The Smoking Popes are an American rock group from the northwest suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, formed in 1991. They play punk-influenced pop music with crooning vocals. The core of the group is composed of brothers Matt Caterer (b. 1968), Josh Caterer (b. 1972) and Eli Caterer (b. 1975).
In central Michigan in 1968, Cran and Cindy Caterer became the proud parents of Matthew Caterer. In 1972 Cran, an employee of the Dow Soap Company was drafted for the Vietnam war effort and stationed at the Arlington National Cemetery where he would assist in burying the dead war heroes. This moved the family to Virginia where Josh was born that same year.
When Cran was discharged the family moved back to Michigan. It was then that Cran found that Dow was moving him to Chicago. It was 1974 when the Caterers moved to Carpentersville, a suburb of Chicago. In 1975, Eli their last child was born.
At an early age the Caterer children were exposed to music by their father such as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Sinatra and Tony Bennet. This was what they listened to until Matt was old enough to save up for some new music, which came in the form of AC/DC. This was in Matt and Josh's heavy rotation until Matt came across the movie "Rock 'N Roll High School." This movie would change their record collection and possibly theri lives forever. Matt and JoshJosh immediately took to the punk music that played a prominent role in the movie and their cousin, Brian Bowie, introduced them to such punk bands as the Stooges, the MC5, the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag.
Matt was 12 when he received an electric guitar as a gift and Josh got a bass guitar so they could jam. Eli soon after got a cheap drum set that he took to well.
It was in 1990 when Josh, a senior in high school, got the brothers a gig at a party. The line up at the time consisted of Matt on drums, Josh on guitar and Eli on bass. Josh and Matt threw together about 10 raw punk songs (with titles like "Missile Head," "Scrotum Sack Lunch" and "Preparation H-Bomb"). The trio would call themselves Speedstick. Eli was devastated, however, when his parents wouldn't let him go to the party leaving Speedstick in need of a new member. Josh and Matt soon found a new member in Dave Martens. Matt moved to bass and Martens joined as the drummer.
The party was a huge success for the band and they started to get gigs at a local tavern, McGregor's, as well as attract a pretty big local following. During this time, the band Article One opened for them. This band had a young drummer named Mike Felumlee who would become a good friend and more in Speedstick's future.
Soon after, Speedstick went through a few transformations. Josh grew tired quickly of the meaningless "joke" songs that he and Matt had pumped out and wanted to do more of a pop style. This would be influenced by his new music hero, Elvis Costello. This change displeased Dave Martens who was a fan of hardcore punk and caused some disinterest on his part. Despite this the band went to the studio and recorded 10 tracks, including "Sandra" and "Brand New Hairstyle."
The band decided that they needed a new name and the three began working on a list of possibilities. When the brothers passed up his suggestions and decided on a creation of their own, Martens became displeased once again.
Matt took the word "Popes" from the title of one of his favorite movies, The Pope of Greenwich, and the "Smoking" came from the fact that they both smoked like chimneys. At this point the Smoking Popes were born.
Having lost interest, Dave stopped showing up to rehearsals. Josh remembered the drummer that had impressed him so much from Article One awhile back and they decided to give him a call. Josh explains, "We did that thing where you ask him to play a couple shows....tell him 'yeah, we're in between drummers right now and we need someone for a few shows' and he's like 'yeah'. And like, on the way to the first show 'So are you like, into this Article One thing? How's that going?' and he's like, 'No, in fact I think I'd rather just be in your band.' and we're like, 'OK, great!'." And with that, the band was set.
In early 1991, Matt, Josh, and Mike decided to release the material that had been recorded with Dave Martens as Inoculator. Recorded at Curved Air Studio in Crystal Lake with whatever money the boys could gather, Inoculator was released as a 7" record with 5 tracks on Radius Records.
It was during this year that Josh joined up with Apocalypse Hoboken for a very short time. Josh was brought on board with the intention of having him do vocals, but when the band had a small shake-up and members changed, Josh was asked to come on as a back-up guitarist. Josh played two shows with the band and can be heard on the rare cassette "Punish The Innocent." On one song he can be heard screaming "You killed my brother!" Josh opted out of the band, however, to continue making music exclusively with the Smoking Popes.
Some of Josh's songs that wouldn't be recorded for another six years were written around this time, including "Before I'm Gone" and "Megan," a which made its debut on college radio station WCBR 87.1 Elgin, IL the next year.
The songs were written for possible inclusion on the Inoculator release, but excluded and later reworked. To the right you can check out the original handwritten lyrics to Megan with a couple of Josh's fixes.
