Josh Caterer | The Magic of Red Hots

 

prof josh-caterer_75Josh Caterer and Smoking Popes have provided me with some of my favorite music of the last 13 years.

 

prof smoking-popes_500

It seems only fair to tell you that Josh Caterer—and, by extension, Smoking Popes—has provided me with some of my favorite music of the last 13 years, ever since I saw them open for Third Eye Blind my senior year of high school. So you can imagine my horror at the fact, a few minutes into my interview with Caterer, I had managed to insult him in such a way he sounded not annoyed but actually hurt. I had asked him about his family, because I knew that older brother Matt and younger brother Eli were both members of Smoking Popes. I had wanted to know if there were any other Caterer siblings running around who were not in the band. He said no, and I mentioned, laughingly, that his parents had lost all their kids to rock music. He sounded a bit discouraged at my take on the situation, and said, “I like to think of it like they gained a band.”

A moment of awkward silence later and I plunged in, desperate to redeem myself, and things went much smoother from there. There was a lot to talk about: Smoking Popes have had an interesting history. They were formed in 1991 and released their first album Get Fired in 1993. This was followed by Born to Quit in 1995 and Destination Failure in 1997. Then, in May of 1998, Caterer converted to Christianity; the band disbanded in early 1999, with Caterer wanting to focus on his faith. Smoking Popes reformed in 2005, playing a sold-out show at Chicago’s The Metro which was released on CD and DVD. They toured some over the next few years and released a new album, Stay Down, in 2008. They then issued their fifth studio album earlier this year, the conceptual This Is Only a Test, and have toured quite a bit in support of that. Then, in November of this year, Caterer released a solo EP of original Christmas music called The Heart of Christmas, for which he is currently touring to support.

Through all of this reformation of the band and the subsequent touring and recording, Caterer has maintained his faith. While it was something he felt he couldn’t balance with music when he first converted, he has since managed to find a place where it feels natural. I asked him if he knew when Smoking Popes disbanded that it wasn’t permanent, and he said that he hadn’t known—even a few months before they’d reformed, he still didn’t see it as a possibility. I followed that up with asking if the aforementioned brothers, Eli and Matt, had ever pressured him to reform the band, and he said that they hadn’t: “When I was ready, I came to them.” In response to asking if his faith had ever caused issues in the band, he replied, “It has never caused any problems; everyone’s been very supportive of it from the very beginning, from the time I started following Christ.”

Caterer does sound like he’s found a happy medium. He is a worship leader at his church near Chicago, but the schedule there allows him to tour as he needs to, something that was less true with the job he held around the time of the release of Stay Down. He has a wife and two children, ages 11 and 6, and seems to be a fairly normal, nice guy. We discussed the brutal Midwestern winters (he’s from Chicago, so he understands) that led to the song “Austin Bound” on the EP he just released. We agreed that it doesn’t seem so bad at first, but by February, the novelty of freezing temperatures really starts to wear off.

We also discussed the last song on the EP, “Conroy, the Gingerbread Boy,” about a little gingerbread boy that comes to life with the help of some magic Red Hot eyes. I mentioned the video was adorable—check it out on YouTube if you have not seen it—and Caterer explained it was actually something he had created with his 11-year-old son on the latter’s iPod Touch. They worked out different ways for Conroy to dance around their house for their production but, as Caterer explains it, “Ultimately, the method that worked best was to actually obtain some magic Red Hots.”

It’s this sort of humor—combined with the musical know-how of being a professional musician for 20 years—that makes Caterer so enjoyable to listen to. Both his solo music and the tunes he’s recorded with Smoking Popes (and, during Smoking Pope’s hiatus, Duvall) are impassioned, fun, and heartfelt. | Teresa Montgomery

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