SMOKING POPES A new path gives singer new outlook
Converting to Christianity has changed the songwriter's direction.
By JOHN BENSON
Jesus didn't break up the Smoking Popes, but he did play a role in its reunion.
At least that's the story told by Josh Caterer, singer-songwriter of one of Chicago's more promising punk-pop acts of the '90s. Caterer said he was on a self-destructive path for years before calling it quits. It's a move he feels saved not only his soul but his life.
"I left the band because of my conversion to Christianity and the kind of complete change of my world view that took place as a result of that," said Caterer, during a phone call from his church in Rolling Meadows, Ill. "At the time, I didn't think it was compatible with rock 'n' roll."
What may seem like a born-again knee-jerk reaction from some bad acid or a night of heavy partying is actually nothing more than a lonely person searching for guidance. Raised in a nonreligious family with his brothers and fellow Smoking Popes members Matt and Eli, the talented songwriter found solace in the punk lifestyle, which to some is not only a musical genre but a religion in itself, allowing acceptance among society's unaccepted.
Time for a change
As the Smoking Popes rose up through the ranks during the '90s, including tours alongside Green Day, the Goo Goo Dolls (when that actually meant something) and even new millennium emo-act Jimmy Eat World, Caterer's reliance on drugs escalated. His marriage was failing and as good as the band's 1995 major label debut "Born to Quit" and 1997 studio album "Destination Failure" seemed to fans, the frontman probably wasn't on top of his game.
"I wasn't headed in a very good direction and I just was not a very happy guy," Caterer said.
So at his lowest moment, he promised his life to God. It's a poignant moment for Caterer, who at the time wasn't too familiar with, well, God. At that point, he took a year studying religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, various Eastern philosophies and even meditation. However, all the while he was reading the Bible, which eventually lead him to Christianity and the decision to leave the band.
But not wanting to screw over his bandmates and brothers, he stuck around until the end of 1998 and the recording of the final Popes' disc, the aptly titled "Party's Over." The album wouldn't be released until 2001.
Formed a new band
"For three years, I didn't do anything," Caterer said. "I got a job and went to church. Then I started playing out again. I put a new band together called Duvall. We put out a couple of records. It's basically a Christian version of the Smoking Popes. It sounds like the Popes but it has more biblical themes in the lyrics. We did okay. It didn't receive the sort of general market success that the Popes had."
At some point last year, Caterer realized he could reconcile the notion of being a Christian while performing secular music in clubs again. A reunion gig was scheduled, fans cheered and a successful co-headlining winter tour last year with Bayside lead to its own outing, which comes through Cleveland with a Wednesday date at the Grog Shop.
Caterer stresses that the future remains positive, with a new album due out next year that he says is not Christian punk. Perhaps the biggest question regarding his return to the Popes is whether or not he can still relate to the lyrics crafted by his old self.
"Yeah, a lot of those songs are about my wife," said Caterer, who has been married for 11 years. "There are still a couple of songs that make her cry when she hears us play them. And I can still connect with the emotion of a lot of the songs. But they don't make me cry. The thing that moves me to tears musically is being involved in worship at my church. There's a whole other level of experience there that you don't really get from just singing love songs."