The Aces Talk Growing Up in Utah, Surviving the Pandemic and 'I've Loved You for So Long'
The Aces don't need to feel cool.
For the four Orem, Utah natives—Cristal and Alisa Ramirez, McKenna Petty and Katie Henderson—music isn't defined by the number of records they sell or the approval of industry bigwigs. Instead, it's about personal growth—and, most of the time, the need to create is purely instinctual. That's why, in their forthcoming album, I've Loved You for So Long, they're at their most intentional with their songwriting, ditching the approach they used in their debut project of cranking out hundreds of tracks and picking the best to come out of it.
"Don't get me wrong, though, Under My Influence rips," the band's vocalist, Cristal, admits to Sweety High with a soft laugh. It was experimental, writing for the sake of writing, but because of that experience, they quickly honed their craft, and their love for songwriting skyrocketed. "In general, I've improved as an artist. I have tools in my back pocket now. For this record, we articulated ourselves better, and, as a result, we wrote way fewer songs. The songs that made it onto this album are pretty much the only songs we wrote."
And don't take this lightly—they started writing songs for I've Loved You for So Long at the beginning of the pandemic. That means there are three years of introspection embedded into almost every track.
(Photo Credit: Julian Burgeño)
At first, the project was created for catharsis. Lockdown didn't allow them the freedom to fall in love and make memories the way they once did, leading them to confront what was happening within. "The only thing that was happening was everyone's mental health deteriorating. Cristal was having a rough time with panic attacks every single night," Alisa explains. "We were like, 'Why don't we talk about this?' I bet a bunch of people in the world are struggling with the same thing." Their conversations eventually manifested into the first tracks from the new album, "Always Get This Way" and "Solo."
Meanwhile, the discussions became easier and more revealing as they challenged more issues they once swept under the rug. "It was a lot of inner child work, reflecting on our upbringing as ex-Mormon girls from a small town in Utah. It became a journey of unpacking the past to understand the present," Alisa says.
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Cristal adds, "It helped us figure out who we really were, what we're striving for and who we're striving to be. What's important to us? This record was created from the place of wondering what really matters."
Because I've Loved You for So Long began as that discovery of self, they intended to self-title the album. "We're talking about our childhoods. What it meant to grow up in suburban Utah and go places we'd never been before. It feels like who we are deeply," Cristal says. It wasn't only apparent in their songwriting but also in their sound. They took influences from '80s music, new wave bands and pop-punk childhood heroes Paramore, but then, "I've Loved You for So Long" entered the ring.
(Photo Credit: Julian Burgeño)
Collectively, it was their favorite track from the album, and, at first, it was meant to be a nostalgic love song about the romantic relationships they've been in, until they realized their true soulmates were one another. "It was a labor of love for so many years. Changes in our identity. Growing apart and together and apart. This single encapsulated all of that," Cristal details. So, when Alisa pitched the idea for the song to become the LP's title, they were immediately on board.
Their favorite part? It's simple, not trying to be anything at all. Everything came naturally. "For the first time in my life, I feel like, as an artist, I'm happy to be myself. I'm happy to be in my band. We're our most intrinsic selves," all the way down to the music video itself, Cristal beams. "It shows the energy between us and how close we are."
They filmed the video on a day they spent together, with shots of the quartet at a park, driving around their city and visiting an observatory. Carefree, enjoying life—almost like it came straight out of a 2014 coming-of-age film. "I graduated high school that year. I vividly remember going on Tumblr and expressing my queerness for the first time. That was such a pivotal time for us as people and artists," Cristal laughs.
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It's a full-circle moment. They started The Aces as first-generation musicians in high school, scraping up money selling merch to make a song and using one life-changing piece of advice to drive them: "Everything is a ripple effect. Like a small pebble, everything will ripple out." Taking it one step at a time, they were able to make their hometown listen. Then, the state of Utah, before tackling the entire nation.
(Photo Credit: Julian Burgeño)
And if there's one thing they'd offer for other aspiring musicians who aren't born into entertainment, it'd be to give yourself grace. "You're going to learn things differently because you're starting lower than other people in the industry," McKenna states. It wasn't until recently that she felt like she had a place in the industry as a first-generation woman, but thanks to this project, she has gained back the childlike desire to explore music beyond the outside voices.
Being a grassroots band is an uphill battle—learning how the business of the industry works, working from the ground up to produce a song and funding every step of the process, from merchandise to marketing campaigns. After a decade together, The Aces made it work, and "I've Loved You for So Long" is proof that it's possible to make it through the war with hope, love and passion still burning in your heart. As Cristal puts it: "It's like a marriage. I might not like it right now, or I hate doing it, but I'm still here, and I'm going to do it because I love it so much […] You sacrifice a lot, but we always come back to it because we have so much respect for each other and the music."
I've Loved You for So Long is out June 2. Pre-orders are available now.
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