Orville Peck on Playing Palomino Festival, Covering Elton John, and How Country Music Is “Starting to Diversify”

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The post Orville Peck on Playing Palomino Festival, Covering Elton John, and How Country Music Is “Starting to Diversify” appeared first on Consequence.

Orville Peck has had a busy 2022. Beyond his extensive touring schedule, the masked indie-country trailblazer dropped his anticipated second album Bronco in April. This year has also seen the fashionable cowboy front Wrangler and Fender’s collaborative clothing line and, most recently, unleash a cover of Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” for Amazon’s Pride Month celebration. Throw in a prominent needle drop in the season two premiere of Euphoria, and it’s clear that just about everyone is noticing the talents of Orville Peck.

With ever-increasing attention, there’s a lot more in store for the rest of Peck’s year. Since he burst onto the scene with palpable mystery and festival-ready tracks like “Dead of the Night,” Peck has only grown his paradoxically anonymous profile.

“I learned as I got older that an authentic, sincere approach to everything you do is your best tool to not only create the best art, but to let people into what you’re doing,” he tells Consequence.

That radically honest self-identity is evident in Peck’s music, and such authenticity has made Peck a genuine crossover sensation. Much has been said about the diversity of an Orville Peck crowd, which, like Dolly Parton’s audience before him, is an equal mix of the indie, country, and LGBTQ+ communities. Hell, he’s on Sub Pop Records, a label more known for fostering the grunge and punk explosion of the ‘90s than for breaking new country stars. But that’s the power of Peck’s music: he beckons those who might otherwise treat country music the way a vampire treats garlic to embrace the aesthetic.

According to Peck, it’s simply a game of perception. He’s not really shocked that people who “listen to everything but country” appreciate his music because, well, they probably already love country — they just don’t know it.

Orville Peck on Kimmel
Orville Peck on Kimmel

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“I think we should change the phrase ‘people who don’t like country,'” Peck says. “I think what people don’t like is not country, really. That’s radio pop-country. Similar to any genre, anything that’s the most basic Top 40 version of the genre is probably not going to be the most compelling, authentic version.”

Orville Peck may not have cracked the Top 40 yet, but it seems like his compelling, authentic take on country could take over the charts at any second. (He’s long captured the hearts and minds of the Consequence staff, earning a spot on our 2022 midyear songs list.) His music and greater persona demand attention, and though he didn’t want to give us any hints as to what will follow Bronco, whatever comes next is sure to be a genuine expression of the man behind the mask.

A festival favorite, he’ll also be gracing several of them this summer with his swaggering country live show. Notably, he’ll be performing alongside Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson, Jason Isbell, and more at the first annual Palomino Festival in Pasadena, California on July 9th. Grab tickets to the one-day fest here.

Below, Peck dives into the weeds of country music, Pride Month, festival sets, and more. (He’s also currently on his “Bronco Tour”; you can pick up tickets for the remaining dates here.)

I think a lot of casual fans are surprised to learn that your roots aren’t in the American South, because you sound so natural embracing country stylings. How did you fall into the type of music that influenced Pony and Bronco?

I mean, listen, my grandfather was a cowboy in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. He was a horseback sheriff. I loved cowboy imagery and TV shows. Anything to do with cowboys, I loved it when I was a little kid. So, that was my, I suppose, attachment to what is traditionally known as an American aesthetic, although it does exist in many parts of the world.

But I think my first introduction to country music was when I was little. I fell in love with Dolly Parton, and then that moved onto Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard and as I grew older, I started to fall in love with all facets of country and all different genres, all different eras of it. There are country music fans and people who make country music from all over the world. I think it’s sort of a myopic view to think that it only exists in America because it definitely extends further than that.

And even within the genre, I think a lot of people don’t realize how varied country music can be. They might have a specific idea of what it sounds like today — the oft-maligned “bro-country.” But it seems like you are able to attract these types of fans that might not otherwise listen to country. Why is that?

You know, I learned as I got older that an authentic, sincere approach to everything you do is your best tool to not only create the best art, but to let people into what you’re doing. Going back to Dolly Parton, she’s one of those artists that a lot of people who maybe don’t listen to what’s on country radio [will know.] They’ll know Dolly Parton, love Dolly Parton, because she has this ability to make everybody feel safe. She’s just up there proudly, unapologetically being herself, being authentic, almost in on the joke with herself too. She’s not afraid to laugh at herself and not take it too seriously.

I think that’s how I approach the country music I make. It’s there for everyone to connect to and listen to. There’s no elitism or pretentiousness or anything. You could be the biggest country fan in the world at my show or you can be someone who has never even heard a Dolly or a Johnny Cash song. I try to make an atmosphere that feels authentic and vulnerable and enjoyable for everyone.

Also, I think people can tell that, visually and aesthetically, I have a slightly different approach to what most country artists do these days. I think that probably intrigues people. Sometimes not for the best. Like, maybe sometimes people think it’s a gimmick. But I think it draws them in, and I think when they give the music a listen and they see what I’m singing about and how I’m trying to present myself, I think people stick around because they feel safe with me in the same kind of way.

You recently put out a cover of Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.” Do you have a relationship with Elton? Had he reached out about the song?

I don’t. I once heard that he had mentioned me to somebody, so I think he knows who I am, but I don’t know if it’s gotten to him that I’ve done the song. I hope it does. I’m such a huge fan, of course. I feel like he’s one of the last idols left, at least from my perspective, and I’d love for him to hear it. I haven’t heard anything back yet — I’ll report back if he does!

