Country singer Orville Peck still wears a mask, but he’s done hiding


For the last few years, the yeehaw agenda has been in full effect. From Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” and Kacey Musgraves’s pop crossover to Beyoncé’s latest album and Post Malone’s latest transformation, musicians outside the mainstream of country music have taken cowboy culture for a ride and found comfort in the saddle.

The rise of Orville Peck has come alongside this cultural shift, and the 36-year-old singer-songwriter — who performs under a pseudonym and wears a mask — is making country music that recalls outlaw traditions and has found fans in collaborators Willie Nelson, Elton John and Kylie Minogue. The artist, who is gay, also serves as a reminder that neither America nor Americana is as homogenized and heteronormative as it may seem.

“Country culture, country music, cowboy culture, all of those things, they are from diverse beginnings,” Peck says via Zoom. “The truth is, country music has always been diverse, and it’s always been made by many people.”

As a child, Peck, who was born in South Africa before moving to Canada in his teens, liked the music and oversize characters of Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, but when he was coming of age, country music had become a “politicized” genre after Sept. 11: The Dixie Chicks were drummed out of the industry, and Toby Keith set the tone for Nashville with “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” That reactionary status quo inspired Peck to look to country music’s past for inspiration.

“If you were interested in country music in the early 2000s and you were alternative or had a different mindset … the obvious avenue to go down was the outlaws and the classic stuff, because it wasn’t about any of that,” Peck says. “It was about actually being an individual and being — just like it says in the word — outside of the law. … Those were the things that interested me because I felt outside of things.”

Peck played in punk bands and pursued a career in musical theater before embracing his cowboy alter ego and donning a hat, boots and his iconic mask. Even for a non-American, the iconography of the cowboy had always resonated with a self-described outsider who gravitated to characters like the Lone Ranger or even Indiana Jones.

“[The cowboy] represents so much about individuality and finding power in things like alienation, loneliness, solitude, misunderstanding,” he says. “The mythical cowboy really appeals to people who are different but don’t want that to be their weakness.”

Crafting the persona of Orville Peck has allowed him to take a private part of his identity and supersize it, like a pro wrestler turning their real-life personality into a brash brawler in the ring. In kind, the size of Peck’s mask, which once included a domino over his eyes and face-obscuring fringe, has had an inverse relationship to the artist’s personal and artistic confidence. He hopes that fans embrace his growth, wherever it takes him.

“It’s really important for artists to evolve,” he says. “I make art and music for myself, and I’ve always trusted my gut about what kind of artist I want to be and what I want to put out there.”

June 30 at 7 p.m. at the Anthem, 901 Wharf St. SW. theanthemdc.com. $59.50.



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