Talking to The Aces, who've been so elusive over the past eight months, feels like a dream. During that time, City Weekly tried to contact them about various things—including their nomination, and subsequent win, for Best Pop Act in our Best of Utah Music 2016. Even when they played the BoUM show, we couldn't connect.
Via speakerphone from their home in Utah County, sisters Alisa (drums) and Cristal Ramirez (vocals, guitar) explain. Early 2016 was a transitional period, Alisa says. "We were kind of laying low. The band was "re-branding" after observing, through "a lot" of writing, that their sound had evolved. The band—started when the girls were around 12 years old, and originally called The Blue Aces—had reached maturity. It was time to up their game, to do things on "a more professional level," Alisa says. Part of that was jettisoning "Blue" from their name.
The band already had a reputation as being quite good—for a buncha young, ostensibly Mormon girls from Utah County. Alisa and Cristal are initially gracious about their public perception. When pressed, though, they confess that it does feel "shitty" when people focus on non-musical aspects of the band. Especially since these ladies have the talent.
Not that they don't get credit where it's due. At the BoUM ballot committee meeting, the band's initial nomination was readily ratified by the likes of Mike Sasich (The Weekenders, The Moths, ex-Thunderfist, producer extraordinaire), Jeremy Cardenas (Thunderfist), Diabolical Records' Adam Tye and Alana Boscan, Crucialfest founder/Exigent Records owner Jarom Bischoff and Ransom Wydner of King Niko/Bass Mint Pros. These are folks who know what's good even if, in the case of some of them, pop-rock music isn't their thing. If they noticed The Aces, then they're worth noticing.
Admittedly, I was one of the folks that wondered about The Aces because of their gender, point of origin/presumed faith and relative youth (they're now between 18-20). Wondered—not dismissed. There is something to the criticism of the "Provo bands," as they're called. (The Aces hail from Orem—same diff, right?) Much (certainly not all) of the music coming out of Utah County is generally poppier, and samey in an almost Stepfordly way. While not begrudging anyone their faith, it can also be cloyingly wholesome—which is simply incongruent with rock 'n' roll, which is about rebellion. But I never dismiss a band based on assumptions.
At the time, I could only find one song, "I Don't Wanna Know," online at TheBlueAces.Bandcamp.com, one of the few sites that survived the re-branding cull—"We tried to erase all traces of The Blue Aces from the internet," Cristal says. The breakup tune, in anyone else's hands, would be average. In fact, a line like, "Hey, Mr. Heartless, can you hear me?" befits garbage-pop artists like Carly Rae Jepsen or Rihanna. But Katie Henderson's lightly distorted Les Paul chords are meaty and tasteful, locking in with the slow, solid beat laid down by Alisa and bassist McKenna Petty. Over this, Cristal's raspy moan quakes with an ache more suited to someone with more life experience, like Adele.
But The Aces make you believe, and even feel, the pain. And that mid-March BoUM showcase at Sky made me a believer. Although I spotted members of Candy's River House helping out, The Aces carried and set up their own gear. At showtime, they took their places like pros—and proceeded to play a tight set of songs that, while pop, felt authentic and unmanufactured. Ramirez sang like she was talking to the crowd, but also performed like a pro. Henderson, though tiny and cherubic, wielded her Les Paul like a champ. Petty provided the low end while bumping her hip with cool confidence. Behind them, Alisa provided metronomic thunder. The set had peaks and valleys that, when it ended, felt like a satisfying narrative populated with characters you hope to see again.
Just recently, I exchanged texts about the band with Karl Strange of The Lovestrange. Strange talked about befriending Henderson when they both played a New York Dolls tribute show/New York Doll documentary screening last year. "Absolutely one of my favorite bands," he wrote. "They totally have the 'it' factor." I agree emphatically.
So now, the band emerges from its conclave, which Cristal says was all about forward motion. "We were shaping this new sound and brand that would set up our whole career and image, going forward." Now, The Aces drop their payload, armed with a new name, new manager and a new EP (their fourth) of songs co-written in Brooklyn with New Zealanders Simon Oscroft and Dan Gibson (famous at home for their bands Midnight Youth and Kingston).
The first single, "Stuck," is a gauzy, bouncy dream that belies the chorus line, "Stuck with nowhere to go." It premiered big-time on Nylon.com in May, the band debuted its video in June, and officially dropped the EP at Velour last month. Tonight, The Aces enjoy the spoils of their Best of Utah Music victory when they open for Jenny Lewis at the Twilight Concert Series—doing very much the opposite of "Stuck's" protagonist. CW