Before “Bronco,” Orville Peck Was “Ready to Stop Making Music”

The masked country crooner talks about his most personal album yet.

Orville Peck has grown from a Pony into a Bronco.

For his first big release since 2020’s Show Pony EP, the masked country crooner is back with his new album, Bronco, one that is his most expansive, lush, and personal yet. From his 2019 debut, Pony, Bronco shows an evolution for Peck, one that was brought on by the cancellation of his 2020 tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and being forced to confront personal demons, ones he could avoid by constantly working and being out on the road.

As he geared up for the release of Bronco, Peck spoke with Logo about a variety of topics from what it was like canceling his tour as COVID took over the U.S., being friends with Shania Twain, scheming with Trixie Mattel, and why he almost quit making music altogether.
 

So you were touring in March 2020 as the world started to shut down. What was that like touring as all that was happening? And then what was it like having to cancel the tour?

It was a nightmare. We were about to play Oklahoma City, I believe. I remember I woke up on the bus and my tour manager was like, “We have to have a chat. They’ve canceled Luck Reunion,” which was Willie Nelson’s festival in Texas. And he was like, “It’s looking really bad, and everyone’s canceling tours.” At that time, I think we thought, oh, maybe it’s just big venues or stadium shows. Then we arrived in Oklahoma, and it was the craziest 12 hours. It went from, “Okay, we’re only doing like half the tour,” then a few hours later, it was, “Okay, we’re only doing one more week.” Then a few hours later, it was, “Actually, tonight is your last show.”

Wow.

We were at the venue about to soundcheck, and they said, “We’re not even doing tonight’s show. The world’s shutting down. The band has to fly to Canada, and you need to go back to Los Angeles because they’re shutting the borders and everything’s going into lockdown.” It was wild. It was absolutely wild. And then we rode an empty bus back to Los Angeles. My band had to fly all to Canada. I had to go back home. I remember we drove through small-town New Mexico, and we stopped to try and get groceries, and the stores were all empty. It was like The Road or something, like being in a post-apocalyptic film. Then the very last thing I did was I drove to Las Vegas to finish my song with Shania Twain because we had to do it. And it was the night that they turned the strip off in Vegas. The whole thing was just completely surreal.

Yeah, you said the last person you hung out with before everything shut down was Shania. What was that like, and do you still stay in touch with her?

Working with her was incredible. I was the biggest Shania fan, as many of us are, and I was just obsessed with her. And then getting to meet her and getting to know her and work with her, I built even more respect and love for her than I could ever imagine. She is just the most incredible artist and person. And yeah, we still keep in touch. She’s a dear friend of mine. I just went and saw her residency at Vegas. She was incredible and got to hang with her after.

So then, you arrive back in L.A. You’re supposed to be on the road, but instead, you’re sitting at home. Did you start working on new music right away?

Well, I realized that I’d been focusing all my energy into work and touring. I think in 2019, we toured like 200 days out of the year or something. And then I basically fell into an insane depression. I was in the darkest place I’ve ever been in my life. I realized that my personal life was in complete wreckage. I was super unhappy. I had really bad depression and anxiety. Not to get too dark, but I was ready to stop making music and had pretty much given up the will to do it at all. I started to really take the opportunity to reckon with that side of things because there was no work and there was no touring, and there was no music. I made some big positive changes in my personal life. I kind of started my personal life over again. And once I had done that, I decided I would make music again. I was kind of ready to stop making music at that point.

Gordon Nicholas

I had this epiphany where I was like, okay, I’ve started everything over again. How am I going to pull myself out of this hole and out of this dark patch? I was like, what are the things that make me happy in life? What are the things that feed my soul and inspire me? And the thing that had been a constant in my life was making music. That was the thing that fed my soul. But it had also become this huge stress of mine because it became work. So I went into the studio with this new perspective where I just said, okay, we’ll have a routine and go and write music for seven or eight hours a day with no expectations of what it’s supposed to be, no expectations of other people hearing it, no judgments on myself. And I used it as this sort of therapy where it became cathartic, and I would pour my soul into the lyrics. And it was almost like I was writing in my diary every day, but making these songs. And at the end of it, I think I had 20 or so demos recorded. I realized I had an album on my hands. I had gotten a lot off my chest and finally gotten to a place where I had this radical self-acceptance of just who I was, and with no insecurity or apologizing about it. That’s what this album is to me. It’s the first thing I’ve ever been truly proud of in my life, I think. It helped me get to a place where I feel like I’m the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been.

You said that you had 20 demos, and this album is 15 tracks. How did you go about selecting which songs made the final album?

Yeah, that was the revised version. And even then they wanted me to do less, and I just said, “It’s not possible. These are the 15 that have to go on it.” I just couldn’t stop writing. I think once I got into the routine of it and I felt how important it was for me on a personal level, I just couldn’t stop writing the songs, they kept coming really easily.

When you look back at the person that made Pony, do you recognize that person?

