Orville Peck Is Ready to Take It All Off (Almost)

2 views 2:57 pm 0 Comments June 11, 2024

Orville Peck has always been known for his masks. Back in 2018, when the South African-born, Canada-raised country singer first popped onto our radars with the sultry, aching croon of his debut single “Big Sky,” the facial accessories were an immediate calling card. With a leather upper that covered everything save for his piercing blue eyes and draping fringe that shrouded his mouth, chin and neck, the masks were playfully mysterious and seductively fetishistic. In a culture increasingly obsessed with “accessibility” and starved for “relatability” from its biggest stars, there was something undeniably intriguing about this perceived sense of anonymity — and about Peck’s theater kid commitment to the bit.

But in the half-decade since then, as Peck’s star has continued to rise, as he’s gone from an upstart on buzzy imprint Sub Pop to the “first openly gay country artist to get signed to a major label,” as he’s graduated from seedy dive bars to the stages of Coachella and Stagecoach (in the same year, at that), the artist has started to peel off some of these trademark layers, slowly but surely showing us more and more of the man behind the mask. While the visuals for his breakout Juno-nominated project Pony and its darker, more brooding followup Bronco were defined by the allure of his hidden face, Peck’s most recent videos have found him abandoning the fringe entirely, relying on little more than a simple Zorro-like covering up top, his angular features and perfectly coiffed beard now in full, unobstructed view.

It’s a gradual shift that Peck’s close friend Gottmik has noticed — and on a bright and early Zoom call, the RuPaul’s Drag Race finalist points it out, wondering if the switch-up was a practical decision or something else. “I really like evolution with artists,” Peck answers, going on to explain that, although the mask has always mattered to him as an artistic statement, he has lately felt an urge to change the aesthetic up, fearing any stagnancy in his progression as an artist.

“I’m sort of revealing a little more and more each time,” he adds later. “Not to get too deep about it, but it’s sort of a parallel with my songwriting and with just who I want to be as an artist and a person, which is to always be more vulnerable and reveal a bit more of myself through my music and everything. So it’s kind of just an evolution.”

Besides, the artist has been in a space of transformation for a while now. Just last summer, Peck found himself in a dark spell, becoming disillusioned with music and, eventually, canceling a full tour to address issues with his “mental and physical health.” But then, country legend Willie Nelson reached out about collaborating on a cover of the controversial gay cowboy anthem “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other” — kickstarting what would become an entire duets project — and Peck found his passion for music-making returning.

Stampede: Vol. 1, the first part of that two-part project, featuring an eclectic list of collaborators — from good friends like Noah Cyrus to industry legends like Elton John (there’s even a bilingual offering with Alfonso Cuarón’s daughter, Bu Cuaron) — was released in May. But already, Peck is whetting our appetites for Vol. 2. The day before our interview, the troubadour dropped the first tease of what’s to come: a “dark disco country” number he whipped up with the help of Diplo and none other than Kylie Minogue. It’s all, as he puts it, quite “crazy.” No wonder Gottmik calls him out for “living every gay’s literal dream.”

Below, read PAPER’s full conversation between Orville Peck and Gottmik.

Orville Peck: So, how are things going?

Gottmik: I’m supposed to be asking you things! [laughs] But things are going great. It’s Pride Month, so it’s really crazy. I’m sure it’s the same for you. I’m seeing you everywhere! I can’t believe how much stuff we’re both doing, so when I got this opportunity to call you, I was like, “There’s no one else in the world I’d rather wake up and fit something else into my Pride schedule for!”

Orville: I know! When they asked who I wanted, I was like, “Well, we’re both so busy, so the best chance I’ll have to get to hang out with Kade will be if we have to schedule an interview.”

Gottmik: Definitely. The only way we can hang out is for your PAPER cover. But how are you? What are you doing? Where are you?

Orville: I’m good. I’m on tour. I’m in Cincinnati. I’ve been on tour for two weeks. It’s the first time I’ve been touring in, like, over a year. So it’s been really, really amazing. I’ve put out half of my new duets album, which is really fun. And I just put out the first song of the remainder of the album. It’s all happening.

Gottmik: I love touring. Touring is my favorite thing in the world, but not until after the fact. Literally. During the fact, I’m like, “Wow, this is really hard and crazy.” But then, after, I’ll be like, “That was so fun, and I never want to stop touring in my life!”

