Allison Ponthier Talks Through Process, Inspiration and Pushing Artistic Boundaries
Photography by Jesse Lirola
Sometimes, when you’re enjoying a fairly meteoric rise through the music industry and people are really switching on to your sound, you reach a point when you might as well paint yourself green for a music video. Why not? Allison Ponthier’s video for “Cowboy”— a beautiful ballad that mashes her country Texan roots with queer indie New York life perfectly— was that point for her. “My love of makeup has grown pretty recently. I always did a little makeup but it wasn’t until I started owning my identity more in my 20s and with this project that I started pushing the boundaries of it,” she explains. “I’ve been a huge fan of drag since I was fourteen and I loved the idea of owning your own aesthetic. Something that I love about myself is the way I can decorate my face and body however I want. It’s so much fun to spend time on myself and come out feeling like an alien, a clown, a vampire and the like. A lot of my songs are about being uncomfortable in your own skin but getting to know yourself better, figuring out who you really are.”
Although a relative newcomer — her first release in 2019, “Gross” was followed by getting signed to Interscope Records a year later. Her moment is only getting bigger but she remains uniquely down to earth. Her songs make you comfortable though her lyrics are darker than the music lets on at first. It’s a brilliant juxtaposition. And she’s got a wicked sense of humor. Check out her “Supermassive Black Hole x WAP” remix — “that may be my magnum opus,” she laughs.
But as you can see with the beautiful visuals and narratives of her music videos (like her green alien in “Cowboy”), you get the feeling that music is not the only artistic pursuit we’ll see Allison master. “Music is the love of my life and what I’ve always wanted to do as a career but I would be lying if I said I didn’t love being a musical artist a thousand times more, it’s where I can combine many, many of my artistic passions,” she explains. “I love film, sculpting, drawing, animating – and I get to do all those things to accompany and better explain the music that I carefully make. I’m someone who can get bored easily so wearing many hats scares the threat of boredom away. Photography and art play a big part in my planning process and definitely inspire me. Sometimes people have incredible ideas and their medium of choice is a still, not a film or video. Currently, I really love hand-painted covers from 1960s sci-fi and horror magazines and street style photos from the 70s.”
Americana from the second half of the 20th century runs deep and wide in her work and it’s impossible not to see the influence it has had. Her visuals for singles “Faking My Own Death”, “Harshest Critic” and “Tornado Country” are packed with references to the eras. “I love campy films from the 80s and 90s such as Cry-Baby and Little Shop of Horrors. It’s amazing to see how those films were critiquing the ‘golden age’ from an 80s or 90s point of view. I think that was a time where irony and queer culture was focused toward dissecting nuclear families and traditional lifestyles in a light-hearted way. I always loved this idea, and so in turn, my visuals mimic that style. Like most of the things I enjoy, I think it’s something that was just a fun style at first, that opened me up to a new way of thinking. That’s why the visuals are so whimsical and over the top but accompanied by darker lyrics. I think it helps people feel more comfortable with hard topics.”
Signing to Interscope during a pandemic means it wasn’t until the late summer that anyone could really see Allison play live (apart from an appearance with Lord Huron on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon). “I definitely am not a crowd person. Even pre-pandemic. But I’m looking forward to making real connections with fans on tour,” she says of her new world of play- ing to audiences. “I think being outside of the crowd on stage is a little different than all the times I’ve felt anxious in a bar, and I’m honored that people want to see me play my songs. My fans have been incredibly respectful and sweet people. I feel like the luckiest art- ist in the world. It’s definitely a crowd of people I don’t mind being around,” she says, with a nod of agreement to the irony of writing a song called “Hell Is A Crowded Room”. “It’s so much easier when I can feed off the energy of the crowd after I’ve rehearsed all day for lit- erally two weeks straight,” she pauses. “I’m an energy vampire, maybe?”