Allison Ponthier: Full-time Pop Sensation and Part-time Clay Sculptor
The rising pop star sits down exclusively with V to talk music, celebrating our differences and her clay figurine hobby.
The rising pop star sits down exclusively with V to talk music, celebrating our differences and her clay figurine hobby.
You’re going to need to learn to pronounce this name because Allison Ponthier (Pon-tee-ay) is here to stay. Growing up in Allen, TX, the singer-songwriter felt like a fish out of water as she struggled to accept her queer identity. Ponthier desperately craved escape, finding freedom through film and music where she could finally put pen to paper of what she was feeling inside. “There’s something really sad and heartbreaking about feeling like you’re the only person on earth that feels a certain way.” At 20, Ponthier dropped out of college, packed her bags and fulfilled her childhood dream of relocating to the Big Apple in a move she thought “would solve all of [her] problems.” Plot twist: it didn’t. Alone in a new city, Ponthier was more pressed than ever to work through her most uncomfortable emotions and reconnect to her Southern roots by writing her first country-inspired song, “Cowboy.” It would go on to become a mega-hit, blowing up on social media for its honest exploration of feeling like a misfit. No longer running from herself, Ponthier provides to her fans the representation she so longed for as a young girl. Like all of her favorite films, this tale does have its happy ending after all.
V Magazine: Hey Allison! This year has been groundbreaking for your career, making a killer introduction as a popstar for the next generation. In a few short years since moving to New York, you’ve become a full-blown musician, landing a record deal and producing multiple hit singles. But when did you get your start in music?
Allison Ponthier: I've always been singing since I could speak. My dad was in the church band and I grew up experiencing music on a community level in church. My earliest memories of music are also being in the car with my mom and listening to her play pop-country radio. She loved Shania Twain and Faith Hill. I didn't really even know that there was straight pop music at the time, I thought that there was just country music. I fell in love with songwriting because I was so used to the songs in church, but I found there was something really special about people writing songs about their own life.
V: What is your songwriting process like? Do you like to surround yourself with musical inspiration or do you shy away from listening to music so you don’t subconsciously copy it?
AP: I'm so glad you asked. I've been waiting for someone to ask me. I’ve found that there are a few systems that really helped me write songs and communicate my ideas and stay organized. It all starts with a great concept. I get all of my song ideas on walks. I love going on walks and I'll just wander and talk to myself. Every now and then, I'll think of a good concept for a song and all of those concepts go into my Notes app on my phone. When I go into a session, I pitch all of my concepts Shark Tank-style. Whichever ones we’re all biting at the bit to do, that's the song we do. Whenever I write a song, I plan out the story of the song beforehand, like for example, “the verse is going to talk about when I wake up”, then “the pre-chorus is going to talk about how I’m feeling emotionally”, then “the chorus is going to be the title of the concept over and over again”. I'll plan out the whole concept of the song that way so I can tell the story properly and then I'll translate them into lyrics afterward. It truly captures all of the beats that I want to hit.
V: Do you plan out the visuals of a song while you're writing?
AP: I think of all of my songs like a movie in my head. Whenever I'm writing lyrics, I'm thinking about it visually and what it’d look like. Sometimes that lends itself to a video. Especially “Cowboy”, which is my style because it's cowboys and aliens and robots and stuff like that. I get most of my inspiration from movies, maybe more so than music. I like to think that all of my songs could be turned into music videos. I love making music videos that feel fantastical and whimsical because that's how I feel safe when I’m exploring emotions that feel too vulnerable. But I always come from a cinematic place whenever I'm writing a song.
V: That's really neat! Do you have musical inspirations or do you mainly turn to film for inspo?
AP: I've been saying this in every interview hoping that she'll know who I am, but I love Fiona Apple. She writes almost entirely in metaphors but you always know what she's saying. I think that is the coolest superpower to have. I also grew up listening to Paramore and Hayley Williams who is an incredible songwriter. I don't know if I necessarily write exactly like either of these people, but their confidence and ability to take their real-life experiences and then augment them and make beautiful analogies is just so exciting to me. So I love that. I hope that one day they know I exist.
V: A lot of your lyrics discuss the turmoil you experienced being a young closeted queer girl and struggling with your identity. Can you tell us about your experience of growing up and feeling like you didn’t fit into your community?
AP: So I grew up in Allen, Texas, right outside of Dallas. A lot of people think about homophobia in this very direct and violent way — that you're really worried about being attacked or bullied. That's an issue that hopefully will not always be an issue, but it has been an issue for the entire history of the world. While I was really lucky to not experience that because I was in the closet the whole time, what I didn't have was education. I didn't see any other queer people. I didn't know that other queer people existed until I was like 14, 15 years old. There's something really sad and heartbreaking about feeling like you're the only person on earth that feels a certain way. There's a very specific kind of sadness that comes with thinking you're the only person on earth who has experienced queerness. Then the first time you hear about it, you hear negative things about what it is to be gay or what it is to be a lesbian or what it is to be attracted to a same-sex partner or not fulfill gender roles. If there's anything that I could wish for my hometown or people growing up in a similar way, it's representation and being exposed to happy queer people. It wasn't until I moved to a city that I saw older queer people because a lot of the queer people I knew were my age and in the closet. There was something really specifically beautiful about seeing 60, 70-year-old lesbians with wives. I'd never seen that before.
