Representation is by far the most important thing for the LGBTQI+ community, and it’s crazy to think that ten years ago there was such a different landscape and lack of platforms for queer people to share their stories and creativity than there is now. Through the constant resistance to be silenced, we have seen so many incredible creatives push the way forward in sharing their vulnerability and in-turn inspire so many people to share their truth. From the mainstream embrace of Rupaul’s Drag Race to the personal success of Adam Lambert, Troye Sivan and Mary Lambert who vulnerably shared their story through their art, we have so many incredible new artists and creatives feeling safe and free enough to keep passing the baton on.
Allison Ponthier is a Texas raised singer-songwriter who moved to New York to follow her dream, but to also find a freeness in her identity. Finding solace in watching Rupaul’s Drag Race, she began to look inwards at her own sexual identity and became proud of who she was. Writing ‘Cowboy’ as a queer country song purely for herself, she never expected anyone to hear it, and especially not for it to become her debut single. But four years on from writing it, here we are, being introduced to her with this glittery and emotionally vulnerable country song all about identity and self reflection.
With it immediately resonating with listeners through its emotive and raw storytelling, she has gone from needing to hear this herself to being the reason that some people feel proud in their own skin. As the first taste of what is to come from her forthcoming project, she has impressively laid the foundations for a discography of heartfelt, vulnerable and honest truths through a country-pop lens.
I recently chatted to Allison Ponthier about the personal release writing ‘Cowboy’ had for her coming to terms with her own sexuality, explored the sonical references behind the song, and discussed the chaos that unfolded on the theatrical music video shoot. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: Your debut single ‘Cowboy’ is an honest queer exploration of your coming out experience. In what moment did you realise that you needed to put this in a song first to really come to terms with your sexuality before you came out to your family? And did it make it any easier for you to publicly come out, or did it just allow you to have that personal moment before the “fuss”?
ALLISON PONTHIER: I wrote ‘Cowboy’ four years ago which is crazy because a lot of people write songs and then they come out in a year but this is a song I’ve had for a really long time. I’ve been out for a couple years now, but I wrote ‘Cowboy’ before I was even out to my family. I was really used to writing songs and imagining an audience in front of me, usually like a jury of peers, but this was the first time I wrote and wasn’t thinking about that.
I was really dealing with a lot of heavy emotions that I had never explored before and when I sat down to write that song I just needed to get those feelings out because I didn’t have a lot of outlets like a therapist yet, or a lot of friends as I had just moved to New York from Texas. I think that song weirdly wasn’t written for anyone else, but it is the first song that anyone has heard as my project now *laughs*.
TB: As you mentioned before, this song was written four years ago, so what journey has it sonically during that time? Has it changed or shifted much?
AP: To be honest, most of it is exactly the same as it was four years except for the outro. I had originally made an outro on a loop pedal that I really liked, but the lyrics were a little different. I changed them to be a little bit more hopeful because as a 25 year old woman now, I wanted it to reflect my hope for other queer people.
The lyrics there are “This is how I felt in the Bible Belt. Wanna be that girl for someone else”. So that’s looking at the past and wanting to be an example and role model for other queer people. Which is a kinda heavy thing to want, but the loneliest thing about my coming out experience was that I didn’t know any queer people growing up. So I thought I invented this idea of queerness which is very lonely. There really is a strength in numbers which is why I love the LGBTQI+ community, and is what helped me.
TB: Sonically it immediately gave me Kacey Musgraves vibes with little similarities to ‘Space Cowboy’ and ‘Velvet Elvis’. So what was sonically inspiring you in particular for this track?
AP: I grew up with country music because it was what was around me in Texas. I rejected the idea of country music for a while because I was like “I’m cool. I’m a rebel teenager. I listen to Paramore” *laughs*. As I got older I kinda longed for the songwriting and storytelling of country music, and it took until ‘Cowboy’ for me to find it again and appreciate it. Someone that really inspires me now to continue writing country and folk inspired music is Brandi Carlile because she is such an outspoken advocate for queer people and for country music in general. I think there is idea that country music and the people that listen to it are like a monolith in the way that everyone shares the same social or political ideas, and that is just not true. There are so many amazing people making country music including Kacey Musgraves.
I was really inspired by the country music that I grew up with like The Chicks and Fleet Foxes, as well as Fiona Apple lyrically. She is my biggest lyrical influence. The way that she uses metaphors to convey thing that she means and help process emotion really speaks to me.
TB: When you hear the lyric “wasn’t ready, I wasn’t ready. I had a foot in my mouth” now, where does that take you physically and mentally?
AP: I love songs where the lyrics feels like something you would scream into the atmosphere when you’re upset or frustrated. When I hear it, that part honestly still makes me wanna cry to this day. I remember saying that all the time, even when I had my girlfriend who I still have now. It just took me a really really long time, and I think in the coming out process everyone wants to be out and for everyone to know who they are. But they also feel a lot of external pressure from other people to come out, and one thing I can’t stress enough is that you need to wait for your time to come out. That time is for you and not for anyone else. So when I hear that I think of the long time it took me, but knowing that when I did, that it was the right time as it was when I was ready.
TB: The real message and directive of this song is representation, which I feel is honestly the goal for any queer release and platform as it’s something that we still need so much of. So who are you are some queer creatives that you are currently loving/obsessing over?