One positive thing came from his short stint with Apocalypse Hoboken, though. He met Phil Bonnet, a recording engineer from Solid Sound in Hoffman Estates who would help shape many of the band's future recordings. Phil, who took a liking to Josh's talent immediately, had been recording bands since the early 80s and played with a band of his own, Cheer Accident.
This year began with the trio of Josh, Matt and Mike recording The Smoking Popes Break Up with their newfound friend, Phil Bonnet, at Solid Sound Studios. Their first outing with Phil was a much nicer sounding recording, and due to the kindness of Phil, came at a discount. In a radio interview on local Elgin radio station, WCBR, Josh explained the funding for the album, "For the first one we just saved our money, then we sold all of the first 7"s that we pressed, and we used some of that money to put out the next ones."
After this recording the band decided to bring aboard a second guitarist. The choice was an easy one and Eli Caterer joined the band in early February of 1992.
The boys gathered up whatever money they had left from recording and hit the road a few times, taking road trips to Nashville and Indiana, as well as playing as many small shows as they could in the Chicagoland area. Any time not spent on the road was spent writing new songs and making demo tapes. A few such tapes were sent to and turned down by the Metro, a venue the group longed to play, a venue they had seen their idols play so many times before.
In October The Smoking Popes Break Up 7" is released, to the enjoyment of their increasing fan base.With two 7" records the band heads into the studio to record their third, Smoking Popes 2.
1993: Get Fired, Metro, a Three Week tour and a Basement showEdit
Smoking Popes 2 was released and featured the bands best recorded songs to date, but without an album they knew their dreams would never be realized.
The boys headed back into Solid Sound on April 3, 1993, with Phil Bonnet to record two tracks for a split 7" on Johann's Face Records with local band the Groovy Love Vibes (who featured Seth Guge, the artist for all of the Smoking Popes Double Zero Records releases). Josh would be invited to sing some vocals on GLV's track "Goodtime Music" and the same offer was made to GLV's Erik Pertl, who did guest vocals on the Popes' Stevie Nicks cover "Leather and Lace."
A lucky break came when Ben Weasel of Screeching Weasel took a liking to the band during a show. Ben had a few friends in some good places, and in turn, hooked the band up with indie label Underdog Records, as well as a friend at Sonic Iguana Studios in Lafayette, IN.
For three recordings now the band had used Phil Bonnet, but for Get Fired they chose Mass Georgini, a friend of Ben Weasels at Sonic Sound. The boys plowed through the album in two days and the end result was their first full length album, Get Fired.
The deal that had been struck with Underdog Records fell through over some disputes about the packaging. Underdog would only release the album with a cardboard sleeve in a sealed plastic baggy, whereas the Popes wanted their first album in a jewel case like everybody else was using. After some delay, the album was picked up by Johann's Face Records and released in 1993.
The record accomplished for them some of what they'd hoped it would, a three week tour with the Bollweevils and some billing at the Metro. While the tours weren't as fruitful as they'd hoped, it was a start. "The guy who put on the show lost money because he rented a good PA system, so we each got $15 (us and the Bollweevils) for gas basically." wrote Eli in his journal.
Other Smoking Popes releases this year included "Run Away" (from the Break Up 7" sessions) on the Underdog Records label (which was originally supposed to release Get Fired), and "Let's Hear It For Love" on Snakefork Records' compilation, "It's a Punk Thing... You Wouldn't Understand."
Late in '93 they decided to start recording their follow up to Get Fired. Ultimately unhappy with some of the sound on Get Fired, they chose to return to Phil Bonnet and Solid Sound this time. In December, "Need You Around", the single for the upcoming album, Born to Quit, was recorded.
1994: Some Big Shows, Cigarettes and Mountain DewEdit
In March 1994, the band was informed by an ad in the Tribune that they were opening for Green Day. The Popes had been selected by the band after some demos and copies of Get Fired had drifted across the states and into their hands. The show was sold-out and the band ripped through an amazing set of old tunes, as well as some that they were recording at the time.
In April, the Popes found themselves headlining a Johann's Face showcase at the Metro that would be followed up by a sold-out Saturday Night Metro show, that they also headlined.
In mid-94, Born To Quit was finished. Johann's Face released the album and The Popes played an amazing sold-out album release show at the Metro, where they were immediately adopted into the family of Metro successes.
