Josh Caterer (b. 1972) is an influential Chicago-area musician and songwriter. With his brothers, Eli Caterer (b. 1975) and Matt Caterer (b. 1968), he was a founding member in 1991 of the seminal Chicago rock band, Smoking Popes, in which Josh plays lead guitar and sings. Many bands today such as Alkaline Trio, Bayside, Fall Out Boy, and blink-182 cite Josh and the Smoking Popes as major influences. The creative mastermind behind the Popes, Josh composed the majority of their repertoire of distinctive, pop-influenced punk-rock songs, many of which have an intensely melancholy air underneath their driving beat. Lyrics of his early songs evoke feelings of fear, failure, intense despair, purposelessness, and romantic love as a redeeming agent. His later songs are marked by a more positive outlook, and many center upon the uplifting nature of religious faith and upon the importance of examining one's spiritual path. Consistent among both early and later songs is the allusive and metaphorical nature of Josh's lyrics, often focusing upon man's search for meaning. This aspect of Josh's songs is often overlooked by rock critics but is a powerful contributor to the songs' poignancy.
Background and Early LifeEdit
Josh remarked once to an interviewer that he wrote his first song when he was around 11 years old. The first band he was ever in was called Slavedriver. He played in that band in junior high with some friends. Josh's early musical influences included Fugazi, The Smiths, Elvis Costello, Mel Tormé, and Frank Sinatra.
Prior to the formation of the Smoking Popes, Josh, along with brothers Eli and Matt, formed a predecessor to that band, a kind of ur-Popes called Speedstick. At the time Josh was a senior in high school and Eli, then a freshman, was deemed by his parents too young to be subject to the corrupting influences of playing in a rock band. Moreover, his parents felt playing in a rock band would cause Eli to study for school even less than the minimal time he already spent studying. Accordingly, Eli was replaced on drums for the premier Speedstick gig by Dave Martens. Martens later grew disenchanted with the band's musical direction and stopped attending rehearsals. He was replaced by Mike Felumlee. When Eli was a senior in high school he was asked by Josh and Matt to re-join the band as a guitar player; by that time the band had already been re-christened the Smoking Popes. The addition of Eli finalized a lineup that was to remain unchanged from 1993 to 1998.
Josh graduated in 1990 from Harry D. Jacobs High School in Algonquin, Illinois, a city neighboring his hometown, Lake in the Hills, Illinois, a far northwest suburb of Chicago and a bedroom community. Josh's father was a successful businessman and his mother, the salutatorian of her high-school class, was a homemaker. Both were of a spiritual bent, and they named their three children with shortened forms of the biblical names Joshua, Matthew and Elijah. However, Josh's parents seem never to have overtly foisted any particular religious beliefs upon their children, and Josh never or rarely went to church growing up. Instead, Josh was plagued during his early years by feelings of purposelessness and by doubts about the meaning of life. Additionally, during his formative years he harbored great skepticism towards the prevailing ethos of his peer group, and he regarded himself as something of an outsider. Despite this teenage anomie, however, Josh was known as a kind and friendly person, and he was quite popular among his fellow students. He also developed a winning and complex sense of humor, often dramatizing his existential plight among friends in ironic, comical terms.
Intelligent, talented and sensitive, Josh evinced little interest in the boring, canned curriculum at his sterile, suburban high school, and instead spent much time alternating between daydreaming, playing his guitar, reading novels, and throwing himself into a series of romantic liaisons that would later provide much grist for the Smoking Popes' particular brand of melancholy, lovelorn rock songs. Also notable in Josh's later music would be depictions of several menial, nowhere jobs that he worked during his late teenage and early twenty-something years, including a stint as a machine operator at a factory.
In the first few years following his graduation from high school, Josh's life was characterized by nicotine-filled late nights, chronic poverty, the driving of beat-up cars, a series of dead-end, low-paying jobs, and residency (sometimes with one of his brothers) in a string of awful dive apartments and rented rooms. All the while, he focused his efforts on his music, playing with the Smoking Popes as often as possible at one local venue or another, and embarking in the summer of 1993 on a cross-country road tour with the band. (They were accompanied on that tour by the band The Bollweevils).
