Utah’s The Aces would be a long way from home playing a gig in Boston, let alone Budapest. The foursome, comprised of Cristal Ramirez, Alisa Ramirez, McKenna Petty, and Katie Henderson, has been together since adolescence, not just as a band, but friends too.
Earlier this year on June 2nd, the group released their third studio album, I’ve Loved You For So Long, which by their own accord is a reconnection, to themselves as teammates and bandmates. While it seems to be a hit with the band’s diehard fan base, it’s clear the quartet is pushing for more.
Before even having the chance to properly promote the album domestically, The Aces were halted abroad for a run that made stops in 12 different countries – from the European Union’s easternmost frontiers in Romania to the solidly Western Republic of Ireland. After losing their bags in Paris, playing a sold out show in Copenhagen, and making a 10-hour drive from a festival in Bucharest, the girls found themselves in Budapest, Hungary, slated to perform at one of Europe’s most revered festivals, Sziget.
What began as a small festival for students in the early 90s, organized by prolific Hungarian rocker Müller Péter Sziámi (who at age 71 delivered a throttling late-night rock set on the festival’s final day, just moments after Billie Eilish closed its Main Stage), has evolved into a six-day monster.
Boasting over 15 stages that feature everything from budding European acts to global superstars, Sziget’s standing as one of the world’s biggest music festivals is logical, if not obvious. And The Aces – who made their Hungarian debut in style alongside contemporaries like Lorde, Billie Eilish, and girl in red – did so properly billed at one of the festival’s two premier stages, the Freedome.
After a chaotic 90 minutes that included a limited soundcheck and spur-of-the-moment agreement with Hungarian state TV, the band hit the stage for a full hour where their beloved brand of indie pop was rapturously-received by the few thousand foreigners who turned out to their set, despite it being just 5:30 in the afternoon on a Monday.
I spent the afternoon with my American compatriots, documenting their day through my lens, before we chatted over dinner. But not for too long, as we all had somewhere to be shortly thereafter…
Words and Photography by Andy Gorel
Andy: You guys just got off stage at Sziget Festival here in Budapest. How was it?
Cristal: Pretty fucking awesome. We’re kind of newcomers in Europe and the U.K. as far as festivals go, so I feel like we’re putting on really amazing shows because we have something to prove by being here. I feel so far the crowds have showed up in a really amazing way, especially Budapest today. It felt like we really won them over.
Andy: Yeah at the end during “Stuck” the crowd was really vibing.
Kenna: Yeah I felt like during “Daydream” too, there was a lot of the crowd that knew it. That’s always a trip, being this far away from home, and having people actively know your music.
Cristal: Yeah, having never even been here before, it’s crazy that a lot of people know our songs.
Andy: So this was all of your first time here right?
Andy: And you had a chance to explore the city a bit? You told me you went to the Széchenyi baths?
Cristal: Yeah. A little bit. We went to the baths and some restaurants.
Andy: Did you make it to Szimpla Kert for a drink?
Kenna: No. That’s the pub I was telling you guys about!
Alisa: We should have! We also tried to go to Stand, that Michelin Star restaurant. It was closed though.
Cristal: We had a really good breakfast this morning, and got to see the city a little bit more.
Kenna: We walked across the bridge.
Andy: Which one? Erzsébet? The big white one?
Andy: Cool. That’s kind of the city’s focal point. From a visitor’s perspective at least. Did you have any expectations? For the festival, the city, Eastern Europe in general.
Alisa: Honestly, I didn’t really have any expectations. I never thought about coming to Eastern Europe. We’ve all kind of talked about that. I think most people from America really romanticize Western Europe. Coming here, it’s just been really cool. We just played a festival in Romania, and tomorrow we have Prague. It’s been crazy to come here and see – like they treat artists so well. The shows have been so fun.
Andy: They treat Americans well.
Alisa: Yeah, as American artists we’ve been treated so well, and the crowds have been so friendly. It’s been genuinely shocking to us that they even know who we are, and know our music. Because we’ve never been here before. It’s been really awesome.
