“It took New York to make me a cowboy / Now everybody knows,” singer-songwriter Allison Ponthier sings in her opening track, “Cowboy”, from her first EP, Faking My Own Death. It’s a true story: After dropping out of jazz school and moving from her native Texas to New York City in 2017, she discovered that the very genre that she once thought she would never play again would be the very thing that helped her discover who she really is and how to express it. And then the pandemic hit.
Whether as an outlet to get through the difficult times or a hobby to fill the days, Allison turned to songwriting more than ever in those early quarantine days. Using songwriting as her own personal journal in a time period where many of us didn’t really interact with others, Allison never thought her tracks would be heard outside of her bedroom walls. “When I was writing them, I was just thinking, ‘I want to write the best song that like helps me at this moment,'” she recalls. But she steadily gained a digital audience, not least of all from TikTok, where she even showed her art skills with clay figurines to her 700k followers. Then (via a surprise announcement featuring said figurines) fans heard the news: she was being signed to Interscope Records and her songs were out in the world for the whole world to listen to. Now she’s touring all around the US with Lord Huron, and she even played her first hometown concert during Austin City Limits.
Heartfelt, deeply personal lyrics like, “Red hot blood in my cheeks / With every breath it gets harder to breathe / But I push on, pray it gets easier / Past the chaos, I shoot like a meteor,” that helped her through her darkest times, are now being sung back to her by thousands of people.
Oh, and who can forget those TikToks? Each one features campy-like goodness that feels like you’re watching your BFF just having a good time. From hilarious parody remixes to eye-opening behind-the-scenes content from the set of her music videos, you’re going to wish you followed her sooner (if you don’t already do).
Ahead of her first show back in her home state of Texas and the release of her new song “Late Bloomer” coming up on October 15, Allison Ponthier sat down with Cosmopolitan to talk about her brand new EP, discovering what it really means to be a country artist, and the biggest reason why she decided to move to NYC.
Cosmopolitan: It’s been an incredible year for you, especially these past few months as you’ve released your EP, Faking My Own Death, and started to perform. Does it all feel surreal?
Allison Ponthier: I never thought that I would be able to do music full time. I’ve loved music since I was a kid and I always wanted to be an artist, but I never thought that I could be. I really struggled with giving myself permission to dream big. It was so weird. I was a super shy kid and had trouble relating to other kids and making friends. Even though I really struggled with putting myself out there, there was still a part of me that always was trying to move in the direction of being an artist.
Cosmopolitan: Many people would categorize your EP as country. What would you say your genre is?
AP: I never really think about the genre before I make something, but if I had to describe it, I would say it’s like alternative pop music that is based off of 70s country and folk music.I grew up listening to country music because I’m from Texas and my mom also loved it. Especially that 90s country-pop music like The Chicks or Shania Twain. And because I was a rebel, after living in Texas for so long and since there was some political connotation to country music for a long time especially in the early 2000s, I was like, “I’m better than this. I’m going to get out of this town and move to New York City. I never want to like your country music again.” When I actually did move, the music that I gravitated toward, and what ultimately helped me come out when I wrote “Cowboy,” was a kind of pseudo country song.
Cosmopolitan: How does it feel going into that genre especially in a time where there’s a lot of debate of what is “real” country music like we’ve seen with Taylor Swift, Kacey Musgraves, and Lil Nas X?
AP: This is a really, really exciting time for country music. Country originally was a really progressive genre and way more inclusive. In the early 2000s, there was this huge shift where country music became quite exclusive. But people are now viewing it as a great vehicle to tell stories. That’s what I love about it more than anything. I am really inspired by queer country artists like Brandi Carlile. I would even consider Lil Nas X a queer country artist. “Old Town Road” is a country song, so he is someone who is a country artist. Any genre should move with the times. I wouldn’t be making country music if I didn’t feel inspired by other country artists who are like me and that’s thanks to the power of representation. It’s a kind of a domino effect.
Cosmopolitan: Growing up as a shy kid, do you feel like the big reason why you’re able to perform in front of so many people is because of your journey in figuring out and accepting who you are?
