Orville Peck is an enigma, and he likes it that way.
Peck's 2019 debut album, Pony, an evocative, queer meditation on mid-century ballads, made a more convincing case for the universal appeal of country music than a thousand Taylor Swift songs ever could. Growing up in what he describes as a "pretty obscure part of the Southern Hemisphere," Peck says that era of country "was so adventurous and captivating to me: the storytelling, the sincerity, the outfits, the myths everyone built around their personas.”
His latest single, "Summertime," is uncannily evocative of spring 2020, with its insistent ache for all the people and pleasures we can't have right now. Inverse spoke with Peck about the song, the evolving landscape of country music, and his pro-tips for first-time mask wearers.
The interview below has been edited for clarity and brevity.
“Summertime” has a very relatable vibe for right now. How did that song come together?
It was originally going to go onto Pony, so I've been sitting on it for a long time. It’s about missing a person or a place or a moment. It's a certain kind of longing where something’s just out of reach, or it could be right next to you. It does weirdly have a topical kind of meaning at the moment, but I didn't write it with any of this in mind.
There are at least two all-time classic songs called “Summertime,” from Porgy and Bess and the Will Smith one. Were these on your mind as you were writing?
Not really. I like unabashedly taking on what might feel like solidified iconography. With country musicians, there's a pretty long history of referencing iconic motifs from the past. There’s a lot of songs that have similar titles, wordplay and themes. So I don't find it frightening. I find it exciting.
Country music has been stigmatized for being exclusionary, but that's changed a lot recently. Why do you think that is?
I never really considered myself outside of country music. I just assumed it was for everybody. So I grew up with almost a blissful ignorance, playing in punk bands and loving counterculture and anything against the grain. So if anybody says something isn't for me, or I'm not allowed to take part in it, that just makes me want to do it even more.
That’s not because I want to be someone that's an aggravator and agitator. I'm just showing everyone else that country is already for everybody. The door is already open. I get a lot of people at my shows who told me they never felt a part of country music, or felt like it was for them. But I don't think I've changed that. I'm kind of helping people through the door rather than opening the door.
Was there a particular album you were obsessed with when you were younger?
Johnny Cash live, At Folsom Prison. It's got such a Western quality to it, a kind of lovable convict feel, and it’s almost like John Waters-esque at the same time. All things I love. I listened to Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads a lot, because that's also very heavily dramatized.
What advice do you have for first-time mask wearers?
You just gotta get used to it, then you'll stop fiddling with it. It’s funny, I feel pretty naked without it these days. It's honestly second nature to me now. So just hold out a little bit, keep practicing, and you'll forget it’s there.
Have you thought about changing up your look now that masks are becoming more common?
Definitely not. Now I just feel like everyone's at my level.
What does wearing a mask do for you as an artist?
It's actually the opposite of what people expect. When you cover up, it exposes more than you're able to control. I grew up doing pretty much every type of performance: ballet, acting, you name it. Until I put on the mask, I had never felt so exposed, almost naked on stage. It's allowed me to be far more sincere, to stop trying to be something I wasn't.
You’ve been using technology more recently to reach your fans online.
I joke about it with my team all the time, but I'm like grandpa-level at technology. Even basic technology really baffles me, unfortunately. I don't have any digital music elements in my set. Everything’s very analog in my world as a performer. I was really worried what live streams would feel like, without having the presence of the audience. That was always gonna be difficult, but I still felt that connection.
I’ve been thinking about how interesting it'll be when this is all over, and we can all go out again to a party or to a function. I think it'll really feel special, which is a reminder of the things we take for granted. That might not be the worst thing to remember, even though it's in such a crazy harsh way. There’s always something we can learn from things like this.
What’s the first thing you want to do when we can all leave the house?
I'm dying to go out anywhere that there's a bunch of people. I'm not even that social a person. I just miss being able to go watch Drag Race at a bar.
What goes into creating a look for a performance or a video?
It’s all either literally done by me or driven by me. I work with a creative director on my videos, and I have a couple stylists I work with on and off if I want something custom-made.
I have a pretty tight collaboration with Dior, so they've made me a lot of custom outfits and I've performed the Dior fashion shows. I worked with Michael Kors and Christian Cowan recently. But the most common element is still little funny pieces I find on the road. I draw inspiration from all kinds of places: old cowboy culture, rodeo culture, and combine that with 60s and 70s pop-star aesthetics, like David Bowie or Grace Jones.
You have a lot of gamer fans. What do you think is the point of overlap there?
Gamers and comic fans are interested in character and big personalities. What I strive to do as an artist is take the secret part of who I am at my core, which is sometimes scary or not great, and present that in the most bold way possible. There's a lot of sincerity and heart behind games, comics, and anime. So maybe that's what draws that fan base to what I do. That's very much the world that I grew up in as well, so it makes total sense to me.
What kind of comics did you like when you were younger?
I really liked X-Men. I definitely felt fairly alienated growing up, and I always knew I was kind of different. I don't even mean that in terms of sexuality. Some of us just feel kind of on the outskirts of things. It's something that I still feel even into my 30s. I really found comfort and connection in the idea that there are people on this planet who are special in some way and not always understood by everybody.
Who is your favorite member of the X-Men?
I have to say Gambit. Number-one crush.
You’ve tweeted a bit about Animal Crossing lately. Are you into games very much?
I wouldn't say I'm a heavy gamer. I don't really have time. But I've got Animal Crossing. I'm an aesthetics person, so I’m really focused on trying to make the island look nice. But I don't have everything I need. You have to play it like 24-7 to get to that point, and I haven't put that much effort in. I'm gonna try.
How did playing Madison Square Garden with Harry Styles in October come about?
I'm not sure how it came about! He asked if we wanted to open, and it was really exciting. I hope everything is cleared up by then. He's lovely. We've never met, just chatted a little bit recently, and he seems very sweet.
What are you working on now?
There’s more exciting news on the music front. I don't want to give away too much, but there’s a duet coming out that I'm still kind of in disbelief about. It's gonna be pretty cool.
What’s the timeframe for that?
Sooner than people think.