On their latest album, The Aces explore their Utah roots and queer identity

The Orem natives talk about ‘realness and vulnerability’ of their new album, ‘I’ve Loved You For So Long.’

(Julian Burgueño | Red Bull Records) The Aces — from left: Cristal Ramirez, Katie Henderson, McKenna Petty and Alisa Ramirez — are releasing their third album, "I've Loved You For So Long," on June 2, 2023.

The Aces are often billed these days as a Los Angeles band, since that’s where the four members are based. But their Utah roots are as strong as ever.

Want proof? Take a listen to their new album, “I’ve Loved You For So Long” (to be released June 2, the first Friday of Pride Month). On the album, their third, the Orem natives and indie-pop connoisseurs fully embrace what bassist McKenna Petty calls their not-so-new superpower.

The band has the ability, Petty said, to reflect on — and even appreciate — their admittedly confusing Utah roots and ultimately channel them into music that is relatable to everyone.

“This is the first time we’ve really felt this kind of embrace of our identities and where we’re from in that way,” Petty said.

That identity isn’t just being from Utah, but growing up in Utah County as queer women.

Lead guitarist and vocalist Katie Henderson said it’s something that struck her when the band began playing their first pride festivals in 2022.

“That’s kind of when I was like, ‘Oh, I actually am really glad that we’re this band that came from this situation,’” Henderson said. “We played Pride in L.A. and it’s like everyday is Pride in L.A. And then you go to Indiana and these kids, they’ve been waiting for this day.”

Cristal Ramirez, lead vocalist and guitarist, said, “We’ve had fans come up to us and say things like, ‘Your show is the only place that I’m out, that I can fully be myself.’”

It’s about owning that part of their past, she said. “It’s that realness and vulnerability. That honesty really resonates with people. And so the more niche we get with our art, the more people connect to it.”

Alisa Ramirez, the band’s drummer and Cristal’s sister, said the new album is the first time she feels like she is owning that identity and finding value in it.

As a result, with “I’ve Loved You For So Long” the Aces are the best they’ve ever been — authentic, introspective and uninhibited.

(Julian Burgueño | Red Bull Records) The Aces — from left: Katie Henderson, Alisa Ramirez, Cristal Ramirez and McKenna Petty — are releasing their third album, "I've Loved You For So Long," on June 2, 2023.

‘Nowhere to hide’

For all intents and purposes, “I’ve Loved You For So Long” is the band’s pandemic album.

“There was so much time to just sit,” Alisa said, “and there was nowhere to hide from your own s--- — there weren’t things to distract you. … It all started because we just wanted to get out of the house and go to the studio.”

The band promoted their second album, “Under My Influence,” entirely online, which Cristal said was “disheartening and depressing.” The Aces were scheduled to tour North America in summer 2022, as opening act for the boy band Why Don’t We, but the headliner’s legal problems led to the tour being canceled.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cristal said her panic attacks were at an all-time high. To crack the code of why, the band searched for the source — and found they were largely influenced by the way they grew up, something that still affects them all today.

Cristal said the process of “forced introspection” led them back to their roots, as queer women in Utah County. (The Ramirez sisters and Henderson identify as queer; Petty, their friend since childhood, is straight and married.)

Those days in Utah County, Cristal said, were marked with trials and tribulations — and the results were internalized shame, anxiety and depression.

“It was really scary to explore things we’ve never touched on before, like being raised in Mormonism, in a religious town and being queer and how hard and traumatizing that was,” Cristal said.

It’s apparent in such songs as “Always Get This Way” and “Don’t Freak,” both pop-driven explorations of anxiety. There’s also, “Surburban Blues” a song that could pass as the love child of The Cure and The Smiths, with a distinct pop-punk flair and direct lyrics like “Good girls love Jesus, not that girl from Phoenix.”

It’s a song the band can’t wait to perform at Fork Fest — where they are headlining, June 17 in American Fork — to sing about being queer so close to their hometown.

“Us exploring our experience authentically, hopefully, that resonates with people who are from all types of backgrounds, religions and societies that they just felt they didn’t fit into, and they had to pave their own way and get out of this repressive situation,” Cristal said.

