Q: Just so everyone knows, who are we talking with here? Name and instrument(s).
A: Josh Caterer, lead vocals and guitar.
Q: Well, I guess the obvious first question is after nearly ten years away from recording music, what made you suddenly decide to get the band back together? Give us the whole story… what were you guys doing since you broke up in 1999, and what changes in life made it possible to reform the Smoking Popes?
A: When I left the band, it was a personal decision I made to concentrate on my relationship with Jesus. And looking back, I think it was a great decision. I needed that time to get established in my faith; to make sure it was going to stick. When I finally came to the point of being ready to try the Popes again, it was pretty natural for us to get back together, because we didn’t have any baggage. It was never like we hated each other or didn’t enjoy playing together. In fact, taking a break made us appreciate it even more. I think every band should take a few years off.
Q: One of the things I said in my review of the new record was that it maintains the good old melodic punk sound of the 90s, while showing a lot of growth and maturity. And I’m sure this musical growth and maturity is only a reflection of what’s been going on personally over the past ten years. What are some things you’ve learned that have helped you to grow up a little while still being able to have fun?
A: I’ve learned that you actually play better when you’re sober. I’ve learned that an audience is a gift and you shouldn’t take them for granted. And I’ve learned that music is bigger than we are and you shouldn’t take too much credit for it.
Q: I think my favorite song on Stay Down is “Stefanie.” But as I was thinking about it, I realized that once you name a song after a certain girl like that, you can’t name any more songs after her, so when making that decision, it had better be the song that deserves her name. In what ways do you think this song fits that description?
A: This is one of the first songs I ever wrote for my wife. I wrote it back when we were 15 years old, but it wasn’t a Popes song, it was just a private love letter to her. Out of all the songs I wrote in those early years, this one stands out. I still like it. So we tried it for the new record and it seems to work. Although, I don’t agree with your theory that you can only name one song after a certain girl.
Q: As a band that’s been around for the long haul, you’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry first hand, from when you formed in 1991 to today. Do you think things now are better, worse, or just different than they were when you were playing the first time around?
A: Things are just a little different. A band still has to write good songs in order to be worth listening to. Maybe you don’t need a major label to get your music out there anymore. You can do that through the internet. But the internet can’t help you make good music. You have to do that on your own. You can’t fake it, even with pro-tools and auto-tuners. If you don’t have good songs, people who care about music will always be able to see through you.
Q: As a music reviewer, I get a lot of albums sent my way from bands trying to be progressive and experimental and ahead of everyone else in the market. Everyone wants the newest sound that no one has ever heard of before, to push the limits of their genre. But then here comes your CD, continuing with basically the same sound you were playing in the 90s. And it’s really good music, but I guess I just have to ask, is there still a good sized market for this kind of stuff? How has the reaction been to your music? Are people still excited about it, or is the rumor true that “punk is dead”?
A: I don’t know about any of that. But I do know that the eternal quest for something new is an illusion. It’s a carrot on a stick. We didn’t develop our style because we thought there would be a market for it. If that’s your motivation, you won’t be any good. Good music has got something honest at the core of it, something inspired, something that doesn’t change with all the marketing trends. That’s what I think, anyway. But what do I know? I’m just a guy who still thinks that Hank Williams Sr. is cooler than most of what’s out there.
Q: I’ve heard that some members of Smoking Popes are Christians, but not all. How does this affect the relationships between band members, and how does it play out in your music?
A: I think my relationship with Jesus has made my relationships with everyone else a little better. I’m still far from perfect, but I’m definitely easier to get along with, and I have to give Him full credit for that. When Jesus comes into your life, He begins to change you in ways you might not even be aware of, but the people around you notice, and it’s definitely an improvement. I hate to think of where I’d be without Jesus in my life. My relationship with Him plays out in everything I do, including my songwriting. It’s not a calculated thing, it’s just that my perspective in things is naturally different.
Q: I’ll admit I haven’t actually read another interview with your band before, so I apologize if this is an all-too-common question, but what is the name “Smoking Popes” all about?
A: My brother Matt said we should call ourselves the Popes, which I liked, but I thought we should add something to it, so I came up with the Smoking part. Smoking Popes. We thought it sounded cool. Then we decided that it could be a reference to Mickey Rourke’s role in “The Pope of Greenwich Village” which was one of our favorite movies. And that was t