In their new album ‘Under My Influence,’ The Aces shine among a well-balanced landscape of pain and positivity, rock edges and pop-funk flourishes, individual experiences and societal critiques.
In a world that constantly feels in turmoil, we all desperately need a space to claim that feels rightfully and solely, our own. The Aces, an indie rock band hailing from Provo, Utah, certainly agree. Atwood Magazine recently spoke with the two sisters, Alisa and Cristal Ramirez, bassist McKenna Petty, and guitarist Katie Henderson to hear more about the intent and creativity that inspired their second full-length album.
Under My Influence releases today, July 17, 2020, following a nearly two-year hiatus, an album postponement in June, and a slurry of singles – “Daydream,” “Lost Angeles,” “My Phone is Trying to Kill Me,” and “Kelly.” The album postponement arrived out of respect for the growing protests last month surrounding racial injustice in the United States. As our conversation reveals, The Aces highly prize and encourage the idea of allowing for and taking up space that rightfully belongs to people regardless of background. In that respect, the move came as no surprise to fans who know them well, but the tide of anticipation swelled to an even greater mass.
I just want people to listen to Under My Influence and feel validated and feel like they can say what they want to say in any facet of their life whether they’re artists, whether they’re students, whether they’re whatever. Just to feel unapologetic about your identity and who you are and in taking up your space.
Under My Influence opens with many of the singles we’ve already been gifted including “Daydream,” “My Phone is Trying to Kill Me,” and “Kelly.” The introduction is loud, lively, and entrancing – filled with groovy guitar riffs and Cristal Ramirez’s signature vocal flurries. Both the second track, “New Emotion,” and fifth track, “Can You Do,” complement their predecessors’ energy and add more sharp rock flavor to the pot. The opening to this album hums like a fast driving Mustang and tingles like the night before of summer break.
When we reach “All Mean Nothing,” the songs slow their pace – almost as if cruise control is switched on – and our drivers take some time to reflect, release, and reclaim. Although The Aces mention their native Utah in interviews and biographies, we’ve never heard a mention of their hometown in their music until “801.” This track serves as a reckoning for The Aces and their hometown; it centers around the alienation they felt growing up and how eventually they had to leave it behind.
Growing up in the 801
there’s only one club
so we blow it up
Leave your church shoes
and your Sunday clothes
but bring your guilt
and we’gon let it go
“801” – The Aces
With the entrance of “Cruel,” “Not Enough,” and “I Can Break Your Heart Too,” we hear more about heartbreak, relationships, and the pain of moving on. Although “Cruel” emits an upbeat, flowery rhythm, the lyrics take us to a place of real pain and confusion. It’s a moment caught in between aching to move on and the frustration of not knowing how to.
Why’d I have to love something bad
can’t you go and hurt someone new
Why protect myself to give it all back
How am I back to square one with you
Oh, I’ve lost myself
in a vicious hell
of thinking you’ll change
when I know that you never do
Why’d I have to go back to you
Why’d I have to fall for someone cruel
“Cruel” – The Aces
At the end of the drive, The Aces bring back the high energy with funk and joy. With a rock ballad foundation, “Going Home” sings of uncomplicated, pure, and exhilarating love. Although the track sings about romantic love, the lyrics – at times – feel like they could be applied to platonic love as well. Simply put, it’s about the almost unbelievable and unbreakable strength of certain relationships – and the beauty of that phenomenon. Finally, “Zillionaire” leaves listeners on the most impeccable note with a strong dance rhythm, ’80s electronic flair, and fantastical, daydreamy lyricism. It’s fun, colorful, and bright – just like The Aces.
All in all, Under My Influence showcases The Aces in a new light: more sure of themselves, their artistic choices, and their direction as a band. Get all the info on the album’s creation in our interview!
Listen: ‘Under My Influence’ – The Aces
A CONVERSATION WITH THE ACES
Atwood Magazine: Hi y'all! It's great to be speaking with you again. How are you?
