Especially for bands, success can come either like a winning lottery ticket or the slow earnings of a savings bond. If you're not going to be lucky, you'd damn well better have some patience. Those investments can take a long time to mature.
Patience has never been a problem for Fred and Toody Cole. For more than 30 years, the Oregon couple has made music together—in the Rats, Dead Moon and now Pierced Arrows—while not looking for big returns so much as a chance to share their love for raw, unwavering passion, aptly displayed in their chunky, no-frills garage rock rumble with a worldwide network of those who might appreciate it. Their dedication is so extreme, in fact, that about a year and a half ago, the Coles ran a marathon shortly after Fred's 60th birthday. Two days later, they were back in the van. You might describe them as exceptionally hardy.
"Either that or really stupid," says Toody Cole, laughing as she explains the run from the Pierced Arrows tour van in Canada. "It takes both. It's kind of like a death wish with just part of the adrenaline rush. It's really no different than touring. Trust me, it all feels the same, it's just different muscles that hurt."
Of course, 26 miles is nothing compared to the revolutions of the odometer the Coles accrued as they put Dead Moon on the highway. Formed in 1987 with drummer Andrew Loomis, the band steadily attracted a modest but dedicated cult following with its ragged, feral throb. They put out more than a dozen albums, most released on their Tombstone label. Fred even cut the band's own vinyl lathes, or the master copies used for manufacturing, by hand with a 50-year-old machine Toody gave him for a birthday present.
In the mid-'60s, Fred played in a variety of garage-psych acts as a teenager, most notably the Weeds and The Lollipop Shoppe. While attempting to flee to Vancouver to avoid the Vietnam draft in 1967, his band ran out of gas and money in Portland. They secured a residency at a club called The Folk Singer, where the not-yet-18 Toody worked. They've been together ever since.
"Most of the guys who were out there floating around were into this big butt rock, stadium/arena overproduction bullshit, which you can tell Fred's never been a big fan of," Toody recalls. Several dead bands and 11 years after they met, Fred was done dealing with pampered personalities and egos. He taught Toody to play the bass. "He just wanted somebody that would bom-bom-bom-bom-bom, and that was it—which was perfect, because that was all I could do."
After playing together in several bands, including country-minded acts Western Front and The Range Rats, Fred returned to his initial garage passion with Dead Moon. Their ceaseless touring gained them fans around the world, and the 2004 documentary Dead Ahead seduced even more. In 2006, just as Sub Pop released a 49-track Dead Moon retrospective, they called it quits.
"At some point, after doing the same 30 or 40 songs for the last 10 or 15 years, the audience is still digging it, but it's getting very old for you," Toody says. "You feel trapped, like you're stuck with your past."
The Coles planned to take a six-month break and perhaps start a new band. They could only sit still for half that long.
"When you're not playing in a band, to be standing out in the audience, even if they're friends of yours and you love the band, to see them up there, getting off playing, you're down there going, 'Fuck, I got to get something together, like now,'" she says. "You get antsy to get out there, get in the van and get the wheels moving again."
They found their third Arrow in drummer Kelly Halliburton, whose father, Fred, had played keyboards with Fred in the '70s. Halliburton shared a similar love of the never-ending road and the DIY ethic, which has helped make their latest effort "a little more serious and nose to the grindstone than Dead Moon," says Toody. Just over a year after the band's April 2007 premiere, they had a debut, Straight From the Heart, out on Tombstone.
Though similar to Dead Moon, Pierced Arrows aren't quite as gritty and overdriven. The melodies are sharper, showcasing a nimble, supple muscularity.
"It's a bit more complicated, syncopated and rhythmic—and a little more challenging to play," explains Toody. "We're able to do some different things musically that were just hard to nail down in Dead Moon for one reason or another."
Their fervent legion seems to have translated to the new band, which is already drawing nearly as well as Dead Moon did in their final days. Vice Records, the record-making branch of the hip-kid New York media conglomerate, financed their latest, Descending Shadows. Through the bluesy, slow-burn "On the Move," the tracks echo the band's carpe diem gypsy mind-set. During the squalling, Neil Young-lke "On Our Way," Fred howls, "Don't know when we'll be back/ Toody disconnect the phone."
While some find comfort in their couches and cable TV, the Coles never feel so much at home as when they're one the road. They're lifers, happily shackled to their amplifiers, and excited to run out the string until there are no threads left. They long ago realized the race exists to be run, not won.
"The world feels so small. We know people all over, and we've gone to different places so many times that every long tour feels like a family reunion in a way," Toody says. "Life's a journey. If you're standing still, it's just going to pass you by."
Pierced Arrows play with Shit Horse Friday, March 12, at The Cave. The $10 show is 10 p.m. And in a rare move for The Cave, advance tickets are available at the club.