AP: I’m really excited you asked that question because I really love Arlo Parks! St Vincent is another one, as she grew up near me, and the first time I heard ‘Masseduction’ I cried my eyes out. That was a really big one for me. Orville Peck is another obvious one too because he’s a gay cowboy just like myself. There are so many incredible queer artists!
TB: The accompanying music video is a cinematic and artistic slice of perfection. There were so many artistic layers that came together to make this video possible. So what was one of the biggest challenges you faced with one of the concepts?
AP: I had the concept of the music video before I even signed my deal and before I even met with anybody. I was really convinced that I wanted to make a video where it was a cowboy in a space scene and an alien in a western scene. So to be honest one of the challenges was to just get people to believe in the idea as I knew it was a big concept, and I knew that I wanted everything to be highly stylised. But Interscope have been incredible and they totally get it. They’ve let me lead creatively, and I really love them for that.
Fun fact, we also shot two music videos back to back. We shot ‘Cowboy’ for 16 hours, and then the next day we filmed the music video for my next single for another 16 hours. So that was also a challenge *laughs*.
TB: I loved seeing the BTS videos on your TikTok with the treadmill and clay rotisserie. That looked like CHAOS.
AP: Not to complain like a diva; but I was green, in a wig and I had coloured contacts in and couldn’t see. I was on the treadmill walking, playing the guitar, and my pantyhose kept falling down. You can’t tell as I have a long skirt on but they were like around my knees. So all these things were happening, and with it being my first music video shoot too, I was so nervous and overwhelmed that I cried the whole day which wasn’t great as I was painted green *laughs*. It was a lot, but a lot of fun.
TB: If i was painted green for a shoot all day I would be just walking around the set pretending to be Elphaba and singing Wicked songs *laughs*.
AP: I don’t know how you knew I did that *laughs*, but I actually did that. I made a TikTok of me just going around singing the little ‘Defying Gravity’ note and annoying everyone that I need to post *laughs*.
TB: Over the weekend Cynthia Lee Fontaine did a makeup look inspired by the ‘Cowboy’ music video. How did that feel see her interpreting your art in her own artistic light?
AP: It was really cool! She dm’d me when the song first came out to tell me that the song really resonated with her. It was really surreal because I have been watching Rupaul’s Drag Race since I was 14. I didn’t have cable growing up, so I accidentally came across it online and I was terrified that my parents would find out I was watching it so I would watch it in secret. I fell in love with the show, the queens, the costumes, and the attitude. There’s obviously not a ton of lesbians on the show, but again just to see queer people being happy was a huge thing for me.
So having Cynthia who is an amazing person, a cancer survivor, and an incredible artist connect with ‘Cowboy’ made me cry like a little baby *laughs*.
TB: What is one of your other favourite TikTok videos that someone has down with the song?
AP: I cry a lot, so I don’t know if this is a big deal, but another thing that makes me cry is people who make coming out or transitions stories. So seeing those with my song playing in the background is surreal as I know it takes a lot to put your story out there. It took me 4 years to release ‘Cowboy’ because it felt too fresh, so that is really amazing.
I also love when people make alien recreation make-up videos. And oh, I saw one person do a series of how them and their girlfriend met, and they recreated the original meeting, and that made me want to ball my eyes out *laughs*.
‘Cowboy’ isn’t a super upbeat pop song in a big mainstream way, so it means a lot to me when people can connect with it. It still shocks me that it speaks to other people because I really did just write it for myself.
TB: Looking at your Insta and TikTok it is quickly apparent that you’re a big fan of Twilight. Now that movie has one of the best film soundtracks, but do you think the world is ready to have the conversation that Paramore’s ‘I Caught Myself’ is a better song than ‘Decode’?
AP: Oh, this is way too controversial *laughs*. ‘I Caught Myself’ is great, but I will always have a very special place in my heart for ‘Decode’ because it is what introduced me to Paramore and they have now been my favourite band since I was 13. But ‘I Caught Myself’ is great, and it deserved a lot more than just being in the dressing room scene.
What I also wanted to say is that I talk a lot about Twilight, and there is a fundraiser going on for the Native American tribe who is featured in the movie that I’d love to put a spotlight on. They didn’t make any money from the movies, but they have this fundraiser going on because they’re really close to the coast and they wanna move to higher ground. So I’d love to plug that! (Check out the fundraiser HERE)
TB: Lets play a quick game of rapid fire questions. You ready?
AP: Oh please!
TB: The emoji that best describes my debut single ‘Cowboy’ is
AP: The cowboy *laughs*.
TB: The weirdest hobby or obsession I’ve had during lockdown has been…
AP: Making terrifying clay sculptures of ghosts and aliens.
TB: The colour of my toothbrush at the moment is…
TB: When I think of Australia I think of…
AP: You are going to hate me for this, but Bondi Rescue. Are we all aware of this show? I love it so much and have watched every episode. I just love reality TV okay, I’m sorry *laughs*.
TB: Pineapple on pizza is…
AP: I’m undecided. I go back and forth on this all the time, so I’m sorry to drop the ball on the last question *laughs*. But I respect other people’s choice to put pineapple on pizza!
‘Cowboy’ is out now!