Meet Orville Peck, the Masked Gay Crooner Revitalizing Classic Country's Spirit

Orville Peck
Carlos Santolalla

Orville Peck

Orville Peck wants to let you in, but not too closely. The rising country star, known for the leather-fringe mask he wears, is both a persona and a person. He won’t tell you his real name or where he’s from, but he'll allow you inside the world of his music.

When asked who he “really” is, Peck cheekily responds: "All I know is I’m Orville Peck, and I’m a country star.” But the singer doesn't see his self-imposed mystery as a gimmick. “I don't feel like I'm hiding behind a mask at all,” he tells Billboard. “It’s actually quite the opposite -- the mask and all of that has allowed me to be a lot more exposed.”

Peck insists that his mask is additional theatricality for his already-intoxicating country sound, as heard on his debut album Pony. The 12 tracks explore Peck’s life, through the lens of a lonesome cowboy traveling across the West.

Pony sounds stuck out of time, straddling the divide between the sounds of classic stars like Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison or Waylon Jennings, and more contemporary sonic elements like dream pop guitar riffs. That contrast perhaps speaks to the time Peck spent performing in different punk bands -- none of which he'll name, of course.

According to Peck, the worlds of punk and country have a lot of in common. "Country has a stigma of being conservative and only having one point of view, which is usually a straight white male,” he says. “And to an extent, it has for a long time in parts of it, but there's also a lot of incredible marginalized voices coming from country music, and there always have been.”

As an example, Peck points to Lavender Country, the band credited with creating the first-ever gay country album back in 1973. While the group’s music received little-to-no attention at the time, thanks in part to its open embrace of homosexual identity, Lavender Country acheived cult status. “I heard that album when I was 19," he says. "I thought it was so fascinating because it was such a classic country sound, but the subject matter was so subversive for what country music was."

Peck says disruption in country music extends to some of the genre’s greats, including stars like Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard and Patsy Cline, each of whom flipped over societal norms. So when Peck imbues his music with subversive qualities, he doesn’t believe he’s blazing a trail, but traveling along a path that has been laid out for him by legends who came before him.

“Country music listeners want more," he says, "and they are looking for far more diversity than I think the record labels and the radio stations want to give them credit for.”

Peck feels strongly about this because of the messages he receives from fans of his music, hearing not just from young queer people, but also from “typical” country fans expressing their love for his music.

“I've received emails from middle-aged straight white men with families in Alabama, and they're saying 'Every morning, we're getting my kids ready for school, and we listen to 'Dead of Night' in the car, and my whole family sings along,'” he says. “It's such a funny thing, because I'm singing about two gay hustlers in the desert, and here's this presumably pedestrian white American family singing along to it."

Peck says it’s not a stretch to place gay themes on the shoulders of a cowboy: “Willie Nelson said it best -- 'Cowboys are frequently secretly fond of each other; what did you think all them saddles and boots was about?' Of course I play that up.”

But Peck isn’t interested in being different for the sake of being different. If every other country artist is going to sing from their personal perspective, then why shouldn’t he? “I'm not consciously trying to create a new perspective for country music, I'm just trying to make a country music album,” he says. “My perspective is the only one I have."

Orville Peck is currently on tour in the U.S. Find tickets to a show near you here, and check out his tour dates below.

Apr. 25 - Philadelphia, PA - The Boot & Saddle [SOLD OUT]

Apr. 26 - Brooklyn, NY - Zone One @ Elsewhere [SOLD OUT]

Apr. 27 - Baltimore, MD - Metro Gallery

Apr. 28 - Richmond, VA - The Camel

Apr. 30 - Pittsburgh, PA - Andy Warhol Museum [SOLD OUT]

May 01 - Lakewood, OH - Mahall’s

May 02 - Detroit, MI - Lager House

May 03 - Chicago, IL - Empty Bottle

May 04 - Nashville, TN - The High Watt

May 06 - Columbia, MO - The Blue Note* [SOLD OUT]

May 07 - Oklahoma City, OK - The Criterion*

May 08 - Austin, TX - The Mohawk [SOLD OUT]

May 09 - El Paso, TX - Lowbrow Palace*

May 10 - Albuquerque, NM - Sunshine Theatre* [SOLD OUT]

May 11 - Tucson, AZ - Rialto Theatre*

May 12 - Phoenix, AZ - The Van Buren* [SOLD OUT]

May 13 - Los Angeles, CA - The Moroccan Lounge [SOLD OUT]

May 17 - Portland, OR - Mississippi Studios [SOLD OUT]

May 18 - Seattle, WA - Barboza [SOLD OUT]

May 19 - Vancouver, BC - The Wise Hall

May 23 - Calgary, AB - Commonwealth Bar & Stage

May 24 - Edmonton, AB - The Starlite Room

May 25 - Saskatoon, SK - Amigos Cantina

May 26 - Winnipeg, MB - West End Culture Center

Jul. 14 - Guelph, ON - Hillside Festival

Jul. 18 - Field, ON - River & Sky Festival

Jul. 27 - West Grey, ON - Crystal Lake Music Festival

Aug. 24 - 25 - Fort Worden, WA - The Thing

Sep. 20 - Brooklyn, NY - Music Hall of Williamsburg

Oct. 18 - Toronto, ON - Lee’s Palace

Oct. 28 - London, UK - Scala