Cristal: Hey! This is Cristal and I’m with Alisa. We’re in Los Angeles and Katie and Ken are in Utah. We haven’t seen each other in a minute but, yeah, just taking it day by day. What about you?
I've been good. I feel like the last time we spoke the world was a different place. But, I've been good, same are you just taking it day by day, I'm so excited to get to interview y'all again, especially for your new album. I do have to say I really respect y'all for postponing the release date. It's just a really admirable thing to do, especially given everything that's going on so thank y'all for doing that. But on the topic of the album, my first question is: what inspired the album title Under My Influence?
Cristal: Under My Influence first came around, Alisa first came up with that she had an idea for it with “no influence.” And it came from the same idea that while we made this record we didn’t want to try and reference any other music super heavily. I think when you go into sessions, sometimes you think, ‘I’ve been listening to this artist a lot lately so I want to make something like that vibe’ or ‘Oh, I love this song, I love that beat’ or whatever it is. So with this record, it just seemed like we were going into the studio and just starting from completely from scratch. Whatever drum loop, or whatever it was that kind of struck our interest, and it was all following a feeling and taking our power back. Feeling the record was under our influence.
Alisa: There’s a strong theme going throughout the whole record. As we were making it – exactly what Chris was saying – it was trying to make stuff that’s artful and not referencing any other artists or trying to listen to any other like outside music in the studio. We were trying to really just go off of what was already in our own minds and our own creative capacity. We just wanted to make music that was really authentic, really true to ourselves. So that was where the title came from of just wanting to make an album that sounds completely free of outside opinions or inferences.
Cristal: It was going off of our gut instincts and trying to match the sonic of the records to the emotion of the record because the main thing that sticks out to me – when I think of the of this record – is it’s more vulnerable and more straight from the heart to paper than anything we’ve ever made. So I think that it’s just this very authentic piece of art made by us, for us.
That's really amazing. So, when y'all were working in the studio you didn't listen to any other music?
Cristal: I mean, I definitely think we did listen to other music but I think when we were going into the studio, we were trying to connect to the roots of music – more like what we grew up on and music that really shaped us as artists and as people. It was less about referencing exact music in the studio and more about what speaks to us? ‘Oh, that beat let’s build on’ or ‘Oh that guitar line let’s build on that.’ It felt overall – like sonically – when we were choosing or listening back to production and production notes, that we were guiding it in a way that felt more nostalgic for us, and more like the core roots of who we are as musicians and what we really grew up listening to.
We just wanted to make music that was really authentic, really true to ourselves. So that was where the title came from of just wanting to make an album that sounds completely free of outside opinions or inferences.
That's really cool. I think that's an interesting way to go into the studio. I feel nowadays people often go in and they're more focused on what they heard yesterday, on what is going to inspire them right now. But instead, y'all took a different route and really thought less about now and thought more about your journey and how you got there.
Cristal: Yeah, totally and I think for us as a band too, you know – I think for everyone it’s kind of a big statement but – I think for us at least we really try to make music that we feel someone would still love 10 years from now. I think that that comes from authentically making music that you genuinely love. You know what I’m saying? And not trying to follow trends and not trying to follow everything you’re hearing, like in pop music necessarily, but just making stuff that all really speaks to you and feels like it could apply it anytime. You know what I mean?
That's awesome. So, I've been fortunate enough to hear the album, but most people haven't. But they have been able to hear 'Daydream,' 'Lost Angeles,' 'My Phone Is Trying To Kill Me,' and 'Kelly.' So, how did y'all go about choosing those specific tracks as singles and as the front songs?
Cristal: I think when it came down to singles. We knew that the first one would be ‘Daydream,’ that one felt really important because it feels like a perfect mix of ‘old’ Aces into ‘new’ Aces; it feels like a bridge, it feels very reminiscent of our first record, but with a newness to it, a freshness and a maturity. Almost like a maturation from the first record – so that felt like a really good place to start. And then, launch into something like ‘Kelly,’ ultimately, which feels very different in our opinion for our band.
