Allison Ponthier, the Most Authentic NYC Cowboy Is Hitting the Road [Q&A]
Photo: Julian Buchan
Allison Ponthier is the epitome of transparent authenticity and delicate creativity. With an allegiance to genuine storytelling and sincere vulnerability, Allison has transformed her coming-of-age dramas into consumable and engaging tracks. The approachable nature of her soft tone warmly invites audiences in while her charismatic metaphors create a witty sense of individualized connection.
Exploring themes of sexuality, age, and her fascination with the concept of death, Allison's debut EP, Faking My Own Death, saw her brilliantly contrasting the darker essence of her lines with humor and alluring anecdotes. We had the chance to speak to the New York cowboy about the concept of death, the therapeutic nature of songwriting, and plenty more ahead of her tour with Lord Huron.
Ones To Watch: First and foremost, how are you today?
Allison Ponthier: I'm good. I am getting my entire life ready to go on the road in September and I'm having kind of a cute weekday. It's very normal.
You once said, "A lot of my songs are about being uncomfortable in your own skin but getting to know yourself better." What is it about songwriting that challenges you?
I had written one-off songs for school projects and stuff growing up, but I really didn't start writing until I was 18 or 19. I saw a very specific trend in my early songs, now that I'm looking back, hindsight is 20/20, where I just refused to talk about anything that was difficult. I think I wrote a lot of songs about what I thought would sound cool... and even if I was talking about something I was going through, I put it through this super vague lens. It wasn't until I started writing for my current project that I really became obsessed with vulnerable writing. It's actually really instrumental in how I heal from a lot of stuff now.
But I think what's unique to songwriting specifically is that it begs the question, "OK, but what do you really mean?" It's not like you're just saying everything off the top of your head, you have to think about the deeper meaning and how everything is connected. You do have the opportunity to talk about things in a way that you wouldn't normally talk about them. You can go deeper by using metaphors or connecting dots that just exercise different muscles in your brain, and I think for me, that's been one of the best ways, in addition to therapy, of how I can process a lot of the things that I've gone through or have been uncomfortable to process before.
You're quite openly fascinated by the concept of death. What about death makes you feel so alive, and does exploring it give you comfort?
So, I have always been kind of fascinated with death... I didn't watch my first scary movie, and I didn't see anything that was scary until I was a teenager. When I was younger, I used to be really resentful of that because I wanted to be cool like everyone else... but I was very sheltered growing up. But now, I actually really appreciate it. I think a lot of people experience death, not through experience, which I think is a huge privilege, but a lot of people experience death through scary things, like scary movies and scary stories before they mature. And for me growing up, the way that I kind of thought about death was through the lens of my mom. My mom lost her dad when she was really, really young, so she made a point to go to cemeteries and not think that they are scary... [I] actually think it’s really beautiful and a place for people to heal. I think she always wanted me to feel connected to people even after they've passed away. I really, really appreciate her for that.
In addition to that, I think that now in the year 2021, we have a lot of answers to all of our questions at the tip of our fingers, online. We know a lot about the world and yet, we know so little about death and we know so little about what happens after death. I think that is what is exciting to me, because I don't know if I believe in ghosts, I don't know if I believe in magic or anything like that, but I think death and what happens after death is kind of the closest thing to magic in the real world. I try to make it not super dark or scary.
Well, I love your perspective...
I will add one more thing... I did have an experience recently where I went to Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and I think for a long time, my feelings were that after someone dies, does it really matter how we remember them? I mean, it kind of matters to their close family, but I think I was really cynical about death for a long time. But at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where I took a tour, the person there cared so much about the history of each person they were talking about and wanted to keep their memory alive so much that I now understand why it's so important to keep people's memories alive and to honor people... even if it's not for a family, everyone deserves to be remembered. Everyone deserves to stay alive through their stories, so... I don't know. Hollywood Forever Cemetery totally got me re-interested in death and remembering people and honoring people after they've passed.
There's so much emotional and sonic depth to be found in your music, how do you plan on bringing that to life on tour?
This is going to be my first experience ever touring. That being said, I have been performing a lot of these songs, not in a touring space but performing them. I think the way that I like to bring intimacy or depth to a set is to just talk to people. I really think it's great to just talk to people and engage with people like I would be talking to anyone else.
The songs are with a live band and the EP that I made is with live instruments to make it really classic sounding. I think the energy of playing with a live band and playing old school, like '70s style, is what I'm really interested in so hopefully the people that listen to my music are really into [it]. I personally think it will just be really emotional in general, because this is such a huge experience for me. I've never done these songs for a lot of other people at once, and I think that feeling the energy, from other people, not just on the other side of a screen, but right in front of me, is going to be amazing. I have not had the privilege of sharing these songs with people in real-time, in this way.
A lot of your music is rooted in feeling out of place within yourself, which gives it a sense of coming-of-age. So in terms of touring, have you always felt at home on stage, or has it been something you're growing into?
