Conceived within the confines of a college freshman dorm building in the late 2000’s, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong has quickly become one of the most beloved funk bands in recent memory. Greg Ormont (vocals, guitar), Jeremy Schon (guitar, vocals), Ben Carrey (bass, vocals), and Alex Petropulos (drumagic, electro-swag) are the creative brains behind a band that is turning heads (and beaks) towards a unique style termed high-energy psychedelic funk.
Pigeons’ has been on a non-stop tour circuit for years, delivering their raw, funkadelic energy to a growing fan base lovingly called “the flock.” You can listen to the progression of their sound through hundreds of set recordings on archive.org. The band is currently on the road promoting their latest album “Pleasure,” a compilation of tracks that set the mood for wacky wavy inflatable arm-flailing tubeman dancing and groovy love-making. Just listen to the tracks “Condensar,” “Live It Up,” and “Penguins” to get what I mean. The album is available for streaming/download on Bandcamp. Further pleasure yourself to Pigeon’s first two albums “Funk EP“ and “Psychology.”
The band is currently on the last leg of their “Pleasure” tour, and will be hitting NYC’s Gramercy Theater this Saturday (tickets available here)! I sat down with lead vocalist Greg right before their closing set at Euphoria Music Festival Sunday night to discuss the progression of the band since its formative years and what “the flock” can look forward to in the months ahead. Following the interview, the band closed out Euphoria on the beautiful Dragonfly stage bordering the Colorado River. There truly was no better way to wrap up an incredible weekend. Check out the transcript of my conversation with Greg below!
GLC: So give me a brief summary of how you all first met each other and formed the band?
I think we vibed well cause we were always so natural from the start. I met our guitarist Jeremy in college. I didn’t know anybody at the University of Maryland and he happened to be on my floor Freshman year and was playing guitar on the first day. I had my guitar and was just learning and wanted to get better at it so we just hit it off musically and fooled around in the dorm. From that came coffee shop shows and shows on campus and off campus. We eventually met the other guys and started taking it on the road a little bit. After graduating and jobs weren’t working for us we worked on the band full-time.
GLC: So did you guys mostly fall into becoming a band?
Definitely, we fell into it but also actively seek out music. I happened to meet Jeremy by chance but I was walking down the hall with my guitar on purpose. Our drummer met Jeremy because he posted in a class forum “drummer looking to jam,” and Jeremy responded and I went with him and we met our bassist at that house as well and that was the band. So we actively looked for a band but didn’t realize we were doing it at the time.
GLC: When you first formed how did you mesh together creatively?
When we first started it was a really goofy dorm project and we talked about smoking weed and having fun. It always made us laugh and have fun regardless of the genre or whatever style of music we were playing. We just approached it with a fun attitude and that approach has never fizzled out, even though we take our songwriting and composition more seriously now since this is our full-time career; we still play shows like we’re fooling around in a dorm room.
GLC: What kind of shows and music influenced your music-making?
Well when I went to school I hadn’t gotten into the jam or electronic scene at all, I was just a classic rock kinda guy from High School, also Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sublime and that type of stuff. But Jeremy was really into Phish and he introduced me to them the first day of college and it took me a minute to really “get” it. After my second Phish show it really clicked and I never looked back, I saw ten shows that summer and started seeing Phish as much as possible. And of course the gateway drug of Phish led to the more intricate options that are infiltrating the scene left and right. I’d say that Phish was a big turning point for me and from that point it sparked my thirst for more inspiration.
GLC: Correct me if I’m wrong, but is “Psychology” your first full-length album?
It’s actually not technically, it’s our second album because in the college years we laid down one album that was short, it was a full-length album, it’s called “Funk EP” which is a play on words off of one of our songs but is really confusing cause people think it’s an EP but it is a full-length. So “Psychology” is our second one and we just put out our third one “Pleasure” last week.
GLC: Nice, so how did your creative process shift from “Psychology” into “Pleasure?”
I think “Pleasure” is a better snapshot of where we are as a band. “Psychology” is very similar to our sound these days but we play so much music year-round that week to week our music is changing, so the most recent studio stuff is the closest to what style we currently have. In terms of our current sound and the concepts we’re trying out live, “Pleasure” would be what you want to listen to for the future of the band and the direction we’re heading, as well as our archive.org shows.
GLC: Are your archive.org sets mostly fan-made or pulled from the soundboard?