Alisa: I think we just liked the idea of easing our fan base into the new chapter. We like the idea of giving them something that feels familiar but also fresh. We know that the release moment is important. Cause I know as a fan of certain bands, when they come back with something that’s so different, as the first drop, you almost don’t know how to feel because you think ‘Does this sound like them? Does this sound like the band that I love?” We wanted to be conscious of that and ease them into it. After ‘Daydream’ and ‘Lost Angeles,’ that’s when it felt right to do something pretty different. Like ‘My Phone Is Trying To Kill Me,’ and then, ‘Kelly.’ Give them a nice little transition.
Very cool. I love that thought process.
Katie: Yeah, I think singles are really interesting, picking those. Also displaying them for your friends and your family and our team and they all tend to start raising their hands about different ones. It’s honestly one of my favorite parts about creating an album, getting people excited for what’s going to be on the record.
Watch: “Daydream” – The Aces
Yeah, for sure! There's definitely an anticipation and build to it, a lot of excitement around it too! Now reflecting on y'all releasing Kelly, I saw your tweet and about releasing this during Pride Month and the intentionality behind that. On Under My Influence, y'all started using feminine pronouns more and writing openly gay love songs which is so beautiful. What guided y'all to this decision? Why was it important for your band to intentionally write this way?
Cristal: I think it just grew to the point of we, we can’t not, you know? Connecting it back to ‘under my influence’ in what the whole record means to us of getting deeper, getting more vulnerable, taking that power back, owning your space in your art, and doing it without outside perspective influencing you. We just started writing, you know, very candidly about what we were going through, Elisa and I specifically we write lyrics and we’re both queer and Katie is as well. So, it just happened really naturally. I think it was definitely one of those things, when we were writing demos, it was just organically happening because we were talking about our dating life, as one does when they write songs.
Then I was said, ‘Okay you know we haven’t done this before. How do we feel?’ We had a great conversation between us four because Kenna is not queer. And so we asked, ‘Do we feel like this represents our band? Do we feel comfortable and confident enough to do this?’ Because we come from a really religious hometown, where there are a lot of outside pressures and a lot of outside voices. And I think within the music industry as a whole there is still a lot of work to do with normalizing queerness in music. There ultimately came a point where it was, ‘Yeah, we do this because what’s the other option? We censor ourselves and take out the pronouns.’ That’s not who The Aces is and it never will be. So, it just felt like, of course, these are the songs. These are the stories of our lives.
I love that, and I agree. The music industry does still have a ways to go in representing queerness and -
Cristal: Especially for women.
Cristal: I think what’s really tough about it is that women in general in the music industry are sparse. I think we’re getting better with emerging artists now like Billie Eilish doing it like totally her own way and reclaiming that space. You know, in the music industry, women are just so overly sexualized all the time. And I think underrepresented and an afterthought pretty much. So there’s just work to still be done today. We feel like it’s our responsibility to be just as authentically ourselves as possible so that there is that representation because I think it is still so limited for queer women typically, in the pop space as well.
Yeah. Well, kudos to y'all for starting do that work. We all definitely need to do it together. But, yeah I loved ''Kelly.'' It's such a fun song, and it's a very important voice to highlight. ''My Phone Is Trying To Kill Me'' is another really fun song, definitely more rock energy for y'all. I love this track and, I love the line, 'There's a monster in my pocket that keeps telling me just what to do.' Really focusing in on how attached to our devices we can be. So, again, what compelled y'all to write about this topic now, in this moment, and what do you hope listeners take from this track?
