When I tell Fisher Meehan, talking to me on the other end of a cell phone he picked up in the lost-and-found at a strip club, that his former bandmate Paul Conrad recently described the experience of playing together as "holding on for dear life," he gives a muted chuckle.
"Aw, that's cool," he says in the same laid-back, almost goofy cadence that always contrasted so dramatically with the jet-engine wash of fury and sound that made his former band, Drug Money, so captivating to watch. He tells me to bring earplugs to their upcoming show at Broadway's, part of the Decline of Western North Carolina event during Bele Chere weekend during which several classic local bands, such as Luvsix, reunite.
"I tell you what, it's not going to be polished," Meehan says. "It's going to be the old Drug Money. It's going to be fiery and loud and … you know."
As it happens, I do. Back in 2002, when Meehan and Conrad were set to leave town to record an album and establish themselves in New York, they played an epic, packed farewell show at now-closed downtown venue Vincent's Ear. They had a huge sound — particularly for guitar-and-drums duo — which you didn't so much hear as feel in your bone marrow. At the time, Drug Money had a core of fans numbering in the hundreds, maybe into the thousands, which was big for a local band of the era. That ear-splittingly loud night, it seemed like everyone who had ever heard of the band was there in that cramped basement bar.
That show was also the very last time most of those fans saw Meehan and Conrad perform together.
The New York trip went badly: no album, Conrad dropped from the band. Meehan would later reform Drug Money as a four-piece (including Tyler Ramsey and Bill Reynolds, both now members of the Grammy-nominated act Band of Horses) and trading aggression and dissonance for a more-polished studio-friendly rock sound.
It was that version of the band that gained the most attention outside of Asheville, recording the nationally released MTN CTY JUNK and touring until Meehan's past — an outstanding warrant for fleeing sentencing on an assault charge — caught up with him. He did time, and the band broke up.
After his release from prison in 2004, Meehan briefly returned to Asheville, performing with friends under the name Drug Money until the controversial closure of Vincent's Ear later that year. He moved to Atlanta, then Athens. Later, he relocated to Pennsylvania, and finally to New York, where he's been for the last several years. He's been working on new material the entire time — mostly solo stuff, which he describes as being "the same horse I rode into Asheville on."
It's not surprising to hear more than a touch of nostalgia for the early Drug Money era in Meehan’s voice — "before the label got a hold of it," as he puts it. There was an electricity of anticipation to the band in that era, which no later version of the band was able to recapture.
When organizers of the Decline of WNC showcase contacted Meehan about the idea of headlining one of their two shows during Bele Chere weekend — preferably under the Drug Money name — the answer was obvious.
"What the hell?" Meehan recalls thinking, "I'll do this if Paul is into it, that's the only way." So he sent Conrad a text message.
"I didn't even think," Conrad says. "I just texted him back 'Hell yeah.'"
Practically, however, there are challenges. Apart from a brief, one-show reunion last year at the Collapseable Studios 10-year anniversary, the two haven't played these songs together in "six or seven years," Meehan estimates.
"Make no mistake, I'm having to relearn most of these things, for sure," Meehan says. "These songs are definitely not in my set anymore. But every once in a while I'll do 'Oregon Song,' … and I still do 'Rough and Tumble' almost every show. I'd say 90-percent of this set I'm having to relearn. … We're going to have to hole up, and beat this thing up."
Although he assures me he'll be getting as much practice time in with Meehan as possible before the show, Conrad doesn't seem particularly worried about recreating the duo's chemistry.
"Those songs, I don't forget those," Conrad says. "That guitar is so loud that it makes your body involuntarily bounce off the drums. There's really not a whole lot of thought that goes in it; it's just so visceral.”
— Steve Shanafelt can be reached at email@example.com.
what: The Decline of Western North Carolina Bele Chere 2011 Weekend, featuring Drug Money, The Floridiots, Fun At The Farm, Hoss, Isaac Johnson on Friday; Luvsix, Electrolux, Dark Ridge, Glaze and Sturgeon Hoof on Saturday
when: Friday, July 29 and Saturday, July 30. 8 p.m. $5. declineradio.com