Orville Peck Country singer Orville Peck talks about his many (literal) masks, and explains what country music and punk rock have in common.

Orville Peck

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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUMMERTIME")

ORVILLE PECK: (Singing) ...Miss summertime. Keep on rockin', baby. Keep on risin' on the tide.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Somewhere along the rise.

PECK: (Singing) Son of a gun, and maybe we'll be riding all night.

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

All right. Now it's time to welcome our special guest. He's a masked country musician. His debut 2019 album, "Pony," was a hit with critics and fans. And his latest single, Summertime," which we are currently listening to, is out now. It's Orville Peck.

PECK: Howdy. Howdy.

EISENBERG: Hi. We are welcoming you, as we welcome all of our guests, now from their homes or undisclosed location.

PECK: Yeah. It's a wacky time, isn't it?

EISENBERG: Yeah. How are you doing? How are you coping?

PECK: I'm OK. I mean, honestly, the interesting thing about the timing of this for me was, you know, obviously, I was on tour during the middle of it.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

PECK: But I haven't had a place to live for like over a year, like, just because I've been traveling and touring so much. And so I actually - I secured a home, like, three days before I left on that tour. So thankfully, I had somewhere to come back to, which is kind of miraculous.

EISENBERG: That is super lucky. So you are known as the masked singer. And our listeners can't see you right now, but you always perform with a Lone Ranger-style mask and then often fringes on the bottom to obscure part of your face. You are wearing one right now, black leather on the top, I would say - not able to see the material up close - and then a light blue fringe that falls from just below your nose all the way down. It's very stylish.

PECK: Oh, thank you.

EISENBERG: Where were you when you decided to make this part of your persona and image and, you know, musical image?

PECK: When I was a little kid, I was obsessed with cowboys. And I was obsessed with, like, "Cheyenne" and "The Lone Ranger" and, like, all those old Westerns. And I used to watch them religiously. And Indiana Jones - which, you know, he's kind of like a cowboy.

EISENBERG: Sure.

PECK: So I used to just wear a cowboy hat. And my idea of what a cowboy was, because I watched all these old westerns, was I used to have a handkerchief that covered my face because I thought that's kind of just what a cowboy had - was, like, a cowboy hat and something covering their face because they were kind of like an outlaw (laughter).

EISENBERG: Yeah. Right.

PECK: I'm not the first masked country singer. I'm not the first gay country singer. You know, it's been around. You know, country music is such a genuine, sincere love of mine and has been since I was very young. And so I decided I wanted to do what I love about classic country, this kind of era of country in, like, the '60s and '70s where you kind of had to pick your - it's like taking who you are at your core and kind of blowing it up huge. So Dolly Parton is very good about that. But for me, I just - I don't know. I like doing everything kind of, like, 500%, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Well, I mean, yeah. The part of the cowboy image I always loved was just the embodiment of, like, anti-establishment.

PECK: Totally. I mean, it's rebellion.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

PECK: I mean, I see lots of parallels between country music and punk, which is also something - you know, I played in punk bands when I was a kid, and I grew up loving punk and all kinds of music. But I see a lot of - it's funny. I think country music has adopted this stigma over the past, like, 10 or 15 years that it's - country music is supposed to be for, like, you know, well-adjusted straight white men singing about, like, you know, trucks and women and drinking beer.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah.

PECK: And it's kind of meant for those people and made by those people, and - but, I mean, I've always thought of country as kind of being for, like, freaks and weirdos. I mean, it's - the themes in country, from the beginning of time, have been about heartbreak, isolation, disappointment, alienation.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

PECK: I mean, that doesn't sound like the well-adjusted experience to me, you know.

JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Right.

PECK: That sounds like everybody I grew up with. That sounds like everything I've gone through. And so the idea that country's not accessible to, you know, queer people or marginalized people or anybody, really, is just - it's, like, baloney to me.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: You're also a fan of John Waters and camp comedy.

PECK: You know, I cold-called John Waters, like, a few months ago.

EISENBERG: What?

COULTON: Whoa (laughter).

PECK: Yeah, because, I mean, I've - he's been, like, the biggest inspiration to me forever.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

PECK: And so there's this crazy story where, basically, someone I work with, like on my team, sent me an email, and they were like, I just saw John Waters' Christmas special that he tours, you know. And...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

PECK: And he was like - and they were like, he spoke about you in his opening monologue, where he was saying his ideal Christmas party would be, like - and he named all these characters from his movies, and then he said, and Orville Peck would be there.

COULTON: (Laughter).

PECK: Now, the imposter syndrome in me was like, there's no way that's what happened. He said something else. You know, like...

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: He must mean a different Orville Peck.

PECK: Yeah. Like, you know, there's no way. I was like, you're either lying to me or you misheard, which is...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

PECK: Both of which are unfair. So don't talk to me about it.

EISENBERG: And, like, I get it. It's Christmas. But come on.

(LAUGHTER)

PECK: Yeah, like, you know. And then someone else actually brought it up to me, like, completely different. And so I was like, oh, my God, this is crazy. And so I (laughter) emailed. We have - we work with the same booking agency. And so I emailed someone being like, oh, I just need John Waters' number, actually, because we're supposed to have a conversation. And they were like, oh, OK, yeah, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

PECK: And they send me his number. And I was on tour in Australia. I thought, like, you know what? Screw it. I'm just going to - I'd been staring at the phone number for, like, a week.

COULTON: (Laughter).

