Allison Ponthier Breaks Down Songwriting, Creative Process for ‘Shaking Hands With Elvis’
by Alexia Hill
Photos by Julian Buchan
The city of Allen, Texas, once known for its 1874 landmark of the Old Stone Dam, is now going to go down in history as the birthplace of singer-songwriter Allison Ponthier. In June, the indie folk artist released her newest EP, “Shaking Hands With Elvis,” a masterful, musical story of life, death, identity and showing strength in vulnerability.
Ponthier moved from her small suburb in Texas to New York in 2017, where she jump-started her artistic career and released her debut EP, “Faking My Own Death,” just a few years later in 2021. Picking up random jobs, like doing social media managing for the Museum of Natural History, and experiencing an overall new world in New York played a major part in Ponthier finding her identity as a queer woman and broadening her vision as an artist.
“I think that if I could say anything to my younger self, it would probably be something along the lines of telling them what the world is like outside of the bubble that I experienced when I was growing up,” the 26-year-old said. “I really thought life started and ended with the opinions of my hometown and to know that there are so many different ways you can live and still be happy is really important. I think that as a queer person, that's something that a lot of people can relate to is not realizing that you can be queer and also happy.”
“Shaking Hands With Elvis” surrounds the motif of, “screaming your weaknesses so loud, that they become your strengths,” according to Ponthier’s Instagram. Describing her own music as, “honest, country and organic,” Ponthier’s 20-minute EP seems to radiate feelings of nostalgia, bitter-sweet struggles, and open-heart wounds being healed through euphemisms of life and death.
“I think the best songs come from just true feelings and the energy behind going through something,” she said. “So, when I collected all the songs together that represented the period of my life that I wanted to represent in the EP, I realized that the through line was overcoming your own shortcomings or overcoming your own perceived weaknesses.”
The EP includes six songs: “Autopilot,” “Chasing A Feeling,” “Hardcore,” “Hollywood Forever Cemetery,” “Late Bloomer” and, of course, “Shaking Hands With Elvis.” As someone with ADHD, Ponthier explained how crucial of a part her environment plays into the creative process, working best in areas with open space, few sensory distractions and co-writers.
“I think writing with people I love and care about has really helped me a lot because if I get too in my head about something, if I feel like I'm hitting a wall, one of my co-writers can easily just say one thing that gets the train back on track,” she said. “So, I'm really appreciative of co- writers and I want to be the kind of artist that talks about the actual process of writing a song because I am really in charge of writing.”
Being around other writers isn’t the only source of inspiration for the red-headed creative. Although a beautifully eloquent writer, other out-of-this-world influences include: science fiction 1970s movies, set design, Broadway musicals, claymation, and figures like Henry Selick, Vincent Price and Elvira. These inspirations have led Ponthier to lead a more hands-on approach to her career. She explained she plays her part in the creation of photo shoots and music videos by drawing mock-ups, adjusting colors, editing and creating entire set compositions.
“I think that being an artist is so many more things than what I thought it was... So, what I love about it is like wearing a bunch of different hats and I can't tell you how much me experimenting with a bunch of different artistic things has helped us in every way when it comes to making a video or putting together an album cover,” Ponthier said. “I love to draw, I'll draw an example of what I want the photo to look like before we do it... I love every step of the process including non-music parts, and if I didn't know how to do it before, I think everything would look and feel very different.”
The “John Prine but more pop” music that Ponthier creates has been loved by many, including Bleachers fans who got the opportunity to see her open before the main act on tour. This aided in acquiring her own fan base. Now, she’s been able to headline shows in New York and California. With more performances sure to come in the near future, she explained she hopes to push herself to perform harder and sing more sensitive songs on stage.
“My goal always when I'm writing is to write things that are even more sensitive and to surprise myself,” Ponthier said. “When you write something and you really love it, sometimes it feels like you didn't write it and you just love it because it exists and you're proud of yourself. And I'm always chasing that feeling.”
“Shaking Hands With Elvis” is Ponthier’s metaphorical cocoon, the cusp of progress, the cherry on top to her career thus far. Each song stands alone as a look into her feelings and pain, but are worded and wrapped up so gracefully that it's almost like a fairy tale she’s re-telling. Her writing, musicality, and artistic vision will continue to bring her into the spotlight, and it is well deserved.
“I would really like to be remembered as someone who didn't let outside influences affect me,” Ponthier said. “There's a lot of work that goes into everything that I make... There's a lot of effort and love that goes into it, and I really want people to know that it's from me. These are like accurate depictions of my life. I'm not writing to try to impress certain groups of people like this really is a diary in a sense. And if I’m remembered for one thing, it's never compromising.”
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