I think I was actually very terrified to be on stage for a long time. I was really, really shy growing up, so I think a lot of my first memories of performing were my mom making me sing for friends and family coming over. I only knew one song, which was "God Bless America," so I would just sing "God Bless America" all the time. But I was really shy as a kid, so even when I did start songwriting, I didn't think I would be an artist. I thought I would just be a songwriter. I still love writing songs for other people, but the main reason I didn't want to be an artist had to do with me being afraid to put myself out there. I feel like now is the perfect time for me to go on tour, because before, I don't think I was ready for it.
That being said, now, because I'm an artist and I have a lot of new things to do all the time, it makes me less scared to do other things that are new. Like being an artist, and making this EP specifically, has really helped my self-confidence... Almost like therapy level, it's helped my self-confidence and my self-esteem. So, we'll see what happens!
It's wonderful to hear that you've taken your time and really grown into this role intentionally...
Absolutely, 100 percent. Like, I'm 25 years old, which to me, I feel like a baby, still. But, I think to people that are younger than me, they are like, "Oh! Someone who should have everything together..." To me, it will always feel like you're doing everything for the first time your whole life because you only really get to live one life. I personally think that tour is going to be a great time, we've planned a lot of fun stuff. The reality is, it's a huge tour that I get to go on with some of my closest friends, and I want to have an amazing time connecting with people.
Who is your biggest music inspiration and why?
This is so hard because I feel like I have quite a few. I grew up listening to Regina Spektor and Imogen Heap, like a lot. I didn't listen to them as much when I became an adult, but now, as an artist, I'm realizing just how much they have influenced me. I think Regina Spektor tells a lot of stories in her music, and she isn't afraid to get a little weird with it. I think that that is something that really inspires me now with the kind of songs that I write. Imogen Heap was the first artist I ever really, really got into, and I think she's very similar. She is not afraid to make the kind of music she makes, even if it is not the kind of music everyone listens to. And then, I'll throw in one more... I loved Paramore growing up. And yes, Hayley Williams was a pop-punk queen, but she was also a Nashville songwriter at the end of the day. I don't know if a lot of people put weight on the songwriting part of Paramore, the live shows are so incredible, but she is one of the most influential and biggest songwriters I look up to.
So, a lot of your music uses geographical or location-based metaphors, so I was wondering where is it that you feel most at home?
You know, that's so interesting. I often think about this a lot, where I don't really feel like I have a specific home. I moved around a lot, I was in Texas, but I moved around a lot when I was in Texas. Then I went to college, and I moved around a lot after that. I've lived in like a million different apartments. I think where I feel most at home are two places. One, when I'm with my girlfriend. I've been seeing her for four years now, and at this point, she's like my family. I know I can count on her and I know no matter what happens, she's going to be there for me. And then, I also feel at home when I'm doing something with my team... which I know sounds like a canned response but I'm really, really close with my management, I'm really close with the people from my label, and when we're all working on something together, I'm just like, "Woah... these people feel like my family." I think chosen family is really important to me and those are some of the people that I know, if something happened, I could immediately call them. I don't know if home ever feels like a place, but it definitely feels like people.
So, relating back to your fascination with death. If you could pick one record that by listening to it, would save everybody's soul, what would it be?
Oh my god... low stakes questions, whatever... Oh my god! To save everyone's souls? That's a really, really good question. I have to think about what's a front-to-back album that I really love. I really love John Prine, so maybe John Prine. Um, but let me think. I have a few answers. I mean, I really love The Color In Anything by James Blake. It's really beautiful and it's about depression. I think that James Blake is such an incredible artist because he is really vulnerable. He was very cool when he first came out and now I think he's been very, very good at being more personal and talking about harder things, so I really love that. Man, this is such a hard question... I love it!
Oh! No, no, no. I know my answer now. The Idler Wheel... by Fiona Apple. I love that album so much. When I first heard it, I was like, "I don't know if this is for me," and now it's probably my favorite album of all time. The Idler Wheel is so beautiful. It has "Werewolf," which has one of my favorite lines ever written in history, 'I could liken you to a werewolf, the way you left me for dead, but I admit that I provided a full moon.' Which is so good. It goes through the full gamut of emotion and my absolute favorite song on it is "Every Single Night." 'Every Single Night' has this part where she sings, "I just want to feel everything," over and over and over again. It's the most vulnerable and beautiful song I've ever heard in my entire life.
Is there anything else that you'd like to say, anything you'd like to put out into the world?
Oh, wow! I think for me, the reason that I made this past EP is because I wanted to talk about my relationship with myself, and I think that other people relating to it has been a really happy accident. But one thing that I really want to stress is that progress is not as simple as just talking about it, or progress is not as simple as just wanting progress to be made. It really is a journey, and it's not linear. Sometimes you have good days and sometimes you have bad days, and to know yourself, you also have to know your bad qualities. So, I know that a lot of people talk about loving yourself, like full-stop, and I think it's really important to love yourself, but I also think it's important to know yourself and accept yourself despite your thorns and learning to overcome them. I think that, for me, making music that is revealing is kind of taking my power back. I'm always stressed about how people perceive me, and how I come off, and I hope that I can keep doing that with my music. That's just something I really wanted to stress, so thank you for letting me say it.