Cristal: I’ve had friends tour through here and say it’s really amazing. So I guess I was just hoping it would be great, and it has been.
“I never thought about coming to Eastern Europe. We’ve all kind of talked about that. I think most people from America really romanticize Western Europe. Coming here, it’s just been really cool.”
Andy: So as we’ve said, you’re on a European tour right now. You said you just did Romania?
Alisa: Yeah, it was beautiful. Bucharest is sick.
Andy: Your tour manager, Aaron, told me you had a little bit of a hiccup with the travel and your gear. Do you wanna talk about that story or do you want to move on?
(The girls exchange ‘Oh my Gods’)
Alisa: I feel like that crazy story has been consuming my entire existence this whole week, but basically we flew from LAX with a connection through CDG in Paris to Copenhagen, cause that’s where our first show was. CDG lost all of our baggage, so we spent the first 48 hours in Copenhagen with nothing to our names. It all slowly started to trickle in to Copenhagen airport over the course of a couple days, except my personal bag, which is insane. Then we went to Romania next, and thank God my bag showed up at the last second, because we were in Romania for two days. It’s the worst thing ever to lose gear.
My cymbals are still somewhere in the world, we don’t really know. They could be in Bucharest, Copenhagen, or still at CDG. It’s crazy to lose gear, or personal stuff on tour, because you’re in a different country every day, so it’s really hard for them to get it to you. So it’s shitty.
Andy: My cousin just wrapped up a vacation and Air France lost his bag. He said when they located the bags he got to the airport and his still was missing. So Air France gave him like 100 Euro to buy clothes.
Alisa: Literally! They offered me 75 Euro. I was like “Are you fucking kidding me?”
Andy: Have you noticed anything that feels really foreign since you’ve been here? For instance, no matter how many times I wash or condition my hair, it never feels fully clean. Something about it feels off.
Cristal: I think, as Americans, that culture of being obsessed with fragrance, showering so much, doing laundry so often, that’s not as much of a thing here. People are a bit more chill.
Andy: Switching gears a little bit. You’re currently out in support of your new album, I’ve Loved You For So Long, which came out earlier this year on Red Bull Records. These are the first shows in support of it, right?
Cristal: Yeah. We did a few in the states, and in Paris we did a little bit of a press run. But this is the first official tour.
Andy: You did the album with Keith Varon. He’s worked on a lot of records. What was the process like?
Alisa: Honestly, it was interesting. When we started making this record, it was kind of by accident. It was during the pandemic, and we had just put out our last record, Under My Influence. We weren’t expecting to be back in full album mode that quickly. We didn’t get to tour it. Normally when we put out a record, we don’t even think about writing vigorously for another eight to ten months because we’re just touring so much. It was the only thing to do at the time though. We had written “Daydream” with Keith, and that song was doing really well at the time. So the label wanted us to go back in with him. And we were like “Ok, we’ll go for it.”
He was one of the only producers at the time who was down to go through all the COVID protocols too, to work with us – we had to wear masks, get tested, all that stuff. Then we met up, and just did another session. I feel it was this thing where Cristal and I just fell in love with working with him. We just became best friends, and really connected over our influences, things that got us into music in the first place. We got very comfortable with him, and had such an amazing creative chemistry, that we ended up writing and writing and writing until it snowballed into a record.
Andy: There’s definitely some 90s influence on it. Like you guys moved from 80s to 90s a bit?
Alisa: Yeah, definitely. I think we went later 80s, early 90s. I would say ‘87 through ‘94.
Andy: The title track reminds me a lot of Sixpence None The Richer, and artists like that.
Alisa: Love that, yeah.
Andy: Or some of the newer 1975 stuff, from the yellow album – Notes On A Conditional Form?
Alisa: Yeah, Notes.
Andy: Did it feel like a departure in any way?
Alisa: It felt less of a departure, and more of a reconnection. I think our second record felt like more of a departure from the first one, but this one felt a little more aligned with the music we made previously.
“It felt less of a departure, and more of a reconnection. I think our second record felt like more of a departure from the first one, but this one felt a little more aligned with the music we made previously.”
