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Allison Ponthier is that rare breed of relatable pop star. She regularly gets nervous, sings about being a bad driver and her ADHD, and fakes phone calls to avoid stares while talking to herself in public. Her instagram bio describes herself as “v sensitive.”
In a world filled with latex bodysuits and gyrating club anthems, it’s that relatability factor that feels so refreshing as Ponthier, 26, enters the mainstream. The singer-songwriter recently wrapped a multidate tour opening for Jack Antonoff’s band Bleachers and has just released her sophomore EP, Shaking Hands With Elvis. “I am so happy to be playing shows now, finally,” Ponthier says from her Brooklyn home, where she lives with her partner. “It’s been great for my self-esteem to do something that scares me a lot and then come out on the other end and still be alive. I actually want to go out on tour again, which is unheard of for someone who is as nervous as I am.”
Shaking Hands With Elvis is the followup to Ponthier’s first EP, Faking My Own Death. Her debut record launched during the heart of the pandemic and features the single “Cowboy,” in which Ponthier sweetly croons about moving to New York City and embracing her queer identity. “A thread through this entire EP is stumbling happily through life and learning about yourself,” says Ponthier, who was raised in what she calls a “conservative Bible-belt-y Texas town.”
Ponthier grew up surrounded by music—her mom loved country, her dad preferred jazz, and her grandparents were elementary and middle school music teachers. Even so, music was always something Ponthier kept private, writing songs in her bedroom and rarely sharing them with anyone. “I was really, really shy,” she explains. Which is perhaps why her family was surprised when she dropped out of the University of North Texas after less than two years to move to New York City in an attempt to make it in the music industry. “When I dropped out of school, I just knew that pursuing music would work out. I couldn’t explain it. Some people accepted it, and some did not, but whatever was telling me to do the thing was right.”
While Faking My Own Death’s through line was about putting in the hard work to get to know yourself, Shaking Hands With Elvis has a more lighthearted approach. “I always felt super behind. I struggled making friends, with social interactions and social cues,” she says. “But instead of feeling ashamed of your shortcomings or weaknesses, it’s more fun to sing them in a celebratory way.”
Get to know Ponthier further with our latest installment of New Here.
Glamour: I hear bits of pop, folk, country, and even some rock in your music, so I’m curious—how would you describe your sound?
Allison Ponthier: I will always be making pop music. Pop is very general, but my music will always be pop at its heart. Growing up, there was country music all around me. It was what my mom listened to, and it was all over Texas. But I also really found a love for songwriting with artists like Regina Spektor, Imogen Heap, and Fleet Foxes. When I’m writing, I try not to think about the genre and more along the lines of, “Oh, that piano chord sounds cool,” or, “I have this melody idea.” I don’t ever want to be referential to something else that already exists in its full and most amazing form. Every time I write something, I hope that it’s a little bit different than what I’ve written before. I hope it keeps changing and evolving. Sorry, this is such an artist’s answer!
Is there a song on Shaking Hands With Elvis that you feel most connected to?
Yeah, it’s the song the album was named for, “Shaking Hands With Elvis.” It was both the easiest and the most difficult song to write. It was really difficult because it’s about me experiencing loss for the first time, when a friend of mine passed away very suddenly. The term shaking hands with Elvis is a euphemism for death.
The day my first EP, Faking My Own Death, came out was the day I learned that I lost my friend. It was the kind of thing where I was so happy that this project I had been working on forever was out in the world, but when you put it into perspective, there’s nothing more important than life and death.
I was super distraught by the news and had a writing session coming up a few weeks after he passed away. I didn’t want to write about it at all. I didn’t think I was ready. But then I was flipping through my notebook and I stumbled upon “shaking hands with Elvis”—I had written it down months earlier when I came across a list of euphemisms for death. I saw it and was like, I have to write this song now. My friend was a musician, and I liked the idea of thinking that maybe in the afterlife he’s playing in Elvis’s band at Graceland. We ended up writing the song, and I didn’t think anyone would ever hear it. I have so many songs out there that are unreleased. But it ended up being one of my favorite songs I’ve ever made, and it really was the catalyst for me being able to heal.
Speaking of using music to work through feelings, your hit single “Cowboy,” off your first EP, is about coming out of the closet. Now that the world has opened up more after COVID, what has it been like to finally get to perform such a personal song for audiences?