Cristal: Yeah, when we were writing ‘My Phone Is Trying To Kill Me,’ we wrote it with Justin Tranter. He’s an incredible songwriter. I remember sitting there, and we were talking about how hip hop music is now, and for the past probably five-plus years, basically the biggest genre in the world, right? They’re the biggest stars from Post Malone to Travis Scott to all these massive superstars. And he said, ‘I feel like the reason why rock music is not – because at one point in the history of music, rock music was the biggest genre in the world, in the 70s, right? And he’s like, ‘I just feel like the reason why rock music isn’t as relevant anymore is because it hasn’t evolved, it hasn’t become current anymore and from the lyrics to the production. Hip hop artists are talking about what’s going on right now in the world.’
It’s very relatable music for this generation. And he continued, ‘I just feel like rock isn’t really doing that.’ So we wanted to challenge that idea. If we were to make a rock song, or an alternative rock song pop song, how can we make it like current and what are we going through right now? And I think we wanted to branch away from a love song that day as well, so we asked what’s going on in our lives. We started talking about social media and talking about how controlled you can feel and how connected we are to our devices.
We discussed how they can really influence and change our emotional state which is so crazy. How many times have you had a friend who looks at their ex’s story and then their mood is just bummed for a few hours, right? It’s such an emotional thing, it’s these windows into each other’s lives and you can almost track each other and see what each other are doing constantly. We talked about how that can really affect your mental health, and how interesting and crazy it is to be growing up in a time where that is our reality. So that’s how ‘My Phone Is Trying To Kill Me’ came about and it was just an organic conversation and with a lot of frustration around growing up in this social media age.
Watch: “My Phone is Trying to Kill Me” – The Aces
Very cool. I love that, more people are writing songs about social media and mental health and we definitely need to hear more about it and hear more about how we can't be controlled by them. So, I love that track. So ''801'' I know is a shout out to your hometown in Utah. That track felt a little different for me and from the rest of the album because it's about growing up in a smaller city with certain societal pressures and about trying to be rebels sometimes, which is fun to hear about. So, why were this track and this specific story important for y'all to include on this album?
Alisa: I think ‘801’ is definitely a favorite for all of us and, yeah, you nailed it. It’s exactly about coming from a smaller conservative hometown, which I think honestly a lot of people can relate to. And feeling like you never really fit the status quo of the social agenda there, I guess, I don’t know a different way to say that? But yeah it is so important for the record because we’ve never really talked about our hometown or where we come from a whole lot in our music. A lot of our music has been written in New York and LA and Cris and I live in LA now. All four of us together have traveled so much and we’ve never really talked a ton about being from Utah and what that was like. So it just felt like the song came about supernaturally and it felt natural to all of us to talk about. Because when you grow up in a place that’s really conservative and kind of stuffy, I think everyone – whether they admit it or not – feels a little uncomfortable at times and feels the pressure of the people around them.
Yeah, that's awesome. I mean, I still live in my small town - it's not necessarily a conservative town - but I think it's definitely something people go through, and not everyone can leave that hometown, unfortunately. They have to figure out how to live there and live with it.
Alisa: Yeah totally. I remember the first time we started playing ‘801’ for some friends and people at the label and I was surprised at how many people said, ‘Wow I can relate to that so heavy.’ It was crazy how many people were like, ‘Yeah I felt that same way, I’m from wherever Indiana, Texas, somewhere in there but I felt that same way and I just relate to it so hard.’ I found it interesting because we’re talking about something so niche, our own little experience growing up in Provo, Utah. Even though it seems really specific, in reality, it’s something that a lot of people can relate to which I thought was really interesting.
Cristal: Yeah, and I think it’s really interesting to realize that you grow up and we’ve been able to leave our hometown and see the world and see different cultures and different people and learn a lot. But I think it’s so interesting to realize as you get older, I think everybody’s really afraid of speaking out on their insecurities and different things that they feel pressurized by, because they think they’re going to be judged and that no one’s going to feel the same way as them. The craziest thing is that the older you get, the more you realize that we really are all so alike and we all really do feel similar ways.
