Jam culture is all about hitting the road with some good cannabis, staying loose, having fun and above all, playing music. East coast-based jam band Pigeons Playing Ping Pong is currently on the latest leg of its tour in support of the band’s most recent album, Pizazz, and this summer, the band will be performing at festivals across the country, including its own festival, Domefest, as well as Summer Camp Music Festival, Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, High Sierra Music Festival, The Peach Music Festival and LOCKN’. We spoke to Greg Ormont, frontman of the band, about the band’s plans for music and touring and how cannabis impacts its music and genre.
How did you get started making music?
Well, it turns out that the womb has great acoustics. My mom always said that I rocked out during her pregnancy and popped out singing, although I was probably just kicking and screaming. Moms can be overly supportive, so who knows? Maybe that’s why I was in a screamo band for about five minutes in high school. Fortunately for everyone, I found greener pastures in college and left the screaming to the professionals.
Who are some of your biggest influences?
To be honest, our lead guitarist Jeremy Schon has probably influenced my musical mind the most. We met on the first day of college at the University of Maryland and he immediately taught me how to get funky on guitar, eventually took me to my first music festival and brought me to my first Phish concert, all of which completely changed the course of my life. I can say pretty confidently that I wouldn’t be chatting with CULTURE right now if I hadn’t grabbed my guitar and walked down the hall of our freshman dorm looking to make new friends, ultimately finding Jeremy jamming in his room. From there, Jeremy opened my ears to tons of new music like Lotus, Soulive, The New Deal, Phish, The Disco Biscuits, Talking Heads, The New Mastersounds and countless others. We started writing music together within the first few minutes of knowing each other and haven’t stopped since.
How do you describe your style?
Our live shows are like a tidal wave of high-energy psychedelic funk and positivity. We pour every ounce of ourselves into our shows like it’s the last thing that we’ll do on this planet, and our wild and wonderful fan base, “The Flock,” reflects and reciprocates that energy to the moon. Plus, our lighting director Manny Newman truly elevates the show with his mind-melting, locked-in light show. Our live shows are an explosion of beautiful lights, ear-to-ear smiles and high-flying funk. And our albums are tight, crisp, dynamic snapshots of our energy.
How do you feel about the jam scene locally and worldwide?
The jam scene is on fire right now. It seems like there are jam fans chomping at the bit from coast to coast and it’s just awesome to see. Crowds in Colorado and the Pacific Northwest always remind me of festivals more than cities. But it’s not just out West; it’s the whole country. I think alongside the rise of Spotify, the entire world has never been so open to discovering and supporting new music. We’re fortunate to be part of such a welcoming music scene at such an exciting time, and we hope jam fans are just as kind overseas in the coming years.
What type of samples and production do you work into your music, and how does this affect your sound?
Our drummer Alex “Gator” Petropulos has a Roland SPD-SX Sampling Pad that we occasionally use for light sweeps and subtle “whoosh” sounds, just to add a little texture and fullness to some of our deeper jams. He also occasionally adds some vintage electronic drum and clap sounds for enhanced dynamics. Other than that, we sample some spoken-word segments in the intro of our song “Pop Off.” The samples are audio clips from an instructional video about pigeons literally playing ping pong with each other in the 1950s. Check out the Skinner Foundation’s footage and then guess how we came up with our band name.
How has cannabis affected your life and/or your creative process?
I once put the TV remote in the fridge.
How do you feel about legalization so far? Is there anything you think could be done better or differently?
To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I’d ever see legalization happen in my lifetime, so overall I’m surprised in a good way so far, although state vs. federal legalization makes it all a bit hairy. It’s been pretty wild to experience as a traveling band. Cannabis laws are so different from state to state that it kind of feels like we travel to 48 different countries, not 48 different states. For example, the differences in laws between Colorado and its neighbor Kansas are like night and day, which is why most bands are still super safe about cannabis on the road. It reminds me of stories my dad would tell me about the seventies when the drinking age was lower in NJ than NY, or vice versa. Teenagers would buy alcohol legally in one state, then get arrested once they crossed back into their home state, which always seemed so arbitrary to me. So if I could do anything differently, I’d approach legalization from a federal standpoint instead of state-by-state so we’re all on the same page, but I know that’s easier said than done. More than anything, I’m happy that our country is recognizing all of cannabis’ medical benefits.
“Back in the original dorm days, cannabis was a big theme. Our first original song was a spontaneous tune called ‘I Like to Blaze’ and our second song was ‘Dutchmaster.'”
Have you ever worked cannabis into your music as a theme? If so, how?
Back in the original dorm days, cannabis was a big theme. Our first original song was a spontaneous tune called “I Like to Blaze” and our second song was “Dutchmaster.” In fact, one of the only songs from the dorm days that’s still in our regular touring rotation is a cannabis-inspired song written by our college roommate’s old band. The song is called “Cliffs,” and let’s just say The Flock knows what goes down at the cliffs. We’ve also played a handful of themed shows on 4/20, busting out cannabis classics like “Smoke Two Joints,” “Puff The Magic Dragon” and “Pussy Pussy Pussy (Marijuana),” among many others.
How do you feel the experience of using cannabis can affect people’s lives?
What’s really amazing is all the ways people can benefit from cannabis without even getting high these days. We support companies like Straight Hemp out of Denver, Colorado who make CBD wellness products that help people deal with serious conditions as well as everyday issues. While on tour, some of us apply hemp or CBD salves on the backside of our wrists to soothe the inevitable strains that come with being a full-time musician.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
210 + 210
Band Name: Pigeons Playing Ping Pong
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Most Recent Album: Pizzaz