The Aces Have Been Killing It Since Junior High
Coachella might get all the glory, but music fans know SXSW is always worth the trip each March.
For one, Austin is amazing. Two, you get to see and discover bands from all over the world during an epic week of music that takes over the entire city. For a music fan, that is heaven.
One of those bands I found this year are young, slaying megababes, The Aces. These fearless and funny girls from Utah have been together over a decade after started their band in junior high. Now signed to Redbull Records, the girls rocked SXSW in support of their new single “Physical” which dropped April 7th.
We sat down to talk about haunted memories of SXSW days of yore, meeting in middle school, and how rad and supportive their parents are. Fuck School! But with my student debt, seriously though…
How did you end up meeting and forming the band?
Cristal (Lead Vocals/Guitar): I started singing and writing songs when I was 10. Alisa and me are sisters and she took an interest in drums at a young age.
Alisa (Drums): Yeah, I kind of started playing drums…I guess I started technically playing piano but I didn’t like piano. She laughs before continuing. My Mom was like, ‘I want you to play a musical instrument’. I don’t know why I thought of it but I was like “I want to play drums” and she showed up with a set a week later. She hooked it up man! I just set it up in the main room of our house and Cristal would jump on the grand piano and we would just write songs together and jam it out…I was 8, she was 10.
Cristal: But we always wanted to be in a band. Our older brother was always in bands growing up, metal bands and stuff, so we always wanted to be in a band too. Me and Kenna [Bass] grew up together and went to elementary school together. [We’ve] known each other since we were literally babies. So in 5th grade I was like, ‘Kenna- we need a bass player, you gotta get a bass, join our band!”
McKenna (Bass): I asked for a bass for Christmas and got one and then we played a show like a week later for Crystal’s birthday!
Cristal: For my birthday party! My 11th birthday party.
McKenna: We just started playing shows…
Cristal: Yeah, we played a ton of shows as little kids. We were just playing carnivals and birthday parties.
Alisa: Our mom was our manager and she would call the local little fairs and be like, “Yo, let my kids play!” and she would load our shit in the car and we would all go. We loved it!
Were your parents musicians?
Cristal: Everyone in our family was musical. Our grandma was a concert pianist and everyone can sing decently well, but no! I think it was our older brother’s influence…
Alisa: He was a punk rocker in five bands at a time… [had a] mohawk
Cristal: All crazy punk! We just wanted to be like him.
Katie (Lead Guitar/Back-Up Vocals): Then I met Kenna at Junior High and I kinda heard about their band. I grew up playing guitar, I taught myself when I was about 7 years old, and my brothers were in bands. I was constantly writing songs by myself and playing. I had a few friends, guys that I would force to be in a band with me. When I met them we just became really good friends first. I hung out with them all the time and when they came over to my house one day and found out I had a band room in my basement with drums and guitars, we jammed together and it felt really good. We played a junior high talent show together for the first show and we just stuck together.
Cristal: So the first three of us played together for probably about 3 to 4 years, just us three and then Katie joined and we’ve been now together all four of us probably 7 years.
Almost a decade even.
Cristal: But we used to be called The Blue Aces, about a year or two ago we dropped the ‘Blue’ and went by The Aces because it was kind of just naturally happening. Everyone was shortening our name, “Oh The Aces!”. It felt a bit like a shedding of skin into maturity because now we are young adults.
How did you guys end up getting signed?
Cristal: It was kind of a long process… It was a process of about two or three years of our deciding… Three of us were graduating High School, we were all in the same grade and Alisa was a couple years younger than us. We weren’t sure if the band was going to continue after high school because Kenna was going to school on a full-time scholarship…
McKenna: I was going to go to school, Katie she was going to play sports…
Katie: I was going to play college soccer, that’s what I wanted to do.
Alisa: I was under the impression that medical school was more plausible than being a musician.
Katie: Cristal always wanted to do the band that was always number one and one night I came up to Cristal’s house and I was at this point where I really needed to decide what I wanted to do, it was half way through senior year and I had to make a decision. I just knew I could not live without the band- I think we all knew that.
Katie: Yeah we had this come to Jesus moment where all of us decided, we’re gonna do this we are gonna go for it.
Alisa: It’s funny though because it was the night of the 2013 Grammy’s which is the year that Lorde won like 4 Grammys. That was January, we all decided ok we are gonna do this. Fuck School! Then five months later we get a ring from Tim who at the time was Lorde’s manager…so it was really weird.
Cristal: What happened was we were in a local recording studio recording this song and EP together on our own because we hadn’t released any music in years. So we were like we have to get new content out, we had be writing so many songs, to get the ball rolling to kind of start getting management. You know? So this guy at our local recording studio was like ‘Hey, you need to reach out to this lawyer named Ed Shapiro…’. But we don’t have a contract so why would we need a lawyer?
Alisa: Best advice we’ve ever received- get a lawyer.
Cristal: He said, “Lawyers can be very connective, you should talk to him and see if he likes your band.” Our mom called him and showed him our music video and he just loved it. He had worked with Tim and he linked Tim who now is our current manager and managed Lorde for a while into an email with and it just worked really well.
