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Categories: Music

Orville Peck’s Not So Lonesome After All

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The first thing you should know about cowboy Orville Peck is that he doesn’t wear a disguise.

The fringe that dangles from his omnipresent mask — think the Lone Ranger with a makeover — is not some enigmatic marketing ploy. No, Orville Peck is not his real name. Yes, you can find his real identity if you want, but why bother? At a moment when we all want to know everything about everyone as soon as it happens, it’s profoundly refreshingly to take Peck solely on the merits of his aesthetic and enrapturing voice.

Speaking by Skype ahead of a performance on Monday, Aug. 19, at Swedish American Hall, Peck confirms that it would be a mistake to see his mask as an act of deception.

“People get confused about what a disguise is,” he says. “I don’t wear a disguise. I wear an aesthetic that is referencing classic cowboy themes. It’s just a heightened way to present my art. It’s part of who I am as Orville Peck.”

When his debut album, Pony, was released to acclaim earlier this year, the question of Peck’s identity was quickly replaced by efforts to properly describe his alluring singing style. Borrowing from paradigms of country and western, songs like “Hope to Die” and “Queen of the Rodeo” are sold on the strength of Peck’s vocals, which confidently roam from sweet falsettos to booming refrains.

For Peck, the cowboy outfit and fringed mask aren’t a way to keep his fans at a distance — they’re a way to bring them closer. Thus, though his voice may be simultaneously reminiscent of Roy Orbison, Nick Cave, and Chris Isaak, the person Peck sounds the most like is himself.

“I would wager that the things I sing about are far more steeped in truth, that I’m way more personal in my music, than some people who wear jeans and a t-shirt and just sing on a stage,” he says. “I do think some people confuse the fact that I have an aesthetic and that there are heightened visual aspects to what I do with some kind of fabricated persona or schtick.”

Those who have heard Peck’s music know that it suffers from no lack of authenticity.

Instead, his songs are astutely personal, in some cases reimagining traditionally “masculine” scenarios through Peck’s queer cowboy lens. “Dead of Night” follows a pair of young men on the run, exemplifying the desert heartbreaks and lonesome treks through desolate lands that are generously sprinkled throughout Pony.

For Peck, approaching his persona from the perspective of camp (recently utilized, to mixed results, as the theme for this year’s Met Gala) feels like a natural extension of the machismo idealized by vintage Hollywood western films.

“There’s a camp, dramatic quality that’s attached to the settings of westerns and that’s definitely something I draw inspiration from,” he explains. “A lot of Italian directors purposefully put gay overtones between the cowboys into their westerns. I think those tropes and pastiche cowboy motifs that are now actually ingrained in public culture come from a camp place.”

For further proof, the veiled troubadour points to Trixie Mattel.

A two-time RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant (and Drag Race All-Stars winner), Mattel has navigated a similar — though unique — path as a drag queen who also writes and performs her own country music. She’s now released two albums and relentlessly toured across the planet. Peck sees a lot of himself in Mattel, who he recently saw perform at the annual Calgary Stampede celebration.

He says they share similarities, both in terms of who they are as performers as well as the type of music they’re looking to share with fans.

“She and I get along because I kind of feel like a drag queen sometimes,” Peck says. “I also think both of us have very strong aesthetics as artists. We’re obviously very heightened performers, I guess you could say, but I also think we both come with a lot of sincerity. I don’t think that either of us is playing a character. We also both love country music and we both write country music.”

It’s working. The evidence that Peck is reaching people grows more apparent with each stop he makes on his current tour.

“It’s like pretty much anybody you could imagine,” says Peck of the crowds he’s seeing at his shows, which regularly include everyone from members of the LGBT community to punks and metal kids and skateboarders to “regular Joe type” people.

“There are middle-aged couples and even older people, real country and western fans, who listen to like Hank Williams and Porter Wagoner,” Peck continues. “It’s incredible. You look out at the crowd and I think it’s probably the first time that these people have ever been in a room with one another. It has this really magical kind of feeling, like we’re all connected by this one thing. It’s pretty remarkable.”

Orville Peck, Monday, Aug. 19, 7 p.m., at Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market St., $15-$17; event.noisepop.com

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Zack Ruskin

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