V: Your song “Cowboy” deals with you self-actualizing in New York City, becoming the truest and most authentic version of yourself. I understand that moving to the city had always been a dream of yours. Why was that and what did New York symbolize to you?
AP: My life revolves around movies. I think movies are a way that helped me escape when I was younger. I loved them — even to this day! It's what I do when I'm feeling anxious or sad. I saw New York in movies all of the time and I think it represented a place where, in my head, the entire entertainment industry was. Obviously, it's more complicated than that now because anyone can make music from anywhere, but… All I knew that I wanted to do was to make songs. I just wanted to work in music or work in movies. And because of that, New York was that place for me. Plus, I think I always wanted to be exposed to so much more than what I grew up with, so that was a wonderful added bonus.
V: The track is so beautifully written and quite poetic. What do you hope that “Cowboy” could serve as for other people that are in the same position you once found yourself in?
AP: I am very aware that I can't speak for the entire LGBTQ community because there are many intersections of being a queer person that make everyone's experience super individualized. But I think everyone can relate to the feeling of being “othered” or being different, whether it's queerness or something else. My dream for “Cowboy” is that it can be a comforting song for young queer people. I truly feel like a lot of people can relate to it. There are things that I have gone through when I was growing up, I didn't have like a ton of friends. I was always the odd one out — and that doesn't necessarily relate to queerness, but relates to my other experiences as well. The song was written for me and I didn't think I would ever put it out so it's funny to think about it serving a purpose for other people because it's such a specific song to me.
V: When you were in that difficult time of not being honest with yourself and not feeling comfortable to come out to others, what did you need to hear the most?
AP: I just needed to know that there were other people like me. I think that when you grow up, you have an idea of what a gay person looks like or acts like, and I didn't fit that. I think that a lot of that comes from negative stereotyping. So honestly, all I really needed was to see queer people living honestly as themselves and having their own lives. I think every queer person can relate to people who love them being like, “We just don't want you to suffer throughout life for being queer!”. It doesn't always have to be that way. I mean, queer people will always exist. It's something we're never going to change. We have to keep doing things to make the world more accepting and inclusive because it's never gonna go away.
V: Definitely. The whole idea of not necessarily fitting the stereotypical mold of what it means to be gay or what it means to be a woman can be quite a universal message.
AP: And it's not even just about queer people assimilating into culture, it's not just about coming and meeting in the middle. It's about celebrating our differences and our own cultures side by side. I think that a lot of times, queer people are afraid to do things that are a marker of their queer identity because they want to catch as many fish as they can in their net and be accepted. But the true dream is to celebrate our differences and have all of them be visible. That is what we should be aiming for — not just all of us meeting in the middle in a way that waters down everyone's personality or culture.
V: I know we're shifting gears here for a minute, but I just had to ask you about your sculpting hobby. I saw your art on your Tik Tok and Instagram. So can you tell me more about that? How did you get into that?
AP: I've always been that kind of a person who has had really strong hobbies. When you're a kid, you're used to having extremely strong hobbies but it just never went away for me. I actually didn't even realize that it was unique to just have things that I could do for many hours a day. I love sculpting. I started doing it at the start of quarantine and there's nothing more satisfying than making a little creepy doll that I can hold and look at. I've made them as presents for friends because I love making homemade gifts for friends. I keep them all in my studio office and while I'm making music, they're all set up around my speakers so I can look at them while I'm making songs.
V: Wow, a true artiste.
AP: I just like looking at them! That sounds so weird, but I'm really proud of all of my little sculptures and I think they're really cute. You can't physically see music. I mean, you could watch a music video, but there's something really satisfying about finishing a project and then it just being in front of you and it being tangible. It scratches an itch that music sometimes can't.
Credits: MAKEUP HOLLY SILIUS (R3 MGMT), HAIR DENNIS GOTS (THE WALL GRUP), MANICURE YOKO SAKAKURA (A-FRAME AGENCY), SET DESIGN DANIELLE VON BRAUN (ART DEPARTMENT), PRODUCER JORDAN METZ (ART DEPARTMENT), ON-SET PRODUCER ABBY GELSOMINO, DIGITAL TECHNICIAN EVAN STRANG, PHOTO ASSISTANTS GREGORY BROUILLETTE, KENNY CASTRO, STYLIST ASSISTANT SAM KNOLL, MADISON MARTIN MAKEUP ASSISTANT BAILEE WOLFSON HAIR ASSISTANT JESSICA MILLER PRODUCTION ASSISTANT KELLY WUNDSAM, RETOUCHING DTOUCH CREATIVE LOCATION MILK STUDIO L.A.