Who is the cowboy in the fringed leather mask?
Even trying to establish the most basic facts about Orville Peck is tricky. “I’m kind of based all over the place, I move around a lot,” he responds when I ask him about where he comes from. I know for a fact that he is in Toronto as we speak, but he’s quick to blur the lines. “I have lived in five different countries now. Just in the last four years alone, I’ve moved nine times.”
In one moment he will tell you that he isn’t interested in trying to create a narrative of mystery, in the next he will point blank refuse to engage in a conversation about his earlier life. “To me, those biographical facts are probably the least interesting thing about me,” he insists.
The singer-songwriter, who is never seen in public without his trademark fringed leather mask, is set to release his debut album, ‘Pony’, on Sub Pop in March. His music is bursting with personality, a 21st century-ready re-imagining of the classic outlaw country tradition, wherein tales of lost love are as likely to involve same-sex relationships as they are desert highways and worn out gamblers.
To Peck, it’s about keeping control of the whole package. “I really like to put in an effort on the full story,” he says. “I want to tell stories that are rich and that evoke something in people, and that includes a look and a sound. I think those things help tell a really good story.”
But don’t be fooled into thinking that everything about this guy is constructed. On the contrary – he is at pains to point out that his songs are bitingly real. “Everything I write and sing about is based on a real experience of mine. I think it’s really transparent when artists are not putting in a full effort, or trying to construct something that isn’t authentic.
“A lot of people will look at something like Orville Peck, because I wear a mask, and think it’s a theatrical, constructed thing, but I think the really nice quality about seeing Orville live is that people really, really connect with it. It’s coming from a truly authentic place and it really seems to resonate with people.”
He has fourteen masks now, all self-made, and while he claims that the mask is not a comment on our image-obsessed society, he does lament the lack of effort that he sees amongst some of his peers. “The thing I don’t like that I see a lot now is this return of a kind of nonchalant attitude to being a performer. I really just appreciate effort. If I’m going to pay a lot of money to go to a show I want someone to give me the full experience of what I pay for.” He mentions Janelle Monae and Poppy as two from the current crop that seem to “get it”.