Orville: It’s the craziest thing. I mean, now I do chiller tours. I’m on the road for like three weeks on, three weeks off kind of thing. But I used to tour 250 days out of the year.

Gottmik: No! How is that even possible?

Orville: It’s impossible. That’s the problem. That’s why I have mental illness.

Gottmik: I just, like, didn’t even know there were that many days in a year. You’re just a little workaholic.

Orville: Yeah…so no more doing that.

Gottmik: You’re touring solely the first part of Stampede?

Orville: Yeah. The first part of Stampede is out. “Volume One.” And then, the remaining part of the album is coming soon. I just put out the first single of the second volume. It’s with Kylie Minogue and Diplo. It’s a little disco banger.

Gottmik: Just a casual little drop. What is going on with your brain that you have a song with Kylie Minogue? During Pride?!

Orville: It’s crazy. I don’t know how to process it. There are just so many amazing people I got to work with. On Volume One, I have songs with Willie Nelson, Elton John, just the craziest people. And then now, for Volume Two, I’m getting to reveal these other crazy people.

I’ve been working on this album for like two years, and after Willie asked me to do our song together, which started the whole idea, the first person I reached out to trying to see if I could get a duet song together was Kylie. Her and I used to DM, just in like a cute “heart each other’s stories” kind of way. But I was always sort of like, “I don’t know if this is just some gay guy running her account that’s like her publicist…” Because you never really know! And you don’t really want to put yourself out there, just in case.

But I was just kind of like, “Fuck it. I’m gonna shoot my shot.” So I was like, “Hey. I’m thinking of doing this duets album. I have one song so far. It’s with Willie Nelson. And I would love for you to be a part of it. I think we could make something really cool.” The idea from the beginning was that we could do this kind of dark disco country song. And she was like, “Absolutely.” No questions asked. Basically, we’ve been sitting on some of these songs for almost two years now.

Doing an album like this has made music feel fun again for me.

Gottmik: I saw you performed it with her at Pride and I wanted to be there so bad. I don’t think I’ve ever had FOMO more in my life. And the outfit you wore! Not to make it about the fashion for a second, but it was just so good — that black-and-crystal barbed wire. I was like, Okay, not only do I want to wear that, but I’m jealous I’m not there.

Orville: It’s Levi’s that’s doing all those denim outfits for me. There’s this amazing designer at Levi’s who does all the custom stuff, and they’ve just been killing it with these crazy denim looks.

Gottmik: Yeah, Levi’s has been turning it with you for a while. You’ve gotten to work with major designers. And people! Your Elton John moment? That’s wild. And your Willie Nelson song. I texted you the second I heard it. I was like, “This is so good.” I literally have it on my shower playlist.

Orville: Thank you. I’m pretty excited about it. Some of them are, I guess, “departures” from my usual songwriting and style. But that was kind of the point of this album. I really wanted to do something that felt like each song was a collaboration with the other person, like 50/50 me and them.

It’s been interesting because, as you know, I took a big break from touring and all that stuff over the last year. I had become really jaded and sort of disenfranchised with music and the industry and all that stuff. But I think doing an album like this has made music feel fun again for me. I feel like I’m being more creative than I’ve ever been by doing this album because it’s taken me so much out of my comfort zone. Now, I’m so excited to get back to my regular solo project, but this has just been such a fun adventure to do this album. I mean, doing a disco song with Kylie Minogue? I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that.

Gottmik: You’re living every gay’s literal dream, whether they sing or not. Also, I’ve gotten to hang out with you and Noah [Cyrus] when you guys are talking about your new music and playing each other your voice notes, and just the way she trusts you and respects you, it was so cute to watch. So it’s so cool that you have a song with her and have gotten to perform with her for so long. I feel like any artist collabing with other artists that you respect and they respect you… You could be the most uninspired in the world, and it just brings you to a place of, like, artist joy again. So I can imagine being able to collab with not only people you know and love so closely, like Noah, but also with [icons like] Kylie Minogue and Elton John, is just crazy. I just can’t imagine how many different artistic points in your brain you got to reach with that.

Orville: It’s crazy. I feel like I’ve scratched every possible itch.

