An interview with Greg Ormont
Soon to be embarking on their spring tour, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong have been making a name for themselves in the genre of jam bands. This psychedelic, high-energy rock band has toured across the country selling out shows and being the headliners for several music festivals. I got the chance to talk to Greg Ormont, lead singer and rhythm guitarist of the band about their current spring tour, upcoming music festival Domefest, wearing pajamas and meeting frontman of legendary jam band, Phish, Trey Anastasio.
So you guys ended your winter tour in Ohio in early March, had a couple weeks off, and now you guys are back on your spring tour! How has that been?
Greg Ormont: It’s been going great! We’ve had an awesome spring tour so far. It’s just getting started, but almost all of it has sold out and that’s always exciting. The crowds have been really fun, I think everyone is excited that the weather is turning, bringing that sunshine into the evening when we play. The energy has been high and we’re feeling great!
Yeah you guys just sold out the Brooklyn Bowl, so that must’ve been awesome!
Greg: Yeah we did two nights at the Brooklyn Bowl and they each sold out, that was definitely not expected. We’re very pumped with the progress we’ve seen in New York and we’ll have to come back.
Good for you guys! So I’ve seen close to a dozen of your shows, is there anything behind why you always wear pajama pants on stage?
Greg: Well it’s always just a comfort thing for me. I’m wearing pajamas right now actually haha. And when I’m lounging on stage, I’m working. I’ve always worn pajamas, they’re just super cozy. I hope it gets everyone in a comfy, cozy mindset when they’re at the shows, it’s just relaxing.
What are some of your personal favorite songs to play on stage?
Greg: I like playing a lot of our music, I love jamming specifically and also improvising with the band. We play a lot of really fun songs. We recently just did a whole Dead Zeppelin Halloween-themed show, us mashing up Grateful Dead with Led Zeppelin with our own music. That led to some pretty cool mashups and covers. I love playing “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin. I like playing all sorts of songs, and fortunately we get to pick which ones we’re playing so hopefully we like them all.
Do you guys have any pre or post-show rituals you guys do?
Greg: Not too much, we’re not too ritualistic as a band overall. Although sometimes if the pre-show setup is a little hectic and there’s a lot of moving parts, we’re running around, and we’re finally ready to go on and we’re at the side of the stage and we’re about to give the signal to get the lights to come down, we’ll stop and take a team group breath. One, two or three big deep breaths to calm down from the crazy, hectic stuff that happens backstage. Instead of just running onstage, we like to take 10 seconds to cool everything down and get relaxed, and jump on stage. That’s not always though, just when we need it.
Yeah with all the energy you guys bring on stage, I’m sure you would have to take some breathers together after a show.
Greg: Yeah I mean you just gotta reel it in a little bit. You don’t wanna pour everything out the first few seconds when you have a long show. It’s important to get your head right. But I think individually, we each have our own little rituals. I know our bassist Ben has been doing a lot of yoga backstage, and our drummer Alex stretches because he’s always playing and working his body to stay loose and limber. But it’s not too crazy, we don’t light any candles or anything like that haha.
So you guys are getting ready for Domefest! This year is the 8th annual, so what are you guys most looking forward to this year?
Greg: I think the lineup is killer. There’s some bands that will be playing at Domefest for the first time. I’m very excited to see our setting. I’m very much excited to see The Main Squeeze, it’ll be their first time at Domefest and those guys are good friends of ours. Not only do I want to see them play, but I’m also excited to show them our festival, crowd and site. Give them a feel for what we’ve been up to so they can see it first hand. We like to talk about Domefest with all of our friends, so it’s nice for them to come see it. I’m anxious to see the crowd and get it going! It’s just so exciting to throw a music festival because you work on it all year, and then that magical weekend comes and it just all comes to life. We just visited the site last week to make sure everything’s in good shape, checked for any changes for the layout of the festival. Everything looks awesome, if not better than last year. It’s really exciting when you’re planning everything and you’re on emails, spreadsheets and the computer planning out the location of where everything will go. Once that weekend comes around, the vendors, the crowd all fill in, lights are flashing, the whole site comes alive. To pin down one thing I’m most excited about is the music, people and vibes. The release from all the work we’ve put in and celebrate with all of our friends. Having worked so hard all year is the best part. Seeing everyone happy shows us that all of our work is worthwhile.
