Interview: Pigeons Playing Ping Pong's Greg Ormont talks new album 'Pizazz' and how the band puts the 'Fun in Funk'
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong/Youtube

The first thing most people may notice about funk-infused jamband Pigeons Playing Ping Pong is their catchy, alliterative name. But for those so compelled to go see the up and coming four-piece, what becomes immediately evident is the band’s tireless work ethic and ability to enthrall and engage their audience, affectionately referred to as “The Flock.”

Those aspects of PPPP--their work ethic and fan engagement--are also evident with their new album, the aptly named Pizazz (read our review of the album here), produced by Steve Wright at Wright Ways studio in the band's hometown of Baltimore. Recently, AXS had a chance to speak with lead singer and guitarist Greg Ormont about PPPP's new album. “We wanted to lead with a fun message that sums us up to an extent,” Greg said of Pizazz. “We wanted to step with our best foot forward and the leading track ‘Fun in Funk’ is really what we’re all about.”

When we caught up with Greg he was busy getting ready for the tour as well as working on the band’s own festival, Domefest. But Greg was excited to talk about Pizazz and the reception it is receiving. 

“I’m so happy with Pizazz,” Ormont said. “Fortunately it’s been picked up by a lot of radio stations. We’ve been hearing ourselves on [SiriusXM’s] JamOn, which has been a dream for us. Whenever we’re played on JamOn we’ll get a slew of text messages from family and friends who are all stoked about it. It’s also our first album with our new drummer Alex, who’s been with us for three years. So it’s been a long time coming. He really pushed us to be our best selves and I’m beyond thrilled with how it came out. I think it packs a punch. I think it’s tight and crisp but still breathes when it needs to breathe musically. I think that each album has been better than the last. We set a new bar with Pizazz, which is great.”

Besides setting a new bar musically on Pizazz, PPPP also ticked off another milestone by conducting their first--and very successful--Kickstarter campaign. And as usual, The Flock came out in droves to support the band. 

“One thing that really inspired us this go around was the fact that we did a Kickstarter for the first time,” Ormont said. “There was an amazing response to the Kickstarter. We exceeded our goal before the deadline approached and that gave us a lot of inspiration but also a good amount of pressure. We wanted to make sure that if these people were going to go out of their way to support the album that we had better come with a great product and make sure they enjoy all their gifts. It was a really fun experience. I got to meet some fans and give vocal lessons to some Kickstarter rewards members. It added a personal touch for The Flock and so this album was really for The Flock and funded by The Flock, and I think that really gave us a little more reason to knock it out of the park.”

One of the reasons Pigeons was able to “knock it out of the park” on Pizazz was their very focused and tireless work ethic. “More often than not, our songwriting comes from group collaboration,” Ormont said. “We practice nearly every week working on our improv just as a jamband in general. If we build ourselves a live pocket that I’m starting to hear vocals over, I’ll start singing ideas over our newfound parts. We record our practices, especially the good ideas, and then go back and listen to them to see what sounds good. So we record our ideas and listen back to them to see if it’s something worth fleshing out. Just the other day at sound check, we record our sound checks too, we stumbled upon a pretty cool pocket and I started singing some kind of reggae vocals over it. So we try to have it be very open, very collaborative. There’s sort of this no bad idea mentality so that people feel comfortable pitching crazy musical ideas.”

Of course, the band’s work ethic is evident in their live shows. The band is renowned for their high energy but also their attention to detail. Pigeons’ last NYE show saw the band pay tribute to Disney’s beloved musical canon, and PPPP had everything dialed in from their costumes to the countdown. 

“On New Year’s this past year we did a Disney theme, which was so much fun,” Ormot said. “We all dressed as Mickey Mouse and played a bunch of classics dating back to ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ all the way up to “Hakuna Matata” and “Moana” songs from more current Disney times. We also performed a live musical countdown as we went down to midnight and we literally practiced those countdowns at home. We would set up fake clocks that countdown to midnight and really try to nail it. Apparently, some friends were streaming at home on our Facebook page or our fan Facebook page ‘The Flock’ and they said we hit midnight right on the second. Which is great to know because in the good ol’ days people would just watch the show and they wouldn't pull out their watches because they couldn’t see them to see if we got midnight right on the dot. But nowadays, people are streaming it on Facebook live and sitting on their couch with nothing to do but wait for us to hit it at midnight, or troll us on it. Fortunately, we hit it this year.”

While Pigeons Playing Ping Pong pull out all the stops for special shows like Halloween or NYE, the band treats every show with the same passion and work ethic that they would put into a holiday show. And for their current tour, PPPP has also stepped up their touring apparatus to ensure that more time and energy can be channeled into their live shows.

“This particular run we will be in a BandWagon, which is basically just an RV designed for bands,” Ormont revealed. “That gives us the luxury of having a driver who can take us from place to place overnight. And when that happens we all get more sleep, which makes the shows better. We love playing music and always have. We used to play college parties in sweaty basements, and they would rage. Whether we’re playing a small bar or nowadays some bigger theatres, we’ve always treated them like we’re playing Madison Square Garden. That’s kind of been our mantra. And when you have that mentality, every night of tour is fun and every show gives you a good feeling. So I try not to handpick my upcoming highlights but treat every show like it’s MSG and it's the most important show we’re ever gonna play. We give it everything we have. Fortunately, that makes life pretty fun.”

While Greg and Pigeons like to treat every show the same, Ormont did reveal that the band was pretty excited about returning to Colorado--where they have established a nest for their western Flock--to play the Ogden Theatre in Denver on March 10. “We always love coming to Colorado,” Greg said. “We were there last year for our ‘Flocktoberfest’ outdoor street party in Boulder. That was a huge success and it means a lot that we decided to do Flocktoberfest out west because we usually do that closer to home and we wanted to give Colorado some lovin’. We also played The Ogden with Dopapod last year and we were really blown away by The Ogden. It’s a really cool vibe. We love Denver, our manager lives in Denver, and Colorado always just feels like a festival instead of a city tour. So I’m ready to hang with our mountain flock and get down and dirty like Colorado knows how to do so well.”

Besides the Ogden show, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong will also tour throughout April and into May including multiple night runs at Port City Music Hall in Portland, Maine and Brooklyn Bowl in New York City. Click here to browse AXS for tickets to select Pigeons Playing Ping Pong dates.