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An Interview with Chapel Hill, NC band

Birds & Arrows

by Carol Bales, Star Reporter

Published February 9, 2010

Birds & Arrows - Starmakers


Birds and Arrows is Andrea and Pete Connolly of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They’ve been playing together for about three years, after meeting at a brewery where Pete was a brew master and Andrea was a bartender.

With Andrea on guitar and vocals, and Pete on drums and vocals, they make beautiful music together. They also finish each other’s sentences—you’ve heard it before, but this time it’s actually true (read on for proof).

I sat down with Birds and Arrows on a sunny Saturday this November and learned about being a married couple in a band, touring, and releasing their first full-length album, Starmaker.

Readers, please note Reglar Wiglar rookie and intern, Jon D., came along to learn the ropes and also ask questions, sometimes off subject, but often eliciting interesting responses.

RW: First of all guys, congratulations for being selected for a Reglar Wiglar interview.

ANDREA: Thank you.

RW: It’s usually a great step in one’s career. Can you please introduce yourselves for the Wiglar readers?

ANDREA: My name is Andrea Connolly and I’m in Birds and Arrows.

PETE: I’m Pete Connolly. I’m also in Birds and Arrows.

RW: So, for folks who haven’t listened to your record yet, and they will (the readers are easily influenced and your record sales will soar), how would you describe your music in five words or less?

ANDREA: You start, I cannot be non-wordy.

PETE: Here’s my five words or less, to be pigeon-holed into the five word zone: ‘indie-folk pop.’

ANDREA: That’s a good one.

RW: 'Cause indie-folk is hyphenated, so that’s two words.

PETE: I would consider it three words.

RW: I get confused about hyphenation.

ANDREA: I would say, to use more words, ‘indie-folk pop rock, sometimes ambient, slightly experimental.’

RW INTERN: That’s about six.

PETE: That’s about seven or eight.

ANDREA: Damn. No, I think the ‘indie-folk pop rock’ is good.

RW: I like that.

ANDREA: Folk, pop and rock are the keys.

RW: This next one is a several part question. You’re a couple, and you’re in a band. What are the challenges? How did you find out you were musically matched? Did Pete break out in theatrical song across the bar? Did the romance feed the music or the music feed the romance?

ANDREA: I think the music fed the romance. We were working together [at a restaurant] and Pete said that he would record drums for me on a song I was working on at the time—I was doing a solo record—and he said he would play drums for me. I think he realized what he was doing and I kind of did but pretended not to, pretended to be naïve.

PETE: I knew exactly what I was doing.

ANDREA: And so we got together and we recorded the drum part, we rehearsed the drum part. And things were obviously happening, exciting things were happening. Then we recorded the drum part and more exciting things happened. Yeah, so I would say the music fed the romance for sure.  

RW: What are the challenges of being a couple, being married, and being in a band together?

PETE: The challenge is that, if you both have the same hobby or whatever, to back that hobby up with a job is tough. Whereas, couples that have one of them as a musician and the other one holds down a steady job, then it all works out. But for us, it’s not so easy.

ANDREA: I can see where that’s coming from on his side, because he’s the one that’s working more than me right now. So that’s frustrating for him. And we plan to make [music] our full on career, but we’re moving that way slowly and he’s the one that’s kind of holding down more of the steady work. And so when there’s a frustration there about not giving or not putting in the work he wants to, it’s because he’s working to pay the bills.

PETE: And it’s frustrating too, I do the three days a week with the job and on those days like when Andrea’s mixing or doing these other things that involve our project together, it’s like I feel left out because I have a lot of input and I can’t really do much about it on those particular days.

ANDREA: So that’s the hard part.

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RW: Did you have something you wanted to ask, Reglar Wiglar Intern?

RW INTERN: Did you guys see Some Kind of Monster, the Metallica documentary?

PETE: Oh yeah.

RW INTERN: Is it similar to that? Where James Hetfield comes back from visiting with his kids and the other dudes had been mixing after four o'clock, and he’s like, ‘I thought we talked about not doing anything after four o'clock!’

