Gay country star Orville Beck talks about being out and about his gay fans

Orville Beck He grew up in South Africa before moving to Toronto with his family when he was 15 years old. A child theater and ballet dancer trained, he eventually flew to London and appeared in a play in the West End. But his acting career was short-lived because his real passion was making music – country music.

“All I wanted to do was be a country singer,” Beck says. “I finally got the courage when I was in my twenties to put all the things I love together and do the great thing.”

This included taking extreme measures to conceal his identity. He’s far from being the first artist to adopt a stage name, but many haven’t gone the extra mile and are disguised – pre-COVID – in every moment of their public lives. Peck’s collection of nearly 60 masks range from an assortment of a rainbow of bright colors and dazzling numbers to solid black leather pieces that will make Village People blush. Of course, those steps don’t stand in the way of internet investigators trying to discover his true identity, based on his early punk rock career and tattoos (he has over 30). But Beck asks people to listen to his music if they really want to get to know him.

His voice conveys his own sense of classic mystery: Peck croons’ voice is deep, sweet and has been compared to Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Chris Isaak.

Beck, who is on a world tour in support of his second album “Bronco,” is also openly gay. And this is something he never felt the need to hide.

“I’ve been out since I was little,” he said during a Zoom interview from the basement of the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara, a stop along the tour. “I was very fortunate to have grown up in a family environment where I was very protective and loving for who I was going to be.”

Like any good country artist, Beck writes about heartache. He sings for lost love and the men who have sinned against him. In fact, a lot of “Broncos” were inspired by a relationship that ended just before the pandemic. “I was very depressed and felt uninspired,” Beck explains. “So I forced myself to go to the studio every day for six to eight hours and work on new music.”

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Orville Beck
Tracy Hua

His music videos are celebrations of LGBTQ pride, right down to the appearances of the stars of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” The video for “The Curse of the Blackened Eye” features “Walking Dead” actor Norman Reedus as his potential lover.

Peck and Trixie Mattel, the queen of country on “RuPaul,” teamed up last year on the cover of the classic duo of Johnny Cash and John Carter Cash “Jackson.” “Orville and I make this kind of music because it’s the kind of music we love and listen to and have grown up and want to be a part of,” Mattel says. “We come to it authentically, which makes it hard to turn it down because when you listen to any of our music, you can tell us we’re here because we like it, not because it’s the easiest kind of music to choose from.”

Beck traces his country roots back to his grandfather, a sheriff on horseback in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, who may have been tough on the outside but was also hugely vulnerable. He describes his father as “a very liberated and open-minded man who has always been very sensitive and taught me sensitivity and kindness. My straight brothers have also learned a lot of sensitivity from this lineage from my family. I have always had this kind of admiration and this kind of obsession with cowboys. I have seen them as characters Strong on the outside, but on the inside they were really touchy, heartless and perhaps lonely. I started to fall in love with the idea that these characters were strangers and that they were lonely, but that was their strength and strength, not their weakness.”

Although he might be seen as an artist on the outside, Beck established his love for country mainstream in 2020 when he dueted with a country pop star. Shania Twin In “Legends Never Die”, which appears on the “Show Pony” EP. “To me, Orville has a familiar voice, echoing from a few early male performers from the countryside in my youth. There is something so rich in his voice that makes you want to hear more,” says Twain. Easy and close by.

“Country music fans want to know the artists they like. They want to feel the artists’ sincerity when they sing.” The country music I grew up listening to was a more primitive story that told a kind of country. The artists were passionate about their lives and the stories they wrote about the music they sang reflected that determination. There was also a wide variety of vocal patterns on the radio at any given time. I think the rural audience is in dire need of more diversity and differentiation between artist styles. When you hear Orville Peck sing his first word in any song, there’s no doubt that it’s Orville Peck. Being able to instantly recognize the artist is exciting for listeners and keeps them engaged. Orville deserves to shine in country music for many reasons. But his unique singing style and unpredictable lyrics make him an outstanding artist.”

Standing loudly and proudly for him became more important than ever. “I started getting a lot of letters and messages from LGBT fans,” Beck says. “They were sending me really nice, honest messages saying, ‘I live in Arkansas,’ or ‘My dad was a famous rodeo star.’ They’d say, ‘I grew up with country music all around me, but I didn’t feel like I could embrace this. The aspect of my culture is only after I listened to you because I really felt like stepping out of it.” That’s what makes me feel really good about how well I see. It’s mostly my big focus because now I know how important that is to people who might not have had the same experience that I had.”

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Orville Peck performs at the Stagecoach . Festival
Chris Wellman / Stagecoach

While breaking up the country music scene wasn’t as simple as rolling out a rainbow rug in front of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, Beck insists it wasn’t as difficult as one might suppose. “I’ve definitely had my fair share of hesitation, skepticism, and aggression because I’m a gay man in the country world,” he says. “But I can say it’s a lot less than people might imagine. I play shows and festivals like Coachella, but we also play real blue country festivals, the kind that show up in the red states with people in ‘Blue Lives Matter’ T-shirts and Trump hats. I go with an open heart and an open mind. .often won’t be accepted by the audience that I’m nervous about, dancing and singing towards the end of the show. I think the important thing that’s going on in country music right now is that there are a lot of gay people and people who aren’t just straight white guys making country music” .

The past few years have seen great strides in this type of literature. Artists like Chely Wright, Ty Herndon, and Billy Gilman emerged, albeit years after they reached their peak as hit makers in the ’90s. Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlyle, who has established herself as an Americana artist, has practically become a country star thanks to her frequent out-of-this-world collaborations. And in a rare instance of a star appearing while he was still scoring a starring role on the headliners’ list, Brothers Osborne’s TJ Osborne opened up about his sexuality with Time magazine in 2021.

“We’ve always been there, but a lot of us are now kind of in the mainstream,” Beck says. “It’s just a matter of time that this slowly breaks away from the belief systems that some country fans have, and maybe that kind of bigoted idea. I think if we just keep our heads high and we just keep getting along and keep doing what we’re doing and being original, I’d like to believe it’s not going to change the country music landscape. Not only will it help change the cycle of racism and homophobia.”

Last August, Beck played an Outback Music Festival in St. Charles, Iowa. He stood on stage wearing a red and white ensemble that would have either made Elvis proud or helped the Queen win the Dog Power Challenge at RuPaul’s Drag Race. There, he performed Lady Gaga’s 2011 song “Born This Way,” the same cover he contributed to the 10th anniversary re-release of Gaga’s album of the same name, on which LGBTQ artists have reimagined all of their songs. “This song is about just being yourself, and that sounds really easy, but it’s hard to do,” Beck told the audience. “And it took me a long time to figure out how to be myself.”

“It looks like that now,” he added with a chuckle. The crowd roared with applause.

“I think the future is very bright for Orville,” says openly gay CMT host Cody Allan. Which indicates that the future is bright for other gay country musicians. “One step leads to another, and we’ll have more country artists coming out as an anomaly since day one,” says Alan.

For now, Peck is on the way until mid-August (including a prominent place at the Palomino Festival in Pasadena’s Goldenvoice in July, which would make him the only artist this year to play that, Stagecoach and Coachella). To answer the inevitable question, he doesn’t know if and when he’ll stop wearing his masks. But he reveals that he is already working on a third album.

“I wrote one song for her,” he says with a smile. “It’s the first love song I’ve ever written. I’ve never written about love. I’ve only written Julia Johnson/Sony music about heartbreak.”