[Interview] Pigeons Playing Ping Pong Talk Ties to The Allman Brothers Band and Personal Style
Guaranteed to be a playful act, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong reunited with The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park once again after being gone since AURA 2016. If you haven't seen them live, then you're missing out. These guys will take your mind and put it on to some heavy PDM (Pigeons Dance Music, that is).
The Baltimore-based four-piece are sure to be hamming it up on stage and showering fans with a dose of their unique brand of electro-funk. During their Saturday set at Wanee Music Festival, they had the entire amphitheater getting down to a setlist they'll never play again.
Bullet Music had the chance to sit down with these characters after their Saturday set and pick their brains. There was never a dull moment, as these four will keep you on your toes on the stage and off.
Greg Ormont - Vocals, Guitar
Jeremy Schon - Guitar, Vocals
Ben Carrey - Bassist, Vocals
Alex Petropulos - Drums, Electronics, Vocals
This festival is very much influenced by the Allman Brothers’ music, how has your music been influenced by Southern Rock and Blues?
Alex: I grew up with Southern Rock from my dad, Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker, Charlie Daniels Band.
Ben: That New Hampshire Southern Rock.
Alex: yeah, those northern southern vibes.
Greg: I mean, who hasn’t heard "Jessica" growing up a million times? That’s one of the songs that we will tease of the Allman Brothers. Yeah, my dad was into all sorts of classic rock and some of the better-known tunes would get into my ears at a young age. I mean it's so guitar focused and I am a guitarist, that’s just my opinion, but I feel like Southern Rock is so guitar-driven.
Ben: Now that you bring that up, you two do a guitar dueling thing in jams that is very Allman Brothers-esque. I don’t know if you originally intended that, and then we started doing a little Allman Brothers stuff and it was accentuated over time. Even in jams, we work off each other and fill those lines, kind of improv the way that those Allman brothers kind of had the swirling guitar melodies together.
Greg: Everyone growing up here has Allman brothers subconsciously in the back of their brains just cause they’re licks were so melodic and catchy. I mean, these classic songs like "Whipping Post" are very hard to forget once you hear it.
Alex: One of my first favorite albums was Shades of Two Worlds by Allman Brothers. My dad had it in his CD collection and for some reason that album spoke to me as a little kid. I didn’t dive deep into the Allman Brothers until later, probably like, late high school. But when I was young, I definitely loved that album. It definitely shaped my music taste.
Greg: It is also really cool too how here some bands are playing themed sets like Pink Talking Fish and Karl Denson tonight, and we are also playing The Peach this summer and we are stoked for some more tributes to the great Allman Brothers. It's pretty wild that out of all the festivals over the country, a handful pay tribute to them, so it’s not the end of our teasing of the brothers.
Ben: As they would say, ‘Life’s a peach, eat it!’
How has the rise of popularity of electronic music influence your style, especially when you play a fest like Wanee which is more a jam-based festival.
Ben: We have a very unique P.D.M., Pigeons Dance Music, and it’s not necessarily electronic but it is intended to keep people moving and grooving. Personally, as a bass player, I have taken the tonal contributions that electronic music has contributed towards making speaker sound systems better, just bringing the low end out and having an organic approach to creating. This is just from a bass player’s perspective, but Jeremy’s got a bunch of cool effects to bring out the modern flair that really ties the room together.
Jeremy: I’ve got a lot of pedals that can kind of simulate synth tones and sort of sound like an organ rig or whatever I need it to sound like and weird filters that kind of change. Make people think, "Is that really a guitar playing right now?"
Ben: Well, you are the one that recommended the octave pedal which is what I use primarily for my sound.
Greg: I think overall, we appreciate the importance of keeping live music danceable throughout the show. It doesn’t mean that it’s always hyper, intense dancing but if it’s in a valley of our set, as opposed to a peak, it might be flow-able, but you’re going to be dancing. That underlying heartbeat is always there even when we are bringing the energy down before we get back out into a frenzy. Having that underlying dance beat is definitely from those electronic, jam-tronica shows that we’ve been to where we appreciate continuous music and psychedelic transitions and a constant dance beat, whether it be high dynamics or low.
