A conversation with Josh Caterer of Smoking Popes

February 24, 2010 by Lucy Albers

A conversation with Josh Caterer of Smoking Popes

It's been nearly two decades since singer/guitarist JOSH CATERER teamed up with his brothers Eli and Matt to form SMOKING POPES. Although the band spent six years of that time on hiatus, they have a wealth of early material that most fans couldn't hear without a record player. In addition to working on re-releasing much of their back catalog, the Popes just released It's Been A Long Day featuring songs that originally appeared on their early 7-inches and complilations. While Josh Caterer is taking a ride along memory lane, he's also looking forward as the band work on their second full-length since returning in 2005. Caterer let us know what we can expect and also makes a strong case that running cures writer's block.

INTERVIEW: Lucy Albers


How did you pick the songs to go on to It's Been A Long Day?
It's a collection of all of the 7-inches that we put out in the '90s. The first thing we did when we became a band was self-release these EPs. A lot of those songs didn't make it onto our full-length albums. So we had to release them in these sorts of collections. Almost everything on this album has been released in some form, but some of has never been released on CD before. Also, one of the songs, "Long Day," was recorded back in '93 but has never been released before because it never made it on to whichever 7-inch we were working on [at the time] and then we lost the tape. But we recently found it and we're kind of excited about that. We actually named the record off of it.

What was it about that song that made you name the album after it? It was sort of a dual thing. It had to do with it being the one song on the CD that nobody had ever heard before, so it was kind of the shining star. But it also had something to do with the fact that the songs themselves are kind of getting old but have survived from a previous era. So, you know, there's a certain lifespan that the songs have already had.

Did you re-record any of the songs, or are they all in their original form?
They're all the original recordings that we did back in '91, '92 and '93. Then there are a few songs that are on the disc from like '97 and '98, but there are no new recordings. We did remaster them.

You're also working on a new album, right?
We've been in the studio working on new songs for a brand new disc that's going to come out in the fall. It's going to be a full-length album with 10 songs. We have the first half of it recorded. I've got most of the record written and we have studio time booked next month to go in and finish it. That will also be on Asian Man Records. [It's Been A Long Day] is our first release on Asian Man, although two years ago, I was in a band called Duvall and we put out a couple things on that label. So I have a working relationship with them already. They're great.

What makes the label a good fit for you?
Asian Man is a very good label to be on. They work well with bands and know what they're doing with distribution and everything. They're trustworthy, which is a rare quality in a record label. We had a really good experience with [owner] Mike Park in the past, and we like working with him. We just sort of feel like the music we're releasing right now is really well-suited for Asian Man Records because of [the] more punk-type stuff that they're putting out right now.

What does the new music sound like?
It's a little more old-school Popes; a little more punk and definitely reminiscent of our early stuff. A lot of songs that will be on the new album are different from anything we've done. But 80 percent of the stuff is going to have the energy of our early self-released stuff.

What's the lyrical basis of the new album?
It's kind of a concept album about a teenage life. All of the songs are written from the point of view of a high school student, and they explore aspects of teenage life. This would be [about] a contemporary teenager. It's not specifically autobiographical of my high school experience. Obviously, those things are incorporated into what I write, but I tried to create a character who is the protagonist in these songs.

How did you come up with that concept?
The idea occurred to me while I was running, actually. I've found that running is a very meditative experience. I'm able to get some thinking done while running that I cant do elsewhere. One time, I was thinking about some of the younger bands who claim Smoking Popes as one of their influences and have gone onto become very successful in this generation. I [thought about] how their music is different than ours, and what they're doing differently than what we've done. I realized that one of the things I've never done is write from an explicitly teenage point of view--even when I was a teenager. I was always trying to pretend like I was older. I was trying to emulate the kind of perspective and sophistication of the older generation. It occurred to me that it would be funny if now, while I'm in my late 30s, I would actually start writing songs from a teenage perspective. As soon as that thought occurred to me, I got ideas for, like, the first five songs on the record. They just sort of started coming to me. So I went home and started writing and they just came out. That became the beginning of the next record.

Do you think a lot of your older fans are going to appreciate this theme?
I think they'll still be able to enjoy it. I mean, I'm enjoying it.

You've said before that you're very influenced by classic rock. Is that still the kind of music you listen to?
Yeah, I tend to listen to a lot of older music. I don't do a very good job of keeping up with what's going on in contemporary music. My brothers are better at that. They're always playing new stuff for me and telling me what to check out. Also, I have kids and a job and, you know, less time to keep up with what's going on in music, so I do it vicariously through others.

Do you have any plans to tour?
We'll tour in fall when the new record comes out. I think we'll save up and tour in the fall in the Midwest and maybe play a few festival shows around Chicago this summer.

Are you guys going to be working on anything else?
Eventually, we'd like to put out our old albums that are out of print. [1995's]Born To Quit and [1997's] Destination Failure are both out of print right now, although Destination is available on iTunes. In addition to the new stuff, we want to sprinkle in the old stuff. We just want fans to be able to hear it all. alt 

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