You released that cover for Amazon’s Pride Month Celebration. With some scary, regressive legislation being introduced regarding LGBTQ+ rights, and country music’s reputation as being politically conservative, what do you think the state of pride is in 2022, both within country music and in general?

Yeah, sadly there’s a lot of laws and legislation being passed that attack various members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially in terms of trans people and nonbinary people. They still have a pretty big battle ahead of them, and every day they’re fighting for even really, really basic rights that some of us in the community have at least made some headway with. So I think they need our support the most at the moment.

And with regards to country music, there’s a contingency of that world that politicizes everything about the music they listen to — but they also politicize what they eat for breakfast and everything else on the planet, right? So, it goes hand in hand that some artists would actually placate that crowd and feed the stigma of what country music is about. But the reality is that country music is a hugely diverse genre, especially in the way it evolved. All of the instruments in country are from all over the world. You got Hawaii, Europe, Africa. I mean, the banjo is an African instrument, the pedal steel is Hawaiian. It’s a really diverse genre that was actually built together from quite a motley crew of places. Through the years, it also had various races and genders.

I would say that “gay country” has never been much of a big thing, aside from people like Lavender Country or probably a ton of closeted artists that we never knew about over the years, but I think that’s probably more to do with the times than anything. Now, I do actually believe that it is starting to diversify in terms of gay country artists. You got Brandi Carlile, me, and TJ Osborne just came out not long ago. You have Amythyst Kiah, people in the Americana space, and I think what’s starting to happen is that we’ve always been there, but now we’re starting to approach a mainstream level where people know about it.

True country fans, fans of the genre — I’m not talking about that portion that tends to politicize everything, I’m talking about people who really just love country music — I think the thing we have in common as country music fans is that we love storytelling. And that’s what country is, it’s the genre of storytelling. We’re always looking for and interested in new stories. In my experience, even when I play a very red state or true-blue country festivals, the people where the preconception is they would have an issue with me, by the end of it, they’re all singing along.

I think people who are real, true fans of country, politics aside, they’re looking for new stories. I think the idea that there’s maybe someone like me or someone like Mickey Guyton, or someone like Amythyst Kiah or Brandi or TJ or whoever it might be, someone who doesn’t necessarily fit the stigmatic stereotype of what a country musician is, I think that it excites country music fans. I know that it excites me.

Speaking of festivals, you’ve got a couple coming up, including Palomino Fest. I know festivals can be particularly hectic — do you have any tips or tricks for your festival sets?

It’s funny, I’ve always loved playing festivals. I know a lot of artists hate it for various reasons. I like playing a shorter set. I grew up playing in punk bands where I used to play half an hour sets and that felt long to me, so I like a shorter set. I’m of the “leave people wanting more” school of thought.

I also love a challenge, and so the thing that I like about festivals is that there’s probably a very good chance that there’s a bunch of people in the crowd that either have never heard of you or are not fans of yours or maybe they’ve only heard a song or two — or in my case, maybe they’ve only heard about the mask or something superficial. So, I love the challenge of winning over an entire festival crowd. I tend to go super hard at festivals just because, I don’t know, I love having people walk away as brand new fans after a festival.

Does it affect the visual component of the show? You clearly put a lot of work into the visual component of your art, and I’m sure you have a lot less control in a festival setting.

I’ve never really used much production. I’ve never used set pieces or dancers or anything like that. I like it to feel more like a traditional country show, so I keep it pretty chill with me and the band. That being said, my wardrobe budget is definitely the highest cost on my tour, I mean over everything. It’s the highest cost, for sure.

We definitely put a lot of effort into the outfits. I work with my stylist, Cathy Hahn, extensively before every tour and every show. We plan out what everyone in the band’s wearing and what I’m wearing. That’s probably where we put most of the production value in that sense, is the outfits, and then we kind of just… we’re old school. We let the band and the music do the rest, I suppose.

Looking ahead to the Palomino Festival next month, I’m not sure how much free time you’ll have, but are there any artists you’re hoping to catch?

Oh my God, of course. I’ve actually got quite a lot of friends playing, which I’m super excited about. Super excited to see Charley Crockett, Paul Cauthen, and Nikki Lane — all friends of mine. Of course, Jason Isbell I’ve always loved. Jamie Wyatt is amazing. I’m very excited to see Willie Nelson, of course, one of my ultimate favorite country musicians. Kacey is a great addition, too. It’s kind of a perfect lineup. Amythyst Kiah is incredible. If people don’t know her, she’s one of my favorite artists. It’s a perfect bill, to be honest.

Those are also some artists I’d say also garner fans from outside of the general country audience.

Which is so funny to me, because these are all the most country artists. I think we should change the phrase “people who don’t like country.” What I think people don’t like is that other thing that isn’t really country. I think we have to reverse the thinking, where all these bands are not “typical country” that they like, like me or Kacey or Willie or Jason Isbell, that’s real country. I think what people don’t like is not country, really. That’s radio pop-country. Similar to any genre, anything that’s the most basic top 40 version of the genre is probably not going to be the most compelling, authentic version of any genre.

palomino festival poster
palomino festival poster

Orville Peck on Playing Palomino Festival, Covering Elton John, and How Country Music Is “Starting to Diversify”
Jonah Krueger

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