Besides Domefest, what festival are you most looking forward to playing at?
Greg: Oh man, we’re actually so fortunate to be playing at some really good festivals this summer. It’s kinda hard to pin down one, but Electric Forest is definitely up there. We’re playing both weekends and I was actually a patron there five years ago. It was crazy, it was so much fun. The production inside the forest blew my mind with all the crazy lights and games and sneaky things going on. I’m looking forward to getting back to Sherwood Forest to see what they’ve been up to over the past five years. I’ve heard it’s gotten even crazier, it’s gonna be a huge festival. It’s a big opportunity for the band and it’s gonna be a lot of fun. I think we’re actually camping at that festival, which is something that we obviously used to do all the time when we were just playing and attending festivals, but we really don’t get to camp at festivals much anymore. So I’m excited to get back to the basics and my roots, crawling out the tent at 7 a.m. because the sun is beating down on us.
If you could give yourself any advice from five years ago, what would it be?
Greg: Keep having fun, working hard and trust your gut. Stay homie. Try not to change. That was some of the best advice I’ve gotten. My buddy Rob, the drummer of The Werks, once told me to “stay homie” probably five years ago. It means don’t let big shows or crowds change who you are, just be yourself and always maintain humility. Just be a normal person like you are, and the rest will follow. There’s nothing less attractive than a cocky band member. Just be yourself, and if you feel like wearing pajamas then just wear pajamas. Do what you wanna do haha. We’ve met some bands that have gotten too big for their britches, and it’s really not a pleasant experience. It’s something we definitely all try to focus on and all of our parents raised us to be humble. It’s very important in life.
It definitely is important. So tell me a little about your solo performance, Scrambled Greg. How did that all come about?
Greg: Well I think if you do anything in life, especially everyday, you need to spice it up after a little while. You should always be trying something new. I found that I had a little bit of extra time where I could get involved with a side project. I just wanted to do something new, push myself to do something I thought I couldn’t. It’s easier to play with three friends than it is solo. I wanted to be even more goofy than what I allow myself to be in Pigeons. So Scrambled Greg is really theatrical, and has almost like skits or segments of me not playing music. I like keeping the crowd on its toes, keeping the attention rolling. It’s a mix of comedy, music and me goofing off. It’s really fun, I’m gonna do it again at Domefest and maybe somewhere else this summer.
How long have you been doing that for?
Greg: Well I’ve only had the time to do it for about four shows for the past two years. Pigeons really keeps me busy, and when I do Scrambled Greg I like to make it a full experience. I don’t like to half-ass anything. So when I accept a gig I give it all my energy and give my best solo performance. I think each one has gotten better, I think it’s nice to have something else outside of the norm pushing you. It’s been a lot of fun, very wacky. I’m so happy I decided to do it.
Yeah that’s awesome you have your own side project going on, not many bands do that.
Greg: Yeah and that way if there’s ever a time when the band needs to take some weeks off or has something else going on, then I could always play shows on my own. I think it’s important for all bands members to have a side project or something else they can do, especially if they want to perform year-round regardless of what everyone else wants to do. Since I do a solo project then I can decide to do a show or not, it’s completely up to me. This project allows me to have my own creative control and if I want to do a really goofy cover I can just do it. I don’t have to ask the band if they want to play it or not. If I want to play the Backstreet Boys then I can play the Backstreet Boys. Which I’ve done hahaha. BSB don’t stop, they don’t quit hahaha.
How do you guys pick the song covers you play?
Greg: Well sometimes we’ll hear something on the radio or on a playlist shuffle and we’ll be like, “Hey this would be a great song to cover.” Often times people will send us music videos or song links for suggestions. A lot of the time we’ll do themed sets, which pushes our minds to come up with different cover ideas. One of last year’s Domefest set themes was “Melting Lights” which of course is one of our songs. During that set we ended up covering and teasing a lot of songs that had colors in the titles. We played “99 Red Balloons,” “I’m Blue (da ba dee, da ba daa),” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I think the themes have really pushed our cover creativity quite a bit.
We used to play these shows every Wednesday for a month at the same venue, and when we had four shows in the same month to the same city we would spice it up with themed nights. We’ve done probably 30 to 50 themed sets over the years. It’s always interesting. We like to give our closest fans special sets now and then so they can differentiate epic experiences or holidays from a typical show.
