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Music / Smoking Popes

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The Smoking Popes' present-day lineup (from left to right): Matt Caterer (bass), Eli Caterer (guitar), Josh Caterer (vocals/guitar), and Neil Hennessy (drums)

But Megan, I
Had a feeling that you would be on that train
So I just waited there for you

The Smoking Popes are a Chicago-based pop-punk outfit from Lake In The Hills, Illinois whose core consists of the three brothers Caterer. In their life as a band so far, they have had five different drummers, though only three have drummed on LPs. They released three EPs (Inoculator, Break Up, and 2) before releasing their debut LP, Get Fired, in 1993. This album gained them the respect of bands such as Screeching Weasel and Green Day, and with these sudden connections, the band was signed to Capitol Records. The label released their sophomore effort, Born To Quit, in 1995 to limited commercial success, as the album reached #37 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart. This success was partly based on the power of the album's lead single "Need You Around", which was included in the soundtrack for the movie Clueless. They are well-known for Josh's Morrissey-esque vocals, which adds a unique mixture to the band's sound.


Their next release, Destination Failure (1997), strained the band's relationship with Capitol when the label couldn't find a lead single to appease the new crowd they'd gained in the underground pop-punk scene. Within the Smoking Popes, Josh Caterer found the band's music to be incongruent with his newfound Christian beliefs. This combination forced Josh to publicly announce the band's breakup in early 1999. The band, still needing to deliver on their three-album contract, released the covers album The Party's Over, which Capitol rejected.

After seven years of side projects, the Caterers united with new drummer Rob Kellenberger (who replaced their long-time partner Mike Felumlee) to play a reunion show at the famous Chicago venue The Metro. This performance was released as a CD/DVD bundle. After a year of touring with fellow pop-punk band Bayside, Smoking Popes released their first album of original material since 1997 with Stay Down (2008). The band toured extensively over the next year and a half, re-entering the studio in 2010 to begin work on their first concept album. These recordings comprised their release This Is Only A Test (2011).



  • Josh Caterer - the leader of the band, in most every way possible. He is the lead vocalist, the lead guitarist (in tandem with Eli), and the lead interviewee. He's also released two solo EPs filled with songs for use in church worship, and one Christmas EP.
  • Matt Caterer - the bassist. He generally takes the backseat, having written only two songs in the band's entire discography ("Breaking" and "Off My Mind"). He does, however, often strike his signature foot-on-amplifier, rock star pose during live shows to accentuate his awesomeness.
  • Eli Caterer - the second guitarist. He'll often do interviews alongside Josh, and his contributions to the band's records are often stellar solos. He co-wrote the song "On The Shoulder" from Born To Quit, a concert staple.
  • Neil Hennessey - the current drummer. Four drummers came before him (Dave Martens, Mike Felumlee, Rob Kellenberger, and Ryan Chavez), and he carries the drummer tradition of not partaking in interviews. His main purpose is to thrash his drums on stage, make his hair look as radical as possible, and drive the band's rhythm section.

Discography with singles:

  • 1993 - Get Fired
  • 1995 - Born To Quit
  • 1997 - Destination Failure
  • 1998/2001 - The Party's Over note 
  • 2000 - Live (live album)
  • 2006 - At Metro (live album)
  • 2008 - Stay Down
  • 2011 - This Is Only A Test
  • Other singles
    • Split single with Groovy Love Vibes - "Leather and Lace" (Stevie Nicks and Don Henley cover), "Hang"
    • Split single with Alkaline Trio - "Blue Carolina" (Alkaline Trio cover) note 

