In 2006, the Baltimore funk-jam band Pigeons Playing Ping Pong started from a modest and typical beginning: Two new friends — Greg Ormont and Jeremy Schon — playing acoustic guitar together in a University of Maryland dorm room. The duo took their songs to coffee shops and open-mic nights around campus, and a year later, added drummer Dan Schwartz and bassist Ben Carrey to complete the act.
Since then, Pigeons have lived on the road (Ormont said the group played 196 shows in 2013) and won over a groove-friendly fanbase that was drawn to the band’s performances. On Thursday, the band’s hard work culminates with the release of Pigeons’ second album, “Psychology,” and a headlining record release show at the 9:30 Club in Washington. (To hear tracks from the album, go to pigeonsplayingpingpong.com.)
As the band traveled through North Carolina earlier this week, on its way to a performance in the Outer Banks, I spoke to Ormont on the phone about the new album, comparisons to another Baltimore band and the plan for the rest of the year. (No surprise: It’s to tour — including never-before-played-locations such as Kentucky, Georgia and even Jamaica.)
How’s tour been so far?
Tour’s been great. We’ve been working on new material, and the shows have been going well. Each town is different, and it’s always nice seeing familiar and new faces. No real complaints. We had a couple shredded tires on the road but we patched those back up and got it back rolling. Tour continues; it’s nothing we can’t handle.
Your new record, “Psychology,” is the band’s first in four years. When and where did you record it?
We recorded it at a great studio called Studio 10 in Reisterstown, Maryland. It’s actually an awesome guy’s house. He has a detached studio, so the actual room and floor itself are separate from the foundation of the house, which is great for recording – having its own foundation, or lack of vibration issues with the house.
We actually recorded it over the past two years because we’ve been touring so much. This is our second full-length album. The first one we had recorded in 2010 at the end of our college careers in a quick night. This one took a lot longer, just [because of] our busy tour schedule. That was one of the biggest challenges – balancing touring and recording, but the finished result is something we’re really proud of and we’re just thrilled to get something back out there.
Where do you hear the biggest differences between the “Funk EP” and “Psychology”?
The biggest difference between our first and second album has just been the attention to detail. The first track, “F.U.,” on our new album, has the Hornitz, a duo of horns [from Boston] that sat in on the track. We also added a bunch of fun layers, including gongs and wave sounds — like crashing waves and bird sounds — to really make it a full aural experience. We wanted to reflect our live energy in this album, while still putting out something refined and studio quality. So we added a bunch of layers to make our songs very dynamic and keep the listener intrigued throughout.
You played nearly 200 shows last year. Was there ever a point where you second-guessed touring so much?
Touring that much isn’t easy for anyone. It’s not for every type of person. We happen to do great on the road together. In this modern music era, touring at this stage in our career seems to be the most proven successful method of establishing a career as a musician. While we’re excited to get our album out, we really want people to be listening to it. It’s no longer like we’re signing a record deal and have to meet any quotas to make good. In the digital age, there’s so much music around. It’s just about standing out and really creating that live experience, which is what we’ve been focusing on.
It’s no longer the album-sales model; it’s the tickets-and-T-shirts model. [It’s] the transition to live performance and merchandise and developing a brand people can relate to, and that’s very easy for us because we’ve always had fun with this project and started it out of that. We wouldn’t still be in the band if it wasn’t fun, so people are able to see that and share in that with us.
Pigeons has often been linked to the Bridge, another Baltimore band that amassed a flowing through heavy touring. Does it feel like you’re carrying the flag for Baltimore funk?
[Long pause] Well, yes. We’re pretty humble guys, and we are happy to be representing Baltimore wherever we go. We’ve seen the Bridge countless times, each of us, and have been inspired by them from very early on. So whenever we get compared to them and representing Baltimore, it’s a big honor and we’re very happy to carry the torch if that’s what needs to be done for the scene. And there’s a lot of really great things happening in Baltimore, like our friends in bands like ELM, DELTAnine and others are really doing some great things for the scene, after losing such a gluing band as the Bridge.
You’ve played the 9:30 Club before, but the group is headlining for the first time on Thursday, correct?
This is our first time headlining the 9:30 Club, which is a great thing to be able to say.
How much of an accomplishment is that for you, personally?
Well, I’m the one member of the band from New York, so I’ve only been going to the 9:30 Club for seven years or so, but I know that it’s been a pretty much bucket-list accomplishment for all three of the other guys. I know that the 9:30 Club is one of the most heralded venues on the East Coast, and we’ve all been going to and have looked up to the performances that we’ve seen at the venue. I’ve seen some of my favorite shows ever at the 9:30 Club with some of the biggest bands that I’ve enjoyed and supported, and to be in that class is something we’re going to approach with poise and tenacity. It’s remarkable. All we can do is prepare and practice and continue to push ourselves musically and beyond. In doing so, we feel confident and excited to throw it down the way we have for years.
What’s the plan for the rest of the year?
We have a great looking remainder of the year. I think about it all of the time. We’ve been working really hard the past few months, having thrown our own festival called Domefest, which is a boatload of work and a lot of fun. We just have this album release coming up, which still requires a lot of in-house promotion and hard work to make it the best night possible.
So the remainder of the year is like a full-on vacation of amazing shows. We’ll be in Colorado in a couple of weeks. The Peach [Music] Festival is a great festival [in Pennsylvania] where some of our favorite musicians are playing with us. We’ll be playing a wedding in Jamaica, which is our first international gig. It will be incredibly relaxing and exciting.
We’re continuing to tour relentlessly, up and down the East Coast — hitting new marks and exciting festivals. We’re having a great time as always.
INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSEDCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun