The Aces—siblings Cristal Ramirez (vocals) and Alisa Ramirez (drums) and guitarist Katie Henderson and bassist McKenna Petty—are more than childhood friends; they’re chosen family. Fresh out of conservative Provo, Utah, and barely out of their teens when they signed with Red Bull Records in 2016, the band used to shy away from topics of sexuality. Today, three-quarters of the group proudly identify as gay or queer.

Their first single, “Stuck”—a subversively effervescent ode to the frustration of being unable to authentically communicate—resonated with audiences who found kinship in The Aces’ candor and cool. As the band prepares to head out on tour in support of the 6/2 release of their third full-length album, I’ve Loved You for So Long, we spoke with them about their music and lives in a “post-stuck” era and what it takes to live authentically.

In your debut single, “Stuck,” the narrator ruminates on feeling limited and trapped by communication. Having grown as artists and come out as queer since then, do you feel you’re able to better express, both in your lives and on this new album?

CR: Yeah, absolutely. “Stuck” is about those relationships where—no matter what you say—it’s just not working. As you get older, you learn how to walk away from those situations more quickly. You learn who you are and how to express yourself more thoroughly. At this point in our lives, we know ourselves better than we ever have. The stories on this new record are deeper because of maturation and time.

The new album feels like a “look back” at various experiences of growing up queer in Provo and how those experiences affect you today. It also appears to be a celebration of queer joy and strength through the community of your band. Do you see this kind of community as an answer to some of the acts of oppression queer Americans face?

: Hmm, yeah. I think that a huge resource growing up was this band and a lot of chosen family. That’s kind of the main advice that we give to queer kids who are coming up and struggling to come out. It’s important to find people in your communities who support you and are on your side. And the best way to fight back against oppression is to get louder, not shy away from it and be afraid. You’ve got to keep fighting. People speaking up and getting in the streets to protest is how we’ve gotten our rights. These crazy attacks—especially on trans youth—motivate us to do everything we can to use our platform to push the narrative forward and not go back.

KH: When you grow up in a small conservative town, it’s really hard to understand if there’s anyone else out there who is like you, or you could relate to. As we tour and go to a lot of new and different places, I really hope our shows are a place where we can help people find their communities and “band together” for support.

You guys have a sort of badass confidence and self-assured cool. How can other queer people access this confidence in their day-to-day lives?

: I think it was mostly a desperate need to get out of our hometown, find community and feel seen. This is who we are. We have no choice but to be this, right? Even when we weren’t out, the band was a safe space where I felt like myself. It was the only time that I felt really at peace and felt I was contributing to the world in the way I wanted to. When we were kids, our drive was to create a world outside of where we were. Now that we’re adults, we have more self-assurance and we’re driven by our excitement for what we do.

AR: When you’re young, you’re naturally pretty insecure. You can’t help but go through a block of time when you just hate yourself and you’re scared to be perceived and exist. That feeling can last forever unless you try the other thing, which is… What if we tried liking ourselves? There will always be people around you—and moments in your life—that make feeling confident harder to do. It’s about figuring out how to continue to be okay with yourself and own it.

MP: As someone who’s not gay, I feel like that struggle to be authentic and express yourself authentically creates an innate confidence that’s super-inspiring to me. When we were little, we always joked that I never had the same confidence that they did. I just kind of borrowed it from them. As allies, it’s a beautiful thing that we benefit from being inspired in that way.

On your new album, there are moments of real vulnerability, but self-victimizing language is nowhere to be found. Was that intentional, or a natural way of thinking?

CR: As you get older, you’re not as defensive. Looking inward doesn’t feel like an attack on your entire character. It just feels more like, How do I get better? How can I be happier?” I’m 27 now, and I was tired of my relationships just feeling the same. When you’re younger and you don’t have the experience to know the other person wasn’t right for you, you can end up blaming other people. As you get older, you start to realize that maybe it’s not everyone else and maybe you’re contributing to this feeling—or to this chaos, or to this pattern. At this point in my life, I was able to sit in the studio and realize, “Damn. I feel shitty. Am I just doomed to be miserable and experience these types of relationships for the rest of my life?” So, I wanted to go there in our music and mourn that feeling of defeat. Alisa really helped me to go there. They’re really personal songs and I’m proud of them. Some people spend their whole lives never admitting fault or looking in the mirror to realize where they may have messed up or gone wrong. I’m proud of myself and proud of my band that we express these stories. There’s just real power in vulnerability. We see it all the time through our band.

If you could make it so that one song finds a closeted queer kid in the middle of the country somewhere, what song would it be and why?

: I would say “Suburban Blues” because it really encapsulates that feeling we had of being stuck growing up in a small, religious town in Utah.

KH: I would say “Girls Make Me Wanna Die,” because it’s just high-energy. It really conveys how I felt in middle school. Back then, I would’ve loved to have a song like that to blast in my room and feel free for a second.

CR: I would say “26” by Paramore. I think a lot of queer people love Paramore because Hayley Williams just has this way of expressing angst and pain, but she can also write about hope in a way that doesn’t feel cheesy or cliché. She’s very poetic with it.

AR: If I was picking songs from our album, I’d also go with “Girls Make Me Wanna Die” or “Suburban Blues.” But for me, a huge song when I was younger was “Settle Down” by The 1975. Matty Healy talks about writing that song from a queer perspective, which is like a question mark. In my own head, that was my coming-out song. I really related to it because it was exactly how I felt in my romantic situations at the time. It helped me feel seen. I hope that’s something “Suburban Blues” or “Girls Make Me Wanna Die” can do for other young people.

Looking forward, what’s next for The Aces?

: A lot of shows. It’s gonna be a crazy year. This is the first time we’ve been able to work a record since before the pandemic. We couldn’t tour and work [2020’s] Under My Influence the way we wanted, because everyone was on lockdown and couldn’t travel. It feels so good to be back in the swing of things. I hadn’t realized how long it’s been since we’ve done a proper press tour—and then an actual tour—seen fans and worked a full record cycle. We’re most excited about the music and seeing fans. This year we’re also going to a bunch of countries we’ve never been to before and playing festivals in Europe for the first time.

KH: We’re just so excited to finally play this record live, because we’ve been talking and dreaming about it for so long.