Smoking Popes provide examples of the following tropes

  • Album Title Drop: Avoided by every release until The Party's Over, whose title is sung in the title cover song. Stay Down is sung in the title track: "We can make it if we just stay down." This Is Only A Test is dropped in the title track as well.
  • Audience Participation Song: "Pretty Pathetic". The audience participation is often at its height during the "I miss what we had/I need you so badly" part of the song. This effect is very noticeable during their Metro performance.
    • Some fans in the recording beat Josh to the lyrics, causing him to laugh ever so slightly.
  • Band of Relatives: Josh, Matt, and Eli are brothers. Word of God says their relationships with one another are healthy, even after the 1999 breakup. I mean, they got back together, didn't they?
  • Break-Up Song: Most of their songs are this, notable ones being "Can't Find It", "Megan", and "Pretty Pathetic".
    • Need this troper state the obvious "Just Broke Up"?
  • Careful with That Axe: Josh's brief but terrifying punk scream at the beginning of "How Dangerous".
    • There's a hell of a lot of punk-screaming going on circa 1989-1993, but most of that doesn't qualify because it's just Josh shouting the lyrics.
  • Concept Album: This Is Only A Test.
  • Cover Album: The Party's Over, their final pre-hiatus album.
    • The Smoking Popes have their own tribute album, featuring The Atari's, The Red Hot Valentines, and Duvall, a band Josh founded during the Popes' hiatus.
  • Cover Version: In addition to the Cover Album The Party's Over, Destination Failure includes a pop/rock cover of "Pure Imagination."
  • Darker and Edgier: Fans can't find one album that fits this trope, but it's generally agreed upon that newer songs like "The Corner" (which is about a murderous protagonist) and "Letter To Emily" (which is about suicide) are indicative of a subliminal shift towards more mature themes. Sure, the Popes had "Sandra" and "Let Them Die" in the early days, but those songs don't even begin to wrestle with taking someone's life.
  • Epic Rocking: While their songs never exceed six minutes on albums, their live versions of "On The Shoulder" and "Brand New Hairstyle" can reach up to seven minutes with extended solos and new lyrics. One live version of "Pretty Pathetic" just barely exceeds nine minutes.
  • Garfunkel: Any of the band's drummers, none of whom have contributed a single song to Smoking Popes' discography.
  • Homage: In live versions of "On The Shoulder", Josh often adds lyrics from the song "Different Drum", made famous by The Stone Poneys, to create a whole new third verse.
  • Just Friends: The protagonist and his love interest in "Stars", though Josh's character is desperately hoping for that Relationship Upgrade.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Subverted. Considering "On The Shoulder" is a love song to a guitar, the line "That voice says take it to the bridge" makes relative sense. However, considering the song has no bridge, it leaves the listener scratching their head.
  • Long Runner: The band's been around for about 22 years, if you include the seven-year hiatus.
  • Love Makes You Evil: "Sandra" is about Josh's obsession with Sandra Bernhard, a female comedian, and his lyrics show a very blatant obsession with the gal.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "Capital Cristine" is an upbeat tune about two people who frequently cheat on each other. Excellent!
    • "This Is Only A Test" is a sadistic commentary on the archetype of the jock, all rolled up into a punk pop anthem.
    • The epitome of lyrical dissonance? "Let's Hear It For Love".
  • New Sound Album: This Is Only A Test can be described as this. From the spoken-word lines of "Diary of a Teen Tragedy" to the drum machine beats of "Excuse Me, Coach" to the ghostly cello in "Letter To Emily", the album is a radical departure from their straightforward punk sound.
  • Refrain from Assuming: "Need You Around" is often titled around the Internet as "I Need You Around". Less commonly, "Star Struck One" is called "Star Struck Ones".
  • Shout-Out: "You Spoke To Me" (from Destination Failure) is one big shout-out to Blake Schwarzenbach of Jawbreaker, a band Smoking Popes toured with. The song also gives a shout-out to Carpentersville, Illinois, a small suburb of Chicago.
  • Smoking Is Cool: The band was pretty much christened with this principle. Now, Josh claims he doesn't smoke, but Matt continues the tradition.
  • Solo Duet: Josh does this pretty freaking often on songs like "Not That Kind Of Girlfriend" and "Stars" from the early days of the Popes. This is, of course, back when his voice had a punk aesthetic to it
  • Soprano and Gravel: Arguably Josh. The band's early work features a lot of punk-shouts from the lead vocalist (see "Sandra", "Breaking", and "That's Where I Come In"), but from Born To Quit onward, Josh's voice has been described as "crooning".
  • Stalker with a Crush: "Sandra", big time.
  • Stop and Go: "The Corner", "Punk Band", and "I Know You Love Me".
  • Studio Chatter: Scattered throughout their Complete Control Sessions EP. A particularly hilarious bit comes at the end of "Writing A Letter".
    Josh: "And now, for our final selection, we give you... 'I Dreamed a Dream', from Less Miserable!"
    • Les Misérables. Get it?
  • Subdued Section: Found at the end of "End Of Your Time".
  • Take That!: The Title Track of This Is Only A Test is a very blatant attack on the jock archetype. The entire album, really, jabs at a bunch of schoolyard constructs, breaks them down, and generally cements the band's status as a group of mature punks.
  • The Quiet One: In both instrumental volume and interview activity, Matt. Probably due to an unspoken music stereotype.
  • Title-Only Chorus: "Let's Here It For Love", "This Is Only A Test", and "Let Them Die".
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: "Just Broke Up" and "College".
    • Also features in their cover of "I Dreamed A Dream".
    • As well as their covers of "Seven Lonely Days" and "Farther Along" on The Party's Over.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "On The Shoulder" comes to mind. Some of their newer stuff has crept into this territory, with "This Is Only A Test" being a prime example of the confusing side of Josh's lyricism.

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