Andy: How have the fans received it? Any songs that went over better than you anticipated?
Kenna: It’s been seriously so amazing seeing the response. More than we could have ever imagined. On this record we got super vulnerable, more than ever, with where we came from, how we were raised, what we’ve been through. It’s been so cool to see us getting more niche and vulnerable with our own experiences. People are really really into it. It was so crazy. The song that’s been resonating with fans throughout the states, when we were playing it, was “Suburban Blues.” Especially the line, “Good girls love Jesus, not that girl from Phoenix.” Every single time we played it, the week the record came out, everyone was screaming that line. It was so cool to see.
Then we went to Copenhagen to play our first headline show of this run, and they were screaming it in Copenhagen too. It was so crazy being on the other side of the world hearing people scream that line and relate to it.
Andy: I think that line could be interpreted a few ways which may be why it’s so relatable.
Kenna: Yeah. It’s just so cool to see people relating to it all over the world, and needing that.
Andy: You talked about being through a lot with your upbringing. You guys signed with Red Bull before your debut single, “Stuck,” came out, right?
Alisa: It was out, and then they signed us, and re-released it.
Andy: For all intents and purposes, The Aces as a project has been with Red Bull Records since the beginning?
Alisa: Well, kind of. We’ve been a band since we were like 10 years old.
Andy: Right, which is what I was gonna get into. But for this current chapter then?
“On this record we got super vulnerable, more than ever, with where we came from, how we were raised, what we’ve been through. It’s been so cool to see us getting more niche and vulnerable with our own experiences.”
Andy: How did they discover you?
Cristal: Just on the internet. “Stuck” was doing really well on a lot of those underground indie blogs, like Hype Machine, Pigeons and Planes…
Andy: Doesn’t that seem like a galaxy ago at this point?
Alisa: We didn’t even know what it was, but our manager was like, “It’s important, and it’s good that it’s happening.”
Andy: I mean for a while Hype Machine was like how you got signed online.
Cristal: Yeah we were at the very tail end of that being relevant. Then the song was doing super well on Spotify, and Red Bull came into the picture. We took a bunch of meetings with a bunch of labels, and there were a few, specifically Capitol and Red Bull, that wanted to sign us. We went with Red Bull because it just felt like the right situation.
Andy: Red Bull is like one of those labels that’s kind of like a pseudo major. It’s not a major, but it’s such a huge brand with so much capital behind it.
Alisa: Yeah. That’s what they like about themselves. They can function like an indie in artist-friendly ways, but have the funds of a major.
Andy: How has that shaped up for your band?
Cristal: I think it’s been really incredible. We feel really grateful. They just get our band, and let us do creatively whatever we wanted, since the very beginning. That’s really a reason why we signed with them, because we understood it.
I think, pretty early, when you’re a woman in music, and not just in music, but in a band with all women, you very quickly understand the type of misogyny you’re up against in the world. You learn that very quickly. I think we were really protective of what we had going on as kids because we knew it was really special. We knew if we signed with the wrong partner, without letting our band grow into what it had become and was becoming, they were gonna ruin it. You know? They were going to ruin the authenticity of it, make it a gimmick, just fuck it up to be honest. I’ve seen that happen to not just bands like ours, but most artists that sign to labels.
I think we were looking for a label partner that was really on the same page with us about preserving our authenticity, and what we wanted to do. Red Bull was just that. They told us they loved what we did, didn’t want to change anything, and wanted to be a part of it. That’s what was important to us.
“I think, pretty early, when you’re a woman in music, and not just in music, but in a band with all women, you very quickly understand the type of misogyny you’re up against in the world… I think we were really protective of what we had going on as kids because we knew it was really special.”
Andy: You said the four of you have been together since you were kids.
Cristal: We were all 10 and Alisa was 8. I’m turning 28 soon.
Andy: Might be hard to say succinctly, but what’s the ride been like for the four of you guys?
Kenna: We actually hate each other.
Alisa: That would be sad. That’s the reality for a lot of bands, to be honest, but not us. We actually love each other.