Career and Later LifeEdit
The persistence of Josh and his bandmates began to pay off, when, in early 1994, the band opened for Green Day, who extended the invitation after hearing the Popes' Get Fired. An early album — and the Popes first true compact-disc release (their earlier recordings were issued on vinyl) — Get Fired, most of the songs written by Josh, was released on a small independent label, had little studio production, and was overlooked by the mainstream rock world. However, the album contained a series of short, brilliant, melodic pop-punk tunes — referred to by Josh, half-jokingly, as "pop nuggets". It was on this album, notably on the song Let's Hear It For Love, that Josh first started to experiment with and hone his singing voice, letting his earlier singing (almost a form of shouting) morph into a warbling vibrato reminiscent of the singing of Sinatra and Tormé. A diamond in the rough, Get Fired, though now out of print, perennially sells for $40 or $50 on online music sites.
The distinctive singing voice Josh developed and cultivated is sometimes compared by journalists to that of Morrissey — both employ a kind of mellifluous crooning. When one considers the music that underlies the vocals and the meaning of the lyrics themselves — Morrissey's lyrics are sometimes acerbic and often nonsensical, while Josh's are philosophically evocative, allusive and focus on existential issues — the comparison of the two musicians falls apart. Nevertheless, Josh appears fated to be compared to Morrissey for the rest of his natural life.
In mid-1994 the Popes finished their new album, Born to Quit. After the single "Need You Around" took off on alternative radio, they opened for Elastica and gained the attention of record-label scouts. They signed with Capitol Records, which re-released Born to Quit. In a promotional blitz, they toured America with the Goo Goo Dolls and Tripping Daisy.
While youthful anomie and the critical success of his band were important factors in Josh's formative years, his discovery and embracing of Christianity, circa 1998, ranks as another significant element in his life. A cocaine overdose and C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity were cited by Josh as two waypoints that helped point him to the path of Christianity. Initially his newfound faith caused him to renounce his lifestyle as lead singer of a successful rock band, and shortly after his religious awakening the Smoking Popes broke up, to the great dismay of several other of its members. The break-up is thought to have been chiefly catalyzed by Josh's indifference to the Popes' music in light of his new faith. In the first few post-Popes years, Josh absented himself from the rock scene and was heavily involved in his church. During this time he worked a job at a charitable, non-profit organization and also released a CD of gospel music, Why Me, featuring solo guitar music. Around 2001 he returned to the rock scene, founding a Christian rock band, Duvall, which included several other former members of the Smoking Popes.
In November of 2005 Josh and the Smoking Popes reunited for a packed and much-anticipated show at the Chicago club The Metro with Rob Kellenberger replacing Mike Felumlee on drums. The tickets sold out in a mere 36 minutes. In that show — immortalized on a DVD called Smoking Popes At Metro, bundled with a CD of the performance — Josh, Matt and Eli were conspicuously happy and energized. Eli remarked that he hadn't had that much fun in seven years, a reference to the time since the band's previous break-up. Judging by his demeanor, Josh must have felt the same. Josh has become somewhat more accepting of much of the music of his former band, and the Popes have decided to reunite on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. They embarked on a U.S. tour in early 2006 with the band Bayside. Several older, pre-1999 songs in the band's repertoire Josh retired from their set list, owing to their expression of views incongruent with his Christianity. Josh has hinted in several interviews that a new Popes album may be in the pipeline.
Josh and his wife Stefanie have two children. In addition to his family life and his ongoing involvement in the music scene, he continues to be very active in his church. Most recently, Josh can be heard performing alongside the band Bayside for the acoustic version of "Megan" on Bayside's new record, titled simply "Acoustic."
Compilations and Guest AppearancesEdit