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Orville Peck is country music’s newest outlaw.
His handmade, fringed masks, which obscure his features except for a pair of ice blue eyes, belie his deeply personal lyrics, while his ornate Nudie suits recall the golden age of country.
Since the March 2019 release of his debut album, Pony, on Sub Pop Records, the enigmatic singer-songwriter has been featured on NPR and in Billboard, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, The Los Angeles Times, Uncut, The Fader, The Bluegrass Situation, and Vogue.
The record, which Peck self-produced, draws from country music’s rich traditions, while his unique and haunting baritone weaves through twelve original songs.
As a touring musician who has lived on three continents, the nomadic and solitary lifestyle of the cowboy is one that Peck embraces. ”This town has always bored me / And baby, that’s including you,” he snarls on “Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call).”
The songs of Pony, filled with heartaches, hustlers, and highways, are scenes pulled from that restless life.
Steel guitar and soaring falsetto bring an austere desert landscape and lost love to life on album opener ”Dead of Night.” Over gentle banjo, he details tumultuous relationships with a biker, a boxer, and a jailer on “Big Sky.”
Throughout Pony, Peck puts his own spin on Country & Western tropes, singing over cracking whips and even letting out a “yeehaw” on “Turn to Hate.” “Old River” is reminiscent of Marty Robbins’ landmark 1959 LP Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, and “Roses Are Falling” features a recitation—a once-popular part of country music that’s largely fallen out of fashion over the decades—that would make Hank Williams’ alter ego Luke the Drifter proud. On “Queen of the Rodeo,” he tells the story of a drag queen. The album’s lone non- autobiographical song, the foreboding “Kansas (Remembers Me Now),” is a tale of two doomed outlaws on the run.
“True country music is not about instrumentation, it’s not about the color of your skin, and it’s not about your sexual orientation,” says Peck. “It’s about the crossroads of drama, storytelling, and sincerity.”
Peck’s masks and theatric stage presence immediately grab audience attention, similar to the way Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash’s larger-than-life images captured him as a young man. However, it’s his voice and his songwriting, influenced by Parton, Loretta Lynn, Townes Van Zandt, and Gram Parsons, that have captivated a fan base as extensive and diverse as his musical tastes.
Citing artists from Ernest Tubb (the first country artist to use an electric guitar at the Grand Ole Opry) to Kacey Musgraves, Peck says, ”Every decade or so, there comes a new batch of artists that shake up the question of ‘what is country?’
“I’m in the middle of that more often than not these days. I kind of like it, because I think I’m in good company.”
Whether it’s their collaboration with legendary producer Rick Rubin, kudos from the likes of Zane Lowe and the BBC, or a string of memorable performances from the hills of Glastonbury to the deserts of Coachella, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter siblings Henry and Rupert Stansall, known by their amalgam-created moniker Ruen Brothers, are making a mark with a throwback rock and roll sound that intersects the early days of the genre with a dynamic present- day act. “When we were 15, if somebody said in a few years we’d be doing all of this, we wouldn’t have believed it,” explains Henry of their impressive run to date which has launched them from sleepy English steel town obscurity to craft-smiths ready to make a global impact leading up to their upcoming debut album, ALL MY SHADES OF BLUE (out 6/01 via Ramseur).
Inspired by their music aficionado father who raised the duo on a steady diet of The Rolling Stones and The Everly Brothers, the two caught the performing bug at an early age, rehearsing in the family kitchen and scrounging for gigs in their blue-collar Lincolnshire hometown of Scunthorpe, England. “We’d walk into pubs and clubs as kids and ask the owner if we could play something for the local drunks at 2pm,” Rupert laughs while remembering their humble beginnings. “That’s how we got our first gigs. We were far away from trends, which enabled us to play whatever we wanted.” As a result, the brothers perfected both their craft and stage presence while also taking inspiration from sources outside of music. Says Henry: “We’re inspired a lot by film, old and new. I’d say our sound has a cinematic quality, a classic feel that harkens back to artists of the 50s and 60s.”
It wasn’t until a move to London and the success of “Aces,” a song recorded in their studio apartment, that the boys from Scunthorpe went from pub performers to BBC radio staples. “When ‘Aces’ was Tune of the Week on Radio 1, that was huge for us,” recalls Henry. “Then (the influential powerhouse DJ) Zane Lowe played it back-to-back, which was unheard of. It started to get a bit crazy after that.” Henry and Rupert soon collected a global audience of fans, none more influential than iconic producer Rick Rubin, who quickly recognized their talent and promptly took the brothers under his wing. “I liked that their songwriting seemed like it was from another era,” explains Rubin. “It’s making something new again with these traditional influences. The idea was, what would a modern album with Roy Orbison and The Everly Brothers produced by Phil Spector sound like?”
Henry adds, “The album was recorded using all real instruments and a live band, resulting in a different sound than what’s present in much of today’s popular music.” Adds Rupert of the collaboration: “It was incredibly exciting - he’s worked with some of our favorite artists of all time and is such a versatile producer. He helped us recognize the strength of Henry and I playing and singing together; it was a foundation to build upon and the guidance we needed.”
The brothers’ artistic background and pedigree come into full focus on their debut studio album, produced by Rubin and featuring Henry on acoustic guitar and Rupert on electric and acoustic guitar, harmonica, and bass. The album also includes the talents of such boldface names as Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on drums, The Killers’ Dave Keuning on strings, and Faces and Small Faces legend Ian McLagan on keyboards. “I was struck by their authenticity,” explains Smith. “They’re humble and nice guys and the songs were great.”
Boasting both music and lyrics written by the boys throughout their improbable journey - from England to their current home of New York City and Rubin’s famed Shangri La Studios in Malibu - the album’s tender title track with its crescendo melody reminiscent of Roy Orbison, was penned during a winter night in Nashville. “We were at the home of (Kings of Leon collaborator) Angelo Petraglia. It was a dark, cold night and snowing outside; very picturesque,” says Henry of the single’s creation, which began with a melody and chord structure, and eventually complimented with lyrics. “It’s quite a simple song, but it expresses a lot of emotion,” he says.
Explains Rupert, touching on both their album and the duo’s entire career: “We’re very lucky in the sense that we’ve been able to do whatever we’ve wanted musically and had it all recorded to the best quality with the best musicians and collaborators. In today’s industry, you don’t usually get that freedom. If nothing else, we’re making the music we want to make and that’s enough for me. Hopefully people will appreciate and enjoy it as much as we do.”
The New Parish
1743 San Pablo Ave
Oakland, CA, 94612