Gottmik: Also, Diplo on the album? At Pride? I’m like, “Is there a sex tape coming along with it…?” I’m confused. Because I’d watch the tape. I need that as the music video.

Orville: Well, he’s my good-for-nothing on-and-off-again boyfriend, as we like to call each other.

Gottmik: I see it and I believe it and I want it. And I’d subscribe! So you also just announced your 6th Annual Rodeo?

Orville: Yeah. That’s happening in Nashville, and we have some pretty great people this year. We have Tanya Tucker, who’s one of my absolute favorite country icons. Mickey Guyton, Reyna Roberts, Medium Build, Fancy Hagood. I’ve got tons of special guests and surprises.

Gottmik: I’m sure you do!

Orville: There’s drag brunches.

Gottmik: No…

Orville: Yes! One of the nights is hosted by one of my favorite Nashville queens, Alexia Noelle Paris, who’s been on tour with me before. And the whole event is hosted by John Waters.

Gottmik: No!

Orville: Yeah, you’ve gotta come! It’s August 23, 24 and 25. It’s three days.

Gottmik: My birthday is on the 19th. I’m coming and, somehow, I’m making this about me.

Orville: It’ll be so fun.

If I started putting all my focus into whether I’m wearing the fringe or not, then it’s like… I’m kind of not doing my job as an artist, you know?

Gottmik: So, I’ve noticed your — umm — face mask has been getting smaller and smaller. I love it.

Orville: We keep joking that it’s gonna end up as just a little eye patch.

Gottmik: Yeah, you’ll just be wearing contacts in a year! Were you tired of swallowing the tassels while you sing?

Orville: It’s a few things. I really like evolution with artists, and I think the mask has always meant a lot to me artistically, but I think if you hang onto something too long as an artist, I think there’s a… Well, first of all, I start to become bored of it. It loses its quality for me. But I also think it can hold you back a little bit sometimes if you’re sticking with one thing.

I’ve evolved [the mask size] for every album, actually. This is the biggest change, so I think people think it’s the first time that it’s changed. But if people look, it’s actually changed about two or three times already. And I’m sort of revealing a little more and more each time. Not to get too deep about it, but it’s sort of a parallel with my songwriting and with just who I want to be as an artist and a person, which is to always be more vulnerable and reveal a bit more of myself through my music and everything. So it’s kind of just the evolution. I don’t know where it’ll end up and I don’t know how it’ll look in the end. I don’t make any plans about it. But I think that’s important.

I also think it’s good for my fans. A lot of people are sort of jarred by it and miss the fringe. I hear that from people. But I think it’s good for them to evolve and change, too, to grow with me. I know something can be really comforting, and people can really fall in love with something the way it is, but nothing lasts forever, all good things end, and everything has to grow and evolve. I think this pushes people’s perspectives of what I do — that it doesn’t just remain the same forever. Nothing can. If you try to make something remain the same forever, that’s when you start making bad art. If I started putting all my focus into whether I’m wearing the fringe or not, then it’s like…I’m kind of not doing my job as an artist, you know?

Gottmik: 100%. I am the same way with my artistry. I think the second I stopped putting so much pressure on “always painting my face white” or doing something, I was, like, surprisingly showing myself that I was growing as an artist. I feel like the second you stop pushing yourself, that’s when you enter a weird comfort zone and you’re not evolving. And your album? You are evolving. I’m not even ready for what part two has coming. When does it come out?

Orville: Um. We haven’t said yet. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say. It’s sooner than people think.

PAPER: Can you say if it’s this year?

Orville: Yes. This year, for sure. It’s coming this summer.

Gottmik: Perfect. As long as I don’t have to wait that long, then I’m fine. Well, it seems like your year is set, baby! Good luck finding any free time. Now I’m glad I did this call, for sure!

Orville: Seriously! It’s a little crazy. But that’s the nice thing about having done this for a long time now — it’s having that sort of, I guess, like, freedom. Like, I used to have to tour 250 days out of the year because I was trying to get someone to pay attention. But now, I can sort of dictate. I’ve learned how much time off I need. I’ve learned that I need to be able to go back and reset, and see my boyfriend and my dog and, like, sleep in my bed, and do normal person things. I’ve learned that that’s, like, important to a human. [laughs]

Gottmik: 100%. My therapist and everyone were always like, “What are you doing for self-care?” And my brain was always like, “Babe, I don’t have time for bubble baths and facials! What are you talking about?” But sometimes, self-care literally comes as just like going home and going to bed, in your bed with your boyfriend. That’s all it needs to be. You don’t have to be crazy.