I think when I made Pony, I was kind of like jumping off a cliff a little bit — taking a chance, I suppose. And I was very nervous. I didn’t have any fan base. I didn’t have a record label when I made Pony. I didn’t even have a band. Like, I played almost all the instruments on Pony myself for a lot of it. And I think back then I was vulnerable in my own way. The person that I think I’m very different from now is the person who made Show Pony, where at that point I think I was really in the thick of it and sort of running on empty. I mean, I love Show Pony. I think that some of my favorite songs are on that EP, but I was definitely really unhappy around that time period. And so I would say that I see more of a difference in a way from Show Pony to Bronco as a person, because I think it led up to what became Bronco, that I needed to just liberate myself from a lot of negative shit in my life.

The production on Bronco sounds so lush and so full. One of my favorite songs on the record is “Hexie Mountains.” What was the inspiration behind that?

I’m glad you like that. That’s my favorite song on the album. And it’s actually the last song I wrote for the album. “Hexie Mountains” is about for pretty much my whole life, I’ve been a bit of an escapist. I think a lot of the reason I’ve moved and lived in so many places is that I’ve tended to run away from my problems and try and start over somewhere. And it’s funny, “Hexie Mountains” is sort of about no matter what’s going on in your life. For me, that was the success of what was happening in my career and so much going on. All these great things on paper and surrounded by people who love and support me for the most part. And on paper, I should’ve been the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, but I still had this whisper in the back of my head all the time of, run away, move away, go buy a ranch in Joshua Tree and just disappear from everyone. You’ll be happier there. You’ll sleep better there. You won’t have to deal with anyone there. You’ll be able to live with all of these negative thoughts that you carry around over here. It’s kind of like this tempting, familiar call that’s always in the back of my head, to just run away. So “Hexie Mountains” is about trying to fight this familiar pattern of running away, I suppose.

Do you still fight that urge to run away?

I still hear the Hexie Mountains calling every now and then, but I definitely have grown substantially from that. I own a house now for the first time in my life, I live in one city now for the first time in my life. I have a really happy relationship and great people around me. I feel very settled for really the first time ever. And I’m really happy with it. I’ve learned to find a really healthy balance between work and a personal life. I feel like I wake up every day and I’m not so hard on myself. I’m proud of myself.

The music videos you’ve released for Bronco so far are definitely more high-budget, and you have celebrity cameos from Margaret Cho, Kornbread, and Norman Reedus. How did those come about?

They’re all my friends. I’ve never cast anybody in my videos, really. Margaret Cho, I met that night in Oklahoma City when my show got canceled. Margaret Cho came to my tour bus and she was doing a standup comedy show that night. And she was like, “I’m a big fan. I’d love for you to come to my show.” And we hung out and became good friends. Kornbread, I met through other drag queens I know in Los Angeles, we’ve hung out a lot. Norman reached out to me once on a DM and we spend a lot of time, him and I hanging out and with his wife, Diane as well, they’re friends of mine. The Hexie Mountain video, we have Riley Keough, who is a friend of mine and she actually sang backup vocals on my “Born This Way” cover.

Oh, cool.

I’m lucky because I have all these amazing cameos from really talented actors and performers, and they’re all pals of mine. So everybody was just very down to do it.

This might be a stupid question, but the “Daytona Sands” video, is that CGI? Or are you really on top of that tractor-trailer?

That is really me. It was crazy. I mean, I had two wires going through my pants legs that are holding me to the truck, but not enough so that it was safe, I would say, but it’s really me. It was super fun. The only thing that was really sketchy is we would turn off the main street and then I would have to lay flat on the truck to avoid all the power lines. But yeah, it was me and actually on one of the takes that we did it, it was so cool because I was surfing on the truck and this car came towards us, and these people were like, “Oh my God, Orville Peck!” And they were like yelling out the window, and I was waving. It was really fun. So it was like this insane thing that we had dreamed of doing and kind of never thought we were going to pull off. And then you go down to Florida and make a music video, and everyone’s like, “Yeah, we’ll do that.”

I loved your “Jackson” cover with Trixie Mattel, and I know you two are friends. Do you have any other plans to work together anytime soon?

No plans on the books, but yeah, Trixie’s a dear friend of mine, and we hang out all the time. I just filmed something with her, it’s coming out soon. I’ll say that. It’s for one of her projects that I’m really excited about, and we’re always scheming something together, her and I.
 

I also loved your k.d. Lang remix. I know that’s random.

No, thank you. I’m such a huge k.d. Lang fan. I feel like some people don’t even know about it. But yeah, we remixed “Miss Chatelaine,” and yeah, of course, she’s one of the pioneers of queer country, so I love k.d. Lang.

I wanted to ask about the upcoming tour. What I love about your shows is the diversity in the audience. It’s like going to a Cher or a Dolly Parton show. You have young queer kids, old country music fans — it really runs the gamut. Why do you think that is?

That’s always been a point that hasn’t gone unnoticed to us on stage is just the incredible diversity that’s at our shows. And it’s my favorite thing about tour is that yeah, exactly as you said, standing next to a young queer kid is an old country music fan, standing next to a black punk rocker, standing next to just people that you typically maybe wouldn’t see all in the same room at a concert together for whatever reason. And it’s lovely. I don’t know the answer why, I guess, but it seems like I bring in a very broad, diverse crowd. And it’s amazing because there’s nothing that makes me happier than seeing all those people in the same room, enjoying a similar energy and a similar experience together. I mean, that’s how music should be.

Bronco is out April 8, and tickets for Orville Peck’s upcoming tour are available now.

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was "just the cutest thing ever."
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