Entwining Roots: Q&A with Nathan Wilkins and Claire Puckett of Ponca

Story by Devonshire LokkePhotos by Tess Cagle

Honey bees fly in circles outside Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery, moving from the brim of Nathan Wilkins’ hat to the flowers behind Claire Puckett’s chair. Puckett props her legs up casually in Wilkins’ lap, and the insects create an enchanted, buzzing halo around the couple. Both musicians belong to different Austin-based bands — Puckett to Mother Falcon and Wilkins to Hikes. A budding power couple in the local music scene, Wilkins and Puckett are currently collaborating as the folk-inspired duo named Ponca.

The two have been reunited for less than two days since the end of Mother Falcon’s recent tour. Wilkins says that out of the four years they’ve been best friends, they’ve been dating for 10 months, five of which they’ve spent apart on tour with their respective bands. Ponca is their first serious musical endeavor together since Puckett left Hikes to pursue Mother Falcon. Over pastries, they discuss with ORANGE their creative roots, upcoming plans for Ponca and the trials and comforts of their dual-natured relationship.

Wilkins sings for his band, Hikes.

ORANGE: So, how’d you two meet?

PUCKETT: At a house party at the Skanky Possum, which is where Mother Falcon practices. But it used to be the house party hub for all the people who later started Raw Paw.

WILKINS: I had just moved, and I used to make friends by telling everyone, basically, “Nothing is permanent,” and giving them things of mine. So at this party, I think she looked bummed out, and I gave her this necklace. She didn’t want it at first.

P: [To Wilkins] Well, ‘cause I didn’t know you! I was like, ‘Why are you giving me things from your body?’ [Laughing] I’ve kept that necklace ever since. And I’m not really a material girl. It is the only object I really care about, I mean, besides my favorite guitar.

W: Then we just got to be really good friends. A lot of it was talking each other through hard times.

P: Yeah, I met him at a really tumultuous time in my life.

W: Claire and I connect on extreme emotions, always. We’re just really emotional people.

O: How do you keep that connection on these long tours apart?

W: We let each other do our own thing. She’s free to experience whatever on the road. When you’re out experiencing the world, you don’t want to feel like you have to lock down your personality, because you’re in a committed relationship.

O: What kind of experience was this recent Mother Falcon Tour for both of you?

W: I was super excited for her. And I knew I had a busy month ahead of me, so that was good.

P: It’s been a little weird this time. I feel more like I’ve missed a lot of important things in his life — like really big shows for [Hikes], Utopiafest, Nathan playing his first solo show in four years. Whereas I have fun stories, he has things that have to do with self-growth that you can’t really describe in words.

W: Usually when she leaves town I feel helpless, for a little bit at least. I think maybe her life is more grandiose than the situation I’m in here … but I was so busy, I was trying to be strong for a lot of things. I had to go through the motions by myself. It kind of freaked me out when she came back to town, because I had grown a lot, and I didn’t want either of us to slow down at all.

P: That’s the definition of depression, being slow. For me, at least, happiness comes from having energy, being busy, doing as many things as I can.

Puckett performs with her band, Mother Falcon.

O: Have you felt an energy change since you came back from the tour?

P: I was less drained from this tour. Every other tour, I’ve gotten sick for at least a week. Last tour, Nathan came to visit me in New York, then I got him sick…

W: Right before [Hikes’] EP release, I was sick as a dog!

P: [Laughing] But what can you do in that situation? Nothing.

W: We still had a lot of fun.

P: But it made me realize how connected my emotional health and physical health are.

W: It’s actually a good balance, sometimes, to slow down.

P: That’s why we’re taking a vacation together, up to Ponca, Arkansas.

O: And is this place the namesake of your duo?

W: Arkansas is the reason for most of the things that I do. Ponca is this beautiful autumn setting where Claire and I really started to get close. That’s why we’re going back, to soak it up. When I started writing music, I was trying to imitate what I was seeing in the woods … that feeling. Environment is essential to personality.

O: What is it exactly about nature that inspires your music?

W: Chaos.

P: It’s a digestible way to view the chaos of the world. Everything’s growing on top of each other and competing against each other, but so still that you can observe it. It’s very honest.

W: It’s humbling, too. Omnipresent.

P: Like, you see the cliff and you know it doesn’t care about you, you know? I can’t assert anything about human nature with absolute confidence. My opinions about humans are always changing, but my opinion about nature is pretty much constant. I find the truest way I can say something is just to remark on nature and the power of it.

Wilkins sings for his band, Hikes.

O: So, what are your plans once you’re in Ponca?

W: Just spending a lot of time writing. To bring the computer, record and lay down some ideas for an album. I think we’re both really feeling kinda folky right now.

O: So Ponca sounds folky? How exactly?

W: Not so busy. The guitars are really close, and our voices work really well together with quiet music.

P: It’s probably more humble. Hikes and Mother Falcon are pretty grandiose.

W: You can definitely build this wall between you and the crowd when you’re up there rockin’ out, but with just two people in a room…

P: It’s more of an environment and a place, rather than a rollercoaster of emotions. This is very intimate, different from Hikes and Mother Falcon because both of those bands are really geared toward catharsis. Ponca is geared toward bringing up emotion, more smoothly and naturally, rather than letting all this emotion go exploding out.

O: What kind of emotional reactions have you gotten from your first single, “Raaven”?

W: Our friends Sabrina and Javier had a baby named “Raaven,” so we wrote that for the baby. We played it at the baby shower.

W & P: We were crying.

P: Everyone was crying.

W: It’s funny that we’re both feeling folky now after that track was finished, because it was really effective. With folk, you can let a lot of people in. That’s what I want to do, bring people really close to us.

O: How is playing together different than playing with Hikes or Mother Falcon?

W: Honestly, I’ve just never been able to write music with someone as seamlessly. It’s just chemistry. Because that’s how we started our friendship, if we ever have little quarrels in Ponca while we’re writing, it doesn’t mean anything for our relationship as a couple.

Wilkins and Puckett perform a duet during one of Hikes' shows.

O: How else do you support each other musically?

P: We get to see each others’ creative process so much more than outside people. Mostly, what other people see is just what you actually make, expecting this amazing product, but having support for the process, regardless of what comes of it, is really important.

W: Also, we reinforce it. We help each other out of any insecurities. We’re musicians and we’re also a couple, and music helps that along. Communication is so important with everything we do.

O: That must create some strong bonds.

W: Oh, hell yeah.

P: [Simultaneously] Strong as hell!

Ponca’s FB page Listen to “Raaven” here