the roar of The Aces’ predominantly female fans reverberates following each song. The makeup of the players and honesty with a tongue in-cheek cleverness in their lyrics has led more than a few of their female fans to express that they were inspired to play music after seeing and listening to the band.
“I think a lot of the music industry has tried to project that onto women in bands – that being all females is a gimmick, this kitschy thing. We’ve always held our ground about that. We don’t do stuff if it doesn’t feel like us. And we’ve surrounded ourselves with a team of people that respect that.”
But following the release of “When My Heart Felt Volcanic,” The Aces set out on a tour schedule that would have them playing everywhere from festival stages to larger venues opening for 5 Seconds Of Summer to their own headlining shows. And one thing Ramirez kept seeing was that while they were meeting other women in bands and younger fans who were inspired to pick up instruments, there weren’t very many women in other parts of the music business.
“There’s so many outlets in the music industry that girls need to know about,” Ramirez says. “It’s been interesting to start touring. We’ve gone out of our way to try to hire women and it’s not easy because the pool of women who are doing these jobs is very limited right now. I’m hoping that changes and it’s brought more to the forefront.”
Another part of Ramirez’s identity that has outwardly influenced the band’s music is her Latin roots.
“Our dad played a lot of Latin music in the house growing up. We grew up listening to a lot of music that conveyed a lot of joy and a lot of dancing.” And while those influences can easily be heard underlying The Aces’ music, they also released a version of their song, “Last One” in Spanish.
Reflecting on their first album throughout the recording process for the upcoming album, Ramirez sees both the challenge and freedom of creating a new project.
“It’s now approaching a year and a half since our album came out, and I look back on it and it’s such a beautiful part of our band, but I realize there’s so much more for us to say, and that album feels like a stepping stone. Alisa and the girls and I are just articulating ourselves in such a different way now.”
When asked if there’s anything that has stayed the same, Ramirez notes that while there has been a large degree of personal growth for each person, some of the principles that they’ve always written with are still there.
“Motown is such a massive part of the inspiration for our band. It’s this intangible feeling that you’re trying to create with the music. Not to say that the lyrics aren’t important — they can be the cherry on top — but if you don’t have those melodies that just evoke emotion, then you’re missing the foundation of the house.”
As for what it is that pushes her during the writing process, Ramirez admits that the girls mix a formula that they enjoy with trying to visualize that formula each night through an evolving perspective.
“We’ve always just tried to find clever ways to articulate this out-of-body experience while still talking about very regular normal things,” she says. “But in my head, I always ask myself, ‘what can I do to put on a better show than last night? What can I do to make it a show that they go home gushing about?’ ”
The Aces play the Life Is Beautiful Festival in Las Vegas, Sept. 20 to Sept. 23.
More information and tickets are available at LifeIsBeautiful.com
— Shaun Astor