ANDREA: Yeah, and then Pete gets our personal therapist to come in...

PETE: And then the therapist has these ideas for songs and things get weird.

ANDREA: And things get weird. [laughter]

RW INTERN: That’s what I figured.

RW: How did you find out that you were musically matched? How did you know that you guys could make music together?

ANDREA: How did we figure that out?

PETE: I guess through that initial recording process... recording in quotation marks.

ANDREA: I have to say, I didn’t know that we would be perfectly musically matched because at the time when I heard what Pete was doing, it was kind of a little more like classic rock, full on. And he wasn’t playing drums, he was playing guitar in the band, so I didn’t even know that he could play drums because I didn’t know him. But it turns out, drums is his first instrument and that’s what he had been playing since a kid, but I just didn’t know. So, to me at first I didn’t know how it would work, but then once I heard him play drums, I thought, this could be awesome, you know, the idea of him holding down the rhythm.

PETE: Plus, I was at a point where I was really bored with the kind of music that I’d been listening to and doing and I was trying to seek out new music through any kind of way possible. Like my niece and nephew, I’d have my niece make me mix CDs with new stuff because I just wanted to hear some new bands and was so over the old ones.

ANDREA: And we realized how much we connected on music. Pete’s a little older than me, so we both loved the same music but at different times. Both of us were totally crazy about Peter Gabriel but we came to appreciate Peter Gabriel different ways, and same with newer bands.

PETE: I liked the So album when like I was twenty-one and I saw a couple of the shows on that tour, but she was like six, so...

RW INTERN: Yeah, like you [Andrea] learned about cave paintings in history class and Pete actually made the cave paintings.

ANDREA: Exactly. Pete actually made the cave paintings. That’s good.

RW INTERN: I don’t want to throw things off track too much, but I don’t know how you guys met. When did you meet and then what were the first few interactions all about?

PETE: We met at work, at the Brewery. We both kind of started there around the same time. I think I might have started there a month or less before you...

ANDREA: He was staring at me a lot.

PETE: I was staring at her a lot.

ANDREA: Totally creeped me out at first. I was like, ‘who is that little beer elf up on the perch staring at me?’ No, really, I looked up and he would always be up on this perch where he would have to stir the boil.

RW INTERN: That is extremely creepy.

ANDREA: And since he was up high at the brewery, and I was walking around, I would see him looking at me. And I was like, he’s really cute but he’s got this intensity about looking at me. And I was like, what’s going on? And then I talked to him and he was kind of shy, which I thought was adorable. But he had this intent, I don’t know, to just get to know me, I could tell. And then I find out there’s all these things that unfolded about him that were so creative and amazing that I couldn’t help but fall for him.

RW: A lot’s happened in the last year. You were signed by 307 Knox Records, recorded and released your first full-length album, Starmaker, and now you occasionally have pedal steel and cello accompany you on stage. How are you dealing with all this change, and what are your goals for the next year?

ANDREA: I think we’re dealing with it well, except we sometimes start to feel like, ‘have we done enough?’ I think that’s a lot to have accomplished in, because my goal was to quit my job at the Cradle last November, so it’s been a little over a year, and to do music full time. And I think that with that my goal then, and I look back on what we’ve accomplished, I think, ‘wow, we did a lot this year, it’s great, it’s exactly what I wanted to do,’ but then when I think about what’s to come, I think, ‘have we done enough?’ You know, I want to do more. Our next ultimate goal would be to get to the level where we’re both working very little, if not just doing the music. So even if it’s just — I work one day a week right now and he works three — so my next immediate goal would be to get him down to one and we’re both working one, or one of us just doing one, just to keep a steady cash flow coming in. And to figure out how to technically make this a business that works, like, do we become incorporated? If we do, what are the positives and negatives? So that’s my immediate goal. And to push [the music] regionally. You know, we want to go to Europe and do all these things, but we only want to do those big tours if we can pair on with another band that’s already figured out what we’ve yet to figure out. I don’t think we want to just go, just the two of us because it would kind of be a pain in the ass and not very fun and scary...

