After releasing his 2019 Sub Pop debut, Pony, the mysterious masked troubadour Orville Peck made the unprecedented leap from DIY-country darling to Sony-supported Shania Twain duet partner in just over a year. But even as his star was on a seemingly unstoppable ascent—in the midst of a pandemic, no less—Peck admits that his signature fringed veil was often concealing sunken eyes and a frown. “When COVID happened, it made me look at my life for the first time and realize that my personal life was kind of a mess,” Peck tells Apple Music. “I had been escaping all my personal problems by just relying on the fact that I had this insanely busy schedule. I fell into a period for about three months where I was deeply, deeply depressed. It was actually the most unhappy I’ve ever been in my life. I kind of considered not ever making any more music.” But in his darkest hour, Peck found the will to write and sing his way through the pain—and, before long, the songs started pouring out like a ruptured water main. The result is Bronco, a grandiose, 15-song tour de force recorded with Peck’s Pony-era touring band but given a big-screen production boost by Nashville studio ace Jay Joyce and an added ’60s-pop shimmer courtesy of former indie phenom-turned-Adele song doctor Tobias Jesso Jr., who co-wrote a couple of tracks. Yet for all its added glitz, Bronco does nothing to obscure Peck’s signature qualities: his commanding matinee-idol croon; his uncanny balance of heartache, humor, and homoeroticism; and his innate gift for twangy, tear-in-yer-beer serenades. Here, Peck gives us the stories behind some of the album’s instant country classics. “Daytona Sand” “This is about a cowboy I know who was born in Mississippi and grew up in Daytona, so I wanted to write this kind ode to Florida. And I was listening to a lot of Beach Boys, so I wanted to do my version of a country-surf song. But I wanted people to feel smacked in the face by the lyrics and the newfound confidence in the way that I present them. A lot of the songs on this album are upbeat and playful, but there’s sardonic humor in there because I’m talking about really dark and vulnerable stuff, and I wanted to show the different ways in which I could share that.” “The Curse of the Blackened Eye” “This is about that idea where, no matter what’s going on in your life, how much success you’re having, and how many people are around you at a party saying they love you, there’s always something in the corner kind of watching you or following you around that’s weighing on your mind—whether that’s depression or addiction or abuse. But I wanted to present that in a tongue-in-cheek way. I have a line in there about ‘wishing so many times that I would die,’ but I do it to a soundtrack of tiki-exotica country because I’ve been listening to a lot of ’60s exotica music.” “C’mon Baby, Cry” “Tobias and I wanted this to sound like glossy casino music meets a Bob Fosse musical, wrapped up in country. This song is me giving advice that I received at some point, because I used to find it hard to cry. And now I can’t stop, so I have to make other people join me.” “Kalahari Down” “Everyone thinks I’m Canadian because I lived in Canada for a long time, but I’m not. I was born in South Africa—I grew up in Johannesburg until I was 15. I never talked about where I was from only because I wanted to wait—obviously, I’m a man of mystery and I like to not give everyone everything all at once. I had actually written ‘Kalahari Down’ for Pony, and I decided to hold off on it because it wasn’t sounding the way I wanted it to—I envisioned it really grand, with strings. But I’m finally really excited to share a song about missing my home. There’s a sense of guilt and regret in the song about leaving somewhere that you don’t really want to leave because you have to go make your way in the world. I’m so proud to be South African. I go back there all the time.” “Bronco” “Obviously, I keep within the equestrian species for my album titles, and I only name them after the album is done. So, after I’d finished the first one, I decided to call it Pony because that album was about loneliness and I felt nervous putting myself out there, tentatively. That, to me, felt like a pony—kind of scared and shaking in the corner. And then the EP after that was Show Pony because I finally had this budget and this confidence, but I still felt scared. I was still the same pony, but I had ribbons in my hair, and I was on display. And then, with this album, I felt like I was able to be my true self, just untamed and unbothered, and so Bronco was a natural title. I already had this song written, but it wasn’t called ‘Bronco’ and the hook wasn’t there yet. So, after I decided on the album title, I pivoted this song to make it the title track.” “Blush” “This is about my time living in London. It’s my little homage to London as one of my many homes. There’s a little bit of that Beatles country era in there—like a Help!/‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ vibe. I wanted to make my homage to that style—like, what would be England’s version of country music.” “Let Me Drown” “Each of these songs feels like getting something off my chest in a way, and I knew I had a song in me that would be about that big culmination of my depression during the pandemic and where I was at in my personal life. This might sound really dramatic and almost ridiculous, but I woke up in the middle of the night and I couldn’t sleep, and I had this melody in my head. And I was so frightened that I was going to forget it by morning that I walked into my studio and turned on my computer and just sang the melody in the microphone, and then went back to bed. And that’s what eventually became ‘Let Me Drown.’ It’s funny: I’m a trained singer, I’ve been singing my whole life, and I’ve sometimes held back on that because I’ve been worried about how it would come off, and felt insecure about it. But with this song, I just didn’t care anymore. I wanted to sing big.” “Any Turn” “I wanted to bring back the tradition of the patter song, like [Johnny Cash’s] ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’ or [R.E.M.’s] ‘It’s the End of the World As We Know It’ or [Billy Joel’s] ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ or [Bob Dylan’s] ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues.’ I love wordplay and witty lyrics, and there hasn’t been a patter song like those for a long time. So, I was like, ‘What could be the subject matter that’s frantic and manic and chaotic?’ And tour life was the obvious one. Every single word that I say in this song is a reference to an inside joke or a story or a crazy mishap that’s happened to us on tour.” “All I Can Say” “There’s definitely some Mazzy Star vibes on this one. I really wanted to get [bandmate] Bria [Salmena] on an official duet because we sing so much together in the live show. She’s such an incredible singer, and she’s got so much depth as a songwriter. So, I approached her and [guitarist] Duncan [Hay Jennings] about helping me write a duet. Bria and I were going through something similar in our personal lives, but separately. So, we decided on this concept of two people who are singing with each other about the same thing, but not to each other. It’s like we don’t even know that we’re singing with each other—that’s how we wrote it.”

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