The Aces on breaking free from religious shame and embracing the ‘f**king magic’ of queer women

An image of band The Aces wearing grey suit blazers, black trouser and black ties, while standing against a colourful background and the cover of their third album I've Loved You For So Long.

US indie band The Aces’ latest album sees them open up about battling religious shame, and addressing their queerness.

“This record is, more than anything, us owning our story for the first time and not being ashamed of our past,” says drummer Alisa Ramirez.

She’s sitting on a sofa in the back room of The Camden Assembly Pub in London, ahead of the launch show for I’ve Loved You For So Long. “No girls allowed” is sarcastically scrawled on the wall behind her.

Alisa is one of four members of the all-women group: her sister Cristal is the lead vocalist, while childhood friends, Katie Henderson and McKenna Petty, are on guitar and bass respectively. 

Growing up in conservative Provo, Utah, The Aces began making music as teenagers, with Cristal stringing melodies together in her basement on a guitar she “borrowed” from her brother.

Their earlier albums, 2018’s When My Heart Felt Volcanic and 2020’s Under My Influence, found critical acclaim, but something was missing.

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All four were raised as Mormons, while three – Cristal, Alisa and Katie – are queer. The connection between their religious upbringing and sexuality was complex and difficult to untangle. Not surprising, given that the Church fundamentally views same-sex attraction as a sin.

US Band The Aces stand in a tunnel for a promotional photo for their album I've Loved You For So Long.
The Aces, from left to right: Alisa Ramirez, McKenna Petty, Cristal Ramirez and Katie Henderson. (Julian Burgueño)

On their first two albums, that experience is skirted around. On their debut, they refrained completely from using female pronouns in their songs about relationships.

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“I think we experienced a lot of shame being an ex-Mormon band. We just didn’t want to be associated with that at all, and the trauma that brought us,” Alisa says.

“We never really got to tell those stories of being 14, closeted, growing up in northern Utah. What a f*****g s**tshow that was emotionally, mentally,” she adds. While writing I’ve Loved You For So Long, “we finally got to tell those stories”.

Album highlight “Suburban Blues” is just one track where that mental minefield is explored explicitly. “Everything I love I’m told I shouldn’t touch, ‘cause good girls love Jesus, not that girl from Phoenix… I’m stuck in my own mental prison,” Cristal belts out on the song. 

It’s a tectonic shift from their debut, and one prompted by several forces. On New Year’s Day 2021, the group at a spa in Utah, gazing at the mountains, as the world stared down the barrel of another COVID-19 lockdown

“We just talked for three hours – like, ‘Why are we doing this? What do we want our career to look like? What’s the motive?'” McKenna says. The fallout of 2020, including the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, was eye-opening for the band.

They endured a period of intense reflection, examining what really mattered to them as artists.

In addition, they began to make peace with their religious upbringing, and recognise how the shame they held on to as queer youths had slowly chipped away at their mental health

“We’re finally at a place where we can talk about all this stuff,” McKenna says. “I didn’t leave the religion we were raised in until I was 24. Katie came out a little bit later. Now we are able to actually tackle these topics.”

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Alisa jumps in, adding that “as people, as artists, our priorities totally shifted, and I think that cracked open the ability to be able to make a record like this”.

She goes on: “It allowed us to move into this space where we were mature enough and far away enough from our youth to actually speak about it.”

The record feels somewhat like a relinquishing of the shame they accumulated – shame around their upbringing, their queerness, mental-health struggles, drinking. On “Person”, the lyrics lament: “I wish I was better than this,” before heading into the chorus, “but we’re all just that person sometimes”.

It’s a similar sentiment on the closing track “Younger”, with the lyrics tying their emotions together: “You’re not gonna know everything when you’re 14. You don’t even know at 25, and that’s all right.”

It feels like an admission, and an acceptance, of struggle.

“In religion, there’s a really intense perfectionism complex. You always have to be good, and that’s not living,” Cristal explains. “Sometimes you just f**k it up. It’s a core part of how we were raised – so much shame.”

During the pandemic, thinking about her youth brought on frequent panic attacks.

“For the first time, I felt so tired, so emotionally exhausted, that I couldn’t even try to keep up the face,” she reveals. “It was miserable. I was like, I got nothing left. And it felt really freeing.”

The Aces stand on a road in front of tall buildings as part of the promotional images for their third studio album I've Loved You For So Long.
I’ve Loved You For So Long is The Aces’ most revealing album. (Julian Burgueño)

The revolution that occurred on I’ve Loved You For So Long doesn’t detract from the authenticity of their first two records, though. On their debut, fan favourite “Lovin’ is Bible” is a subtle nod to the group’s detachment from religion. 

“I don’t think we weren’t sincere in our first record,” Cristal insists. “We were incredibly sincere. Our first two records are really special. They’re real and a lot of [the songs] are about queerness, I just think this record is more like a full picture of who we really are.”

Katie, who came out as queer during the pandemic, agrees: “I don’t think this record could exist without the first two because of the topics of conversation that were brought up when they were being made,” she says, reflecting on the discussions they had about deciding to use female pronouns in songs for the first time.

“Those conversations bled into helping all of us get to the same place and build towards making a record like this, where we can be open and honest.”

The Aces join a legion of queer women who appear to be running the music industry right now, the likes of Miley Cyrus, Phoebe Bridgers, Ice Spice, MUNA. How does it feel to be part of such a tidal wave of LGBTQ+ talent?

“It’s magical,” Alisa says. “I think even five years [ago], we wouldn’t have been able to be the band that we are and we definitely wouldn’t have been celebrated the way we are now.”

“Queer women are f*****g magic and rock stars,” Cristal chips in. “[We] have so much to offer the entertainment industry and the world in general. We’re really lucky to be a part of it.”

I’ve Loved You For So Long is out now. The Aces tour the UK and Europe in August, with tickets available from Ticketmaster and See Tickets.

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