Much like Midnight Cowboy Joe Buck setting off for the coast in his Odyssean quest for self-enlightenment, Ponthier had to leave home to find home.
“It took New York to make me a cowboy,” she declares right off the bat, on the opening track “Cowboy” from her debut EP Faking My Own Death, out now. “Now everybody knows, even if I change my clothes.”
Ponthier first came to most people’s attention when she was featured on Lord Huron’s windswept ballad “I Lied,” a breakup song far more amicable than its title suggests. The duo appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in May. Since the collaboration with Lord Huron, Ponthier’s released a few singles, all culminating in the release of Faking My Own Death and earning her own national attention.
She may be celebrating the release of her EP in Brooklyn, but Ponthier was born and raised in the suburbs of Dallas, where she remained until her move to New York in 2017.
“I had always wanted to move to New York,” Ponthier says. “Growing up, I was obsessed with ‘showbiz.’ I had always seen it in movies and TV, and I had visited a couple of times, so when I had the opportunity to move into an apartment I could actually afford, I was just like ‘I gotta go.’ And it was only two weeks between when someone was messaging me about it to when I actually moved in.”
Shortly after her move, Ponthier crossed a tremendous personal threshold — she met her girlfriend and came out to her parents. “
I wanted to be in a place that had a historically supportive queer community; someplace safer than where I grew up, subconsciously. And now, Dallas has a really thriving queer community too, which I think is amazing.”
As it happens, once Ponthier settled into life living in New York, she found herself identifying more and more as a Texan. And more of a musician than as a model/influencer, which she has in the past said was a job that consumed her as she became obsessed with quantifying her "likes."
“When you’re 14, you think you’re so much cooler than everyone else, which is so cringey,” Ponthier says. “Yet I always believed that there was something out there that could make me a true artist, but I was also kind of shy at the time, so I was excited and terrified. Once I did move to New York, I found myself feeling like a little Texas lady,” she says laughing. “Every third sentence out of my mouth became ‘I’m from Texas,’ and that’s what ‘Cowboy’ is about.”
Keeping in touch with her Texan roots has been important to her musically, as the North Texas music scene in not only her birthplace, but it’s also of tremendous musical influence on Ponthier.
“There’s so many great musicians from Texas on top of the obvious ones like Leon Bridges and Charley Crockett," she says. "You have people like Erykah Badu, who I’m a gigantic fan of, and you also have amazing queer artists from Texas like St. Vincent, who was also a huge influence on me. There are a lot of parallels between her and I growing up between being from similar suburbs, being a queer artist and studying jazz. I feel like she’s a kindred spirit.”
Much like Badu and St. Vincent did for R&B and indie rock, respectively, Ponthier is on the leading edge of a generation of musicians redefining country music, along with others such as Kacey Musgraves, Orville Peck and Jonathan Tyler. These musicians capture the essence of the West and all its emotional splendor but exclude the clichés and shortcomings of more popular country musicians like the Jason Aldeans and Sam Hunts of the world. These voices are boiling the concept of country music to its barest emotional essentials, evoking Chris Rea’s beautiful description of the Lone Star State: “Warm winds blowing, heat and blue sky, and a road that goes forever.”
In Ponthier’s case, her gravitation to country music stems from an upbringing surrounded by the roiling country music scene of the '90s and early 2000s: Shania Twain, The (Dixie) Chicks, and Faith Hill.
“That music is why I make the music I make now, but when I got older, I went on a rebellious streak, saying ‘I like indie and alternative, I don’t country music, whatever,’ she says, "but that was a lie! Whenever I was going through something and I started writing, the thing that came naturally to me was country music.”
Brilliantly illuminating its country sentiment, Faking My Own Death’s rich, neon production was provided by a team of producers whose collective CV includes practically half of the indie/alternative scene of the past decade, bringing Ponthier’s two seemingly warring musical interests together. One of her team was Dan Wilson from Semisonic — a co-writer of The (Dixie) Chicks’ “Not Ready To Make Nice” and Adele’s “Someone Like You.”
Alongwise Wilson and others is Mike Crossey, who made his name igniting the hazy glow of The 1975’s first two records, and Rick Nowels, responsible for dozens of hit singles and albums including the entirety of Lana Del Rey’s Honeymoon and Lust for Life albums, along with having co-written Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Everybody Finds Out” and New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give.”
At the heart of Ponthier's EP lies a song that will undoubtedly end up being one of the best songs of 2021, “Hell is a Crowded Room.”
“When we wrote that song, it was prepandemic, but now it’s way too fitting,” Ponthier says laughing. “Obviously I want my music to have a positive impact on people, I want it to come across in a constructive way, and not in a pessimistic way, but I do try to be very real.
"The feelings in my songs are real — they come from a real place. I came up with the line ‘hell is a crowded room’ on the subway, and I felt that I had to write a song about this, immediately. I felt that way so strongly that writing that song in itself was a form or healing and catharsis.”
Ponthier is gearing up to go on tour with Lord Huron in September, with a Fort Worth stop on Oct. 22. It's Ponthier’s first big musical homecoming since both the pandemic and the onset of her career.
“This whole project has been during the pandemic, so I’m looking forward to getting out there. Dong interviews has been practically the only way to talk one-on-one with people, so I’ve actually been loving doing these interviews. I have an amazing support system. My mental health has been better than ever.”