That connection and deep dive into their own backgrounds is also apparent on the songwriting credits, where there is only one co-collaborator listed. (For comparison, “Under My Influence” featured more than a dozen outside songwriters working with the band.) The introspection also led the band to ponder the questions of why they first started making music together.

“We set up in the studio, just like we did in our band practice room when we were kids, and we just f---ing started jamming, and our producer just hit ‘record,’” Alisa said. “‘Suburban Blues’ just flew out of us. … It was kind of the only time we’d ever written a song like that since we were kids.”

For a long time, Alisa said, the band has been the four women’s safe space, so to come back to that felt cathartic, like a full-circle moment.

(Julian Burgueño | Red Bull Records) The Aces — from left: Cristal Ramirez, McKenna Petty, Katie Henderson and Alisa Ramirez — are releasing their third album, "I've Loved You For So Long," on June 2, 2023.

With age comes wisdom

In a way, The Aces rise like a phoenix from the ashes on “I’ve Loved You For So Long.”

They are the strongest they’ve ever been, still residing in their sweet spot of indie-pop that allows for adventurous experimentation. The album has 11 tracks full of poignant pining, with Utah-coded tracks for which fans of “801″ (from “Under My Influence”) will go wild. Lyrically, the band is more bold and confident than ever before.

The band is inspired largely by the ’80s music they grew up listening to, and there are glimpses of that era throughout the record. “Stuff that feels really nostalgic and beautiful, and those heart-wrenching poetic lyrics,” Alisa said, “That’s stuff that we’ve always really strived for.”

The poetry is so strong that Henderson joked that their fans tell them they should sell dictionaries at the merch table.

That elevation in lyricism stemmed naturally from the topics they were exploring, Cristal said, citing such tracks as “Miserable” and “Person.”

On “Person” the lyrics tackle dealing with demons in your 20s: “How come at the age of 25 / Nothing makes me feel alive like surrendering my peace of mind?”

One core theme throughout the album is the idea of age.

“The [lyrics] became more journal entry-esque and very vulnerable,” Cristal said. “I don’t think we had the words for that until we got to a certain age, where we were mature enough to explore that, in a way that would be good and artistic. … You hit this time in your life when you’re going into your late 20s, where you start to get, like, really existential.”

“I’ve Loved You For So Long” is a record that Alisa said the band couldn’t have written before age 23, because a certain level of wisdom comes with age.

The result is an album coded specifically for mid 20s existentialism, set to a soundtrack of soul-hitting guitar riffs, ethereal vocals and perfect production. Think Paramore, with a softer and dreamier sound.

(Julian Burgueño | Red Bull Records) The Aces — from left: McKenna Petty, Alisa Ramirez, Katie Henderson and Cristal Ramirez — are releasing their third album, "I've Loved You For So Long," on June 2, 2023.

Reflective, but hopeful

Though the sometimes heavy subject matter, the album starts and ends in a hopeful and optimistic way — which is true to who The Aces are.

“If we weren’t, we wouldn’t have been able to make this career and get out of our hometown and pave our own lives,” Cristal said. “At our core, and in the music we make, even though there is, you know, an exploration of an array of emotions, we always kind of return to this place of hope.”

In the album’s closing track, The Cranberries-like “Younger,” listeners are left with a nostalgic and hopeful feeling.

That optimism, Cristal said, is why The Aces think so many young queer people who need hope in their lives resonate with the band and their music.

They toyed with the idea of making the album self-titled, they said, because they rediscovered themselves and what they love to do. Ultimately, they chose the album’s opening track as the name of the album.

“It’s just been our whole lives. We’ve been in this band since we were kids, making music together and going through everything together,” Cristal said.

Alisa said the title track is her favorite on the album. “It just felt so pure and authentic to who we were,” she said.

“We originally wrote that song as this beautiful romantic love song about, like, falling in love with someone that you’ve been with for a long time,” Alisa said. “But then, in hindsight, we all started relating it to our band and how this band is like the love of our lives.”

“I’ve Loved You for So Long” — and the context behind it — not only makes for good music, but it’s an inspiration for the next Utah band to make its mark and be proud of its roots.

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