Is Orville Peck the Outlawiest Country Music Outlaw?

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Let’s get this out of the way: Orville Peck wears a mask. Any press coverage of the Canadian-based country-music singer is all but obligated to mention this. But attire is hardly the most interesting thing about the pseudonymous crooner. On Peck’s full-length debut, Pony, released in March, he sings about the highway at night, jail, and revenge—all perennial themes in country music. But Peck manages to subvert the tropes of the genre, with a healthy dose of desperado flair and cowboy camp aesthetics.

Since releasing Pony, Peck has sold out shows across the country, owing, in part, to his persona as a country loner, veiled in fringe and heartbreak. And though his identity remains a mystery, his sexuality doesn’t: He’s openly gay, and one of the few country-music artists who is. Recently, Men’s Journal caught up with Peck by phone from Toronto, Ontario, to talk about the current state of country music, cowboy fashion, being a 21st-century outlaw, and more.

Men’s Journal: I don’t know if this is true or just part of the Orville Peck myth, but you’re from the Canadian Badlands, right?

Orville Peck: Well, I’m actually not from North America at all. By the time I was 21, I’d lived in five different countries, so I’ve been all over. But I have spent a lot of time in Canada. There’s no shortage of cowboys here, which is part of the appeal. I just played the world-famous Calgary Stampede, in fact. Canada has played a big role in the history of country music. Artists like K.D. Lang, Neil Young, Great Speckled Bird, and Shania Twain are all from there.

You get a lot of attention because of your masks. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Sun Records artist Jimmy “Orion” Ellis wore one, too. Was he an inspiration?

Yeah, of course. It’s funny because people think what I do is very different, or that I’m somehow trying to subvert country or whatever. But I’m not the first masked country artist by any stretch. I would argue that Johnny Cash wore a mask. He built an entire career on being this kind of incarcerated outlaw. The truth is he never spent any time in prison unless he was performing in one. Country has a long history of creating legends.