The Aces, an alternative pop band from Provo, UT, released their long-awaited debut album, When My Heart Felt Volcanic, on April 6, 2018. Packed with stunning lyrics, captivating melodies and funky bass lines, this album was clearly worth the wait. Having been a band for around a decade, Cristal Ramirez (vocals), McKenna Petty (bass), Katie Henderson (guitar) and Alisa Ramirez (drums) spent years honing their craft and shaping their style. When I sat down to talk with them at their tour kick-off show in Myrtle Beach, SC, I was eager to hear more about their songwriting methods, group dynamic and life on the road.
Callista: So, you just released an album, how does that feel?
Cristal: So good. We’re so excited, it feels like a birthing to the world.
Katie: It really does cause we’ve been working on it for so long.
Alisa: It’s so cool to finally have a full body of work out… I feel like people can now really get to know the Aces, and really become fans, because you can get a taste of what kind of band we are. When you just have four songs out it’s kind of like, “oh they’re cool,” but it’s just so little. Now you get the full thing, the full picture.
Callista: I feel like it’s a really cool point in your journey!
Cristal: As kids we put out a few EPs, but we made a pretty conscious effort to not make a full length album until we felt like we had the support from a good label. Our whole idea behind it [was], and I remember us talking about this in detail as kids, we want people to be able to digest our music in the easiest way. Which is, most times, not to hit them with a huge body of work, if they don’t know you. Also, recording is very expensive, so we just wanted to make it short, sweet and concise for the time being until we did have the support and the time and we felt like we had a body of work we felt really proud of and… sure of.
Alisa: Yeah, we discovered our sound, and we took that journey. We’ve been doing it for so long, from the time we were little kids, [when it was] just garage-bandy. You’re not eight years old being like “what’s my art gonna sound like”?
McKenna: I think too, the type of band we were back then was mostly just a live band in our hometown. That was our fan-base, we weren’t focused on Spotify and other outlets. So we’d play tons of our songs, we had a full set and we’d play it live for a while, like for years, but we just never recorded all of [the songs].
Cristal: It’s interesting, the way that we’ve chosen to run our band together, but I think it’s just the right time to put out our debut, and it’s something we feel really proud of.
Callista: So, going back to what you talked about with your hometown, was it a place where music flourishes, or were you trying to like reach new places to get your music out there?
Alisa: I think people are always really surprised that Provo has a really good music scene, actually. It’s quite religious in Utah, and I feel like because of that, a lot of kids from a young age are encouraged to sing or take piano lessons, violin, whatever… so there’s a lot of good musicians and a lot of kids playing music for a hobby… There actually is quite a cool music scene, like there’s local venues where local bands play, and they sell out shows all week, every week, and it’s just awesome, really good bands.
Cristal: I think there was definitely an interest and a drive to get out of Utah, but that’s any band. You just want to grow and expand, and go from a band that’s known in your state, and then in the next few states, and then known nationally, and then worldwide.
Alisa: Especially because Provo is very folky, singer-songwriter stuff, and I feel like we were the first band that was like “oh, we’re alternative pop…” When we would be on the bill, it was completely different than anything the venues were doing.
Callista: Did you all start songwriting together, or was it something each of you had done before, on your own?
Cristal: Back in the day, I would just write the songs. So I started songwriting when I was like ten years old. And it was before Katie was in the band… So, I would write the songs, take them to the girls, we’d all hash them out together in the band room, and learn them together, but I would write the melodies and the structure and have it on the guitar. Then when Katie came into the band, I would still write on my own and bring songs, but me and her started writing together and she would write more instrumentation, and we did that for a little while. Literally, she knew how to play guitar so much better than me, I was like “thank God.”
Alisa: Way better canvas to write on top of.
Cristal: Way better canvas to write on top of because it’s like, when you get to work with someone whose more talented in that way than you, pieces come together. So it was fantastic, and I think the songwriting started getting better and better. And then when Alisa was 16/17, and I was 17/18, is when Alisa really started taking an interesting in songwriting as well, and being like “hey, can I write songs with you?” And I was like, “yeah, dude, been trying to get you to write songs with me since you were 10, c’mon.”
Alisa: That’s true, [Cristal was] always like that from a young age like, “write with me, write with me,” but I was, I don’t know, I was a lazy-ass kid, I was not doing as much as I should [have]… I love music, like it’s all I do everyday, so, once I decided to do it instead of anything else like college, or another career, I was like well, I love songs, I want to songwrite with you.
Cristal: So we started songwriting together 4 or 5 years ago and it’s kind of remained that way ever since, but, our band always is very collaborative and open to everyone’s ideas, so Katie and Kenna obviously come into the studio when the songs are little babies and help build. But Alisa and I will typically go in with a producer or just with each other and write, get the melodies and the structure down, and then we’ll all hash it out together. We birth the baby, they raise it.
Callista: Would each of you label yourselves more as introverts or extroverts?
Katie: It’s funny because I don’t consider myself an introvert, but I feel like, sometimes, [they] have such big personalities that like, I can be an introvert… When I’m in a certain crowd of people though, I’m very, very outgoing. [With] my home friends, I’m very loud, very interactive.
McKenna: I think it’s interesting because I don’t think it’s what you expect. Because I would be like, I’m outgoing, I love talking to people, but I think I’m introverted. When I’m at home, I’ll just hang out with one friend, like I don’t love to go out in big groups.
Alisa: I’m an extroverted extrovert.