In late '94 Josh would be contacted by 510 Records, owned by Green Day's management. They were interested in reissuing Born To Quit, but no deal was made by the band. Soon after, 510 bought the rights to the album from Johann's Face without the band's consent.
It was March of '95 when" Need You Around" hit it big on the radio. Their first single was number one on popular stations Q101 (Chicago) and KROQ (LA) and played in heavy rotation. On a side note; March 14, 1995 Josh wed his wife, Stef.
The Smoking Popes got a chance to talk to some scouting agents when they opened for Elastica and ultimately ended up taking a liking to a Capitol rep. A deal was struck and the boys signed a three record deal with Capitol Records, who acquired the rights to Born To Quit from 510 Records, for their first release.
Capitol's first order of business was to get the single, "Need You Around," remixed by Thom Wilson, who produced Offspring's releases, and get it placed on the Clueless soundtrack.
During the transition between Johann's Face Records and Capitol Records, copies of Born To Quit became scarce. It would take a few months to sort out details and the album was in danger of slipping away into obscurity.
Although there were suggestions to alter the album (e.g. cover, tracks), Capitol left the release just as it was,bud replaced the JFR logo with their own. The album was finally rereleased on July 7, 1995.
With the signing-bonus from Capitol now in their possession, the band bought new instruments, amps and their very own touring van.
Heavy touring followed. There was a six week tour with the Goo Goo Dolls, ending in a spot on MTV's 120 Minutes. A two month tour with Tripping Daisy kept them busy for the last couple months of the year.
Capitol would place two more songs from Born To Quit on soundtracks: "My Lucky Day" on Tommy Boy, and "Mrs. You and Me" on Angus. There were also a few radio promos and jukebox 7"s pressed. "Need You Around" and "Rubella" each were released for radio play, though "Rubella" ultimately failed on the charts.
The only track that was recorded by the band in all of '95 was a track for WXRT's Local Anesthetic "O Holy Night."
"Need You Around" gave the band some success again in '96 when the Clueless soundtrack hit the UK. A single was released and the boys went overseas for two weeks to tour England and Scotland. The single landed them reviews in a few reputable music magazines, including this New Music Express review to the left of the page. (click on image to enlarge)
Upon returning home they joined Jawbreaker for a tour. It was at this time that Josh was inspired by the amount of admiration the fans had for Blake Schwarzenbach. Josh would put the feelings of the fans into song on the next album's "You Spoke To Me."
"I was thinking of Jawbreaker," Caterer said. "We toured with them and I would see people come up to (the lead singer) ... and start to say weird things about how much his music had meant to them. I was really impressed by that, so I tried to write the song from the point of view of one of those people."
"Gotta Know Right Now" became the fourth song from Born To Quit to be placed on a soundtrack.
Not getting the success that Capitol had hoped for, the pressure was on for the next album. This one had to have a hit or else the Popes were looking at losing their support. A small battle ensued over the hiring of Phil Bonnet, since the studio was set on hiring Jerry Finn, the producer of Rancid and Green Day. There was a compromise and both were hired on.
Demos were immediately recorded at Solid Sound again with Phil. The band was given the 4th floor theater of the Metro to practice in by manager Joe Shanahan. Some of the first songs demoed included a cover of "Stormy Weather" and "Pure Imagination" (which won out over the "Golden Ticket Song" from Willy Wonka).
At Capitol's insistence, "Can't Find It" was recorded and the album was finished in mid-August at the Chicago Recording Company. The release was set for Valentine's Day 1997.
In September the band played a two week tour with labelmates Jimmy Eat World and the Figgs. The shows brought them many in-stores during the days and dark clubs at night.
At the beginning of the year Capitol declared that there was no single-worthy material on Destination Failure. The release date was pushed back and time was booked at Conway Studios with Jerry Finn.
"We had 14 songs we turned into the label ... They listened to it and said, 'We like it, but we can't decide what the single should be,'" Caterer explained. "Then we took the next, probably six months, writing songs, demoing them, and sending them to the label ... Finally, we came up with some song that they thought would be the, whatever, breakthrough hit smash they needed."
It was decided that they should record "Before I'm Gone" (which had been left off of all of the previous recordings, being a contender since Inoculator), "Pasted," "Do Something," and "Way Deep Inside." A demo of "I Know You Love Me" had been recorded at the Metro straight from the soundboard and Capitol ate it up. This would be their single! The album was finally finished in February.
There was some touring with Local H to LA, but when they got back they were in for some chaos. The Popes' A&R man, Matt Abeile, was canned by Capitol and the album was postponed indefinitely.