PECK: And I was like, I'm just going to call him, you know, and what's the worst that could happen? he could just hang up or say - you know, whatever. And I called him, and I just hear someone go, hello?

(LAUGHTER)

PECK: And I said, hey there. Is this John? And he said, who is this? And I said, hey, John, this is Orville Peck. And he said, Orville Peck, I'm a huge fan.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Oh, wow.

EISENBERG: That's so great.

PECK: And I just, like, you know, obviously evaporated. He's just the funniest guy. You know, like, everything - because I've read all his books. I've obviously seen all his movies. Like, it just felt like exactly what you would expect John Waters to be like. And even now...

EISENBERG: And the voice is so good.

PECK: Oh, the voice.

(LAUGHTER)

PECK: And it's crazy. I mean, now him and I talk probably every week.

EISENBERG: Yeah. And now, see - and this is another wonderful example about how lying pays off.

(LAUGHTER)

PECK: Exactly. Couldn't recommend it enough.

EISENBERG: Yeah. So we have a game for you...

PECK: OK.

EISENBERG: ...About - you mentioned that one of your idols is Dolly Parton, one of your musical idols.

PECK: Oh, yeah, of course.

EISENBERG: So when you were a kid, you actually thought that she was playing a character.

PECK: (Laughter) I thought she was like Elvira or Pee-wee Herman or something.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

COULTON: (Laughter).

PECK: You know, it obviously had a very lasting effect on me (laughter).

COULTON: I feel like, a little bit, that's what she's going for.

EISENBERG: Yeah. All right, so - and you're a fan of Whitney Houston. I mean, who isn't? But...

PECK: Oh. Whitney - I just got to say, I mean, Whitney Houston is my absolute all-time favorite singer. I mean, I just don't think that there has ever been a voice like hers, and I don't think there ever will be.

EISENBERG: Perfect, because we have a game for you called Whitney, Dolly or Both.

PECK: Oh, no. OK.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: It's really simple. We're just going to give you a fact. You're going to tell us whether the fact is about Whitney Houston, Dolly Parton or both of them. So let's try it. Let's do an opener. Let's do a...

PECK: All right, I'm ready. Let's see.

EISENBERG: OK. Whitney or Dolly - who won a Grammy for singing "I Will Always Love You?"

PECK: I think it was Whitney, right? It wasn't Dolly?

EISENBERG: It was Whitney Houston. That is right.

PECK: Yeah.

EISENBERG: But fun fact...

PECK: Well...

EISENBERG: ...As they say - so Dolly originally recorded it in 1974, but Whitney's cover was released in 1992, went platinum only eight times.

PECK: Yeah, exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: You know, what are you going to do?

EISENBERG: And Dolly Parton said in an interview that when Whitney did it, that she got all the money for the publishing and writing, and with it, she bought a lot of cheap wigs.

PECK: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: All right, Orville. Which artist has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?

PECK: It's got to be both. Surely. I mean - ooh.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

PECK: I'm going to say - I mean, come to think of it, I don't know if I've ever seen Dolly Parton have, like, her star - I'm going to say Whitney and not Dolly, strangely.

EISENBERG: All right. It's actually the reverse, but we - so it is - Dolly Parton does - Dolly Parton technically has two stars...

PECK: Oh, crazy.

EISENBERG: ...One of her own, and one shared with her "Trio" bandmates, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt.

PECK: Oh, amazing.

EISENBERG: So - but here's the deal with Whitney. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce did select a star for Whitney Houston in 1995, but Whitney's team never got back to them to solidify a date. And then...

PECK: (Laughter) Oh, my gosh. That's almost kind of iconic. That's almost better than having a star, just being like, sorry, we didn't get back (laughter).

COULTON: Yeah. I didn't have time in my schedule to deal with this whole star business.

PECK: I love that.

EISENBERG: Or just give them, like, I decline. I decline.

PECK: (Laughter). Yeah. Whitney's busy. I love that. That's cool.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: All right, this is your last question. Who was nominated for album of the year in 1988 but lost to U2's "The Joshua Tree?"

PECK: Album of the year - it must be - oh. It could be both, actually. I mean, I'm going to say - I feel like definitely Whitney - '88 - because I think that's when Whitney came out - isn't it? - '88. I'm going to say Whitney Houston.

COULTON: You were hot on the trail. It is both - both of them. Dolly was nominated for "Trio."

EISENBERG: Yeah. You started with both, though.

PECK: Yeah.

COULTON: You started with both.

PECK: I should have gone with my instincts, you know? What were the albums?

COULTON: So Dolly was nominated for "Trio," which was her collaboration with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt.

PECK: Right.

COULTON: And Whitney was nominated for what was her second studio album, "Whitney."

PECK: Oh, there we go.

EISENBERG: What a pleasure. You did fantastic.

PECK: Oh, thank you. Thank you.

EISENBERG: You know everything. And what a pleasure it is to talk to you. And, I mean, I look forward to seeing you live on stage, but also...

PECK: Me too.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: I bet.

EISENBERG: ...I look forward to - just continuing to see all the stuff that you're throwing out there for the digital audiences to enjoy.

PECK: Oh, no, no. It's my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me. This has been really fun.

COULTON: Thank you, Orville.

EISENBERG: Orville's debut album "Pony" is available now. Thank you again, Orville Peck.

PECK: Thanks, you all.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORVILLE PECK SONG, "QUEEN OF THE RODEO")

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