Q&A: Alex Petropulos of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong on New Year’s stEve
Photo by Vic Brazen
Phoning from his home in Baltimore, Alex Petropulos of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong is enjoying a little downtime before the psychedelic funk quartet embark on yet another lengthy tour.
“Every time we’re home, we’re always rehearsing and practicing together, whether it’s working on new stuff or just jamming,” the 27-year-old drummer says. “We treat that as the office time—if you can compare it to that.”
Currently, the biggest event on the band’s calendar is their four-night New Year’s run, culminating with New Year’s stEve, a celebration of Stevie Wonder as well as “Steves” of all stripes. According to Petropulos, that could mean anyone from Stevie Nicks to Steve Carrell.
Below, the drummer gives us a few hints as to what the band’s dedicated fanbase, known affectionately as The Flock, can expect on Dec. 31 in Pittsburgh.
How long after Halloween, were you guys pivoting to New Year’s? Were you planning both runs at the same time?
We always do themes for Halloween and New Year’s and they’re not too far apart in terms of preparation. The Halloween one [Red Hot Sgt. Peppers] was a lot; we spread it out through the whole run, and it was great. It went well, but it was a lot of hard work.
We actually already had the idea for New Year’s, but we were keeping that show on the back burner to focus on the Halloween shows. Once that was over, it was pretty much, “Let’s keep on working on new originals, but also get our butts ready for New Year’s.”
Was the idea for New Year’s stEve theme spontaneous or had you considered it for a while?
I believe it was pretty spontaneous. There are some ideas that we’ve been talking about for years. For example, DisNYE was something Greg [Ormont] and Jeremy [Schon] had envisioned for years. It’s funny, I don’t even remember the exact genesis of New Year’s stEve. I’m pretty sure this was a spontaneous one. It’s gonna be a fun night and we’re gonna throw in a bunch of little teases here and there.
New Year’s stEve is only one night, but you’re spreading the run over three different cities: Two nights in Nashville, a night in Kentucky, then the big show in Pittsburgh. Why these cities in particular?
As far as New Year’s Eve specifically, the Pittsburgh show, we played that venue a few years ago, opening for Lotus, and it blew our minds. It’s a nice, big, broad, clean, hip, really great venue
The Madison in Covington, Ky. is a place we’ve found ourselves coming back to because not only is the crowd great there, but the people who run the venue are also great to us.
And we all just love Nashville. We’ve had great shows there; we’ve done different venues almost every time, and this is actually a new venue for us in Nashville that we’re graduating to, The Basement East. We’ve heard great things. I think any musician would love Nashville: great fans and so many music shops and people we can visit. I’m really excited about the places, because they’re all so different and awesome in their own ways. As far as location, I’m very excited.
I’m gonna throw some Steves at you to take your temperature and get some hints for the show. The first, obviously, is Stevie Wonder.
I think it’s easy to say that we’ll be celebrating the life and music of Stevie Wonder. He’s the pinnacle, especially with our music, the funk and soul stuff. In this genre, he is the king, so first and foremost that’s what we’re basing it on. We’re all such big Stevie fans.
The sound of Stevie Wonder is built so much on the clavinet and all those keyboard sounds. Are you guys working with those arrangements?
We always try to base the set on what we play. While we may have some guests to join us and fill some gaps, the actual true core of the show will just be us, which is fun because it’s a challenge. A lot of people are like, “How are they gonna do it without keys?” That’s a challenge for us and helps us put our own sound on it.
What about Stevie Nicks?
That’s definitely one that’s on our radar. We’re big fans of Stevie, specifically Greg. We love it. She’s got a cool, mysterious vibe. We’ve always liked that and we might be able to do something cool with it. So that’s a good idea.
Steve Miller Band?
When you brainstorm Steves, that one seems to come to the mind pretty quick. They’ve got great tunes. I’m a huge fan. Just nice, simple rock songs that we may be able to put a funky twist on. That’s another good idea.
That one’s a little tougher, but one we’re brainstorming. I’m a huge fan. I’ve been able to see him a couple times; I saw him with Tom Petty one time at Fenway Park and it was so epic. He’s still amazing. He still belts it out and hits the notes perfectly. That’s a slightly deeper one that we’re thinking about. Mad respect for Steve Winwood.
Last one, and I think you guys will definitely do this: Steve Aoki?
Oh yeah, absolutely. Huge Steve Aoki fan. I’m actually gonna chuck the cake. [Laughs.] We’re still getting the cakes made. It’ll probably be a 20 foot by 20 foot Pigeon cake. That’s gonna be the big beat drop. I’ll give that one away.
No instruments, all laptops.
Absolutely. Nothing wrong with that.
Tell me about this Buscemi eyes thing you guys want people to do…
Oh my gosh. Outside the music world, entertainment-wise there are so many great Steves, from the kung fu skills of Steven Seagal to Steve Carell getting his chest waxed in 40-Year-Old Virgin to Steve Buscemi chucking bodies into a wood chipper in Fargo. We love Steves, and Buscemi’s the man. His eyes have always been a big inspiration to Greg.
We thought it’d be a fun idea to have our friend put together this thing. You can print out a replica of Steve Buscemi’s beautiful eyes and you can cut around them and wear them at the show. We’re encouraging it and hoping to see a lot of weird Buscemi eyes at the show.
Were all those movies you just referenced a hint to some onstage costumes?
Ooh. That’s a good call. That’s a solid idea. You also have Steven Spielberg who presents a lot of great possibilities with different ambiance. We’re trying to think of fun ways to incorporate that side of it, but we’re not too sure. We definitely want to pay ode to Steves in ways more than just the music.
As the year comes to a close, have you had a chance to reflect on 2018?
From our amazing tours to the festival season—shows like Bonnaroo and LOCK’N—playing Red Rocks for the first time, we seemed to have had a lot of bucket list milestones this year. We’ve been super fortunate and grateful and will continue to work hard and create more items to check off. We’ve got the Capitol Theatre coming up. We just want to keep going and not take anything for granted. That’s why we’re working so hard to keep The Flock happy with New Year’s stEve and trying to put out our own tunes. Once January comes around, we’re ready to start over on an even bigger, better year.
Any plans to go into the studio soon?
It’s definitely on our radar. Like a lot of other bands in this scene, it’s mostly based on the live aspect, and we put a lot of our time and energy into the live show, but we haven’t forgotten about the studio. We don’t have any set dates as far as getting back in, but we’re developing new songs and starting to plan out when that process will come to be.
Do you or the band as a whole have any New Year’s resolutions?
I’m trying to think of something silly and goofy, but obviously, as cheesy as it is, we’re always trying to get better. As fun and goofy as we like to present, we’re still hard working. Out resolution is probably just to try to keep putting out new songs and content. Each individual in the band is always trying to get better. Greg and Jeremy, they’re always working on guitar; Ben [Carrey]’s always trying new bass stuff, learning piano; I’m always doing my thing, trying to get better at drums. We just want to keep moving forward and progress and shred away.
For more information on Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, including tour dates, visit their official website.