PETE: 'Cause it could be like three Germans in a bar somewhere and that would be weird.

ANDREA: Yeah, so I think our goal would be to pair up with another band, either on our label or another, to get us more exposure nationally and internationally and our next goal would be to push ourselves regionally as much as possible. Whether it be in North Carolina, a little in Virginia, and maybe a slight bit more North than that, but just to build an audience base, and not try… I mean we want to do a few tours here and there to travel together, but not try and push our music too much to extremes nationally ourselves, because I don’t think it would get us anywhere.

PETE: But we are considering doing a tour of the South.

ANDREA: We want to do South by Southwest.

PETE: If we could do South by Southwest, that would be awesome, we could do Athens and Atlanta, we have friends in Baton Rouge.

ANDREA: But that would be once again, more about us, a reason to get on the road and see places we haven’t seen, and less about building a fan base. Because when you go to places like this, like, yeah so we go to Austin once every couple of years or Chicago every couple of years, it’s not going to build us an audience. The only way that would work is if we pair up with somebody that’s already got a big audience. So, for our own growth, we want to do regional as much as we can. Cause we don’t have… we are going to Chicago, but yet we’ve never played Greensboro, that’s kind of twisted.

PETE: Kind of the cart before the horse sort of thing.

ANDREA: Yeah, we’re doing the big tours because we want to get on vacations together and that’s a way to do it, but when it comes to building our fan base we really want to work it locally more and more.

RW: Like you were saying, you recently went on a few tours, one to the East Coast and one to the Midwest, what’s it like to be a touring couple?


RW: And can you tell me a memorable tour story?

PETE: How 'bout that New York night?

ANDREA: Yeah, that’s a memorable one.

PETE: The New York night was like a—we were playing in Manhattan at a place called National Underground and it was owned by the Gavin Degraw, he plays some kind of cheesy pop from the early 2000’s.

ANDREA: Hey, easy, don’t say anything bad about anyone in the interview.

RW: We can just say pop.

PETE: I can’t remember his song, but you’d recognize it...

ANDREA: Is it the “I’ll be your shining…”

PETE: No, it’s not that.

ANDREA: Oh that’s John McCain.

PETE: No, that’s the guy who ran for president.

RW INTERN: We’re lost. We’re like off the grid.

PETE: So, the New York night, so we played this club in New York, and we clearly never played New York before. And most bands will just use the existing equipment, like the back lying equipment they have in a club in New York. And I was unaware of this.

ANDREA: We had all of our equipment because we were driving.

PETE: Yeah, 'cause we were on tour and had all our stuff. So, just the unloading on the Manhattan street and then finding a parking spot and having to pay like twenty bucks just to park—

ANDREA: Yeah, we went in the hole for that show for sure.

PETE: This place had bands playing from like seven 'til four in the morning, every forty-five minutes.

ANDREA: But we didn’t know that, we just thought we had to show up.

PETE: Yeah, we thought we were one of three on a bill.

ANDREA: We had the show booked and we were one of three bands, but when we got off stage, all these bands start piling in and we were like, what? But bring them back to what happened while we were on stage.

PETE: Okay, so it is our time to be on stage and it just so happens that the drain—this was in a basement of a club that had three levels—the drain started backing up from the bathroom, I guess.

ANDREA: From the kitchen, it was the grease.

PETE: Yeah, it was a grease thing. And so we’re playing and it’s literally flooding underneath us. And so, between songs we’re draping wires up high over things like overtop of amps.

ANDREA: And the sound guy keeps telling us, no keep going you’re fine, you’re not going to get electrocuted.

PETE: And I’m playing, and I’m hitting my hi-hat and water’s splashing up on my leg and stuff.

ANDREA: Disgusting water.

RW: So your feet are covered?

PETE: There’s probably three-fourths of an inch of water underneath my drum kit.