AP: Most of my life, I felt like I needed to make myself smaller or more digestible for a lot of people and to blend in a lot more. But I always had this hunger to stand out and be different. I really do feel like I know myself so much more now. Growing up, I wasn’t always hanging out at other people’s houses or going out. I spent a lot of time fostering my interests and hobbies which were music and art. As an adult, now doing this EP, I take that thing that was mine, which was the way that I coped with a lot of things, and married it with this fear and dream that I’ve had which is performing for other people.
Cosmopolitan: For someone whose music is so personal and who has felt alone in their journey, it must be surprising to hear people talk about how it also relates to them.
AP: My kind of mission or process is to just make what feels good to me. I think some people try to make music and they think about what everyone enjoys or can relate to. I can’t critique someone else’s writing process. I just kind of make what I’m excited to make at that moment. In a way, I kind of knew this would happen because there’s no way that I’m the only person in the world that’s felt all of these things. But it has genuinely shocked me how many people have come up to me and said, “I’m a queer person and I moved away, and that kind of started my life over again.” I didn’t have an outlet to show these experiences, especially the culture shock of moving from one place where I felt really, really closed off to another where now I can kind of come out. The worst thing in the world is when you feel like you’re the only person that is going through it and I genuinely did for a long time. So, in a weird way, it’s actually helped me the most.
Cosmopolitan: What made you want to move to NYC over other major music capitals like Los Angeles or Nashville?
AP: Well, I can’t drive. I refuse to drive. I’m terrified of driving. I do not have my license and I’m 25 years old. I thought, “This place is incredible! You don’t have to drive anywhere.” I love to walk everywhere and being a stranger in a crowd of people. I love how diverse and culturally important New York is. I loved it from the moment I went there and I knew that that’s where I wanted to end up. Not having to drive literally was the huge cherry on top of that.
Cosmopolitan: The visuals from your music videos, like “Cowboy,” are campy and different than what most people might expect thanks to the old-school horror film vibe they give off. What’s that process been like of making them?
AP: I am very lucky because I think that everything we’ve made has been exactly how I have seen it in my head. I would say that a lot of that is because of my label. Interscope historically has a lot of artists that are visually insane and who are great at world-building. I always thought that world-building was important because I am obsessed with movies and TV and I wanted everything to exist in its own little universe. They have Billy Eilish, Lana Del Rey, and Lady Gaga — who are all great visual artists. Music video days are like some of the best days in the world. I am crying constantly. When we filmed the “Cowboy” video, I think I was crying more than I wasn’t, and it was like a 15 hour shoot day. I was very dehydrated by the end.
Cosmopolitan: You’ve reached so many people with your TikTok page, too. How do you approach that content?
AP: Even as a young kid, I’ve always just loved making stuff. TikTok was a good outlet for me because you don’t have to do one thing. But I never want it to be anything other than fun. I only make videos when I’m having a good time and really want to make them. I think a lot of people can fall into the trap of starting to make videos for fun and then, all of a sudden, it becomes another job. I never wanted it to be that way. I always want to keep a really healthy relationship with social media. I’m just like someone that loves making stuff and I’ll always have fun connecting with people over funny or sentimental things. It was my way of reaching out and connecting with people when the pandemic hit.
Cosmopolitan: Do you think that gaining a bigger presence through TikTok and social media during the pandemic has caused you to be particularly vulnerable?
AP: Definitely. I also think that, to some degree, social media allows for more accountability as well. Obviously, everything has its cons and we have to use it responsibly. As someone who just made music in my room, I have no idea how anyone would have found out about me otherwise. I have found some of my favorite artists through social media. I love Leith Ross. They’re having a gigantic moment right now and it’s for the coolest reason ever: they’ve made a gorgeous, beautiful song that so many people can relate to. I am so happy that there’s like an audience for a really sentimental kind of slow songwriting. There was always this vibe around singer-songwriter music that it’s not as viral as music that you would turn up to. It’s crazy that the saddest, most sentimental song can be so popular. There’s an audience for whatever kind of music you make as long as it’s great.
Cosmopolitan: And now you’re back to play in Texas! Does it feel sort of like a full-circle moment being back for a hometown show?
AP: Every show is definitely emotional. Every show feels like the only show of my life. I have always felt like home is where my friends are. So no matter where I am, even if I’m on the road, I feel at home. I’ve had a lot of really complicated feelings about Texas and how I grew up. Right now, I’m excited to kind of do things over and start making good memories. I love Austin, so I’m glad that we’re here. It’s where I did little jazz gigs during college.