Katie: They came out to Utah and saw a show and then we started working with them and about for one or about two years they had you guys going to California and just writing a lot.
Cristal: Yeah just writing with tons of different producers, and trying to figure out, you know, what is The Aces now? What’s our sound? Who do we want to be as artists? Then we went out to Brooklyn and we met these two producers Simon Alscroft and Dan Gibson who are friends with our management and that’s who we wrote “Stuck” with which is our first single. It’s our next single that’s coming out in the bulk of this album and it just felt really right and it was really clicking for us. After we released “Stuck” independently, it did pretty well on Spotify and we were getting a lot of blog love and Red Bull [Records] came in real strong first and was raising their hand like ‘We love you guys we really want to work with you guys’!
Alisa: It was funny we didn’t know that Red Bull had a record label. So there were some majors after us and Redbull and we like, ‘huh, that’s random…’. We weren’t even considering them, but then we met them and we were like, ‘Oh, they’re so above and beyond”. They’re the best.
Katie: There was something about them, yeah!
Cristal: They just blew us away completely. No team for us personally compared to them, so we signed the deal with them in October. It’s just been- dream team.
Alisa: Not to diss, every artist finds their home with whichever label works for them, but Redbull is definitely our family.
Cristal: It’s been amazing and it’s just been, you know, ever since we signed a lot of hard work and a lot of hard work before and it’s only picking up more. We are just so excited!
Before you got signed you self-made your music videos, and Alisa directed the stuck music video.
Cristal: We were doing it all on our own, in Utah people go to school for film and photography, so we have so many friends and people reaching out to us being like, “Hey we’ll shoot a video for you”. So we were just hustling like, “Yo, can you do a photoshoot for us?” and meeting people at shows.
McKenna: We have a favorite friend, she’s in Utah, now she lives in New York, her name is Tessa Barton and she shot the “Stuck”‘ photo and she shot the photo we are using for “Physical” and probably the next singles as well. So we love collaborating with people from our hometown, there’s a lot of really creative people there.
Alisa: We love bringing locals up with us. We rep our towns.
Cristal: A lot of the stuff we did and even still to this day, it’s like they’re our friends you know? We just met them and have known them for so long and just love what they do, and vise versa. So it’s cool
Alisa: We are all helping each other out so it’s cool, yeah!
Let’s talk about this year, is this your first year playing or attending SXSW?
Cristal: There’s a funny story of me and Alisa when I was 14 and she was 12… a friend of a friend like some shady ass connection was like, “Yo, we got you a showcase at South By,” and we were like, “Oh we have to go!”
Alisa: “This is gonna be so beneficial!”
Cristal: Our mom…our poor parents drove us from Utah to Texas. Kenna had school she was like I’m not going. Katie wasn’t even in the band yet. So we went and played this acoustic showcase for like three people, there was like throw up in front of us. It was so mortifying and we were little kids. That’s our funny South By story, because we’ve been here one other time but yes officially this is our first South By.
McKenna: But yeah this is kind of our first time playing out of Utah too. We played once in Colorado and L.A. but getting out of Utah and playing a lot of shows this is kind of our first time doing this so it’s really fun for us.
Did you get to see any bands that you really love while you were here?
Alisa: We saw Jimmy Eat World at Stubb’s that was pretty sweet!
McKenna: I saw The Japanese House, I think we are going to go see them again tonight- they were pretty great.
Cristal: I saw Banks through a fence kind of. I’m really trying to see her again, we love her.
McKenna: We couldn’t get into where she was playing but we could get in next door so we just looked over the fence to watch.
Cristal: We love her so much. But we also saw Muna yesterday and they were amazing and we love them too.
McKenna: We saw Spoon, I love Spoon. We’re gonna see Weezer tonight though! That’s gonna be awesome.
Cristal: Good old classic, classic band Weezer. We are really excited!
Have you been meeting new fans at your shows at SXSW?
Katie: It’s been a great crowd a great energy every show that we’ve played. We feel like people are very receptive and come up to us, and tell us “Good Job!”. It’s nice it’s been fun meeting other musicians and bands as well. Making new friends all round.
Cristal: It’s cool because, we were talking about this before actually, but at South By obviously you are playing for a lot of people who work in the music industry and it’s not most of the people at the shows are just a fan that loves your band, so it’s been different but so cool because we are getting love from magazines and different people that we love and are coming up to us and they are just coming from a big show like a Jimmy Eat World show and they are stoked on our band.
Alisa: That’s the other thing too, to get such a warm reception from people that are watching massive acts, for them to come watch a smaller band like us and feel just as passionate about it- it’s a huge compliment to us.
Cristal: Most of the people we talk to are like this is my 8th South By. You know? And for them to take time to come up and be like- love your band you guys were amazing… you’re seeing so many bands you have to really love a band to come up and talk to them. So that’s been really flattering and awesome. It’s been really great.
Your new single comes out April 7th. What can we expect for the rest of the year from you girls?
Cristal: You can expect a lot of our music, definitely an album, an EP before that. A lot of music videos, a bunch of new songs, just more live shows.
Alisa: Just expect a lot more of The Aces!
McKenna: The Aces takeover 2017!