Orville: Literally. Just waking up and knowing where you are. Knowing what day of the week it is. That’s also kind of cute.

Gottmik: Yes. Your Delta app not being the only person telling you where you’re going — that’s self-care in itself.

Orville: Exactly.

There’s nothing wrong with being a straight white man making country music. But like, babe, we’ve heard it. We’ve heard about the truck!

Gottmik: I also think you’re such an important person in the community right now, because I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an artist that’s really just blending the queer community with this straight, mainstream community that I’ve never even tapped into. If I’m on an Orville stan page, I’ll be looking around, and I’m like, Wow, I never would talk to these people I’m talking to right now. This is so crazy. The way you just seamlessly blend these communities without trying to. You’re just, like, you — so authentically queer and amazing and fashion and artistry. But then, at the same time, you’re the only country classic diva with Willie Nelson. It’s just so cool that it’s someone who’s so hot and our age and hilarious. You’re such an amazing person and you deserve every single thing that’s happening to you, and that is why everything’s happening to you so fast and so young. I’m just so happy to know you.

PAPER: On that note, Orville, have you felt any shifts in the acceptance of queer people in the country scene? Does it feel different now than it did when you were coming up?

Orville: I’ve felt a lot of shifts, actually. We started at a pretty low bar. It was basically just me, and, you know, a few people that didn’t ever get their flowers from the past. But I was the first openly gay country artist to get signed to a major label, and I definitely felt it, for many years. Especially in Nashville and that scene of mainstream Nashville country, it was a lot of biting my tongue and trying to just find my place at the table in a lot of rooms. It was hard at first.

But now, I think it’s really wonderful. We have several out gay country artists, and we have more and more visibility with Black country artists, with brown country artists. I think country had this stigma for so long — kind of after 9/11 — that it was about being white, heteronormative, Southern, and religious, and patriotic. It just became a politicized genre. So it’s so lovely to see it being represented diversely now, because its roots are all in diversity. I mean, country is a blend of African instruments, Hawaiian instruments, European settlers, Mexican culture — it’s such a blended genre. It’s like the most American genre, so it should be enjoyed by everyone, and it should also be interpreted and performed by anybody who wants to do it. So it’s lovely to not only see more queer representation now, but just more diverse representation in general — because country is all about storytelling, so all I want to do is hear new stories. There’s nothing wrong with being a straight white man making country music. But like, babe, we’ve heard it. We’ve heard about the truck!

Gottmik: That’s so insane that you were the first openly gay country artist on a record label like that. How do you keep fighting for your spot at the table? I feel like that’s so hard to do. That’s probably such an exciting moment in your life, and then you finally get there, and they’re treating you a certain type of a way. I deal with that all the time as well, and sometimes, it just gets hard. You’re like, Okay, girl, I’m over this. I’ve tried, but every day I feel like I’m waking up to fight a fight that is way bigger than I am. How do you stay motivated and keep pushing through that?

Orville: I think you can probably relate. We’ve talked a little bit about this before, you and I, just on our own. But it’s interesting to be in your career, in the scope of your workplace and your contemporaries, and feel like, even within that, people are defining your artistry by who you are — or that they’re separating you from everyone else in a way. That can be a real mindfuck. But I grew up sort of a weirdo and a punk. I was just very rebellious about everything, just hating authority and…

Gottmik: Yes, your punk-rock band era! I love talking about that.

Orville: [laughs] So I’ve kind of had this…sometimes great, sometimes not so helpful petty problem where if someone tells me I can’t do something, I’m like, “Oh, well, now, not only am I going to do it, but I’m going to do it the best and the most.” I live and die for proving someone wrong.

Gottmik: For someone like us, you have to have that mentality. I even talked to RuPaul about that one time. She was like, “The reason I’m here is because I was persistent. People told me no. People told me drag queens can’t be mainstream. But the reason I’m here is because I literally was just like, ‘I don’t care. I’m staying here. I’m going to keep going.’”