That’s totally awesome that you guys do that. Do you have a most memorable fan moment?
Greg: Well I did fan over Trey Anastasio once. He was playing at Peach Music Festival, which we’ve played for the last three or four years, and we will again this summer. I had the opportunity of just walking by to hand him one of our CDs, and I don’t remember exactly what I said but it was along the lines of, “Oh I’m a big fan…please listen to the album…big fan…and uh,…big fan.” So I told him I was a big fan quite a few times. But when you meet the guitarist for Phish sometimes you lose the ability to talk normally. I’ve met several other people who have met Trey and they also said they kinda blacked out. It’s one of those things, and I don’t compare myself to Trey at all, but I have met some people after our shows who are excited to hang and talk. I remind myself of how nervous I was talking to Trey and how much I scrutinized myself for what I said, so I try to keep it relaxed and make sure no one feels uncomfortable or nervous as much as possible. I just know how nervous I was with Trey, and he also made me feel very comfortable, even though I was clearly excited, he was very chill and normal and just a regular guy. That’s something I really respect.
And I think that goes along the lines of you stating earlier of staying humble and being approachable to everyone.
Greg: Exactly, I was really happy to experience that with Trey even though it was brief. Even though I was still nervous, he was very gracious and calm. And had a very soft sweater on. I touched his shoulder.
Hahaha nice I’m sure he loved that. So obviously you guys do a lot of travelling from show to show, what is your number one necessity while on the road?
Greg: RUNA Energy Tea. We’re actually sponsored by this natural tea that is a lot cleaner and better for you than Red Bull or anything like that. Almost before every show we drink these, they’re very effective energy boosters without being all jittery and uncomfortable. So that’s one of the most important things to us while on the road, because even when driving in the morning it’s helpful to have to keep ya rollin and awake. RUNA is our coffee.
So when travelling to show to show, what do you find yourself listening to on a typical day?
Greg: Well I’m often working on my computer for Domefest so I usually listen to stuff that isn’t too abrasive that will take my attention away from my work. So I often listen to Steely Dan Pandora. That plays a lot of great chill stuff from Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and the Doobie Brothers. Very chill stuff is great for when we’re doing work, and if I wanna occupy my mind with the music then I can pay attention more but it’s ultimately not too distracting. It also depends on what time of day it is, driving to our hotel after our shows we’ll play some down-tempo, relaxing music. There’s this band “Topaz” that we listen to a lot when leaving shows, kinda calm down music. It also depends on who is driving haha. Whoever is driving tends to DJ and everyone has their own tastes.
For sure, that’s how you guys get your unique style of sound with a wide array of music tastes. Finally, what would you say is the biggest accomplishment so far as a band?
Greg: Well one thing we wanted to do for a really long time was play All Good Music Festival, which is out on the east coast. It doesn’t exist anymore, but it was the festival we went to as college kids and young jam fans, so that was kinda the goal festival, the big 20,000 person festival in the mid-Atlantic region that we all went to and loved. Pigeons were able to play it before it stopped happening so that was really exciting. And it also hasn’t happened yet but we are booked to play Red Rocks Amphitheatre in August.
Yeah that’s super exciting and great accomplishment for you guys.
Greg: Yeah that’s definitely up there. That’s no doubt on every jam band’s bucket list. We’re very pumped to check that off our list and keep adding more stuff to our list.
For sure! Have you seen a show at Red Rocks before?
Greg: I have not! So my first time being there will be playing, which is a pretty wild experience. People from out west have probably seen a show first before playing it, but I’m doing it backwards.
Well hey you know what you can set the new precedent of doing it backwards. Let’s see if anyone else can say that about Red Rocks. Are you guys heading to your next show soon?
Greg: Yup, we’ll begin our drive to Tennessee tonight, and we will be in the southeast for the entire week. And next week we’ll be in the northeast, and then it’ll be Domefest! We’re looking forward to seeing everyone on the road.
Good luck with the rest of your tour and we’ll see you at Domefest!
Greg: Hell yeah it’s gonna be a great time, everyone’s pumped and it looks like it’s gonna be the biggest one yet! Everyone should grab their tickets, and prepare for an amazing, chill weekend. Pajama pants are allowed.
Information and tickets for this year’s Domefest can be found at: domefestival.com
To hear Pigeons PLaying Ping Pong, check out the band’s music on Apple Music, iTunes and Spotify.