ANDREA: My pedals were up on top of my amp because they were like down in water for a minute and then I picked them up. And I wanted to stop because I was kind of getting frustrated. Obviously. But the sound guy kept saying, ‘no it’s fine. You know this has happened before,’ So, we kept going for it and finished our set. And it was a rough one. I mean, I thought we played pretty good considering.

PETE: We played okay.

ANDREA: We cut out three songs. We probably played like five— I was exhausted because we had driven into Manhattan that day and first of all, I do not suggest that to anyone.

PETE: Well I missed the first exit and then we ended up driving all up around into like the Lincoln Tunnel.

ANDREA: It was tense, tense times. The water was coming from a drain behind the stage, and we saw it coming up. We had stored our equipment behind the stage and we started seeing water, so I started moving my equipment, this is before we had even gotten on stage, and I had stuck it in a booth, a seating area. Then as the water kept getting higher I told the sound guy you know, while the other band was playing, ‘this is kind of getting ridiculous’ and he was like, ‘no it’s fine, it will go down.’ [laughs] And so we set up our equipment and [the water is] not on the stage yet but it’s working its way up to it. So, it’s starting to get on the stage and then during the set—this was what was so awesome—is the water probably got two inches high. But during the set, while we’re in the middle of a song, these four guys run in the back door and start doing a Roto-Rooter in the middle of our set.

PETE: And it’s like, in the quieter parts of our songs you could hear this growling [imitates sound effect], and then it’s like ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’

RW INTERN: So it’s totally like [Spinal Tap] ‘Rock n Roll Creation.’

PETE: Yeah, it was like ‘Rock n Roll Creation.’

ANDREA: And this is all happening behind us and everybody who’s watching us sees this. And this was a Saturday night in Manhattan, so there was a good amount of people there watching this unfold. So that was ‘Birds and Arrows takes Manhattan.’ Yeah, we played New York, and everyone kept saying, “how awesome was it to play in New York!?!” And it was awful.

PETE: And then later that night, after unloading—

ANDREA: I had my Manhattan breakdown.

PETE: We stayed in this place in Brooklyn. A friend of Andrea’s was out of town so we stayed in their apartment and so it was four floors up. We had to take all of our equipment because we didn’t want our stuff stolen out of the car.

ANDREA: So this is at four AM, we’re climbing four flights of stairs with drums, amps, guitars. It took us like an hour and I was already so tired 'cause we’d driven into Manhattan that day—we’d driven like six hours that day into Manhattan, then played a show in a flood and then driven to Brooklyn and then loaded the equipment up four flights of stairs. I got so tired and obsessed and I just broke down.

PETE: And cried.

ANDREA: I freaked out. 'I can’t do this, I’m freaking out.' And Pete’s like, maybe you’re hungry, let’s go get a sandwich.

PETE: So, we go down, outside, we go to this deli and we get sandwiches and then we go back upstairs into the apartment.

ANDREA: And I threw it all up.

PETE: She was so upset, like a little baby, she couldn’t eat. And so she laid there on the bed and I’m sitting there in silence munching on my sandwich and chips. At four in the morning.

ANDREA: And both of us woke up the next morning fully clothed, in the bed, on top of the covers, with our shoes on. You cannot tell them this. This cannot be in the interview because they told us to take our shoes off outside the door. They’re that type of couple, so we loaded our sewage-drenched equipment into their place...

RW: So touring might not be as glamorous as people think?

ANDREA: Not when you have no money, no. Not so much.

PETE: Yeah, when you’re doing everything yourself it’s not glamorous ... exciting maybe.

RW INTERN: Well, now you have a baseline though. You know how low it can go.

RW: How did you come up with the design theme of Starmaker? How much was based on the Pocahontas/John Smith fantasy? Is it related to the musical content?

ANDREA: I think it will now be related to the John Smith/Pocahontas fantasy. [Roaring laughter]

PETE: Thanks, Carol, we now have a new thing. I like it. Older, wiser Englishmen. Young naïve native American. I like where we’re going with this.

