My two favorite bands on planet Earth are Pigeons Playing Ping Pong and Twiddle. I would do unspeakable things for a Twidgeons tour. Don’t ask me exactly what I’d do, because you’ll likely suffer from reoccurring nightmares, and will certainly think less of me as a person. Anyways, when we first started this website, our ultimate goal was to shine a spotlight on music that matters. I never thought when we started Sound Fix, however, that I’d have the opportunity to interview the two bands I personally think have done some of the most meaningful things for music over the past five years. If you haven’t read it already, check out the interview we did with Twiddle this summer right here. With this Pigeons article, we’re really bringing it full circle.
Before getting into our interview with Greg Ormont, lead singer of Pigeons, I want to take a second to explain why I personally love Pigeons. In my opinion, no other band in the jam community exudes more raw energy and positivity than Pigeons. I’ve seen these guys perform at possibly the smallest venue ever in Asbury Park. I’ve seen them perform at some of the biggest festivals in the United States. I’ve seen them throw down an incredible Led Zeppelin / Grateful Dead Halloween set in New York City. No matter the venue or setting, Greg, Jeremy, Ben, Alex and Manny (lights), seem like they’re performing a set that could be their last. The energy, power, vibes, raw funk and positivity are so poignant at each Pigeons performance that you can practically taste it in the air. No matter your mood, Pigeons will make you feel happy, or at least feel weird about feeling sad. Their music’s gotten me through some hard times, and in other times, it’s drastically augmented my already happy mood.
With their first professional studio album, Pleasure, coming out on Friday, we couldn’t be more excited to put out an article to help new listeners start to understand the ethos of Pigeons, or help fill some holes for seasoned “Flockers.” Anyways, enough from me. Make sure to preorder Pleasure here, get your Domefest tickets here (Domefest is the band’s upcoming music festival), and follow the guys on Facebook here.
Sound Fix: Greg – appreciate you taking some time here. To start things off, tell us what you’re up to right now. You’re currently in the van with the band?
Greg Ormont: Yes I am. We’re in the van, heading up to play a private party. What I can tell you is: it’s in the US, it’s going to be a rager, and we’re on our way to an undisclosed party location.
SF: Jealous, wish I was invited. **laughs** Tell us about your upcoming two night run with Moe.
GO: Yeah man, we’re playing with moe. in Baltimore at Rams Head Live (below), which is great. We’ve played with those guys before and you know, having seen the band a lot growing up in the jam scene, it’s always been a trip to play with them. All very nice guys, and they shred it.
SF: Congrats. Sounds like a great show. And Baltimore’s the city you guys would call home base, so that must add to the magic.
GO: Yeah man, the band is based out of Baltimore. We all met at the University of Maryland, and we all ended up staying in the area, so we have a lot of Baltimore pride and most of the guys are Ravens fans. But we spread the love all around the country! Our drummer’s originally from New Hampshire (Alex Petropulos), I’m from New York, our lighting guy is from New York (Manny Newman), and our bassist (Ben Carrey) and guitarist (Jeremy Schon) are from Baltimore,
SF: Very cool – so you all met at Baltimore while attending college. Do you have any stories about the formation of the band? How did it all start?
GO: It started on the first day of college, I didn’t know anyone at the University of Maryland in College Park, so first day while in my Freshmen year door room, I took out my guitar to make some friends and jam with a few people. One of those guys I jammed with was Jeremy Schon, our lead guitarist. Him and I just immediately connected musically and became best friends. We started playing together at coffee shops and open mic nights around campus, and then eventually, through an online class, Jeremy linked up with our original drummer, Dan Schwartz, in the History of Rock class as part of a class assignment. So us three all started jamming one day at our bassist’s house, who just decided to come downstairs and join us. So really, it was very, very natural like that. After that we started playing together at bars and venues, and we even won The Battle of the Bands at the University of Maryland in 2009 and got to open for Ludacris at the Maryland football stadium which was pretty wild. That was one of the the first big wins for Team Pigeons.
