Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Popes go up in ‘Smoke’

Chicago’s Smoking Popes started out at the Elks Club and ended up everywhere from “Clueless” to HBO. Of course, that was just a brief detour on the way to the used bin. From a rise to notoriety that nobody expected to a breakup nobody could have conceived of, the Popes made great music and didn’t get the credit they deserved.

One of a multitude of Chicago punkers in the early ’90s, the Smoking Popes started playing pretty much anywhere that had a three-prong electrical outlet. The band began by rocking the lanes at local bowling alleys and bars in an attempt to build a following. That following came quickly, and the Popes quickly graduated to the Chicago club scene.

Over the course of a few months, they quickly went from opening the Metro to headlining for a capacity crowd at the same venue.


Such a quick rise didn’t go unnoticed. Some 7-inch records the band had recorded found their way to international superstars Green Day. Green Day pushed the band to Capitol Records, who signed them and re-released their first full-length CD, Born to Quit.

Born to Quit was already receiving attention in Chicago for its upbeat single “I Need You Around,” and Capitol quickly slapped the song onto the soundtrack for the blockbuster “Clueless.” At this point, things started to pick up.

Born to Quit, while no longer in production, is a fairly easy find in used record stores and online boutiques. Combining both songwriter Josh Caterer’s flair for unabashed pop and guitarist Eli Caterer’s taste for lyrical instrumentation, Born to Quit turns out some interesting surprises.

“Rubella” is a straight-ahead rock song with a driving guitar line and pulsing beat, and “I Need You Around” serves up more of the same.

However, the focus of the album lies in the more plentiful mid-tempo songs. “Midnight Moon” speculates about why the moon itself looks so happy, finally deciding that it “must also be in love.”

“Gotta Know Right Now” serves up more teenage angst and relationship complications with a protagonist who can’t wait to hear whether the object of his affection feels the same way he does.

Capitol also saw fit to put “Mrs. You and Me” on the soundtrack to “Angus,” a Minnesota-filmed movie about an overweight teen who finds he can accomplish anything through bravery.

Also appearing on the soundtrack were names like Green Day, Pansy Division, The Muffs, Love Spit Love, Ash and Weezer.

It was a boost that the Smoking Popes needed, and the band quickly found itself touring with acts like Tripping Daisy, Local H and Dinosaur Jr.

All this support helped to move the Popes into the studio for their second full-length release, Destination Failure. Released on Capitol in 1997, this is the real gem.

With real musical stunners, Destination Failure saw a transcendence of Born to Quit‘s more-often-than-not sophomoric content. Caterer employed new techniques to create a more textural and unified album.

The disc’s opening track, “Star Struck One,” functions more as an introduction to the second track, “No More Smiles,” than as an individual song. The sparse track, consisting of mostly vocals and acoustic guitar, sets up the next; this is a trend that continues throughout the CD.

Songs span the gamut on Destination Failure. Some are fast and furious like “Capital Cristine,” while others are syncopated, shambling anthems like “You Spoke to Me.”

Still, Caterer doesn’t go too far from what he knows best and sticks to pining about lost loves. It’s the manner in which he does it that makes it unique.

“Follow the Sound” is a floating speculation on whether we get to fraternize with our loved ones in the afterlife: “We should figure out a signal we can find / If the light we’re heading into makes us blind / If at first it seems no one’s around / follow the sound.”

“Pretty Pathetic” abandons the poetry for prose, as the song is a one-sided conversation between Caterer and his date. Caterer thinks back on all the things he knows he shouldn’t have said and that he shouldn’t have done.

The song never establishes a set chorus or verse, but instead wanders through a long series of key changes without ever seeming to find a comfortable place to stay.

If there’s one song that can’t help but be loved, it’s the cover of “Pure Imagination” from the classic movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Delivered with a wistful sense of irony, the track charms as it soothes.

All was going well until Caterer quit the band and tossed out all of his old records. The lead singer of the Smoking Popes had found Jesus. Abandoning his old ways, Caterer switched over to a strictly Christian slant on music. The Popes disbanded and moved on to other projects.

Luckily, entrepreneurial drummer Mike Felumlee started Double Zero Records as a side project to his day job of keeping beat for Alkaline Trio. The new label allowed re-releases of older Smoking Popes albums and a retrospective of demos from 1992-2002, and kept the band’s music available to the public.

While Caterer did eventually attempt to re-form the band under the name Duvall, bassist Matt Caterer couldn’t stand the new religious twist and declined to join, leaving the public to ponder a final album called Destination Failure and a band called the Smoking Popes who never found the big time because their singer found God.

Free tracks are available at

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