The Road To AURA: Greg Ormont of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong February 25, 2016 10:22
Photo by Brady Cooling Photography
The 7th Annual AURA Music & Arts Festival is right around the corner, taking place at The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida from Thursday, March 3rd to Saturday, March 5th. As a part of our coverage of the festival, we are sitting down with a handful of this year's performers for a series of interviews called "The Road To AURA." First up is the always charismatic Greg Ormont (guitar/vocals) of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.
Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong has just finished up another highly successful year. Your audience continues to grow, you're playing bigger venues, and the band is clearly in high demand on the festival circuit. What has been this band's approach toward building this momentum, and how do you plan to continue on in 2016?
Greg: Well, you know, we continue to do the same things on our end, which is practicing every week when we can, while continuing to focus on having fun. Our vibes seem to be resonating with more and more people and as we play larger venues. But our "momentum" as you put it, is separate from what we experience daily. We're just doing the same thing we've been doing since college, which is just getting together, working on creating a unique funky sound as a group, and trying to put a smile on everybody's face when we're playing live. So we're just continuing to do what we love to do, and it seems to be moving nicely, in terms of us being able to play in bigger rooms,which just allows us make more people smile.
You've recently announced the release of the latest Pigeons' album, Pleasure, due out on Friday, April 1st. How does this album differ from Psychology, and what can your fans expect upon listening for the first time?
Greg: Oh man... listening to Pleasure gives me a lot of... pleasure (chuckles). I'm so proud of this album. I consider Pleasure to be our first "professional" studio recording in the truest sense of the word. We recorded at a phenomenal studio in Baltimore called Wright Way Studios and the experience was totally different than Psychology's recording process. With Psychology, we recorded the album ourselves, albeit with some help from our sonically inclined friends, at an impressive home studio, but we didn't have any professional assistance from start to finish. With Pleasure, we hired the owner of the studio to engineer the album, and his input and abilities eclipsed Psychology within seconds of the first recording session. Our fans can expect to hear our songs jump off the speakers with professional-grade sound quality. The album's overall flow rises and falls like the peaks and valleys of our live experience, and it's all mixed with precision.
Listen to Pigeons Playing Ping Pong's latest single "Live It Up":
The first single released from Pleasure, "Live It Up," is one which has been in rotation in the Pigeons catalog for a while now. Have many of the remaining songs on this album been played live as well?
Greg: At this point, all of them have been played at least once. We play so many shows that we don't really like holding back our material live, especially in this musical-ADD age. So if we're working on a new song that we're liking, and we feel it's ready to play live, we play it. That way, we can experience the live energy and see how the song actually plays with a live crowd. And typically, our songs will develop after a few performances. The thing is, you can get all the parts together in practice, but once you play it live, you find out what that song actually "is" and how it affects people. Because, you know, music is communication, and when you create a song, it communicates one thing in practice, but when you expand that setting to an excited crowd in an exciting place, you end up with a different result. Just like delivering a speech to one person vs. 1,000, you're going to say things with different emphases based on your audience, setting and mood. Sometime we'll play a new song and it goes exactly as expected, and then other times, the jam section emits an emotion that is not what we planned for initially, just based off of the energy of a particular crowd. So we prefer to test our songs live and experience the feedback before laying it down for good in the studio. That way, we can embellish the parts that resonate with our fans. As a result, all of the songs off Pleasure have natural live energy injected into the studio versions.
Photo by Brady Cooling Photography
Over the years, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park has become the home to many of the nation's most anticipated annual music festivals. What is it that differentiates Suwannee from other festival sites and makes it so special? Do you feel the atmosphere has a direct effect on this music?
Greg: Oh definitely...everyone talks about The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park the same. The rumors are always true. Just like any major city that I've heard a lot of buzz about, such as Asheville, North Carolina, Burlington, Vermont, the entire state of Colorado...typically when hear great things about a place, you go there and feel the magic right away. The same goes for Suwannee, for so many reasons, but primarily, it's like...imagine the perfect set up for a festival, with an awesome amphitheater stage where everyone can see the music amongst tropical trees, artists and fans are hanging together, there's swimming available, and it's warm.... And then, add like...I don't know...a sheet of Dr. Seuss' best acid in terms of aesthetics, with drooping Spanish moss hanging over picturesque ponds, with lit up swans floating in the water... Plus there's a mysterious and legendary black river with black water running through it...a common site for cliff jumpers... the intrigue never ends.