SF: That’s an awesome story. (We scraped up an amazing old-school video of this opening performance at the Maryland football stadium. Feast on the nostalgia below)
GO: And those of you who are interested, Luda did not say hi, but he did enjoy the fruit buffet.
SF: So was that Battle of the Bands the first time you played as “Pigeons Playing Ping Pong,” or the first time you performed as your branded band?
GO: Well, Jeremy and I called ourselves Pigeons Playing Ping Pong as an acoustic duo before we even met our bassist and drummer. So originally, Jeremy would do open mic night as a solo looping acoustic performance called the Jeremy Schon Experience, and after about 20 minutes or so, I would join with my guitar, sometimes just with vocals, and we would do some duo comedy dorm music performances. When the few of us were together, we were Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. That had been going down since the first day of college in September of 2006 when we started jamming, and the name Pigeons Playing Ping Pong came really quickly after, out of a Psychology textbook from a class, Psych 101, that Jeremy and I were in together.
SF: So is that class how you thought of the name for your first full-length album, “Pschology”?
GO: Look at you doing all your homework knowing all our album names! That is definitely why we named our first full length album, Psychology. It’s emblematic of our roots, so that came naturally as well. That’s very astute Samuel!
SF: Hey, what can I say. I’m a Flocker! Anyways, that’s awesome. I didn’t know about that story, so it’s great to connect the dots there. Speaking of albums, we’re really excited to see some new music coming from you guys. We were listening to “Live It Up” and really enjoyed it. So tell us everything and anything you can about your upcoming studio album.
GO: Oh man, we’re so pumped. This album is going to be a huge step up from our previous recordings. In the past, we recorded the albums ourselves. Down to setting up the mics with our own hands, and the stuff we played and recorded with with our own hands. This time, we went professional. We hired an amazing engineer at WrightWay Studios, by the name of Steve Wright, the owner, and his impact was huge on the quality of the album. Sonically it’s incredibly full, crisp and lush. I’m so proud of Psychology and how it sounds, but I think Pleasure is going to blow it out of the water. I’d almost consider it our first professionally recorded album, because we had a lot of help from our friends last time, but this time, we spent the money for an amazing reason. We’re so thrilled with the results, just sonically, musically, everything was smooth. It was great to have a fresh pair of ears to fine tune, keep song structure and direction to make it concise and complete.
SF: That’s great man, we’re also really excited for it. How did you meet Steve Wright?
GO: We know Steve because he’s based out of Baltimore, and we have a couple bands that we’ve looked up to and loved in the past that he’s recorded. Particularly a band that no longer exists, but was called Basshound from Baltimore, had a fantastic album that we’ve always listened to for years. We just think the mix on it was supreme, so we did a little research, found Steve, and found out his studio has produced a number of local records, from smaller local bands to big ones. A band, SR-71, was a big claim to fame for Steve. Their album sold about 500,000 copies. So when you walk into WrightWay Studios you’ll see a platinum record on the wall. It’s pretty sweet!
SF: So apart form the professional editing and production of the Pleasure, how would you compare Pleasure to Psychology? In terms of content, meaning, and songwriting?
GO: Well, I would say this album is more in your face. Pleasure is bumping from top to bottom, and it really shows all five of our musical talents. “Live It Up”, as you’ve heard, is this energetic, bombastic party album, whereas some of the other songs have more of the vintage funk feel, kinds of like classic Motown vibe, whereas other songs are super crunchy, almost jamtronica influenced, and then there are a number of singalong-able choruses and hooks throughout the album. I can’t talk on it just yet, but some of Jeremy’s solos on the album sound like signature solos I’ve heard a million times. Our attention to detail was great, because it goes from the more youthful party vibes to a vintage funky more classic feel. And at the same time, we paid a lot of attention, as always, to song order and the general flow of music, so it rises and falls just like our live shows do, and brings you energetic swells that are natural, but effective, in terms of putting a studio album together.
SF: So it’s definitely coming out on April 1st, or is that some sort of sick joke?
GO: Wouldn’t you like to know, Samuel! But Yes, all indications are pointing to it coming out in full form on April Fool’s day.
