Orville Peck’s roots trace back to South Africa, but at the age of 15, he relocated to Toronto with his family. Despite his background as a theater enthusiast and trained ballet dancer, he eventually ventured to London, gracing the West End stage. However, his acting career was short-lived, as his genuine passion lay in creating music—specifically, country music.
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“I always aspired to be a country singer,” Peck reveals. “In my 20s, I finally summoned the courage to amalgamate all my passions and just dive into the music scene.”
This artistic pursuit included an unusual commitment to conceal his identity. While adopting a stage name is common in entertainment, Peck took it a step further by masking himself in every public appearance—this was pre-COVID times. His extensive collection of approximately 60 masks spans from vibrant, bedazzled pieces in a rainbow of colors to bold black leather creations that might even make the Village People blush. Despite these measures, internet sleuths, fueled by details from his early punk rock career and more than 30 tattoos, attempt to uncover his true identity. Peck’s response is simple: if you want to know him, listen to his music.
Orville Peck possesses a voice that exudes a timeless enigma: his deep, soulful crooning has drawn comparisons to the likes of Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, and Chris Isaak.
Currently embarking on a global tour in support of his second album, “Bronco,” Peck is unapologetically open about his identity as a gay artist. This authenticity is one aspect he has never felt compelled to conceal.
“I’ve been out since I was little,” he shares during a Zoom interview conducted from the basement of Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theatre, one of the stops on his tour. “I was fortunate to grow up in a family environment where I was shielded and embraced for whoever I chose to be.”
In true country fashion, Peck delves into themes of heartache in his music. His songs echo the sentiments of lost loves and men who have wronged him. Notably, much of “Bronco” was inspired by a relationship that concluded just before the onset of the pandemic. Reflecting on this period, Peck reveals, “I was very depressed and felt uninspired, so I compelled myself to spend six to eight hours in the studio every day, crafting new music.”
Orville Peck’s music videos are vibrant celebrations of LGBTQ pride, featuring appearances by stars from “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” culminating in the video for “The Curse of the Blackened Eye,” where “Walking Dead” actor Norman Reedus makes a cameo as a potential love interest.
Collaborating with “RuPaul’s” country queen Trixie Mattel last year, they covered Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash’s classic duet “Jackson.” Mattel emphasizes that their foray into this genre stems from a genuine love for the music they grew up admiring. “Orville and I do this type of music because it’s the type of music we like and listen to and grew up wanting to be a part of,” Mattel states. “We’re coming at it authentically, which makes it hard to reject because when you listen to either of our music, you can tell we’re here because we love it, not because it’s the easiest genre to pick from.”
Peck traces his country music roots to his grandfather, a horseback sheriff in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, who, despite appearing tough, was a soft-hearted individual. Describing his father as “a very free-spirited, open man who’s always been extremely sensitive and taught me about sensitivity and kindness,” Peck acknowledges the influence of his family in instilling sensitivity, even in his straight brothers. He expresses an admiration and fascination for cowboys, seeing them as strong figures outwardly but sensitive and perhaps lonely internally. Peck romanticizes the idea that these characters derive strength from their outsider status and loneliness, turning it into a form of power rather than a weakness.
While often perceived as an outsider artist, Orville Peck embraced his love for mainstream country in 2020 by collaborating with country-pop superstar Shania Twain on “Legends Never Die,” featured on his “Show Pony” EP. Twain admires Peck’s voice for its familiar throwback sound, reminiscent of early male country artists. She notes the richness in his voice that compels listeners to crave more and highlights his likable and genuine personality.
Twain emphasizes the importance for country music fans to connect with artists on a personal level, seeking sincerity in their performances. She reminisces about the raw storytelling in the country music she grew up with, marked by grit in the artists’ lives and the stories they conveyed. According to Twain, the country audience yearns for more variety and distinctiveness among artist styles. She applauds Peck for his unique singing style and less predictable lyrics, making him a standout artist in her eyes.
For Peck, the significance of standing out loud and proud has grown more pronounced. He reflects on the meaningful messages and letters he receives from gay, trans, and queer fans who express gratitude for providing a sense of belonging. These fans, from various backgrounds, share stories of embracing their cultural identity through Peck’s music, even if they felt like outsiders growing up. This impact on others reinforces Peck’s commitment to visibility, particularly for those who may not have had the same experiences he did.
Entering the country music scene wasn’t as straightforward as unfurling a rainbow carpet in front of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, according to Peck. Despite facing some reluctance, skepticism, and aggression as a gay man in the country genre, he asserts that the challenges have been less daunting than one might expect.
While performing at a diverse array of venues, including Coachella and traditional country festivals in red states, Peck approaches each event with an open heart and mind. He acknowledges initial apprehensions from certain audiences, often adorned in ‘Blue Lives Matter’ shirts and Trump hats. However, Peck finds that many who may appear resistant at first end up dancing and singing along by the end of his shows. He believes a significant shift is occurring in country music, with a growing number of queer individuals and non-white, non-straight men contributing to the genre.
Recent years have witnessed notable strides in the inclusion of LGBTQ+ artists in country music. Figures like Chely Wright, Ty Herndon, and Billy Gilman came out, though it was years after reaching their peaks as ’90s hitmakers. Brandi Carlile, initially recognized as an Americana artist, has seamlessly transitioned into a country star through frequent collaborations in the genre. In a rare occurrence, T.J. Osborne of Brothers Osborne publicly shared his sexuality while still maintaining his status as a major headliner, discussing it in a 2021 interview with Time magazine.