I think in a weird way, I deserve to kind of romanticize Texas and all these things that are happening to me. A lot of my songs are about growing up in the south and then coming out later. A lot of people will relate to those songs here. I’m mostly just excited because I think that there’s going to be a really great audience for them.
I really try to stay present and move forward. It’s easy to get caught up in things and feel like I’ve changed now. But the best thing in the world is to be able to be the person now that I couldn’t be five years ago, no matter where I am. No matter if I’m in New York. Or if I’m on the road. Or if I’m at home. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.
Cosmopolitan: First EP down, your first show back at your home state, and now you’re on tour. What’s next on the bucket list?
AP: I want to do SNL so bad. I grew up watching it. I love comedy and I’m obsessed with stand-up. My even bigger dream would be both host and the musical guest for an episode. I also want to do a big gay duet with someone. I feel like there hasn’t been a good country duet. I would love to do that. Consider this my advertisement for that.
Photographs by: Sarai Mari. Stylist: Cassie Anderson. Editor: Madeleine Frank Reeves. Hair: Shin Arima. Makeup artist: Tracy Alfajora. Manicurist: Kylie Kwok. Visual director: Kristin Giametta. Entertainment director: Maxwell Losgar. Fashion assistant: Danielle Flum. Visual editor/producer: Marina Schoger. Digital tech: Will Wang. 1st assistant: Scott Quintavalle. Production coordinator: Lauren Robillard.
On Allison: Green look: Christian Wijnants coat and scarf. ’47 Brand hat. Jennifer Fisher earrings. Yellow look: Daily Paper puffer. Christian Louboutin boots. Joanna Laura Constantine earrings. Prada belt bag. Zebra look: R13 coat and t-shirt. Cotton Citizen sweatshirt. ” data-vars-ga-product-id=”84f4dab0-a684-4b9c-852b-3309238eee62″ data-vars-ga-product-price=”0.00″ data-vars-ga-product-sem3-brand=”” data-vars-ga-product-sem3-category=”” data-vars-ga-product-sem3-id=”” data-affiliate-network=”” data-affiliate=”true”>Les Tien sweatpants. Jungmaven socks. ” data-vars-ga-product-id=”cd0f211d-664c-4e0b-b7e0-d7fb58c67ad4″ data-vars-ga-product-price=”0.00″ data-vars-ga-product-sem3-brand=”” data-vars-ga-product-sem3-category=”” data-vars-ga-product-sem3-id=”” data-affiliate-network=”” data-affiliate=”true”>Stella McCartney sneakers. Lagos earrings. Blue look: Isabel Marant Etoile coat, shirt, leggings, and socks. Isabel Marant sneakers, hat, and belt. ” data-vars-ga-product-id=”8665bdfd-e663-418c-8e7d-8302f4f82463″ data-vars-ga-product-price=”0.00″ data-vars-ga-product-sem3-brand=”” data-vars-ga-product-sem3-category=”” data-vars-ga-product-sem3-id=”” data-affiliate-network=”” data-affiliate=”true”>Solid & Striped pullover. Jennifer Fisher earrings. IVI ring. Brown look: ” data-vars-ga-product-id=”ee2a2fd0-6308-4de6-bb68-cca65946d413″ data-vars-ga-product-price=”0.00″ data-vars-ga-product-sem3-brand=”” data-vars-ga-product-sem3-category=”” data-vars-ga-product-sem3-id=”” data-affiliate-network=”” data-affiliate=”true”>Simon Miller coat, top, pants, clogs and bag. Jennifer Fisher earrings. Plaid look: ” data-vars-ga-product-id=”cd0f211d-664c-4e0b-b7e0-d7fb58c67ad4″ data-vars-ga-product-price=”0.00″ data-vars-ga-product-sem3-brand=”” data-vars-ga-product-sem3-category=”” data-vars-ga-product-sem3-id=”” data-affiliate-network=”” data-affiliate=”true”>Stella McCartney coat, jacket, shirt and boots. Leopard look: R13 coat, sweater, t-shirt, and jeans. Jimmy Choo shoes. Nadine Aysoy ring.
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