ANDREA: But, really, it came from… We had taken a vacation together for my birthday last year and we went to Ocean City, Maryland where I grew up going. It’s kind of you know, kitschy, stuck in the 50’s, early 60’s with lots of neon signs, rides and everything. Really kind of Coney Island-like I guess. And we had gone there and we were talking about the concept for the record along the way, and we had this idea, something about before something sci-fi related, UFO’s and things. And we walked by an old-time photo place and decided to have a photo taken — we were kind of tipsy, and they had an Indian…

PETE: Set up...

ANDREA: Set up. So we said, let’s do an Indian set up and maybe we can use it in the record somewhere. We didn’t think ‘cover,’ we didn’t know it was going to be the theme. But once we had that taken and it turned out so ridiculously funny and good, we decided, okay let’s focus on this and then we would do an Indian/sci-fi theme, where we’d have the UFO or the satellite behind us, we had a picture in mind with the Indian covered in the deerskin, so it was almost like embodying another creature which we thought was very sci-fi, but yet that is…

PETE: Native American.

ANDREA: Native American. So we ran with that and that’s kind of where the Indian theme came from, wasfrom that picture and that trip in general. And just that whole feel, something about that old style feel there just made us want to do something magical yet old, and…

PETE: And how funny was it that at the old time photo place when we picked the Indian scenario they said, huh that’s unusual, usually only black people pick the Indian theme.

ANDREA: and we didn’t understand that at all. We were the first…

PETE: First white people to pick this particular set up.

ANDREA: It was very strange.

RW INTERN: What other options did they have there?

PETE: They had like Bonnie and Clyde

ANDREA: Little kids dressed up as hookers…

PETE: Playing cards. They had like bar room western…

ANDREA: And what’s great is all the people that worked there were Eastern European people and none ofthem were American, so they didn’t understand what we were doing but they knew we were having fun with it, so they got into it and they were really funny. And then we went and we played ski ball and Pete won me this bracelet that I wear everyday and I won him a little Indian and that sealed the deal.

PETE: The native American/UFO deal.

RW: So the songs on Starmaker are so visual and personal. Do you set out to make them that way? Have there ever been lyrics or themes that you’ve come up with and then decided against because they didn’t fit the Birds and Arrows feel? And is this something that you guys talk about?

PETE: I don’t think lyrics have ever come up that we decide doesn’t fit the feel, because I guess we’ve just sort of written what we… we just write what we write.

ANDREA: Both of us kind of ‘wear our songs and our emotions on our sleeves.’ When he writes, sometimes it’s a little more abstract, but it’s still pretty clear what it’s about.

PETE: But I mask it in metaphor, but it’s still pretty obvious.

ANDREA: And then I’m a little bit more straightforward but since our songs are so personal in general and very straightforward, we just never question, unless there’s something… sometimes Pete gets slightly edgy and I’ll say where are you going with this. So I’ll tame him down a little bit and he’ll make me quirkier. You know he’ll say, you know that’s cool but what if you say it like this? We kind of help each other that way lyrically. And the songs, I think the theme of the record worked out really well considering that it’s kind of a collection over the last year or so. I think we tied the theme together more once we had the idea what songs to put on the album. Cause Starmaker, for example, we arranged and had this tom-tom beat, which kind of was almost a native American style beat.

PETE: And then with that synthesizer which was kind of spacey.

ANDREA: We decided to add the spacey synthesizer overtop because we had this sci-fi/native American theme. It almost led us into a direction to tie together the theme with the songs.

PETE: Yeah, so they’re all tied in.

ANDREA: And then we did the symbols on the record for the songs. You know we made little iconic images for each song and we decided to do that because each song was so visual that we thought that’s almost as basic as a cave drawing or something, you could almost come up with some sort of symbol that would represent the song. So we wanted to run with that idea too.

RW INTERN: Yeah, that actually helped me understand what a certain song was about that I hadn’t spent enough time thinking about. Towers and Bells, once I saw the picture, the whole thing made sense to me. It was a matter of not really putting it all together yet. But what’s weird about the record is you have Starmaker and Towers and Bells and those things kind of operate in two different ends of the spectrum.

