Behind the mask

Canadian country crooner a man of mystery

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Orville Peck’s esthetic is a strong one. The fashionable country crooner often dons a leather mask, Zorro-style, edged in a thin fringe that hides the rest of his face.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/05/2019 (1177 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Orville Peck’s esthetic is a strong one. The fashionable country crooner often dons a leather mask, Zorro-style, edged in a thin fringe that hides the rest of his face.

Often topped with a luscious, felted cowboy hat, his look is hard to forget.

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In March, Orville Peck released his debut album Pony, on which he tackles classic country sensibilities and stories through a queer lens.

As his covered-up appearance may imply, there is an air of mystery surrounding Peck; we know he’s Canadian, we know he has a background in music and theatre, we know he is openly gay and we know he has one hell of a voice. That’s about it.

His debut album, Pony, released in March, is an incredibly solid release, tackling classic country sensibilities and stories through a queer lens. And Peck’s deep, smooth vocals lead a sonic journey that pulls as much inspiration from Johnny Cash as it does Joy Division; the essence of ’80s and ’90s post-punk and indie rock is an unexpected surprise, but it somehow meshes so well.

Peck has been on the road supporting the record, playing to a string of sold-out rooms in the U.S. and Canada; he hopped on the phone from his tour stop in Calgary earlier this week to talk about the record, the current state of country music and his unique look.

Free Press: How’s the tour been going? I see almost every show has been sold out.

Orville Peck: Yeah, I think we’ve sold out every show so far, it’s been pretty cool. The support has been really overwhelming.

FP: I was going to say, are you at all surprised at how music fans have kind of latched onto this record?

OP: Surprised would maybe not be the right word, I guess it’s, like validating, maybe? I mean, I think when I started this project, I wasn’t really sure who was going to be interested in it or where it would really live or what the audience would be. It’s just a project I felt so passionate about that I really did have hope that, whoever it would be, would be really passionate about it as well.

I guess the surprising part has been the massive diversity of people who seem to connect with it. At the live shows you’ll see drag queens, punk rockers, regular joes. I get a lot of older couples in their 70s and sometimes 80s coming because they are old country-music fans. That’s the incredibly surprising part, is that it seems to resonate with so many people, which makes me feel great.

FP: And it must be wonderful to see all kinds of people, especially country-music fans — who maybe aren’t seen as the most diverse group of people — are kind of broadening their horizons a bit.

OP: Totally, and I think that’s been a long time coming. Speaking as a country-music fan, I’ve always been interested in different perspectives within country music. I think country is a really huge genre and I think sometimes people peg it into one idea of what they have about it. But, y’know, country is like an umbrella that stands over folk, Americana, bluegrass… there’s so many different types of country music and I think there have always been subversive voices in country and there’s always been diversity in country but it’s finally actually coming to the forefront… I think it’s just so exciting. It feels like when I was a teenager and I was getting into punk rock and I remember thinking, like, “God, there’s this world of possibilities.” And that’s kind of how I feel about country at the moment.

FP: Do you self-identify with the narratives you write about of drifters and outlaws?

OP: I mean, I think I’ve always felt outside of things since I was a little kid, I definitely felt like a marginalized kind of person. I grew up a loner and I think I still carry a lot of that solitary energy within myself, even as an adult. I struggle with… social stuff isn’t really my strength (laughs). I definitely grew up feeling very much like the spirit of a drifter; I travelled a lot, I lived in five different countries by the time I was 20 years old, I was always on the move, never felt settled. So those are kind of the themes of my album because that’s just how my life has been, and I think when I started to put together these stories that became Pony, I had finally reached a point where, maybe just in my age, where I could look back at all of that unrest and moving and drifting and solitude, but I could look back on it with a lot of nostalgia and actually a lot of adventure.

FP: If you are a more introverted person in social settings, has it been hard to be thrust into the spotlight like this? With fans and press and people wanting to talk to you all the timehow are you adjusting to that lifestyle?

OP: It’s interesting because I think I’m an introvert/extrovert. I’ve been a performer my whole life, since I was little I did theatre and I was a trained dancer for a long time… I’ve always been a singer and I’ve always made music, so I’ve always considered myself an artist, and in that way I’ve always found it easy to perform. But I think on a real, emotional level, I’m more of a guarded, close person. I find it easy to go on stage and perform but have traditionally found it quite hard to talk about my real feelings or who I really am or what I really need or want. That’s a lot of performers, I think, and it creates an interesting dichotomy within a person and that’s kind of what my album is about.

FP: And it’s a good segue into asking about your mask. What was the genesis of that?

OP: I mean, honestly, I just woke up and it was on my face, so if you find out you should let me know, because I’m also wondering.

FP: Has fashion and style played a big part in the development of the Orville Peck persona?

OP: Yeah, I think I would say more style than fashion. I was involved in the fashion world for a very small period of time when I was younger, and even though I am a fan of style and I’m a fan of personal style and I’m a fan of some fashion houses of certain periods, mostly I don’t like the vibe of where fashion has gone. I think it’s a really super indulgent, wasteful industry at times, where there’s millions and millions of dollars being spent on very little output. But that being said, I’m a huge fan of old fashion and a huge fan of style and I think I’ve developed a pretty strong esthetic, so I would say I would draw more on motifs and general style periods rather than specific fashion houses.

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Manager of audience engagement for news

Erin Lebar spends her time thinking of, and implementing, ways to improve the interaction and connection between the Free Press newsroom and its readership.

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