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Meet Orville Peck, A Man With A Fringed Mask Who Sings Like Elvis


Some other news now - there's a man of mystery winning fans right now in country music. He will not reveal his true identity, and he performs wearing a mask. Here's NPR's Peter Granitz.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: Let's let him tell us who he is.

ORVILLE PECK: Well, my name is Orville Peck, and I'm a country star.


GRANITZ: Country star - not yet, if ever. And Orville Peck, that's a persona.


PECK: (Singing) The sun goes down, another dreamless night. You're right by my side.

GRANITZ: The Orville Peck character matches the haunting, sometimes eerie sounds of his debut album, "Pony."


PECK: (Singing) In the dead of night - dead of night. See - see the boys as they walk on by. See...

GRANITZ: At times, the music sounds like Roy Orbison or Chris Isaak. Orville Peck calls what he does onstage and in the studio a project.

PECK: I like projects that are fully realized; that includes a look, that includes, you know, sometimes a mystery or a legend or a narrative.

GRANITZ: All of that comes through in the videos he's releasing to accompany the record. Some have a "Twin Peaks" feel to them; others are throwbacks to spaghetti Westerns. They showcase Orville Peck's collection of sequined Nudie Suits, and he's always wearing a cowboy hat and mask. Some have fringe that dangle to his chest; others are smaller numbers resembling the Lone Ranger. He says he sews them himself.

Orville Peck, why do you always wear a mask?

PECK: I mean, it's just appeared on my face one day, and now I can't get it off.

GRANITZ: Orville Peck is equally cagey about his backstory. He's played in a couple of punk bands. He lives in Toronto but doesn't say where he grew up, just that he's lived in several countries. He says the enigma allows his audience to take part in the story.

PECK: By holding back maybe just a little bit or allowing some mystery or some adventure into it, it allows them to also, you know, find their place within it as well. And I think that's so cool.


GRANITZ: Orville Peck writes songs about struggle and heartbreak, and he insists they're personal. There is quite a bit of Western myth and imagery, stories of rodeo and riding into the night. He says he wanted to create a classic country record with storytelling, wordplay and a bit of exaggeration. There are campy tropes like yeehaws and cracking whips, and of course, there's a steel guitar with spoken word.


PECK: You know, darling, you bring out the worst in me. Sometimes when I'm around you, I feel like pure evil. I guess they say nobody's perfect, but they've never met a devil like you. (Singing) Oh, roses are falling for you.

GRANITZ: Orville Peck identifies as both gay and cowboy.

PECK: Cowboy culture is kind of innately homoerotic. Spaghetti Westerns were renowned for putting in kind of gay-leaning undertones into scenes. And then, besides all of that, I also think that I don't feel like I'm coming into country music and shaking it up and doing anything different. You know, I grew up listening and loving country music with all sincerity. And so at the same time, I also feel like I'm just doing what I know as being a fan of country music.

GRANITZ: And the cowboy mystique has always felt rebellious and exciting to him.

PECK: I've been a cowboy since I was a kid. I mean, there's a picture of me when I was 8 years old, and I'm wearing a "Jurassic Park" T-shirt, I'm wearing a cowboy hat, and I have my face covered with a handkerchief. And I've never raised cattle or anything like that, but I think I've been a cowboy my whole life. I mean, the cowboy ethos to me is somebody who, you know, has some innate solitude within them and I think lives on the outskirts of things and kind of is a reluctant hero to others. And you know, I feel like that (laughter) - I feel like that quite a bit.


PECK: (Singing) Hitch a ride on my makeup. I consider it another man's problem. Yeah, head on, ride.

GRANITZ: While this cowboy may fancy himself riding on the outskirts, he seems just fine basking in the spotlight.

Peter Granitz, NPR News, Washington.


PECK: (Singing) Strike time... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Granitz