ANDREA: But not really. I could see why people would think that, totally, like I think I understand that because Pete mentions God in the Starmaker song

PETE: It’s almost kind of mentioned ironically a little bit. Well you know, the whole sticking the pin through the black paper.

RW INTERN: I like that kind of juxtaposition of things, because it’s kind of like, it keeps it in the middle and doesn’t really say, here’s our one statement. I think Towers and Bells is kind of more about the way it’s organized, less about spirituality. Maybe you can have this spirituality or some understanding but you can still take up issue with the way it’s all parted out and organized.

PETE: Absolutely.

RW INTERN: Yeah, the picture helped me understand and added a level of nuance that I fuckin love.

PETE: I heard that. How bout that booklet, huh?

RW INTERN: I looked through that booklet and there’s a little asterisk where you’re apologizing to somebody.

ANDREA: Oh, that’s my Mimi.

PETE: That’s her grandma.

ANDREA: My Mimi. She’s my dad’s mom. She’s super religious to the point where at times, because I’m not religious, at times it feels like she’s trying to save me when I’m a lost cause. She’s constantly wanted me to always sing in church. ‘You got a beautiful voice, why don’t you sing in church?’ So, we thought it would be a perfect song to dedicate to her, the one where Pete sings ‘Fuck’ so sweetly and he says ‘You never fuck with my heart, you say what you mean.’ So we put at the top, ‘Sorry Mimi’ in parenthesis.

RW: Has she heard the record?

ANDREA: Well we saw her on Thanksgiving and we asked her. I said did you see your dedication in the record? And she said I don’t think I’ve seen it. So I don’t think she has a copy yet. So I told her, well we cuss in one of the songs Mimi so we apologized to you right at the top. And she said, you cursed in a songs? And I said yep it was very appropriate and we apologized beforehand so you would know.

RW INTERN: Well I was worried that Mimi was your ex, and she did fuck with your heart. Whoa.

PETE: Ouch. Stingah.

ANDREA: I think Mimi wishes she was Pete’s ex. My Mimi likes Pete.

PETE: Both of your grandmas, really, are into me.

ANDREA: I mean, it is more age appropriate.

RW: Finally, and I pray this doesn’t happen, but do you ever worry about not being able to write another song?

ANDREA: We just had that discussion actually.

RW: and if it happened, what would you do?

ANDREA: We just talked about this on the way to Thanksgiving.

PETE: Yeah, we talked about like how Phil Collins and Eric Clapton just like went in this place in the 80’s where they basically sucked, they had nothing to say but they still wrote music.

ANDREA: I think they had things to say but they were influenced too much by ‘yes people’ around them and so they were releasing things that just were not very interesting.

PETE: They were shlop.

ANDREA: Where if they had just done it by themselves it probably could have been kind of cool. You know. So we talked about how we think at this level we’re kind of grateful we’re still at a small time position where we feel like no matter what we have to say, in the close future, is going to be more exciting and it doesn’t scare us, like we’re not going to come up with another song. It kind of inspires us. It’s like, oh we still got so much more to offer, we’d probably never get to that point where we have a bunch of money around us and a bunch of ‘yes people,’ so I feel like that’s the point where I would worry that we would have trouble coming out but at this point I’m almost more excited about what’s to come because I feel like we’re on a level where we’re dedicating all our time to it, but we don’t feel compromised by it yet. So we’re kind of in a balancing point.

PETE: And I’ve worried before that because I’m older and I got such a late start that a lot of people my age have already gone the route of making really sappy, schlocky stuff after they’ve made their important music. But because I’ve had this bottled up for all my life and now I’m just writing music in the last couple years I think there’s a lot more to go…

ANDREA: He’s just getting started.

PETE: Yeah, so I don’t feel like I’m not too worried.

ANDREA: And sometimes we get writers block like everybody, but I don’t think it comes to what we have to offer, I think we’re more excited about it and less intimidated and we don’t feel scared, we feel excited, right now. For now.

RW: That’s a good way to close it. Thanks guys.

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