Once upon a time, Fisher Meehan was Asheville’s great hope: a barefoot, scraggly-faced rocker with a gravelly voice on the verge of nationalizing a local community of musicians centered around the tiny basement dive off Lexington Avenue known as Vincent’s Ear.
Tonight, Meehan has just wrapped up rehearsals for what will be the singer’s first album since his former band, Drug Money (a staple of the Vincent’s Ear scene) released the highly anticipated MTN CTY JNK in 2004. That album had many believing Meehan would be Asheville’s unlikely pop-culture ambassador, the one to reveal to the rest of the country what many here already knew: Something special was happening in that dark courtyard off Lexington.
But then, just as the band was poised to make good on that promise, everything fell apart. Upon re-entering the country after a show in London, Meehan was arrested on an outstanding warrant for fleeing sentencing on an assualt charge and extradited to Arizona. Legal battles ensued. Meehan served time; the band fell apart; and the album was pulled from shelves. And Vincent’s Ear, the cornerstone of that once-thriving scene, closed its doors after a controversial lease dispute.
Now, after a year and a half of “down time” in Atlanta writing songs, Meehan has relocated to the mountains of western Pennsylvania. He’s begun recording his solo debut, and, as in the early days of Drug Money, found a musical ally in a like-minded drummer, Donna the Buffalo’s Tom Gilbert. The two met through former Drug Money bassist Bill Reynolds, who played a stint with Donna the Buffalo before joining Band of Horses (where he performs with ex-Drug Money keyboardist Tyler Ramsey).
“Tom and I hit it off amazingly right away,” Meehan remembers. “We have a lot of musical influences in common and he’s a great player. I started playing with him and Bill quite a bit after Drug Money, but now, of course, Bill is playing with Band of Horses so he’s on the road all the time. Tom is pretty much a mainstay in my new stuff. He plays live shows with me, and we do recordings and stuff.”
This stripped-down, drum-and-guitar dynamic seems a comfortable fit for Meehan, who rose to local notoriety with the backing of drummer Paul Conrad. The enthusiasm in his voice grows as the conversation touches on the original incarnation of the band.
“When you look at Drug Money as a band, that was the s**t,” he remembers with pride. “The early stuff when it was just me and Paul was f**king great. When the record company got a hold of it and we were recording, I started getting a lot of pressure to flesh out the band and make it a full act rather than a two-piece. But it was a lot better when it was stripped down. It was rock ‘n’ roll.”
Next week, with Gilbert in tow, Meehan will revisit his old stomping grounds to share the stage with Hey Neighbor!, Mad Tea Party and On the Take, all composed of ex-Vincent’s Ear regulars. It will be his first official performance in Asheville since moving in 2004.
“I’m stoked!” he says of the pseudo-reunion. “They’re all really, really good friends and they’re like, my favorite bands, all three of them. I’m excited.”
In addition to hosting Meehan’s homecoming, two of those friends, Hey Neighbor!‘s Justin Rabuck and On the Take’s Chad Pry, are scheduled to release a 7-inch vinyl with two of Meehan’s new recordings on their Twin 22 Records early next year. But as for the full length, “it’s really hard to say realistically with those kind of things,” Meehan explains apologetically. “I’d say late spring. Believe me, I wish we could have the f**ker done tomorrow.”
All in all, Meehan seems surprisingly unaffected by his dramatic rise and fall, and ready to pick up where he left off. But perhaps that’s because he never expected, or courted, success in the first place.
“I never mailed a CD to any record company,” he says sternly. “I’ve never sent out a demo in my life. All that came from Vincent’s Ear, from me being there every waking minute of every day, just playing there all the time, as much as possible.
“I definitely didn’t expect it,” he says of all the attention, “that’s for sure. I was happy just walking up and down Lexington barefoot everyday drinking beer and playing music.”
[Dane Smith is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]
who: Twin 22 Christmas Spectacular
what: Performances by Fisher Meehan, Mad Tea Party, Hey Neighbor! and On The Take
where: Grey Eagle
when: Saturday, Dec. 22 (9 p.m. $5. www.thegreyeagle.com or 232-5800)