Talking to people as you get older you realize that they felt a certain way, and I totally did too. But I would have never known that person felt the same way as me from like the outside perspective, right? I would have been like, ‘Oh, they don’t, they don’t get it, they’re doing great. They’re living their religious life or they’re not concerned about anything and I’m over here feeling like all the things I do because I don’t fit in.’ And then you talk to them and they’re like, ‘Oh gosh, I feel the exact same way.’ Do you know what I mean? I’m barely holding it together myself you know? So that’s what that song feels like to me. It just feels like this admission of how we all feel, and we all felt the same way, even though we felt it in like different ways, regardless of if you’re queer or you just have your own struggle within your community of not feeling like you fit in. I feel like everyone feels that.
McKenna: I’m just gonna add that I think it’s interesting that I feel like on tour or whatever I’m always the most nervous when we play Salt Lake City or play Provo. I feel like everyone has a really big connection to their hometown and those are the people that you grew up with and who are watching what you’re doing and you just feel more nervous being in your hometown. I feel like ‘801’ was a special song too because, at least for me, it felt like a really vulnerable place to go to be singing and calling out and singing directly to where we’re from. So I think that was like an important step as a band too, and a vulnerable place to go.
Definitely. When you think about your specific experience, you can't initially see how this could relate to anyone else or, you know, really inspire them. Yet I've always found that the most vulnerable and most specific songwriting is - even if our lives and backgrounds are completely different - always the songwriting I'm most attracted, inspired by, and adore. So I think it's great that y'all wrote about your hometown and your experience there regardless of the pressure you were feeling so that's awesome. We've spoken about how this album is about heartbreak, about having fun, about finding yourself. What for y'all are the major themes and messages that you want listeners to get from Under My Influence?
Cristal: I just want people to listen to Under My Influence and feel validated and feel like they can say what they want to say in any facet of their life whether they’re artists, whether they’re students, whether they’re whatever. Just to feel unapologetic about your identity and who you are and in taking up your space. That’s what we really did on this record. I think it’s really scary to take up space, you know? It’s scary to be like, ‘This is who I am, I’m not apologizing for it. Because I shouldn’t have to and I’m proud of who I am.’ Even outside of, obviously, queerness for us.
I think that as women and touring musicians, and sisters and family members or friends, whatever it is, I think we’re just more sure of who we are as people than we’ve ever been. That also just comes with age and growing into yourself, trying different things out, realizing who you want to be, and who you want to become. So with Under My Influence I just want people to feel really empowered, and I want anyone who listens to take that same energy and go put it into whatever they feel passionate about – and really own that space.
Katie: I think another thing that we always talk about is that we really want to exude in our music an overall sense of positivity because we’re really optimistic people. By the end of the album, you reach ‘Going Home’ and ‘Zillionaire’ and it leaves you with that really fun, happy vibe. I think we always try to carry with us in whatever we’re doing.
I love that. I think it is a really empowering album because exactly as you mentioned Cristal were unapologetically yourselves on this album, which is fantastic.
Cristal: Thank you! My one last note on that too is that I think we discovered there’s also a lot of power in vulnerability and power in admitting when you’re really struggling or admitting when you’re really heartbroken and sitting with that pain. But then realizing, ultimately, I think the album has this big overarching story where you start out with a song like ‘Daydream’ and then you really get into a lot of different topics. There’s pain and sadness in there but there’s also a lot of redemption in a way because you then finish with ‘Going Home’ and ‘Zillionaire’ that give it this lightness and positive ending saying it’s going to be okay.
We went through it, and now we’re here, and we’re out on the other end. So I think in this record too we as people – because we are so positive it’s also in our defense mechanisms to be like ‘It’s okay, we’re fine,’ – but in this record, there were times where it was like, ‘We’re not fine.’ Cruel is a song where I was like, ‘I’m not doing okay right now, I’m really upset and I’m really heartbroken and it doesn’t feel like is ever going to end for me.’ But it does and the overall message at the end is that you will get through that stuff. But, also to not be afraid to explore the darkness at the same time.
