“Country music is the only major genre that hasn’t yet embraced… alternative lifestyles,” says Orville Peck, choosing his words carefully. Which should be read as a statement of intent, by the way – as that’s exactly what this whip-smart young gunslinger is out to do.
The tantalisingly elusive Peck – that’s not his real name, and he wears a Lone Ranger fetish mask, and hails from ‘um, all over really’ – just put out his darkly sexy LP ‘Pony’ which is garnering all the right kinds of attention, and has plenty to say about the state of a genre he both worships and breathes new life into with every deft move.
“Mainstream country, by which I mean to say ‘Nashville’ country, is just misogynistic pop music,” he says. “That’s partly down to radio stations not giving the fans enough credit. If you listen to a lot of what they play, it’s all American-pride, jacked-up white guys singing about trucks. I think the younger generation are sick of that shit. Kacey Musgraves mentioned she smoked weed and it blew everybody’s minds. She was boycotted. Then she won a Grammy.”
As a gay lad with swoon-worthy blue eyes, exquisite taste in plaid and a startlingly ripped torso, Orville Peck isn’t an obvious torch bearer for the sort of country you expect to hear in, say, a Kentucky dive bar. Yet with tunes like ‘Dead Of Night’, Peck manages to sound just enough like the second coming of Elvis (albeit with a saucy dash of Ian Curtis) whilst simultaneously spinning an extraordinarily louche yarn about him and his boyfriend ripping off a horny cowboy, or, as he deathlessly intones – ‘stealing Jonny’s cash’.
“Wit, wordplay, even a bit of camp, are all part of the Southern country I grew up with.” he explains. “My favourite artists all did it, just in different ways. Dolly Parton – always tongue-in-cheek, always willing to make fun of herself. Jonny Cash himself talks about personal, sentimental things, but they’re obviously pretty tall tales, you can tell they’ve been embellished. He just created this character of being an outlaw and going to prison, how true it is doesn’t matter, you connect anyway because he’s convincing. And funny.”
Clash is delighted to report, on that note, that, according to Peck, we’re the first journalistic output to have spotted that song title ‘Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)’ explicitly refers to an old cockney rhyming slang term for gay. “You’re the first one to catch that, nice.”
Much of the fun of Pony is in ticking off the Wild West references; a sort of bandit bingo. Whip-crack sound effects, check. Rattlesnake percussion, check. A girl leaving town, dusty backroads, a rodeo, a couple of knowing ‘yee-haw!’s.
So how does he, Orville Peck, the whole beautiful package, actually go down with the hardcore country crowd?
“My favourite interactions are with people I’d maybe never connect with outside music. I get messages from guys who are like, "I’m 45 and I love country and my family listen to ‘Big Sky’ all the time and we have so many questions.”
Does the fact he’s gay ever cause friction with, shall we say, the more ‘oldschool’ country fans?
“For a long time I used to scan the comments under my videos to look for hate. There was none. My fans are just incredible – one of them named their chicken after me.”
“Lately though, yeah, there’s a bit of pushback in there. Guess that means I’m doing something right.”
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'Pony' is out now on Sub Pop.
Words: Andy Hill
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