I loved “Live It Up”, you guys definitely broke that down earlier to this really cool synthesized jam.
Greg: That’s definitely the influence of seeing mainly jam-tronica bands than electronic for me.
Alex: The New Deal, Lotus and STS9 are huge for the jam-tronica thing, but with them that’s what sold me on the live aspect vs. the electronic. There’s really good production, and it’s really loud and hyper and energetic, but that groove, that vibe that you get with the live aspect, I love the sound of the jam-tronica. But having that soul, that groove like you said, is really what keeps me coming back to live music, and why I’m very honored to be part of a live band touring the country.
How did the name Pigeons Playing Ping Pong come to be? BF Skinner?
Greg: You know, everyone always thinks that but I was having a dream and I could smell bacon in the dream, so the whole dream was a quest for bacon. And I was going through various lands, like to climb over a ladder to the yellow land, then I defeated that land and was in the blue land, then went through a lot of different colors and then when I woke up, there was Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.
How do you guys keep it fresh and not get bored with the same sound on stage? You guys always sound different live…
Jeremy: In the studio, we have perfect arrangements with extra guitars and vocals, but live it always takes on its own energy. In the live arrangement, we leave open sections for improv that could go in any direction on any night. One night it could be four minutes, another night nine minutes and then another night twenty-five minutes if we really just dive into it and take it out there. When we play it live, we really try to open the doors and see where we the music takes us and that really keeps it interesting and fun for us. So if we play the same song two nights in a row, we aren’t really playing the same song.
Ben: It also helps varying the set list every night. Jeremy is very helpful to keep things interesting and new, because it might be the same songs, but if you’re doing it in between these two different songs, and if you’ve never done it that way before, it’s going to affect you and the crowd differently. So that constant tweaking and moving around and adding new songs and stuff along with playing theme-type stuff, to me, that makes it so every time you come back to the same thing, but you come at it with a fresh set of eyes. After doing Disney New Year’s Eve, I approached a lot of our song writing differently. Just seeing how they’ve arranged stuff, is pretty mind blowing
Jeremy: Yeah, the big thing is we never did a set list for ten years. Every night we work hard to make you a new set list with smooth transitions and just change it up. Even if we play the song in a stripped down, basic version, it’s going to be such a different set list. The flow will naturally be different and the set will have an overall different energy.
Greg: Yeah, today we made small changes to our set. We had a set in mind and it turned out that we ended up jamming a lot more on earlier songs in the beginning of the set so we had to cut about sixteen minutes of planned music just because we had already jammed that.
Just the other day we did a sixty-three minute song because we are just continuing to try to push ourselves to go outside our comfort level and practice all the time. As far as having fun on stage, we just appreciate every moment that we have to do this, and as long as we are pushing ourselves and appreciating it, I think we are in pretty good shape. It’s pretty fulfilling to work hard and have fun.
Jeremy: Plus, you know every night we are playing in a different city to a different crowd of people that has a different energy for us. It’s fun to see similar faces and different faces every night on tour.
Do you guys have anything planned as far as new releases?
Greg: Right now, we are coming in on the heels of our own Domefest, which we organize and play 5 sets at, and we are just kind of focusing on our festival. That takes up a lot of our minds eye for awhile, but after that just gearing up for the next big thing, whether it be a release or something crazy. We are always brewing up wild ideas…
Any collabs or jams planned for the festival?
Greg: Domefest is very open, it is very loose, sit ins are welcome. We had some sit ins last year that were great. We had the Swift Technique Players come up for “Give It To Me Baby” by Rick James, which was so much fun.
We are really good friends with all the bands that are playing, including some new faces that we’ll be meeting better. We are always open to jamming, that’s what it’s all about. It’s all about collaborating and pushing each other to be the best player you can be and keeping that teamwork vibe going, because jamming is all about teamwork. It’s the sum of all of our parts.
Be sure to check out their newly released album, Pleasure, and again live at The Peach Music Festival in July.