Baltimore jamtronica quartet Pigeons Playing Ping Pong was born in the dorm rooms of University of Maryland at College Park, Md. They took their name from the miraculous results of psychologist B.F. Skinner’s landmark experiments with Columba livia domestica, the domestic pigeon, and the Victorian pastime of table tennis.
“When you prepare as much as we do, you’re able to cut loose and have fun with it. You enjoy the crowds, feed off it, smile from ear to ear and let it rip.”
— Greg Ormont
Twin guitarists Greg Ormont and Jeremy Schon came up with clever moniker when they were an acoustic guitar duo playing mashups of Bob Marley and Phish (“No Woman No Farmhouse”) at a local university bar.
Feb. 16 | 9 p.m.
Crystal Bay Casino | Crystal Bay, Nev.
“We often do show posters and it’s given our artists a lot to work with,” says Ormont “It’s a very visual concept.”
They met bassist Ben Carrey when moving their rehearsal space from the dorms to off-campus housing.
“Ben lived upstairs,” says Ormont. “He heard the music, picked up his bass and joined the band thereafter. It was all really natural. We started basically in the garage.”
Nowadays these curly-haired birds play their energetic brand of psychedelic, electro-funk groove at major music festivals around the country including The Peach Music Festival, High Sierra Music Festival and Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. Their fan base from coast to coast is known affectionately as “The Flock.” Each year they gather on Marvin’s Mountaintop in Masontown, W.V., to celebrate Domefest with multiple sets of Pigeons, as well as a host of band-member side projects such as Scrambled Greg.
After recording their first two albums, “Psychology” and “Pleasure,” drummer Dan Schwartz left the band to start real-estate software company InvestorFuse. Luckily, he was replaced by phenomenal standout musician Alex Petropulos.
“Alex is on another level,” says Ormont. “He plays with such snap and focus and power. He is continually working his craft, constantly watching videos, networking with other drummers on Instagram and hosting drum sessions in his off time. It trickles down to the rest of us.”
It’s all part of another psychological concept by K. Anders Ericsson that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at anything.
“We are trying to do that as a group and as individuals,” says Ormont. “When you prepare as much as we do, you’re able to cut loose and have fun with it. You enjoy the crowds, feed off it, smile from ear to ear and let it rip.”
Petropulos’ unbelievable timing feel helped lead the group to new heights with 2017’s “Pizazz.” Same goes for their newest release “Presto,” which came out last month. The album was recorded at Wright Way Studios in Baltimore by producer Steve Wright who has worked with Mos Def, M.I.A and SR71 to name a few.
“I think there are some better songwriting techniques in there,” says Ormont. “We’ve studied music of other people.”
At a recent New Year’s Eve performance, the band played songs by Steves: Stevie Nicks, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Steve Miller Band. The music of Stevie Wonder in particular carried over to the new compositions on “Presto.”
“He does a few things you can incorporate, for example having a bass note carry over a few different chords,” says Ormont referencing new track “Sail On.” “It creates a really cool tension and resolve.”
Another time they put on a concert called, “Red Hot Sergeant Peppers” that features a mashup of Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Beatles.
“We’re just doing our homework,” says Ormont. “It makes each song better, a little more nuanced while still maintaining our carefree attitude. The band is rooted in having fun, putting those worries aside and getting lost in the music.”
One of the singles on the new album has already inspired a good cause. The group founded Dawn a New Day Foundation to put $1 from every ticket toward mental health and wellness resources in the music community.
“It speaks to what our mission is as a band,” says Ormont. “It radiates positivity. It lets people know that no matter what they are going through, they have support around them. We all have different ways of feeling a little blue, but there are positive walls to handle life’s curveballs. It’s about inspiring people to keep their chin up.”
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong will be joined at Crystal Bay Casino Sunday night by Norwalk, Conn. Up-and-coming jam band Goose, making their first West Coast tour.
“You know what they say about birds of a feather,” says Ormont. “We’ve got to look out for our avian brothers. I think these shows are going to be electric and filled with the excitement the West Coast brings.”