The country musician Orville Peck—like so many of us—retreated to comforts during the pandemic: the music, such as Bakersfield country or Laurel Canyon folk, that he’d been fond of in high school. “Going back to something that you loved when you were younger, you have such a different perspective on it,” he said recently. “It started re-inspiring me.”
The product is his sophomore album, Bronco, his first full-length since 2019’s Pony made him one of the faces of the cowboy revival (or at least, a masked face of it, considering he’s never appeared publicly without a fringed mask). As the album title implies—“bronco” being a real equine level-up from “pony”—it’s an expansion of his interests, including a wider array of musical influences (he’s cited bluegrass and psychedelic rock) and, in videos, a constellation of his friends: Norman Reedus, Margaret Cho. The most recent video, for “Hexie Mountains,” features the actress Riley Keough—a dear friend of Peck’s since she appeared on his cover of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” last year.
Instead of putting out a series of singles, Peck (which isn’t his real name, but is the one he prefers) has released Bronco in larger chunks—the third and final of which is out this week. “I wrote the album as a sort of desperate catharsis,” he said. “I was going through a huge shift personally—not just because of Covid and how that made my work stop, but also reconnecting to myself on a personal level.”
Last month, Peck answered W’s Culture Diet questionnaire over the phone from his home in Hollywood, where he’d just returned from a monthlong trip to Nashville. “That’s the joke among me and other country musicians,” he said. ”Our bicoastal is not L.A. and New York; it’s L.A. and Nashville.”
Your first album came out during a resurgence of cowboy culture in the zeitgeist. That’s still a space you occupy, so I was curious how you’ve seen its place in pop culture change over the past couple of years?
I always say, the timing was really serendipitous for me. When I started this project, this weird pop-culture burst happened with the cowboy aesthetic and the western aesthetic in fashion and art, which, of course, worked in my favor. I think it’s still around, but now it’s almost become ingrained in pop culture. No one even blinks seeing a rapper wearing a cowboy hat. I used to get questions about if I was annoyed by the term “the yee-haw agenda.” But I loved it, because to me, it’s imagery and culture that I have been obsessed with since I was a little kid. I loved seeing different people embrace this concept of the cowboy—which is a trope that we are all connected to, whether people think so or not. It also made it feel like I was not such an outsider. It made me feel like I was joined by a bunch of people who found empowerment in what is a universal image.
Do you find it empowering yourself, too?
When I was little, I was drawn to not only country music, but more specifically the esoteric figure of the cowboy. I was such a lonesome soul that I would see these cowboy figures in westerns or on TV shows, and I thought it was so cool that somebody on the outside of things, who had this otherness to them were being celebrated as antiheroes. Their loneliness and their otherness were their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
Now, onto the Culture Diet questions: When do you generally wake up in the morning, and what’s the first thing that you do?
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a super early riser. So I usually wake up at 6 or 7 AM. The first thing I do is drink two big glasses of iced coffee while I wander around my house getting my head on. Then, I journal for a little bit; I’ll probably go to the gym, or these days I start doing interviews or meetings around 9 or 10.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
I’m rereading a really important book for every gay man called “The Velvet Rage,” by Alan Downs. It’s about the shame carried in gay men growing up in the patriarchy—what we’re expected to feel shameful about—and accessing your authenticity. I’ve been reading “Pinball” by Jerzy Kosinski; I’ve also been reading for a long time (and haven’t finished) “Inherent Vice” by Thomas Pynchon. It’s a great book, but the writing is so bizarre, I have to go back three chapters to see what’s going on.
What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?
I went to see Scream 5 because I have a song in it, and I’m a big fan of Wes Craven and the franchise. But I saw it in 4D. I’ve never seen a movie in 4D before; it’s kind of hilarious because you’re getting poked in the back when someone gets stabbed. A Prius starts up and the seats rumble.
What TV shows have you been watching lately?
I just started watching the Pam and Tommy miniseries. And I watched Euphoria. It gives me so much anxiety that after every episode, I’m like, I’m done. But I had a song in that series, too.
Do you generally make an effort to see the stuff that your music is in?
Yeah, I do. I’m lucky that I seem to get my songs in really good series, like HBO’s Watchmen. It’s a lovely compliment, and it’s usually not a burden to watch.
What albums have you been listening to?
To be quite honest, mostly my own, just because it’s about to come out, and I have to listen to the songs for music videos. But I’ve been listening to a lot of Paul Simon recently, a lot of dad music: Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Leon Russell. I always listen to a lot of Elton John. As far as new stuff, I’ve been really liking Olivia Rodrigo, which makes me sound like a geriatric Millennial. But it’s fun to put on when I’m getting ready in the morning.
Do you have a go-to karaoke song?
I do. At the end of the night, right before I leave a karaoke situation, I’ll sing the most ridiculous song. I’ll do Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All,” or “Time to Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocelli and then drop the mic and walk out.
Are there any pieces of art that you’ve been really into or bought recently?
I buy a lot of vintage stuff. I’m looking around the house right now and I’ve got, like, woven cowboy tapestries from the ’50s or ’60s. I would love to have some Keith Harings or Jackson Pollocks on the walls, but sadly it’s just weird stuff that I’m sure most people would think looks horrific—but for some reason it looks great in my house.
Are you a follower of astrology?
I’m lukewarm on it. I tend to be a bit of an obsessive person, so I went through a period where I was reading it every day. I remember feeling really accomplished when I knew about my moon and my rising—and then, being in L.A., everyone’s like, Oh, sweetie, your moon and your rising? It’s all about your seventh Mercury. But I do know about the big three.
What are yours?
I’m a Capricorn sun, Leo moon, and a Pisces rising. But I don’t have time to do my whole chart every time I wake up. I’m already in my head enough. I know a few people who are so crippled by it and I’m like, I can’t be that person.
What are your favorite social media accounts to follow?
I really like this Instagram account called @panoramicdogs. People submit photos of their dogs that they’ve taken with the panorama feature on their phone, so these dogs end up having eight legs and their faces get really long and distorted. I really don’t like social media at all, to be honest—especially now that it’s a crucial part of my job. I try to just get on and get off as quickly as possible. But if I’m just scrolling, I definitely follow stupid shit.
What is the last thing that you do before you go to bed?
Probably a healthy dose of worrying about something that I have no control over, and then tossing myself off the ledge for worrying so much. Then I’ll read a little bit, pop some melatonin, and have weird dreams.