SF: So tell us about Aura Festival, this wasn’t the first time you played their there this year?
GO: We love AURA, it’s one of our favorite festivals. For anyone who’s been to the Suwannee Music Park (below), the site is simply magical. I love playing in the grass, hanging out in the Spanish moss, and getting the chance to also listen to my peers. This was our third year. The site looks like it’s literally out of a Dr Seuss book, and it seems there’s more and more to discover about it every time. For example, I keep hearing about the “Black River,” where the water is black, and the trees grow around it, and people run up the trees to jump into the black water. The stories I hear just mount up, and every time we go to AURA, we leave just completely recharged and smiling. The lineup of Aura is always top notch – it’s cream of the crop for your up-and-coming jam acts and younger jam sets. But it also touches on some of the best headliners out there – the Disco Biscuits, Thievery Corporation, the unbelievably talented Snarky Puppy. It’s a hell of a weekend!
SF: While we’re on the topic of festivals, this is our first year going to Domefest, your own festival, and we’re incredibly excited about it. Tell us all about Domefest!
GO: Oh man, Domefest is all that matter’s dude! Domefest was an idea our lead guitarist, Jeremy Schon, had in college, and we had a one day, one night camping music party that was unbelievably successful. And since then, Domefest has blossomed into a full three day, three night music and camping festival. It’s in Bedford, PA, this year from May 19th – 21st, and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong is the official host! Jeremy and I throw the festival year round, planning and calculating for the entire flock to gather. Because we go to a million festivals and we play a million shows, it’s really special at Domefest for us because all of the great people we meet on the road gather for one great festival that really represents what we’re trying to do, and that’s just put smiles on people’s faces across the country, push the limits of funk, and show people a good time. So every year, Domefest gets bigger, more special, and more nostalgic.
SF: Keep telling us about it!
GO: Well it’s a trip for us, man, because we get to meet our friends from North Carolina, or our friends from Maine, our friends from Boston, and our fans from DC. And you know, sometimes girlfriends meet boyfriends! And a number of people celebrate their bachelor parties at Domefest every year because the vibes are opened, fun, and funky. And in my opinion, we do it right, and we do it our way, which has worked so far, and it’s really just to give back to the Flock for all their support, and to give back to the jam community which has hosted us at hundreds of festivals which has helped us with our touring. So, beyond connecting with the fans and having a community of artists and Flockers hanging out together, we also give our band friends the opportunity to play in front of a crowd that is super susceptible to new bands, who travel and see new music year round. So, all of our friends who are trying to blow up in the Mid-Atlantic can come and play Domefest and thereafter see those faces from the Domefest crowds at their winter shows while they’re touring all year. So it’s really just kind of been a full circle situation for us giving back to our friends and fans. We love throwing parties and having a good time and pushing our musical envelope for the people who care, which is the Flock!
SF: Hell yeah, that’s great to hear. So for Domefest, we never had the opportunity to go before when it was at the old location on Trip’s Farm in West Virginia. So you have a new home this year at Fort Royale Farm in Bedford?
GO: Yeah, I was there yesterday!
SF: Scoping out the venue? Tell us about the move and the new location.
GO: Well, the new location continues to blow my mind. It is expansive, it is completely wooded, and is just gorgeously situated in the mountains of Pennsylvania. I was actually talking to the site owner yesterday, and he said they find a lot of Native American artifacts onsite. They just found a foot-long spear head, which an archeologist said dated back to 2000 BC. The owner told me that during festivals when people are on the property with their energy, the Native American energy is also there as well just checking in on their land and property. He told me a number of stories about people of connecting with that aura. And beyond just the spiritual connections with the location, it’s really user friendly. Everyone can choose to camp right by there car, in the woods if they choose to. There’s plenty of room to dance in a grassy area – spacious but completely intimate. We create a dance floor with our vending row, which builds this intense, intimate kind of party. So while the mountain is large, the party will be very friendly, and it’ll have a neighborhood vibe. I can’t think of a failure in the site, it’s simply perfect. The accessibility could not be better. It’s directly off a major highway that’s going to be easy for anyone who does not have 4-wheel drive to drive right on to the site to get settled and have a great time. We had an amazing time and experience at Trip’s Farm, but they just needed a little time off to recuperate from the awesome that they’ve seen over the past years, which is wonderful for them, so we found a new home at Fort Royale Farm!