Orville: Also, nothing changes if you don’t do that. That’s the thing — would it have been nice and easier if I hadn’t been the first person trying to do all that? Yeah! 1,000%. It would have been wonderful if I had even just one other person that I felt was helping me do that. But would I change anything about it? No. Because it’s all part of my story and who I am and who it built me into.

For me, “being cool” with queer people is not allyship. That’s just fucking common decency.

Gottmik: If I were you, I’d also have to sometimes step back and be like, wow, it’s so important that we also have people like Kylie and Noah and Willie that are taking these moments to recognize how important people like you are. Not only is it so important to the world right now that they see you and raise you up on a platform, but also, you’re so talented and [your work] speaks for itself, so they would definitely be collabing with you whether you were the most amazing trailblazer in the world or not. You have the talent to back it up, so no one can say anything — and I think that’s key as well.

Orville: I think that’s a good point. I feel like you’ve also experienced that with people like Paris [Hilton]. We all hear the term “ally” a lot these days. It gets thrown around a lot. But you know, for me, “being cool” with queer people is not allyship. That’s just fucking common decency. That’s the bare minimum. That doesn’t mean you’re an “ally” to me, just because you’re not hateful.

Gottmik: Like, oh, you’re not gonna beat me up?

Orville: Allyship is, in no uncertain terms, including and standing beside and working with and collaborating with and lifting up queer people. That is an ally. That’s someone who’s actually allied with you. And that’s what’s been so lovely about this album. I mean, I have… [does some counting in his head] I have 18 artists on Stampede, and I think four of them are queer. Everyone else is heterosexual, as far as I know, and never once [did they] think or question whether working with me was going to mean something for their careers. They were just happy to work with me and be an ally. And that’s what we need at the moment. With all of the crazy shit going on, we need people that are gonna stand up for real. Not just someone that’s like, “Oh yeah, I have a gay friend. I’m cool.” It’s like, “Okay, that’s fucking wonderful. But what else?”

Gottmik: That’s a Pride question that I’m sure you get all the time: What is allyship? How can I be a better ally? But that’s literally it. Just be there and listen to the community and what they are saying, and use your artistry and your platform to lift us up and to share our stories and our art with the world at a level [we might not have been able to otherwise]. Let’s say, a lot of Willie Nelson fans maybe wouldn’t have listened to you before. Maybe Kylie Minogue fans wouldn’t have listened to you before. But now, they’re exposed to the artistry and humanity and life of Orville Peck through Kylie. Not that Kylie Minogue has different fans. It’s probably 99% gay fans.

Orville: I was gonna say! [Laughs]

Gottmik: [Laughs] Maybe that was the wrong person to say.

Orville: But I have to just finish by saying how much I love you, Kade, and everything you do. Not only do I love you so much as a friend and as a person, but you’re such an incredible artist. You’re killing it on [RuPaul’s Drag Race] All Stars, and I’m so happy you’re back in the spotlight where you deserve to be.

Gottmik: Thank you so much. I literally could not say… Actually, I can. I can say even more. I’m so proud of you, too, and I love you. Day one, since I met Orville, he was the most supportive, amazing person ever. I was like, “I want to make a song,” and he was like, “Let’s listen to it now. Let’s go.” You’re such a doer, and you’re so excited to be a part of everyone’s art, and to just help and do everything you can. I’m so lucky to know you and so lucky to be here interviewing you. You are such an angel of life. The artist of our lives. We’re so lucky to have you and that we get so much content from you right now. I mean, this is the year of Orville Peck!

Orville: I love it. I’ll take it.

Photography and direction: Brett Loudermilk
Creative and art direction: Zain Curtis
Styling: Catherine Hahn
Hair and makeup: Hatti Rees

Balloon artist: Rob Balchunas
Editing: Zain Curtis
Photo assistant: Sam Ramirez
Digitech: Garrett Alvarado
Styling assistants: Jane Richardson, Talal Alabdali
Production assistants: Ricardo Diaz, Seth Shubin
Extras: Fred Henson, Jerome Simard, Che Arias

Editor-in-chief: Justin Moran
Managing editor: Matt Wille
Editorial producer: Angelina Cantú
Music editor: Erica Campbell
Cover type: Jewel Baek
Story: Michael Cuby
Interview: Gottmik
Publisher: Brian Calle

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