The Aces Puncture Stigma Around Mental Health With “Don’t Freak”

Anyone who thinks bands are “a dying breed” has clearly never heard The Aces. Off the heat of last year’s pop masterpiece Under My Influence, the quartet return with a poignant dance-club track called “Don’t Freak,” released in time for Mental Health Awareness month. Don’t ya wanna know just how to let go baby / Hate that your first instinct is to attack, Cristal Ramirez sings.

In true The Aces fashion, the four-piece dress up sharp-toothed, evocative lyrics with shiny, bright bursts of energy, guitar, and synth work. Got me thinking god I swear / Why I always take it there, Cristal continues, unthreading the emotional yarn. Gonna lose it don’t you dare / I can’t take me anywhere.

“Don’t Freak,” produced by Keith Varon, specifically targets continued villainization of and stigmatization around mental health. The message makes a firm resolve “not to listen to the bullshit that our society says about mental illness. It’s OK to struggle,” shares Cristal, who draws upon her own panic attacks for inspiration. “[It’s that] feeling like an inconvenience to those around you for your mental struggles.”

Don’t freak, you don’t gotta cause a big scene, Cristal encourages on the chorus. They don’t wanna see you melting / Just gotta do what they told me.

Frequently emotional and timely, much of the band’s songwriting is best nurtured when they “push aside all ego and arrive with an open mind for the muse to flow through,” offers bandmate Alisa Ramirez (drums). “Songwriting has to be maybe my favorite part about being an artist. It’s so therapeutic and exhilarating when you get something out you’ve been holding in for a long time, or when you nail a really good hook, or figure out how to say something in a totally new way. The whole thing is like a really fun game, and the reward of walking away with an amazing song is one of my favorite feelings.”

The creative process often remains largely elusive, perhaps undefined. “The specifics change from time to time, but showing up ready to collaborate and tap into a higher genius has to be the constant for us when creating music,” continues Alisa. “We have to protect our energy going into the day and keep the vibes positive and relaxed, as well as do things that are mentally stimulating going into a session as well like having good conversation or listening to your favorite records or reading.”

Naturally, in their burgeoning careers, The Aces have received plenty of unsolicited songwriting advice. The worst perhaps is when “someone told us to try to do something more ‘hip-hop’ leaning ’cause that’s what’s popular right now,” shares Alisa. “I think writing with the intention for something to be ‘popular’ is terrible advice. Making art is very personal, and it needs to feel authentic to the artist in order for it to truly connect with anyone else. Basically be yourself when you song write.”

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