Allison Ponthier is the jazz school dropout making her imprint on the music industry. The singer’s debut EP, Faking My Own Death, is a look into the resilient folk rocker’s mind. Its opening track, Cowboy, dawned on the star when she first met her girlfriend. After migrating from Texas to New York, Ponthier picked the big city over the quiet Bible Belt to pursue her dreams. As she ventured into her new environment, the artist found herself reevaluating her relationship with herself.
Encapsulated in a four-minute opener, Ponthier reels off a soothing track that falls somewhere a Phoebe Bridger’s confessional padded out with the country seal of Kacey Musgraves. “Born from the beige / These feelings made me feel strange /A neon sign /Not the only one of my kind,” she sings on Cowboy. Growing up in a small Texas town, Ponthier found herself sheltered from mainstream queer culture and a bigger part of herself. “Coming out is really difficult. Everyone has different circumstances. For me, it was a long, slow burn,” she tells GAY TIMES.
Now, years later, she admits she had been with her girlfriend for five years, but things weren’t always that straightforward. Then closeted, Ponthier “struggled” to understand her newfound feelings. It wasn’t until the pair were hanging out together listening to queer artists, notable St Vincent, that the singer began to make sense of her sexuality. “[My girlfriend] said something along the lines of ‘this is a song only a queer person could write for the person that they were in love with’. That really stuck with me and that’s when I wrote Cowboy.’
Almost five years since her move to New York, Ponthier has emerged as a fast-rising singer-songwriter capturing her experiences in dynamic storytelling. We sat down with the American artist to hear more about her brand new single, Autopilot, and secretive sophomore project.
Allison, hello! How is your day going?
Good! This single has been a product of literally a year of work. I’m really happy with how everything has gone. We wrote it like a year ago and the music video, we worked on for literally 6 months to get it to where it is. That’s kind of like my curse. Everything I make just takes so much time.
Your song Cowboy has been labelled one of your biggest hits. It’s a brilliant coming of age track that digs into your identity and who you are. Where did that idea come from?
I came out when I was around 21 and it was one of those things where I didn’t know what being gay was until I was a teenager. Coming out for me was a long process because I just didn’t see it around, I was friends with lots of out lesbians that were in relationships or even lesbians that were older than me. I ended up moving to New York very last minute and was very unprepared, and did not have enough money. When I moved there it really made me reassess who I was. When you move somewhere new and you don’t have the pressure of everyone you grew up around, you can learn more about yourself and you feel more comfortable.
You can from the Bible Belt and moved to New York City at a young age. Did moving to a new location allow you a fresh start to address your identity?
Yeah! I’m from North Texas. I grew up there my whole childhood and was extremely sheltered from things that would have helped me be more comfortable in myself. I was just a really weird kid and not even in a quirky way. I really struggled to make friends. I really wanted to move to New York. When I decided to move, I was fully unprepared in every way and there were many times when I had to make some magic happen and do a bunch of random jobs to stay there.
I always knew I wanted to be there and I thought that moving there would fix all my problems as most young people do. I just didn’t have the foresight to realise that your problems follow you, if you’re not ready to deal with them they will stay with you until it’s time. When I moved to New York, I realised everyone is like the coolest person in their town. I was still figuring myself out so that’s how that element of “Cowboy” came to be.
Your song Harshest Critic is really insightful. As an artist in a social media age, have you found a way to navigate through the endless comments and feedback on your art?
Oh definitely! I feel like I’ve lived a bunch of different lives. I’ve done a bunch of different things and I think part of being someone who is out there for consumption. People want to make you be one thing or they want you to have one thing and I really struggled with that for a long time. I’ve always wanted to do a million things and that’s why I love being an artist so much. I get to be a writer for a music video, I get to act, I get to sing, I get to do interviews.
If there’s one struggle I’ve had on social media, it’s that I love doing everything. I really care about making different kinds of art and I am so much more than just one thing. I’m just going to keep trying to do a bunch of stuff and hope that people buy it because it’s what I love. I’m not going to stop doing all the things that I love just because I want people to take me seriously.
The details afforded in the conceptual universe your build around your art is fascinating. Are there any go-to movies or music videos that inspire your work?
