At the beginning of Pride, the Utah and Los Angeles-based indie-pop quartet The Aces released "Kelly," one of their most revealing songs to date. The fourth single to their sophomore record Under My Influence, a bubbly number about the turbulence of being in love with a girl named Kelly, it became the first of their songs to explicitly express “the diversity in sexuality within our band,” the quartet wrote in a statement on Instagram at the time. For a burgeoning band that'd nabbed their own headlining tour last year, had a stint opening for 5SOS, and, according to press, was previously advised not to sing about girls — it was a notable step.
A few weeks later over a conference call, the band members affirm that the song remains one of the most vulnerable stories from their new album, out Friday on Red Bull Records. “With such an honest story being told and an authentic experience we were writing about, it just felt so necessary to be so forthright about it,” says drummer Alisa Ramirez. Their 2018 debut, When My Heart Felt Volcanic, had their energetic sound lead the way for their introduction. Now, the bandmates are using it to dig deeper.
If there’s one thing The Aces want you to know about their new album, it’s that it contains some of the most intimate songs they’ve ever made. There’s “Kelly,” but also “801” — a moody, tropical-sounding ode to their small town of Provo, Utah, a place that now occupies a complicated mind-space for all four of them. Other tracks, like the darkly relatable “My Phone Is Trying To Kill Me," zanily stretch into hyperbole to shed some truth on the cash-strapped and tech-addled millennial condition.
Part of their quest for more truthful writing stemmed from gaining more experience on the road, but mostly, the members suggest that they want to reach a level of complete understanding with their audience. "I think, the deeper you go and the more specific you get with your experience, weirdly the more interesting and more relatable it is for other people,” Alisa says. “Even if it feels like you're getting too specific or niche.”
If The Aces’ venture into specificity came with hesitation, it certainly doesn’t show. Instead, the 14-track project bursts with stadium-sized pop hooks and melodies that confidently careen through diaristic recounts of love and their new life in Los Angeles — “the loneliest city,” they lyrically deem. Below, band members Alisa, Cristal, bassist McKenna Petty, and guitarist Katie Henderson explain what an authentic song means to them, and why they might’ve never succeeded as a band if they didn’t grow up in Utah.
Tell me a bit about Under My Influence — when did you guys start working on it?
Alisa: We started working on this record about a year ago. Kind of like early, spring of 2019. We'd just gotten out of our first headline tour in the states, and we were kind of left on a high and stuff ... we were just really creatively jogged by all of it. We set an intention to kind of make the most authentic record we could possibly make. And we really wanted to push ourselves with this one, and just dive deeper into what The Aces is as a band, sonically, aesthetically. And deciding to call the album "Under My Influence," our goal with it was just pushing ourselves to not reference anything else, to not get influenced by anything else other than what was within us and going deeper within our own stories and our own experiences and putting them into the music.
When you say the "most authentic record," what does that mean?
Alisa: I think in my mind, what we go for when we talk about authenticity, is just being really honest and singing about and talking about stuff that feels really true to your own experience and unique to you and just diving deeper into your roots, and kind of just making stuff that feels really truthful. I think that's just always our goal, to make this the most realest possible music if we can. I think the deeper you go and the more specific you get with your experience, weirdly, the more interesting and more relatable I think it is for other people — even if it feels like you're getting too specific or niche.
"Kelly" was the first time you were openly expressing in your music the diversity in sexuality of the band. Was there any hesitation around sharing this with the world?
Alisa: I think we just naturally started doing it on this record. On the first [album], we were a bit younger and a little less certain of our identities that way and stuff, obviously not every member of the band identifies as queer, so obviously it was kind of just alluded to versus like outrightly spoken about. But on this record, especially with a song like "Kelly," with such an honest story being told and an authentic experience we were writing about, it just felt so necessary to be so forthright about it. And to be like, totally open about it being a same sex relationship. In a lot of other instances, in certain songs and storytelling we do on this record, it also felt really important to just share the real experience and use the right pronouns and stuff. I think once we started doing it, there wasn't much to think about.
What are some of the songs on this record that you guys feel are the most honest?
Henderson: "Kelly" is a very honest and real story. But I also feel like, honestly, this whole record comes from such a genuine place. Like it's hard to think of just one song that feels like the most invasive? They all just feel like they come from such a real place.
Alisa: I would say that a song that I have always loved because it feels so personal and introspective is "Thought of You." I just feel it's a really unique song because it's almost like you're just listening to Cristal's thoughts.
Henderson: I think one other one that feels really honest is "801." [That's] the area code of Utah where we come from, and it's the first time we've opened up on our experience coming from a really small conservative town and, you know, not really fitting in to the status quo of people that come from there, and kind of dissecting that experience of being some that was raised pretty religious in a small town, but not really being a religious person and not really being like, you know, the typical accepted type of person in that society. So, that one felt really like healing and interesting to make. I really, really love that one.
How has your relationship to your hometown changed now that The Aces has gotten bigger?
Henderson: Coming back to Utah after tour is such an interesting thing, I actually feel so much more grateful to be from where we grew up because it's just so different from a lot of places. It makes you appreciate your hometown a lot when you see the world and get to travel, and also get to appreciate that there's so much that's different out in the world.
Alisa: Yeah, I think when you grow up in it, all you wanna do is get out of it, and get away from it, and the more you spend time away from it, you can start to see the good in it and the qualities that you did like about it. I think it's changed a lot in different ways for all of us. I mean I know for Cristal for sure, she feels different ... I think we all feel different towards it. I think we all, there are things we love about it, there are things we hate about it. And everything in between I guess.
Petty: I just think it's interesting how it's all been really different for each of us, and it's cool because we're all going through the same thing, experiencing the same thing, and grew up very similarly too, but we've handled it differently and adapted differently to it.
Cristal: I just really wanted to get out of my hometown. I think that a lot of my motivation to be in our band was like to get away. And now I'm like still, I have kind of a love-hate relationship with our hometown because of our upbringing but ultimately, like the girls said, I think that that is our hometown and there is something so special about it. If we weren't from there, I don't think that The Aces would even be a band because of the culture and everything. I think we were so disciplined at such a young age to just work hard at our music and you're very undistracted because of the culture. So, ultimately I mean, I feel grateful to be from Utah.
What part of your hometown do you all miss when you go on tour?
Petty: I for sure miss the mountains the most, just being in nature and hiking and camping, it's the best part of Utah for me.
Cristal: I don't miss it as much, cause I don't live there anymore, I live in Los Angeles. Touring is so much fun because I feel like you're really distracted by everything that's going on around you and seeing new places, so I don't usually find myself missing home a ton. When I do, I think it's mainly that security of your own bed, your own things, your own laundry.
Henderson: Oh my gosh yeah. Laundry on tour is like the biggest shit show. I do not miss that part of touring at all.
Once all of this is over, what's the song you guys are the most excited to play live?
Alisa: All of them.
Cristal: Literally I could become a cover band right now and be happy. I mean, obviously with our new record, we're so excited. This new music is just some of the most important music we've ever made for ourselves, and I think for our fans. It feels so special, and I just cannot wait to see everybody singing along. I think one I'm really excited to play is "Kelly." I just can't stop thinking about playing that live. I just think it's going to be insane.