Orville Peck on Loving Dolly, Being Buddies with John Waters and Getting Unmasked by Bebe Rexha

"I worked in the receiving department, so we would open up the bags that would get dropped off, and there could be any number of things from used diapers to bed sheets covered in blood"

Photo: Ben Prince

BY Laura StanleyPublished Jul 2, 2024

A year ago, Orville Peck announced that he was cancelling his tour dates due to his declining "mental and physical health." Apart from the pandemic, it was the first time in 19 years of being a touring musician that he cancelled shows. As Peck tells Exclaim!, it was the worst moment in his career.

Now, after some much-needed time away from the spotlight, the masked country star is back and heading on the road this summer in support of his new duets album, Stampede: Vol. 1. On the follow-up to 2022's Bronco, and his first release with Warner Records, Peck rounds up a superstar cast of collaborators including Willie Nelson, Elton John and Exclaim! cover alum Allison Russell.

Perhaps the most obvious sign that Peck is in his Stampede era is his new and slightly more revealing mask, which doesn't include his signature fringe.

"The course of evolution as an artist keeps everything feeling authentic and fresh," Peck says about his new look. "It was time for a change, and I wanted to be a little more vulnerable and show a little bit more of myself, which is a bit of a trend with each of my albums."

Before saddling up for his summer tour — which includes stops in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg — Peck answers the Exclaim! Questionnaire, recalling an invasive red carpet moment, stresses the importance of making music for yourself, and explains how his infamous mask might have been a surgical mask.

What are your current fixations?

I have become an avid weightlifter, which is really funny and such a typical trajectory for a gay man. I'm sorry world for being so predictable. But I'm obsessed with going to the gym and it makes me feel really good.

Why do you live where you do?

I live in Los Angeles because I enjoy the weather, I have a lot of friends here, and even though most of my work takes place in Nashville, it's good to have a little separation from work and home.

What's the last book or movie that blew your mind?

I really liked Saltburn. I thought it was a great film, and it just felt like a nice breath of fresh air in an environment where it feels like everything is just a remake or the same story we've heard a thousand times.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational concert and why?

Orville's first show in Toronto was at the Horseshoe Tavern, and typically we were playing smaller venues like that, but then within less than a year, we got to play two nights at the Danforth [Music Hall]. I think those shows were very memorable, because it became obvious to all of us that we were on this amazing trajectory.

What's been the greatest moment of your career so far?

I never set out to make an impact on people's personal lives with what I do. But the sheer number of queer and trans people, and marginalized people of any kind, who have come up to me or written me and said how thankful they are that there's somebody like me within country music — that has become really the most meaningful thing in my career, and it's something that I never expected or anticipated.

What's been the worst moment of your career so far?

Last year, I was really struggling and suffering with my mental and physical health. I was completely burned out. I was so depressed, and I was just in a really bad place, so I had to cancel my whole year of touring. It was one of the worst feelings I've had in my life to do that.

Who's a Canadian musician that should be more famous?

Marci. [Marta Cikojevic] is a member of the band TOPS and she has a solo project called Marci, and her [self-titled] debut album is probably one of my top five listened-to albums. Everyone should check it out. It's some of the best old-school, Italo disco pop music.

What do you think of when you think of Canada?

I think of the cold, or if we're talking about the West Coast, I think of the rain. I think of A&W and Tim Hortons. And I think of really high housing markets and strangely conservative bank policies.

What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?

Horses by Patti Smith. It would have been a CD to play in my Discman when I skateboarded to school.

What was your most memorable day job?

When I was living on the west coast and just out of high school, I worked at Value Village. I worked in the receiving department, so we would open up the bags that would get dropped off, and there could be any number of things from used diapers to bed sheets covered in blood — the most insane array of items. It was absolutely awful and the worst job I've ever had in my life, and I've had some pretty shitty jobs. No offence to Value Village!

If you weren't playing music, what would you be doing instead?

I've only ever been an actor and a musician back and forth, and sometimes simultaneously, my whole life. But if I wasn't in the performing arts at all — when I was a kid, I really wanted to be a surgeon. I was obsessed with ER and medical shows, and I really wanted to be a doctor. In particular, I wanted to be a surgeon.

What's your best piece of songwriting advice for fellow musicians?

Try as hard as you can — even though it's really difficult — to not think about what people are going to think of it. I think the beautiful thing about kids being creative is that they have no concept of judgement, so they just create without any consciousness of how other people are going to respond to it. I think, as we get older, especially as artists, we have to really fight the urge to make music for other people. You've got to make music for yourself.

What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?

I've had many strange ones. Once, Bebe Rexha lifted up my mask on the Grammys red carpet. Unsolicited.

Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?

He's actually a friend of mine: it would be John Waters. We have great conversations and I absolutely love him. He always has very good tastes in dining — we usually go for bougie places that he picks — so I'd let him choose.

What is the greatest song of all-time?

I know this is going to sound so obvious coming from me, but one of the greatest songs of all time is "I Will Always Love You" by Dolly Parton. I think it is so emotionally complex. It captures sadness, regret, nostalgia and happiness all in one song. It's an amazing and incredibly written song, and it's actually a perfect song.

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