Writing a single hook is hard work. Loading a dance-pop song with two or three in the span of just a few minutes is even harder, and stacking an entire record is nearly impossible. But somehow, The Aces, a dynamic young quartet from Provo, Utah, have already mastered it.
The band's sparkling tracks recall the sheer joy and ebullience of Haim and Carly Rae Jepsen. But certain moments — like the way drummer Alisa Ramirez switches to a disco drum pattern as her sister, singer Cristal, leaps up for a dizzying high note on new single "Fake Nice" — are 100 percent Aces, tiny flourishes on a grand patchwork.
Every song on their 2017 EP I Don't Like Being Honest has these detailed moments, from playfully repeated guitar plucks to booming whoas that punctuate choruses. It makes sense, given how the band members, all between the ages of 20 and 22, have been perfecting their craft together for more than 10 years.
"We have been a band for over a decade, and that feels really crazy to say," Cristal told MTV News recently during a speakerphone-assisted interview from inside their van. "When people hear that, they're always shocked and surprised." The Aces were trekking west on their first-ever tour supporting Joywave and passing time on the road listening to "2 Dope Queens" and Smashing Pumpkins and reading poetry by Rupi Kaur.
The band began as creative projects often do, as a shared impulse among sisters as children. "I was 8 and Cristal was 10," Alisa said, introducing herself before she spoke to help me keep everyone's voice straight. "We always say this: We don't know where the idea came from, but we were like, all right, we gotta be in a band."
Alisa took up drums while Cristal hopped on the piano and started singing. They quickly expanded the operation, recruiting Cristal's best friend, McKenna Petty, with a simple request at age 11 ("We have this band. Wanna get a bass for Christmas and join it?"). Katie Henderson, another friend, joined once they reached junior high and realized her musical prowess. "She picked up a guitar and just started shredding," Alisa said.
She still shreds, too. After The Aces stormed the stage at a recent show in New York City — with Cristal and McKenna clad in long suit jackets and Katie and Alisa rocking all black — they made their way through some new songs from their upcoming debut album, When My Heart Felt Volcanic, due out April 6. Midway through a set of dynamic pop, they paused to announce they'd be playing a cover. "Sing along if you know this one," Cristal instructed.
Then they played "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
"It was more of an alternative crowd, and everyone loves that good classic jam," Alisa said. "So we kind of decided last minute to throw that in, and it's been super fun. Every night, it's the highlight."
That connection with alternative music is one of the reasons The Aces have stuck it out pursuing music. When Lorde won two Grammys including Song of the Year in 2014 (the same year she sang "All Apologies" with the surviving members of Nirvana at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony), the four Aces were teenagers watching on TV. "It was a huge turning point to be sitting there and to see a 17-year-old win her [second] Grammy of the night off her debut album," Alisa said. "That was a really big, whoa, why shouldn't we be able to do that?"
"We all just figured we'd be full-on idiots if we didn't," Katie said. "We had something so special and we knew it, and for us to ignore it would be so dumb."
Out of necessity, The Aces evolved. As a teenager, Cristal had been mostly writing songs by herself, but after Lorde's big wins, Alisa began collaborating with her sister. Now, the Ramirez sisters will construct a song like "Fake Nice," co-written and produced by The Sweet Hurt's Wendy Wang, and then Katie and McKenna will add their contributions. The four have spent years honing their writing ability and being selective about what they release, which may account for why you can only stream six of their songs (including one remix) on Spotify.
At a time when bands like Car Seat Headrest can self-release eight full albums on Bandcamp before breaking through to a wider audience, The Aces are comparatively reserved. As soon as their debut arrives via Red Bull Records, the engine will start turning. "We're in an age of music where you can't take three years to make your second or third album," Cristal said. "You always gotta be feeding the fans and keeping them excited, and I think that was always just a huge goal of ours."
With that in mind, the crystalline guitar lines, multicolored melodies, and coiled rhythms on When My Heart Felt Volcanic are the end result of years and years of refinement and musical strength training. At once, it's both only the beginning of The Aces' story and the hard-won culmination of their behind-the-scenes efforts.
Until then, it's just another day of work. "To be in a band where emotions are running high and when there's a lot to do and a lot to check off your list, it's the best," Cristal said. "We have to deal with each other, and it makes it just the best job in the world."