I just toured with Bleachers, and four of our shows were in Texas, so I had my very first hometown show in Dallas. When I was living in Texas, I wasn’t out to more than just a few of my friends. Bleachers has a huge LGBTQ+ fanbase, so being in a room full of accepting people all looking at me…I’m getting a little teary talking about it. That song was a huge breakthrough for me as an artist, but more so as a person. “Cowboy” helped me deal with coming out. I see myself in every single fan that comes up to me. Whether someone is polite or shy or queer, if you’re listening to my songs about identity, the odds are you relate to my songs about identity.
Some of my family members had never seen me perform live before the Dallas show. It was really beautiful to see them in the audience. My mom screamed so loud during my set that I had to announce to everyone that it was my mom who was screaming. I’m sure she loved it. It was a really special show for me.
What was the process like to land your record deal with Interscope?
I had always been working toward being an artist because, in my opinion, it’s the best job in the world. I get to do tons of creative things every day, and that’s how I express myself and spend all of my free time. I’m not a very spiritual person, but I just had this weird, guiding feeling that I needed to be in New York, so I moved there in 2017 and struggled a lot, like everyone does. And then after about two years of playing small shows where no one came, I actually met my managers. They weren’t managers yet, they just wanted to get together and make music. Over time I ended up running into them again and again, and we hit it off. I finally trusted someone else enough to help cultivate my project. I was really shy, and they believed in me enough to say, “You take the creative reigns, and we’ll just help you as much as we can.” Through that, people started to take notice.
Around that time, I was also posting music to TikTok to connect with other people. I would talk everyone’s ears off about the songs and my big plans. I think it was a combination of a lot of things, but ultimately I ended up at a place where for some reason, even though I’m not a huge artist, the people I work with totally trusted me with my vision. I think that’s really, really rare.
How did you celebrate?
We went to the park, had a cake, hung out, and played music. It was a great time.
Were there any artists in particular who inspired you with your new EP, Shaking Hands With Elvis?
This EP has a lot more rock influence. The second single, “Hardcore,” was produced by Ariel [Rechstshaid, who produces Vampire Weekend and HAIM], so I think that his production lends itself to those kinds of sounds. I also really love The Mamas and the Papas, John Prine, Greta Van Fleet, and Cage the Elephant. And really good storytellers, like Brandy Carlisle or Father John Misty, will always influence me until the day I die. I know a lot of artists write incredible songs about love, but I don’t write a lot of love songs—I write songs to describe feelings or moments that maybe don’t have a song yet.
How does your fashion aesthetic compare to your onstage style?
In my daily life, I wear the baggiest clothes of all time. I have Kiss and Slipknot T-shirts that I’m obsessed with. For my shows, though, I told my best friend and stylist Megan McDearman that I would love to look like a fairy on tour. I stumbled across this dress brand called Malicious Designs that make custom vintage-style dresses that are fairylike. They were back ordered for months, but Megan somehow got them to make me two dresses in three days. It was crazy. When I zip into this neon green fairy dress, I really do feel different. It feels like I’ve had three cups of coffee when I put it on and I’m ready to have a 10-out-of-10 experience. Honestly, I’ll probably start wearing them in my regular life too.
What do you plan to buy with your first big paycheck?
When I first signed my deal, I bought a vintage LG-2 acoustic guitar, which I use on tour. Outside of that, I feel like I have everything I could ever want. Though one day I hope to have a bunch of animals. I would love to have ferrets, frogs, snakes, cats…a whole room just for animals. I love animals that have a little bit of an undeserved bad reputation. Basically, any animals a witch would have, I want.
What’s something that you learned from Jack Antonoff while touring with Bleachers?
In 2017, I went to my first-ever big stadium concert. My girlfriend bought us tickets to see Lorde at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and Jack actually came on stage and performed a cover of St. Vincent’s “New York.” I cried from start to finish because it was my all-time favorite song, and it felt like that exact moment was made for me. That concert absolutely changed my life.
I knew that I had to tell him what that performance meant to me, all these years later, but I was nervous. It’s scary to talk to people who you admire. When I said to him, “Look, I have to tell you that this happened and is probably why I’m doing what I’m doing now,” he absolutely lit up and was so happy. He was so excited to hear it. I learned from Jack that it doesn’t matter how big you get or how influential you are in the culture, it’s still really important to celebrate moments that impact people. There are so many benchmarks to success, but the ones that really matter is how you reach people.
Are there any artists you’d love to collaborate with one day?
Fiona Apple is my number one choice. I think she’s one of the best songwriters to ever exist. And then it would be Hayley Williams, who I mention at every second of every day. I think she’s a wonderful role model and person, and I feel like we would crush a song together. I think that if I mention her name in every interview, eventually she’ll see it. But also, maybe she’ll just get a restraining order.
Originally Appeared on Glamour