Cristal: I feel like I’m a bit more introverted in the way that I live my life, and I do keep a quite small group of friends. If I go out, it’s because it’s a crazy night… I don’t go out for the sake of going out. I go out if my friends are going out and it’s a night of it. I would never go to a bar by myself and like, try to hang. I would rather watch a movie with my friends… It’s interesting because there’s a lot of aspects of it. I genuinely feel like it just depends on the day for me. I do need my own personal time to recharge. Like, when I’m off tour, I literally wanna be alone in my room for four days, because I’ve just been so extroverted for weeks that I need to be introverted to recharge myself.
McKenna: I do love being with friends, in groups, and I feel uplifted after I’ve had an awesome conversation with other people, but when I’m home, off tour, I literally will… sit in my room by myself. I love my alone time, I could totally be by myself.
Callista: I feel like you’re a spectrum of extroverted to introverted.
Cristal: I think we bring out different sides of each other, and our job, our passion with music, is so extroverted, so… even if you are introverted, you are forced to be extroverted, by being onstage. I think there are aspects of us that, when we do go home and have down time, you get to yourself and you enjoy that. And you kind of cherish and learn how to balance both parts of yourself. I mean, there’s something in me and all of them that even in our most introverted times, we crave being onstage. So very clearly, there are parts of us that are extroverted. If we were extremely introverted, we would probably hate this.
Callista: Do you immediately want to take [your songwriting ideas] to each other, or do you want to sit with it yourself for a little while?
Cristal: It’s interesting because we’re different in that way. [Alisa] wants to run to me and tell it to me, I’m way more like, I want to sit in my room and sing it into my voice memo and sit on it before I show it to her.
Alisa: I don’t show you anything until I have a verse, pre and chorus though. I have to have the full idea, and then I’ll take it to you.
Cristal: It’s been interesting, though, how we’ve had to learn to work together, because [Alisa is] so much more extroverted than me. In our songwriting process I do feel sometimes like “woah, woah, slow down,” because the way that I songwrite, and the way that I process melody, and get it out, is way more… solitary, if that makes sense, where she’s more like, “listen to this melody!” And it’s really inspiring for me, because it pushes me to be like, “OK, let’s grind.” But in another way, sometimes it stresses me out cause I’m like “Alisa, stop, I need a minute, let me process.”
Alisa: I’ll come in really strong, but I feel like [Cristal] will press these little diamonds, like [she’ll] really sit on things, and take it to the next level, get deeper with it.
Cristal: Sometimes we switch, like sometimes [Alisa] will bring it to me and I’ll shave away at it with [her]. It is interesting how we’ve had to learn how to do that.
Alisa: We definitely bring like, the yin and the yang to songwriting. I love that we grew up together listening to all the same music. Me and Cristal are, scarily, almost the same person, like we almost share a brain… in the room I swear we write music like, she’ll sing the melody and I’ll be like, “that was in my head!”
Callista: How has being on the road with certain people, like Joywave and Coin, influenced you as musicians, like writing & sound, and how has just life on the road influenced that?
Katie: I feel like, with Joywave, I just learned a lot about personalities and people. And I feel like their crowds were a lot different than people we played for before. When we toured with Coin, I compared a lot between the two. And they’re so different and I learned so many different things from each of those bands and the types of crowds we were playing for.
Cristal: What is so crazy about touring is that different tours are completely different experiences, even though you’re going to the same cities and you’re in the same van. There are very much parallels, in that you’re doing the same thing over and over, but the vibe, the energy and the whole experience is like night and day, depending on who you’re touring with and who you’re surrounded by.
Katie: Like when we played Columbus for the first time, with Joywave, we didn’t really like it. And then we played with Coin, and we loved it.
Cristal: I think that of course, it’s always really inspiring to tour with bands who are further along in their career than you, and have more money, more fans… [it makes] you want to grind.
Alisa: They show you the ropes too. I loved learning from Coin, they showed us some real hacks. And [I loved] the way they have their team set up. They’ve been touring non-stop for four years, so they’ve really been through it, they’ve toured a lot of these venues before. The wheels have been greased for them and they really know what they’re doing, but it was only our second tour. So it was kinda cool to hang out with them and get to see, “oh OK, that’s a good way to solve that problem we’ve been having,” like, they figured it out.
McKenna: I was really inspired by Coin because I feel like they operate very similarly to us and how we want to be, too. And their fan-base inspired me a lot in [seeing] what we could potentially be. I think it was such a good match, musically. It was so cool, their fans accepted us so much and it felt like it was our show every night, which I think is a cool and rare experience when you’re on tour opening for somebody. So I think it was a really exciting time for us while we were releasing new music.
Alisa: It’s really inspiring too to get to see all of like, America, and to get to go to so many different places and feel the energy and the vibe and the new environment of different cities. It was really inspiring, especially musically. I felt the difference between the music I was writing by myself in the South versus when I went to Chicago and Detroit. And [I was] influenced by the artists that came from there. Understanding like, “Oh, I’m in Detroit, this is where Motown started, this is where Big Sean is from, and Eminem.” And then going to Chicago, like, “oh, Kanye is from here, chance is from here.” It makes sense, and you feel that energy, and get a feel for the culture and history and where these artists come from.
You can stream the Aces’ new album, When My Heart Felt Volcanic, on Apple Music, Spotify, and SoundCloud. You can also keep up with them, as well as find out about upcoming shows, via their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. An audio version of the interview is available on SoundCloud.