Justin Higuchi via Flickr

Music That Made Me: The Aces

During a random evening in 2018, I spent what I could only imagine was a normal pastime for any closeted 15-year-old, delving into the world of lesbian YouTube (Shannon Beveridge, I’m looking at you). I stumbled on one particular video (I’M JOINING A BAND), where Shannon sat with 3 of the 4 members of The Aces, conducting an interview whilst transforming herself into their fifth member. It was a typical ‘get to know us’ video which was accompanied by the backdrop of their debut album When My Heart Felt Volcanic. Little did I know, this album (and discography) from a band I’d only just heard of would soon become the soundtrack of my teen years.

From Provo, Utah, sisters Alisa and Cristal Ramirez, along with their childhood friends, Katie Henderson and McKenna Petty, formed indie pop band, The Aces. Growing up Mormon, their music reflects the feeling of being an outsider in a small town. With songs like ‘Stuck’, ‘Bad Love’ and ‘Lovin’ Is Bible’ from their 2018 debut release, the band presents the emotional turmoil associated with restrictive societal expectations through expressions of religious imagery, unrequited love, and the ambiguity of change. Each of these three themes has become synonymous with the queer experience. At this time, I attended a Catholic school, knew one queer person, and did not yet have the mental capacity to comprehend coming out. I see these formative years of my teens as waiting patiently on tenterhooks, frightened that any word or action would cause the pin to drop, and everyone would suddenly know I was queer.

When I discovered The Aces, I could see parts of myself in their music

I heavily relied on any glimmer of queerness within media to feel represented, although sometimes it felt like I was looking into a void. When I discovered The Aces, I could see parts of myself in their music. This exposure to openly queer art forms was new to me, a process of normalisation I needed not only to feel less alone but to also gain the confidence to be my true self.

What captivated me about their debut album When My Heart Felt Volcanic was that these songs immediately felt like home. This foundational album combined infectious melodies, perfectly conducted instrumentation and evocative lyrics, becoming the characteristics that hold great prominence throughout The Aces’ discography.  This album complemented my teenage angst, the reality of my ambivalent crushes on straight girls and the loneliness of being closeted. But best of all, it provided me with a sense of hopefulness.

With every studio release, The Aces hold the responsibility of carrying me through some of my toughest times. Coincidently, their music has always mirrored the elements of my life that needed to heal. Not only did they give me optimism for a post-closet reality, but their second album Under My Influence, released in 2020 when I was just eighteen, nursed me through my first queer heartbreak and caught me yearning for someone I shouldn’t have. For instance, ‘Daydream’, ‘All Mean Nothing’, and ‘Not Enough’ navigate the melancholia attached to the grief of lost love, but still provide the necessary empowerment associated with healing, moving on and finding happiness elsewhere. On the other hand, ‘Can You Do’, ‘New Emotion’ and ‘Kelly’ display punchy melodies and unabashed lyrics, conveying the newfound confidence recognisable in almost every post-heartbreak healing journey. For me, these songs became my pre-club soundtrack and were my personal hype (wo)men prior to many anxiety-provoking dates.

The growth present in The Aces’ discography is pertinent to their personal growth both as individuals and as a group

Since first listening to The Aces, they have toured with the likes of 5 Seconds of Summer and The Vamps, consequently expanding their following. These experiences have notably given The Aces the opportunity to experiment and acknowledge the unique nature of their craft. Their early discography encompasses dreamy riffs with implicit queer themes through being strictly indie in nature. However, their latest musical releases reflect evident transitional developments through an experimentation of genres along with heightened transparency in their lyrical content. For instance, their music video for ‘Girls Make Me Wanna Die’ features a sapphic storyline, and their track ‘Solo’ utilises synth-pop to incorporate the overbearing nature of anxiety. In hindsight, the growth present in The Aces’ discography is pertinent to their personal growth both as individuals and as a group. This increased ownership and confidence in their craft whilst being unapologetic about their identity, personal histories and self-worth assists the reception of their music and can aid fans in their own lives.

The Aces’ ability to vocalise a niche experience, one related to sexuality, mental health and identity, is further encompassed by the eclectic nature of their latest album, I’ve Loved You for So Long. The album contemplates the idea of identity and belonging through a retrospective nostalgia surrounding the romanticisation of queer love and loss. ‘Younger’, ‘Stop Feeling’ and ‘Miserable’, present the interconnection between identity and adolescent guilt through the form of ‘wasted’ youth. We, as queer people, spend so much time in ‘closets’ and places of secrecy that we often wish away our adolescence, in the hope that our adulthood will offer a sense of completion. In ‘Younger’, lead singer Cristal Ramirez dwells upon her feelings of lethargy and her detachment from present reality. The lyrics “You’re not gonna know everything when you’re 14 / You don’t even know at 25 / And that’s alright”, normalises the notion of not knowing the answers but continuing to question and examine the world around you.

It is refreshing to witness a band being so transparent about their own mental health

The Aces do not shy away from issues of mental health and the effects of overthinking. It is refreshing to witness a band being so transparent about their own mental health. They create an art form that attempts to erase the taboo and stigma of common emotions and experiences. These themes are explored in ‘Don’t Freak’ and ‘Always Get This Way’, through the frustration associated with feeling like you are “melting” around external influences. The band highlight the personal motivations in seeking solace in the world and the people around you. They gesture towards the healing nature of music. As someone who suffers from anxiety and whose go-to coping mechanism is listening to music, The Aces time and time again have proven to keep me grounded. Beyond this, this band have provided the representation I have needed to have my emotions, experiences and identity heard.

It is difficult to think of a time when I did not listen to The Aces. The existence of personal growth within their music reflects my own growth involving my mental health, my queer identity, and my gender identity. I fondly reflect on 15-year-old me, who was daunted about their future and the possibility of ever being out. I wish I could tell them that they will eventually find something that will normalise the factors within their life that they had hidden, over-analysed and felt shame about. As I reminisce on the band that made me, I admire the most recent tattoo on my right arm that reads When My Heart Felt Volcanic. Almost six years on from my initial introduction to The Aces, this tattoo marks the start of my very own journey of accepting myself and my identity.


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