Most bands can’t even imagine having a career that long, and yet that’s already the length of time that The Aces have been together. Which is even more remarkable given the fact that Cristal, Katie, Alisa, and McKenna (l-r above) are an average age of 20 years old.
But this isn’t an article that takes the notion of age and marvels at levels of maturity or similar, for doing so would be a direct condescension of what this group stand for. The fact that The Aces are here, a unit, headlining their own London show is enough of a testament to both their popularity and their ability to withstand an industry that often takes no prisoners. Not at such an early stage.
We meet the band on a rainy evening ahead of their show in Hoxton. It’s a performance that reinforces just how tight a unit they are, though the silent camaraderie in their hotel room beforehand already tells us that. But really, deep down, who are The Aces?
“At our core, The Aces are just best best friends,” explains Cristal. “It’s like a sisterhood. We grew up together, we knew each other since we were babies and we’ve actively chosen to do this with each other for the past decade. No one put us up to it. No one forced us, no one made us. We actively chose to do it.”
In one sense that ‘sisterhood’ is literal – Cristal and Alisa are indeed part of the same family. That might explain part of the tight bond they all share; even if Cristal does most of the talking during our time with them, or Katie prefers to be a bit quieter than the rest, it’s never a point of antagonism. They all rest easy knowing that this is one voice, their voice, and a voice that has been strong and apparent since their cracking debut.
“We were definitely friends before the music,” McKenna adds before Cristal elaborates. “A lot of people don’t know that about us. We all knew each other and were good good friends before we became a band. It started from an organic natural place of jamming and writing music together, and just going through so many experiences together as you do through your teens. We’ve been in the band since we were 10 years old!”
It’s a fact that almost seems unfathomable, especially given it would mean they started before the big Twitter and YouTube waves. But of all the bands we’ve met and interviewed, The Aces are the ones who seem the most relaxed about their position both in the landscape of music and within the band.
That also resonates in their songwriting too. “I feel like we’re open with each other,” says McKenna. Alisa echoes that sentiment with vigour. “I feel like you’ve gotta be completely raw with your art if you want it to translate. It’s gotta be a feeling that’s everyone’s felt. All of our songs from real experiences. Me and Cristal write lyrics and just bounce off each other, we actually think very similarly but we’re actually different people with different experiences. So when we both come together we’re like ‘have we both felt this?'”
And true to the sisterhood code, Cristal is keen to highlight the involvement of her other bandmates. “There’s a trust between Katie and ‘Kenna as well, we’re the same age so we’re going through a lot of the same stuff. There’s a lot of trust for me and Alisa to go into writing sessions and be able to replicate how we all feel…”
“And that’s even after the lyrics have been written,” McKenna interjects. “I always think of ways I can relate the lyrics to myself, and I always can.”
Cristal continues: “We’ve just been lucky to work with people who have made the safe very space… wait, what did I just say?”
The band all fall about laughing, even during such a serious point. It’s here that we realise that even in their most upfront moments, The Aces aren’t anything other than who they are – unafraid to let the mask slip (if indeed there even is one), unfazed to be just four best friends sharing a laugh while they’re having the time of their lives and working their arses off.
“We care about each other and the success of our art and our band than we do about being right. We really check our egos.”
That’s by the by, though. Back to Cristal’s point.
“We’ve just been lucky to work with people who have made the space very safe for us to create. You have to have people on your team that you can trust.”
“I think we’ve been in the opposite place where someone doesn’t create that safe space,” McKenna adds. “Either they don’t understand you or they bulldoze you. You have to be very collaborative and no egos allowed in the room, sometimes you work with people who don’t have that down.
“That’s down to every decision in The Aces,” explains Cristal. “Everything gets four votes.”
So how do they deal with disagreements, then?
“We just talk,” says McKenna. “Anyone can get heated but we always just take a second and come back and say we wanna hear you out. We’re super good at communication.”
Cristal is quick to add: “We have so much behind the scenes, 10 years of band practices and shows. We’ve worked out so many kinks; it’s like a well-oiled machine, four gears running together. We know each other’s personalities so well that if any disagreement arises we know how to work that between each other in a very positive, productive way.
“We care about each other and the success of our art and our band than we do about being right. We really check our egos. We just took our time to really experiment and have fun with it.”
That mixture of fun and a strong work ethic is what sticks with you when you spend time with The Aces. This is what they’ve dreamed of for over half their lives – “I genuinely feel like I was built for it,” Alisa says, and it’s hard to disagree – but not for a single second do they take any of it for granted.
Every decision seems well thought-out, including (given the above) the rather ironic name for their EP: I Don’t Like Being Honest.
“That’s why we picked it!” Cristal laughs. “All our songs are so honest. We were just talking about it… what do they mean to us? What sums us up? Me and ‘Kenna were talking about our relationships and were like, ‘doesn’t it suck sometimes to have to be so honest?’. It’s not easy. Most people cut corners and are not honest with themselves. We came to the conclusion that they were moments of honesty – you have to be fully authentic in those moments to really be happy.”
Authenticity is clearly very important to the band, maybe as much as nominative determinism. Is that why they picked the name The Aces? A collective sound rings out, a chorus of ‘tell ’em’ amid laughter and embarrassed groans.
Cristal explains: “Originally we were going to be The Blue Aces. All this stuff surfaces when you’re 10 years old, there’s no rhyme or reason. Alisa and I grew up next to this girl who said – to be a cool band you have to have this equation of “a colour and a thing”. So we’re like “red lace” – that sounds too sexy. I was laying in my bed and we were playing a show in the next week and we needed a band name. So I was like, blue is a cool colour and the Aces sounds rock ‘n’ roll”. She pauses before revealing another secret. “The original name was The Rock-On Pigeons!”
Whatever they’re called, it ceases to matter when we see them perform on the London stage that night. They course through songs with ridiculous confidence, a streamlined set that doesn’t see a single moment of struggle. As we wind down our conversation, we realise again how varied their own influences are (with taste ranging from Big Thief to SZA, or favourite Beyonce moments as far-reaching as Love On Top or Emotion), but how these disparate strokes come together to form a rounded unit.
The Aces seem to have defined who they are on their own terms, even if they still remain underestimated by the industry at every turn. “A lot of people don’t know that we play our own instruments,” sighs McKenna, before Alisa adds: “I hate that they assume that we’re not good or something, but I do like to prove them wrong.”
And once again, Cristal sums up The Aces ethos without even realising. “I think our band is kinda more glass half-full than half-empty. To us it’s amazing that we’re an all-girl band in a time where there aren’t many. We’re beginning to pave our way and do our own thing.”
On the strength of the new EP, their stage presence, and this encounter, it’s certainly hard to disagree.
I Don’t Like Being Honest by The Aces is out now.