You only have to spin “Stuck” once—The Aces’ slinky, radio-ready debut— to grasp their appeal. Bridging the gap between The Bangles and The GoGo’s, and current acts like The 1975 and MUNA, the quartet are made up of sisters Cristal (on lead vocals/guitar), and drummer Alisa Ramirez, completed by guitarist Katie Henderson and bassist McKenna Petty. “Stuck” is the first taster off their stellar, self-titled EP, a collection that exhibits a confidence and polish that belies their young years.
Hailing from Orem, Utah, a college town 45 minutes from Salt Lake City, the sisters describe the mountain-bordered town as welcoming and very religious. “When we have people come visit they’re like, ‘You live in Pleasantville! This is a weird utopia,’” laughs Alisa. Thanks to their family, the American-Honduran siblings were exposed to music early on: at home their mom played Earth, Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston, meanwhile their older brother introduced them to The Misfits, The Casualties, and Hendrix. Alisa was banging the drums from eight years old, with Cristal writing original songs from 10, forming a tight-knit unit with McKenna (who Cristal initially met in kindergarten) around the same time. “They asked me to get a bass for Christmas so I could become the third band member,” McKenna laughs. “So I did. And then I had to figure out how to play.”
The girls cut their teeth as a live band early, using the teetotal, all-ages venue The Velour as their testing ground from age 13 onwards. It was in this environment that they gained confidence and thrived, their lineup solidifying a year when McKenna met Katie in junior high, who, thanks to her older brother’s love of music, had a whole rehearsal space in her parent’s basement. “She just shreds,” explains McKenna. “We were like, this is what we’ve been looking for!” The newly formed quartet would now blend McKenna and Katie’s alternative tastes (they grew up on The Cure, The Beatles and Depeche Mode) with those of Alisa and Cristal to truly find their sound.
Having spent the majority of their teens honing their songwriting skills, 2014 turned out to be a critical moment in the band’s history. For all except Alisa, the end of high school was nigh, college was calling, scholarships were in place, and alternate avenues beyond the band started to seem like more viable options. Funnily enough it was while watching Lorde collect two Grammys that year that inspired the foursome to take stock and recalibrate. Newly refocused, everything started to fall into place: 2016 saw the band sign a deal with Red Bull Records.
The four songs on their debut EP explore everything from toxic relationships (“Stuck”), to the tough to shake pull of physical attraction— even when you know it’s an ultimate dead-end (“Physical”). “It’s that moment of pure flirtation and being young, and stupid, and living just in that second of what you want,” explains Cristal.”
Although this collection came together swiftly, in many ways it was a lifetime in the making; the girls were able to experiment with their sound and dynamics, out of the spotlight, while pouring their experiences into song. “It’s a time that’s so uncertain and you’re so eager, and you’re kind of scared and unsure, but you’re really excited,” she continues, “so there’s a lot of this pushing, pulsing, excitement and desperation in the songs and I think that’s what being a young adult is all about.”
Now feels like an especially canny moment to make an entrance—not just because they’re ready, but because now more than ever, inclusivity and individualism should be celebrated, outspokenness encouraged. “It’s great to feel like there are no limits,” says Katie. “We’re not bound by some stereotype, we can just come out and say what we want to say, however we want to say it—just like guys have always been able to. It’s a more even playing field than it ever has been and that feels amazing.”
Ultimately The Aces’ EP captures who they are right now, formative moments as they careen from their teens to adulthood, and yet like all the best pop songs, these tunes transcend specifics to be applicable to all. For Alisa—who conceived and directed their video for “Stuck”—their music has a strong visual component which the band as a whole are keen to bring to life.
“It is like kind of almost a coming of age movie,” Alisa says of the collection. “There’s a lot of bumps in the road, but it’s a good time more than anything.”