Cristal: I felt like this record, a huge part of it is about that, loving each other. “I’ve Loved You For So Long” started out as a love song, but over time we’ve interpreted it in a different way, like a love song to our band and relationship with each other. It’s been this long 18-year relationship. We’ve gone through so many different phases, and been different people with each other. We’ve had to continue to nurture our relationship, and understand each other, while holding space for each other to change, to be different people. I think it’s one of the things I’m the most proud of. It’s super fulfilling – to have a long-term friendship, relationship, work partnership with people you really love and trust. Now getting to be able to travel the world together is so cool.
Andy: Well a Euro tour is dope. I’m sure you guys were stoked when you booked it.
Cristal: Oh yeah.
Katie: Especially when these festivals started coming in, it was like – you dream of playing festivals when you’re a kid, especially in the U.S. but then to come here and do it in places you maybe would have never gone to, and most people won’t. It’s really amazing.
Andy: I have to say, I knew what Sziget was, but didn’t realize how big of a deal it is until this past week, actually being here for the first time. This is a huge deal for Hungary.
Alisa: Yeah, I can’t believe it’s six days long.
“We’ve gone through so many different phases, and been different people with each other. We’ve had to continue to nurture our relationship, and understand each other, while holding space for each other to change, to be different people. I think it’s one of the things I’m the most proud of.”
Andy: Yeah, I’ve somehow been here for all of them so far. I told myself I wasn’t going to come every day, and then I’d be out drinking somewhere and be like “Wellllll, I could swing by the island.”
Alisa: (Laughs) That’s crazy.
Katie: Yeah, well today’s a Monday. I don’t think we’ve ever played a festival on a Monday.
Alisa: When I saw the lineup, I was like “What!? We’re playing on Monday?”
Andy: Budapest kinda doesn’t stop. Near the city center at least, it will be 2 AM on a weeknight and it feels like it’s 3 PM – just the way people are out walking around, going about their business.
Katie: I feel like that’s what I had heard about Budapest – that it’s a little party city.
Andy: It is for sure, but it’s got everything. So I looked you guys up briefly today before coming here and read on your Wikipedia page that you decided to pursue music professionally after seeing Lorde win a Grammy in 2014. Is that true?
(All say yeah enthusiastically)
Andy: Are you gonna go see her play main stage in 15 minutes?
(All confirm enthusiastically, again)
Alisa: We love Lorde. It was this really serendipitous thing, because our first manager was also her manager.
Andy: Oh wait, I met that guy. When we were at Firefly in 2018. What’s his name?
Alisa: Tim Youngson!
Cristal: Yeah, he’s not our manager anymore, but it was super serendipitous that we had that experience.
Alisa: It was kind of like the stars aligned, because we were at this crossroads where we were going to graduate high school, and these girls are all two years older than me, so they were gonna go off to university or stay in our hometown and be a punk band. We saw Lorde win a Grammy, and it was just so inspiring to us, because coming from Utah, it felt like a music career wasn’t possible. Seeing a girl from New Zealand be the biggest artist ever at 17 years old excited us.
Andy: Basically the Utah of the Western world.
Alisa: Exactly. So it was like, “We’re from the middle of nowhere. She’s from the middle of nowhere. We’re 17 years old. She’s 17 years old.” We just felt really inspired by her.
“I can’t believe it’s six days long… When I saw the lineup, I was like ‘What!? We’re playing on Monday?'”
Andy: If you look back at American rock history, a lot of great bands have come from the middle of the country, or at least smaller, forgotten cities and towns.
Kenna: It gives you grit.
Alisa: It gives you grit. All that bullshit of being shoved down.
Andy: You’re challenged more. You face physical challenges, economical challenges, your beliefs are challenged. It’s a push-and-pull that builds character.
Alisa: Oh yeah. So it was cool. We saw her win that Grammy, and it invigorated us to the point where the girls said no to some major real life opportunities with college, and we fucking buckled down and worked our asses off. Six months later Lorde’s manager was managing us.
Kenna: Yeah, that was pretty crazy (laughs).
Andy: Well, let’s go see Lorde.