That's really important and I've been thinking about that a lot. I've just been reading a lot and I feel like most books - this is probably similar to music - when you're finishing, and you're trying to wrap up this story, you always want to leave people in a happy place or on a happy note, you want to inspire them in some way. But not every story has a happy ending in reality, you know? Not every story is supposed to only bring happiness, it's also supposed to bring enlightenment and maybe it is supposed to make you feel sad but it's because that's all part of the human experience. So I think that's great. My final question is what are each of your favorite tracks from the album and why?
Cristal: Oh, this is a good question. Katie, do you want to start?
Katie: Sure! I have a lot of favorites. It’s really honestly impossible to say that only one is my absolute favorite, but I think, for sure, one of my favorites is ‘Cruel.’ I never get tired of listening to that song and I really love the production that song, I really love the recording on that song, I think it’s another reason why I love it so much. But yeah, I just think the chorus and everything about it is so heartbreaking, so emotional, and really brings you into that moment. Yeah, I love it.
McKenna: It’s really hard for me to choose favorites as well, but I feel that a couple that stays steady in the top for me are ‘Thought Of You,’ from the first time I heard it, I just think it’s such a great song, and just such a great representation. Especially from my conversations with Cristal and I think it’s such a special thing that they wrote about and a cool perspective. So, I’ve always loved that song. I love the production on it as well. Another song that I’ve loved since the beginning is ‘I Can Break Your Heart Too,’ it’s just such a feel-good, fun summer song. And yeah, I always loved it.
Cristal: I think my problem is I love a lot of different songs. But, I would agree with Katie I think ‘Cruel’ for me personally, is one of my – it’s a song that means the most to me on the record because I felt like I broke through to like a deeper level of being able to express myself artistically when we wrote that song. We wrote it in Malibu and I just remember I was going through a really gnarly breakup and was really upset about it and really having a hard time feeling like I couldn’t even be creative.
I just didn’t want to. I didn’t want to write and I felt like I couldn’t even enjoy Malibu. All I wanted to do was curl up and watch Netflix. I didn’t want to do anything and I remember Alisa being like, ‘Listen, you don’t have to. There’s no facade you have to uphold. You’re in the comfort of us, I’m here, Christian – who worked on half the record with us, who we’re really close with – is not going to judge you if you cry. Just pour into the music, just get it off your chest, let’s talk about it, and let’s use our art together to heal and help you.’ And she really just became my scribe. I feel like I just released how I was feeling and Elisa just wrote it on paper and helped me turn it into lyrics. It was the birth of the song, it came out really easily.
And I remember just feeling like this weight was lifted off my shoulders emotionally and I was so reconnected to the reason why I make music and the reason why I love it so much. Because it’s literally therapy and it’s so healing and when you really let yourself be vulnerable, incredible things can happen when you’re creating. So that was a really big moment for me and it set the record on this whole new course. We wrote a bunch of songs that ended up on record after that and I feel like that was a pivotal moment for writing this whole record, for me at least definitely.
Alisa: I totally agree. I think for me personally my favorite track changes every week and it might continue to change. Right now off the top of my head, I think that my favorite would be between either ‘Kelly’ or ‘Zillionaire.’ I think both of them are such a vibe. They are just two songs that you want to sing at the top of your lungs and just jam out to. I love Kelly cause it gets stuck in my head, constantly. ‘Zillionaire’ is the same thing. It’s just this really funky, rhythmic, groovy, like Michael Jackson Commodores type of feeling that we really grew up on and that really shaped our sound. So I just feel like that’s our ‘Michael Jackson’ moment, and I love that.
I love that most of y'all have different favorite tracks! That's so great, and just to close, I loved your album, I'm so excited for it to be out in the world, and I'm sure y'all are too. Thank you again for taking the time for the interview!
Cristal: Thank you so much for chatting with us and we really appreciate it.
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