In the fall of 2014, Pete and Andrea Connolly went west.
He had just turned 50, so they were celebrating with a five-week trip. They visited Yellowstone and explored the California coast. The married couple double as the band Birds and Arrows, so they played a handful of shows while on the road. Though the Arizona desert was a little out of their way, Pete insisted they make it.
"I've been there before," he told her. "We have to go."
In the functionally artsy and economically diverse Tucson, they found the Bohemian vibe Andrea had been seeking for years. She loved the surprisingly lush Arizona desert, too.
"Every city we've been in, we've been like, 'This is cool, but it's not as cool as the Triangle,'" Andrea remembers.
But finally, they had discovered their next home. The plan was to move to Arizona within five years, by the time Andrea was 40. But the timeline accelerated when Pete's mom died. Pete's dad overheard the couple talking about Tucson, and he spoke up.
"I will help you get there if you take me," he said. "We need to go soon, because I'm 86."
Thus, just after the new year, Birds and Arrows—and Dad—will make the move. "It's like a sitcom—indie band takes 86-year-old dad to Tucson, Arizona," Pete says. "He made it just happen immediately."
Before they go, they'll play a farewell show at Cat's Cradle Back Room on Saturday. I talked to the Connollys about how the records they've made as Birds and Arrows during the last decade map their relationship and life together.
When Pete met Andrea in 2006, she was married. There was nothing wrong with her first marriage, she explains, but she had never been madly in love. After Pete started playing drums with her, they shared a deep infatuation. "I can't even listen to that first EP," he says. "It was such a raw, emotional time."
With Andrea's first marriage over and her musical and romantic relationship with Pete growing, she found an apartment—a little cinderblock cell in Chapel Hill—in a hurry. The couple took stock of their world: Andrea's parents had paid for a wedding nine months earlier. Her ex was pissed. Her friends thought that, at 26, she was crazy to leave her husband for her 41-year-old drummer.
"Time was the only thing that was going to convince anybody this was the right choice," Andrea says.
"It was a time for healing," Pete says. "My writing was almost a penance."
The two married the same year; these days, their age difference comes up only when Andrea is jealous that Pete was able to see certain bands on tour, as she gestures to her Genesis shirt.
Andrea recorded and mixed Birds and Arrows' debut full-length, Starmaker, with limited help from Andrew Marlin, who had just moved to town and had yet to form Mandolin Orange. After the intensity and drama of the first few years, the couple opened up and began to write more hopeful music.
"It was about starting our lives together," Pete says. "We can make this work."
"I had never been with anyone who was an artist," Andrea says. "There was a celebration of finding a camaraderie."
Graveyard Fields was the brainchild of songwriter Brian Risk. In this chamber rock band, Pete drummed, Andrea sang backup and Joshua Starmer played cello. Starmer later admitted that he joined Graveyard Fields to sneak into Pete and Andrea's main band. It worked: By the next Birds and Arrows LP, he was a full-fledged member.
"We felt like we were pigeonholed into being quieter," Andrea says, "and We're Gonna Run was the first record where we got to rock out a little bit." Though he and Andrea share a background in rock music, Pete agrees Birds and Arrows can't shake its "folk duo" appellation. But as a trio, they were able to embrace their prog and rock roots while never fully shedding the jangle. Routed through effects and looped, Starmer's cello embellished the sound without making it orchestral.
The trio was not built to last. The press tended to focus on the couple, so Starmer felt relegated to second-class status. And Pete and Andrea moved to a cabin in rural Rougemont, making for a major commute for the Chapel Hill-based cellist.
"We didn't realize we were creating this situation," Andrea says. "Plus, he was itching to express himself creatively, and he started to resent that it was always about the couple all the time." Starmer left the band, but he remains close with the Connollys; Andrea still gives him vocal lessons.
Coyotes is a love letter to '70s radio rock, with some tunes serving as loving tributes to bands like America. "It was a way to mix this folk image everyone had of us with our rock image, with a direction that has some kitsch," Andrea says. "Pete and I like everything we do to have a bit of a sense of humor to it, aside from that first EP. That wasn't funny."
Andrea loves Christmas. Pete doesn't, but she is slowly wearing down his resistance. This EP's "Blue Collar, Red Suit" came from Andrea's mental picture of Santa Claus as a UPS delivery driver.
"I come from a long line of blue-collar workers, my dad included, and I know how stressful Christmas is for them," she says. "If it's stressful for dads, imagine how it would be if Santa was running a workshop that was totally blue-collar."
"Pete had this idea to buy some paper dolls and then for us to pose like them," Andrea says. As a result, the Edge of Everything cover is Andrea in a slip and Pete in boxers, socks and a T-shirt. Hearts are drawn on their chests, an homage to the second EP's title. The back includes their paper doll outfits.
"Pete and I have always been probably not as cool as we could be in the music world because of how earnest we are," Andrea continues. "That cover was sort of a 'Fuck you, here we are. We're exposed.'"
"Sometimes with bands, they play it so cool and take themselves so seriously that it's off-putting," Pete says. "I want to be wide open. It's a little bit silly and a tad goofy, but that's how we are."