The Aces Talk Queer Coming-of-Age in Suburban Utah
The Aces, an all-girls band originally from Orem, UT, is no stranger to adversity—it’s what brought them together in the first place. Ahead of their upcoming show at The Complex on Oct. 21, the home-state stop on their first world tour, The Aces chatted with SLUG about their newest album, unpacking trauma and fan support.
“A big reason we started our band was because the culture was so oppressive … being queer specifically, (made it) really hard to grow up in Orem,” says Cristal Ramirez, The Aces’ lead singer.
The four girls, Ramirez and her sister Alisa Ramirez (drums), Katie Henderson (guitar) and McKenna Petty (bass), all met in their small town’s junior high school and formed the band in 2008. For the young girls, The Aces was initially a personal escape, but it has since found significance for fans all over the world.
The band says this is especially true with their most recent album, I’ve Loved You For So Long. “We are talking about this very specific experience of growing up in this certain small town in Utah, but it was so cool to see [people] resonating with … that feeling of not belonging and not being able to be who you are where you grew up,” says Petty.
I’ve Loved You For So Long, says Ramirez, is an album where the four girls finally start to unpack the trauma of growing up queer in a hyper-religious community like Orem.
“I think that if you grew up in a place like Utah, if you’re queer, if you were raised Mormon, a band like ours means a lot more.”
“There’s songs on the record like ‘Girls Make Me Wanna Die’ and all these scared, excited, coming-of-age songs that really explore what it’s like to be closeted. And in ‘Suburban Blues,’ [it describes] how there was a real hopelessness of never being able to be authentic,” says Ramirez. “The other half of the record is kind of like the current you, as an adult, and how those problems are still the same unless you go make peace with where you come from and make peace with your identity.”
When it came to their writing process for the album, the four brought back their roots. “[The songs were] written all four of us together like we did when we were younger, because we wanted to recreate the nostalgia of when we first started making music as kids, and the innocence behind that to accompany telling such personal stories,” says Ramirez.
This process was the case for writing “Suburban Blues,” says Henderson. “[It] just started with the four of us in the studio together, and I feel like you can hear that in the music, our instincts as kids as we would play … feels like the more mature version of it,” she says.
It took a while for the four to let these raw, emotional stories into the world, but there have been hints in their previous releases, like the song “801.”
“I think it’s really cool to see the progression through each album,” says Henderson. “[We’re] starting to talk about things that were scary … we are able to dive in and talk about who we really are as a band,” she says.
For fans that have been dutifully following The Aces and see their own experiences in the music, I’ve Loved You For So Long is a treat. And, according to Henderson, “this album hits different live.”
“The best part of what we do is doing the shows, being able to see [fans] face-to-face and see how the music has helped them,” says Petty. This is especially true in Utah, says Ramirez. “I think that if you grew up in a place like Utah, if you’re queer, if you were raised Mormon, a band like ours means a lot more,” she says.
The Aces see a lot of themselves in their fans. “I do think a lot of our fans are reflective of who we are—a lot of young queer people … so we continue to push ourselves to live our authentic lives so that we can then write about it and put that out in the world,” says Ramirez, who is determined to provide hope and insight toward a life their fans may not be able to cultivate for themselves.
“When we come back to Utah, the fans there are really passionate, and you can tell it means a lot to them … it’s going to be a special show.”
“We’ve been able to cultivate a fan base that is so passionate, so loving and so accepting. The community around our band is what we do it for, outside of—obviously—our love for music,” says Ramirez.
While the fan community around The Aces is supportive, the band shares that they have endured plenty of obstacles in the music industry as a queer, all-women band.
“In most places in the world, [being queer] is very much not accepted, and you’re not protected as a queer person by really even the law,” says Ramirez.
Surprised that being all-women would be such a challenge, The Aces say it hasn’t always been easy. “The music industry in the world as a whole is just still very misogynist. There’s a lot that you deal with, as far as people not expecting you to understand things, not expecting you to actually understand your craft, your business … you’re very underestimated, which in turn can sometimes fuel you and kind of feel exciting, but it gets exhausting sometimes,” says Ramirez.
Petty adds that their young age was also a challenge in the beginning. “Women in general are always told to fit a certain mold or be a certain way, and we started in the music industry when we were super young—we signed our record deal when we were like 17, 19, 20, those early, early adulthood years—and I think it was kind of hard to navigate [the music industry] at that age,” says Petty.
Not fitting the usual mold, especially of women from Orem, the four girls felt they didn’t belong at first. “Now, you know, coming into our late 20s, we’re finally in a place where we know who we are and have accepted ourselves and our story and are able to finally express it,” says Petty. “I think it was hard to navigate as young women.”
I’ve Loved You For So Long is that mature expression, and the band is excited to share it with the world. “When we come back to Utah, the fans there are really passionate, and you can tell it means a lot to them … it’s going to be a special show,” says Ramirez. Petty adds, “I grew up seeing bands play the same stage that we’re playing, so it’s gonna be really cool. Full circle.”
Get tickets for The Aces at The Complex on Oct. 21 at thecomplexslc.com.
Read more interviews with Utah bands who made it big in the national scene:
Sego: 2023 Craft Lake City DIY Festival Headliner
Ritt Momney: 2021 Craft Lake City DIY Festival Performer