"I think one of the nicest things anybody's ever said to me is the manager of the Smoking Popes said one of the best things that has ever happened to the Smoking Popes is playing with us, because they got to see a real rock 'n' roll band, and they copped a kind of good attitude from it. He said, 'Thanks, you gave those guys a good kick up the bum.' They were a bit depressed about some stuff going on with the band and the label, and it made them realize that you can play rock 'n' roll and have a good time and not worry about all the other stuff, just concentrate on putting on a good show."
-Russell Hopkinson of You Am I on 09/14/2003
The Popes and Joe Shanahan worked frantically with Capitol and finally secured a release of August 26, 1997. Advance pressings of the album were sent out in May with hopes of some publicity, but nothing got played outside of the local shows in Chicago.
In August, Destination Failure was released as promised, and there were two release shows, one at the Metro and one at the Double Door.
In late October the boys brought their show on tour again with none other than Morrissey, who Josh had been compared to his entire career. This tour was when Tom Counihan was asked to join the band, freeing Josh up from guitar. The tour was a tremendous success. The album was hailed by Morrissey as being 'extraordinary, the most lovable thing I'd heard in years.' It sold strong in towns they had toured with him, and the Popes' email list was chock-full of new fans who had heard them for the first time. After things looked so dismal at the start of the year, it was finally looking up. Unfortunately, Capitol had lost interest and paid no attention to the bands successes. They'd been abandoned by their label.
The Popes joined up with Triple Fast Action and Menthol for the very successful Winter Dance Party tour from February through March. Josh wanted to return to the guitar, though, which left the band with too many guitars and Tom was asked to leave. He left on friendly terms. Tom's last show was at the Metro with Cheap Trick in April.
The band made the decision to make another album to get out of their contract with Capitol. Josh suggested a covers album. The main reason for this choice was that Josh had accepted Christianity into his life and wanted to devote his talents to his newfound faith. Doing a covers album would save him from having to reveal this to the band, and gave him time to contemplate his future.
The album would contain various songs the band had covered through the years and Phil Bonnet would produce again at Solid Sound. To top off the album Josh recorded a Kris Kristoferson tune that would reveal his thoughts. "Why Me" was recorded with Eli and his pastor's daughter. The album was rejected, as they had expected, and Capitol freed them from their contract.
The band would go on to play the CMJ Music Marathon in New York in November and a huge Metro Show the day before Thanksgiving.
Their final show took place on December 19 at the Double Door in Chicago, IL.
A two-week tour had been planned for 1999 to promote a compilation 1991-1998, a collection of songs from early 7"s and the entire Get Fired album. All of this was cancelled, though, as Josh formally quit the band in February of 1999.
In November of 2005 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.
Due to Josh's conversion to Christianity and past stance on particular "non-christian" themes in a select few pre-1999 songs, many fans wondered what sort of setlist would be played at the Popes reunion show? In a Q and A on the bands website, Josh responded to such questions saying, "No. There are only a couple songs that we wouldn't consider playing, and those are songs we didn't used to play very often anyway, so no one will miss them. We've been practicing through most of the old Popes catalog, trying to pick the songs that are the strongest. And we don't yet know what the final song selection will be, but I don't think people will be disappointed. All the real favorites should be there." In that show — immortalized on a DVD called At Metro, bundled with a CD of the performance — Josh, Matt and Eli were 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. Josh has become somewhat more accepting of most of the music of his former band, and the Popes have decided to reunite on a permanent basis.
In March 2006, Bayside released an acoustic album with a cover of Megan featuring Josh Caterer, himself, on the second verse of the song.
They embarked on a U.S. tour in early 2006 with Bayside. During that time, the Popes acquired a new drummer, Ryan Chavez, who replaced Kellenburger, who was unable to commit to the new, full-time touring schedule. During this tour, Josh introduced and played several new songs, including "If You Don't Care" , "Stay Down" and "Welcome to Janesville", which he announced would be on the upcoming Smoking Popes album. The new album, the first original material since 1997's "Destination Failure", was originally scheduled for release in September 2007, but was delayed while the band decided on a label. On March 2, 2008, the title of the new album, Stay Down (Smoking Popes album), was disclosed when the band played it in it's entirety at Schuba's Tavern in Chicago. According to the group's MySpace page, the new album will be released on the independent label Appeal Records. The band continues to play shows in small venues all over the country.
In April 2008, the Smoking Popes announced that Neil Hennessy of The Lawrence Arms would be occupying the vacant drum position.