SF: So is it on the mountain, the foot of the mountain, or inside the mountain? Where is it in juxtaposition to this mountain I’m hearing about?
GO: Well, the campground goes up the mountain. As the mountain ascends, it’s covered in a foresty campground. But it’s not the only mountain around! You can also look up in every direction and see Pennsylvania hills.
SF: Cool – just got a few more questions. So I mentioned before, that we live and are based in Brooklyn. We’re covering your upcoming show at the Gramercy Theatre in NYC. (get your tickets here) We love that venue – it’s incredibly historic, and some greats have graced the venue. Correct me if I’m wrong, is this the first time you’ve played the Gramercy Theatre?
GO: That is correct!
SF: Nice! You must be excited to play at such a historic venue in such a great city!
GO: I’m beyond pumped to play the Gramercy Theatre. Coming originally from New York, I just know the history, and know what amazing bands have gone through there. So as our first time playing their coming up in April, we’re going to give it more energy than we have in a while. We always push it to the limits, so it will be another raging Pigeons show, but we can’t wait to hit the Gramercy and play funk for New York because growing up outside the City, I know how busy it is, and how special it is, and how competitive it can be. Things are really starting to take off for us, so we’re really excited to be in this situation, playing at the Gramercy. That said, I absolutely hate driving the band van and trailer through the city, it’s the worst.
SF: Yeah, I had to move in New York from Chelsea to Brooklyn, and taking the U-Haul through Manhattan was a low of my life. Can’t imagine what a band van and trailer would be like.
GO: Oh man, it’s awful. Too many people from our group have collided with other cars in New York. Everyone’s fine, but it’s awful. We’ve parked for hours in New York when we should be sound-checking. That said, it’s just a wild and crazy place, and to play on a Saturday night in the heart of it all is nothing short of fantastic. We’re beyond stoked. That is going to be epic.
SF: Perfect timing too with the album, too. I’m assuming we can expect to hear a lot of new Pigeons Playing Ping Pong music?
GO: Oh yeah, man. The new album’s finished, and we’re already writing the next one, so you know, you can always expect to hear new music from us, new jams, new orientations and transitions. We pride ourselves in working hard on our craft, both individually and as a group, and every week we put in time together to write new ideas, jam new feels, and just explore new music. We’ve picked ourselves quite a dense career to explore, and we’re having a blast. You’ll definitely hear some Pleasure at Gramercy Theatre.
SF: Awesome. Hey I forgot to ask, where did the name “Pleasure” come from?
GO: I have no idea how many options we had to name this album before we decided on Pleasure, which was maybe the first suggestion. But I think we went through at least 200 options, and some really good ones. But when it comes down to it, we’ve been touring full time for the past three and half years to spread pleasure, and it only seemed adequate to literally do that. And almost all of the songs in both song titles and song ideas lyrically are all within the realm of pleasure and positivity and the idea of spreading love, so you can kind of apply the word “pleasure” to almost every concept on the album, and it’s something we can all smile about, and be proud to spread around the country.
SF: Random parting question. Someone asked us to ask this….who is “Julia”?
GO: Who is Julia!? It’s you! Whoever asked you to ask, “Julia” is you!
SF: Awesome, last thing I like to do with my interviews is leave you with an open forum. So if there’s anything else you’d like to add, fire away!
GO: Oh man, Sam, I thought you were going to ask the typical questions that end an interview … Your favorite curse word, favorite movie, what you’re going to say to God at the pearly gates! So, my favorite curse word is “funk.” But um, a few things, just in terms of info. Our website for Domefest is domefest.com, and tickets are available for only $60, we’ve announced half the lineup so far, which includes three nights of us, and we’re about to announce the second half, which kicks ass. I almost used my favorite curse word on that one. It kicks “funkin” ass!