Whenever I watch a video, I always want it to have a narrative. I want it to have a story. It’s really important if you watch my videos. I love having some kind of emotional narrative that propels the story forward and that’s all from movies. A lot of music videos are very much aesthetic, but, for me, I grew up loving movies like James and the Giant Peach and Westside Story. In Singing in the Rain, there’s like a dream sequence that changed my life. I grew up loving whimsical, spooky, overly saturated, campy things, and that became the tools for my storytelling through my music videos. I’m just a giant movie buff and because of that, I want to make mini-movies. I got to take the opportunity!
I grew up loving whimsical, spooky, overly saturated, campy things, and that became the tools for my storytelling through my music videos.
Your new single Autopilot explores your phobia of driving. Why did you pick this track to mark the beginning of your new era?
I wrote Autopilot with my friends Adam Melchor and Ethan Gruska. One of the biggest issues of my entire life is my phobia of driving. I needed to write a song about not being able to drive and so the whole concept is about my fear of driving.
[Autopilot] opens up with me waking up after a nightmare after watching the Steven King movie Christine, which is about a car that comes to life and like kills people. The chorus is about how unless there are self-driving cars I’ll never be able to drive. It’s a very on the nose song about driving. But, in general, it was just very cathartic for me to write because it’s about phobias. It’s about breaking through the things that are terrifying, breaking through patterns and shining a spotlight on the things that are your weakest link.
As funny as it is to be like “haha gay people can’t drive”, it is a symptom of having focusing issues growing up. I had undiagnosed ADHD growing up so when I got diagnosed I was told it was serious. So, to me, this song is healing my inner child. It’s something I avoided talking about for a long time and now I can have fun and sing it and scream it. I’m still working on it. I have my permit now!
You will be touring with Bleachers soon and you have a few of your own shows lined up. How are you feeling about those dates?
I am really excited to be going on tour with Bleachers in May! And then I’m also doing my first two headline shows today. I’m doing a show at Baby’s Alright and a show at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in June.
Can we expect UK dates anytime soon?
I want to so bad. I can’t even explain to you how badly I want to tour the UK. Honestly run this as an ad for someone to pick me up and bring me on tour. I’ve never been to the UK and I think that should be illegal but anyway go ahead.
A lot of LGBTQ+ fans and listeners have been inspired by you to move out or come out to friends and family. How does it feel when you get to hear about stories like that?
For me, that’s the whole point. I obviously love making music, but it really is for nothing if people don’t interact with it. Growing up, I would get super into artists and they meant a lot to me, so the idea that someone can do that with me is crazy. It is so touching when people say I influence them to come out or to live more freely. Bu,t I will say, that strength comes from them. I’m glad what I’m doing is helping them but it’s really inspiring to me to see people come out and say that my songs were a part of it. It is so hard to come out. I don’t have an angle with any of these songs.
Seeing people relate to me as an out queer person that was in the closet for a very long time heals my inner child
When you ask me, ‘why am I releasing Autopilot now?’, it’s because I love it and I feel like it represents me right now. Seeing people relate to me as an out queer person that was in the closet for a very long time heals my inner child because I needed artists like that for a long time.
There have been a lot of LGBTQ+ artists speaking openly about their sexuality and identity lately, particularly in the country scene. What has it been like for you to see that growth and representation in the industry?
I’m 26 now, but in high school, I didn’t even know Ellen was gay which is insane. I was sheltered from it. Part of me is so surprised and amazed by how much has changed in a short amount of time. Obviously, there’s a lot left to do, especially when it comes to lawmaking. But every time, I’m gonna cry, I see a young queer person and they’ve found their community, I see myself in every single one of them.
Every time I get a message from someone that says “hey your music impacted me”, I literally see myself in them. I keep saying the phrase “heal my inner child” over and over again, but that really feels like what that is. As a community we want to love and support queer youth, so seeing young people realise they’re not totally alone and [that] people that love them despite not even knowing them means the world. It means that the people that come after us will feel safer and that’s everything.
What’s next for Allison Ponthier?
My project coming out. My last EP really honed in on a singer-songwriter country, folk thing. I’m still that girl, however, I’ve gotten way more creative with the styles of production and the concepts are really unique and interesting. It may be the saddest but most real writing I’ve ever done. I’m really really proud of this upcoming record. It shows a lot of who I am. I feel as though I can become even more vulnerable and show even more parts of myself now that I’m ready.