It’s a combination, we usually pull from the Soundboard and it’s labeled on there. Sometimes some pro fans come and bring their gear. We always try to have our live sets available in the best quality possible; if we can multi-track it and mix it to sound better we will and then promote that to The Flock more to show that we put time and effort into our recordings to sound good. One of the things we want to do in the next year is pump out live recordings for people to listen to on a regular basis, just getting more and more current sound out there so people can see what we’re up to.
GLC: Are you interested in live streaming more of your shows?
We’ve live-streamed before when it’s allowable by the venue. We don’t have a problem with streaming, we want people to hear our music on the stage and join the Flock and bring in their friends. The more people tuned in the better.
GLC: When you’re playing live, do you leave much room for free-flow improvising or do you stick to a more rigid song structure?
We absolutely improvise every show a lot. Sometimes there are sections in a song that you play through up until the improv moment and then it’s wide open. Then there’s other times when we’re on tour that we’ll extend sections on the fly. Like last night in Cleveland, we have a song called “Sunny Day” and there was this jam in the middle that was really long and interesting and we had no idea where it was going but it was so exciting. Within that you just keep in the back of your mind where you’re heading, there’s no real time limit unless your show has a firm time limit. You gotta remember where homebase is so you can continue our overall set ideas, so the peaks and valleys fall where they’re supposed to.
GLC: How do you plan out your setlists?
It’s kinda like set and setting. Like tonight we’re playing at 9PM and it’s just getting dark so that rage energy is boiling up in people so we’ll be pushing a little harder. We’ve also never played in Texas before, I’ve got my smiley pants on and I’m ready to throw it down super hard for Texas. So the theme tonight is we’re really fucking pumped for it. Other times we have specific themed shows like tonight we’re playing an after party at The Parish downtown and playing a Dead-Zeppelin themed set, where we’ll be matching our music with Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead so it’s gonna be like a web of songs.
GLC: So how often do you guys prepare and rehearse for these themed sets, like for Dead-Zeppelin?
We did Dead-Zeppelin this past halloween during a four night run and we practiced quite a bit for it. We’ve never really repeated a theme before. We’re gonna be doing different takes on the theme, it’s not gonna be at all the same show that we’ve played, but it’s a lot easier having done it before. It’s the best thing in the world to mashup the Dead and Zeppelin as part of your living.
GLC: Do you have other themed sets like that in mind for the future?
I’m gonna hold those cards really close to my chest cause we’re gonna do them. We’re already talking about some really good halloween sets this year and we’re locking in a run that’s gonna be big.
GLC: What would you say are the more challenging aspects of constantly touring and always being on the road?
Yeah well it isn’t always easy. Mostly having a steady home life, cause I have a girlfriends at home and I’ve been on the road for over four weeks now and we’re still young and our responsibilities aren’t huge but it’s definitely a sacrifice not just for me but for her. But she’s incredibly supportive and we’re super happy and I’ve found the right one that’s gonna help me do what I love. Having consistency back home is not really possible to an extent, I’m just never home. It’s really cool though cause Facetime kicks ass and it keeps me connected and feeling at home.
GLC: Lastly, what’s on the horizon with the band and what can the Flock expect from ya’ll in the near future?
Well Halloween is always an epic Pigeons show and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. But I feel like from touring so much and being on the road for six weeks straight, we’re jamming really tight right now. We’re tapping into this really psychedelic, funky trance that people are really digging. I think our crowd is going to continue to grow with that. A word that I’m circling around is psychedelicate, because we’ll kinda thump you but won’t give you like all of the sound and kind of mask it. We’re just focusing on jamming well and transcending the moment, while simultaneously planning epic themed parties for halloween and new years and stuff like that. And also, right after this tour we’re gonna be planning and throwing our seventh festival Domefest, which takes place May 19th to 21st and that’s a festival that Jeremy and I throw personally with no other help. As a result, all of our heart and soul, every corner of the festival, was touched by us, set up by our team, and Pigeons headline every night. All of the Flock that we see across the country come together and meet up and it’s this awesome intimate experience hanging with fans and kicking it. Domefestival.com has all of the info and it’s our baby and it’s growing every year at the right, natural pace and we’re so excited to cut loose on stage after planning a festival all year.
GLC: Awesome, I can’t wait for what’s in store for Pigeons. Your Flock is an incredible community and I’m sure this will be your best year yet!
Thanks so much, dude, hope to catch you out there!