And then on top of all of that, you're in Florida in early March, so anyone who has travelled from outside of the Southeast like us is thrilled to be walking around in shorts and t-shirts in the middle of what should be snowy weather.
Plus, AURA does such a good job of booking up-and-coming bands, and they are the same bands we run into at different festivals and in clubs year round. All friends. So we're surrounded by amazing people who are also experiencing a happy break from the weather in a magical, almost nonsensical festival site. There's just too much beauty to explore. I still haven't experienced all of its amenities, and this will be my third time down there.
Watch Pigeons Playing Ping Pong perform "Julia" at AURA 2014 here:
You guys are scheduled to play at 6:45-8PM on Saturday night at the Vibe Tent. How does this band go about determining the setlist for a major festival set vs. any other night on tour?
Greg: We love taking festivals from the daytime to the nighttime. It is the best. I mean, I love headlining and playing late night too, but it's really interesting to experience a sunset while you're playing. You can literally see the crowd's mood change from daytime smiles to nighttime raging and you tailor your setlist to accentuate that experience. That moment of nightfall is always great visually, but it's also a very unique musical experience that emits some serious natural energy.
And one thing that we focus on is putting on a different show every time. We work hard to consistently brew up something special and new for our crowd, and continue to push ourselves to create new transitions, bust out new covers and teases and continue to keep it fresh. Plus, we have a ton of friends in the AURA family, so there's a good chance that we'll get some help from our musical friends. I wouldn't miss this one...
This year marks the 7th Annual AURA Music & Arts Festival. You guys understand the amount of time and effort required to execute a successful weekend festival, as your 7th annual festival Domefest proves. What are some of the most important factors in establishing and growing a successful music festival?
Greg: It's key to build a good team around you and delegate responsibility, because you simply can't run a festival by yourself. Our guitarist Jeremy Schon and I can work every day for 6-12 months a year planning out every single detail of Domefest, but once the weekend is upon us, we couldn't pull it off without our team of go-getters. This year, we'll have around 40 staff and 60 volunteers, and no one can slack off for a second if we want to continue to put on the a smooth and epic event that people have grown to love. Fortunately, we're surrounded by an amazingly supportive community of people who give Domefest their all each year.
Beyond that, we focus on fostering a fun and easy-going experience for our attendees and bands. Having toured the country for years, we know how important it is for bands to feel comfortable at festivals during the long summer. We model our festival after what we look for in hospitality as touring musicians, as well as festival attendees. Musicians and fans can enjoy some mountain air and new music side-by-side in a hassle-free environment, which our fans have grown to appreciate in the age of a million festivals. Domefest is a little more laid back and grassroots than most festivals these days. There isn't much separation between where the artists and fans camp and chill. It's really free flowing, and I've felt similar vibes at AURA the past two years. Fans and bands seeing new music together. That's what it's all about.
Watch Pigeons Playing Ping Pong perform "F.U." at AURA 2014 here:
This year's lineup features a notably diverse variety of the festival scene's most exciting groups. What do you think this lineup says about the depth of this music scene in 2016?
Greg: AURA always books the best up-and-comers and top headliners in the jam scene. For years, I always noticed that their lineups were on the pulse and I wanted to be part of it. The lineup is always comprised of bands who are just down to have a good time, no prima donnas or anything like that. Everyone just enjoys a winter vacation in Florida while getting their name out there.
I mean, from top to bottom, you have The Disco Biscuits, who have been having a good time since they started, and then every band who would be totally fine with having a career similar to The Disco Biscuits' in 10 years, with the exception of a few acts who are dominating their own paths, like multiple Grammy Award winning Snarky Puppy, the incredible songwriters of ALO, and then of course the globally successful Thievery Corporation. And I think AURA has hand-picked some of the best up-and-comers that will lead the future of the jam scene. I'm talking about Turkuaz, The Main Squeeze, hopefully us, Aqueous...I think that every band on AURA's lineup deserves to be there and I can't wait to see them all lay it down in the swamp!
DomeFest will take place from May 19th - May 21st on Fort Royale Farm in Bedford, PA. Tickets are currently $60, but prices will increase to $70 on Tuesday, March 1st. This year's lineup features three nights of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, as well as sets from Big Something, Aqueous, Broccoli Samurai, Mister F, and many more. Click here to purchase your tickets today!