An Interview with Josh Caterer of the Smoking Popes

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Josh Caterer - Need You Around (Official Video) - YouTube

Josh Caterer is responsible for some of the most emotive, though-provoking, and generally catchy Pop/Punk tunes of the 90s. Well, this time, the old saying is wrong because this old dog has certainly learned some new tricks.

A lot of you will remember Josh Caterer as the frontman of the 90s Pop/Punk outfit, the Smoking Popes. During the pandemic, Josh reworked some of those old Popes tunes and some of his other favorites during a “live” session, which will be released on vinyl, CD, and digital soon! Sound interesting? You can grab your copy of The Hideout Sessions here.

If you haven’t guessed it, I’ve got Josh with us for a chat today. We cover his bout with COVID, his new record, what the Smoking Popes are planning next, and more. Dig in.

Andrew:
Josh, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. How are you holding up given the tumultuous events of the last year or so?

Josh:
I’m doing pretty well. I actually had COVID back in November. It was a miserable experience, but I got through it without being hospitalized, which I’m very thankful for. Feeling good now. Everyone in my family is healthy at the moment.

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. What was your musical gateway, so to speak?

Josh:
I grew up in a very musical environment. Our parents were always listening to music in the house. They both had a lot of albums. Dad was a rock guy; lots of Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, and a lot of Blues stuff as well, like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Mom was a Country fan, so she was listening to Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and I think she had every album Kenny Rogers ever made. So I had a pretty wide variety of styles at my disposal as a kid.

Andrew:
As an artist, who are some of your earliest and most important influences?

Josh:
It’s hard for me to pin down specific influences because I feel like I was always absorbing a lot of different things, including stuff from movies I watched when I was a kid. One of my favorite movies was The Music Man with Robert Preston. I think those songs helped shape my sense of melody. I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory about a thousand times and was definitely impacted by those songs. I watched The Nutty Professor with Jerry Lewis, and his version of “That Old Black Magic” really blew me away. This type of songwriting influenced me as much as anything else I was hearing.

Andrew:
Let’s dig in and talk about your upcoming record,
The Hideout Sessions. This will be a live album with a new band. Tell us more about the recording.

Josh:
It’s a live album in the sense that it was recorded live on stage at a Rock club. All the songs are single takes with no overdubs. But it’s an unconventional live album because there was no audience, so you do not hear any applause in between songs. It’s a little of both, sort of halfway between a live album and a studio album, which I love because you get the energy of a live performance with the sonic clarity of a studio album.

Andrew:
What led to the decision to release a live album? I personally love live records, and I’ve been missing live music this year, so this will be a real treat.

Josh:
I saw that certain clubs in Chicago started doing “virtual shows” during the shutdown as a way of adapting to the situation and trying to keep their venues afloat. I wanted to be part of that, to do something that would highlight a local club in a way that would hopefully help strengthen the community of independent venues.

Andrew:
How did the new band come together for this record? Where can we get the record, and what formats will it be on?

Josh:
John Perrin and John San Juan are a couple of guys that I’ve known for many years, and I’ve admired their work in other bands, but we’ve never played together before. This project was an opportunity to collaborate with them, and it’s been awesome. They’re both such creative, inspired players; it’s a joy to make music with them. I’m also very excited to finally be working with Pravda Records, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. The album will be available on vinyl, CD, and streaming.

Josh Caterer

Andrew:
You’re also one of the founding members of the Smoking Popes, right? What’s happening with them? Any new Smoking Popes music on the horizon?

Josh;
There’s nothing much happening with the Popes these days. I expect we’ll start playing shows again once things open back up, but at this point, we don’t have anything planned.

Andrew:
Let’s talk more about the current project. What will the setlist look like for this record? Any new tracks, or is it a mix of solo and Smoking Popes stuff?

Josh:
The album is mostly new versions of old songs like “My Funny Valentine” and “I Only Have Eyes For You,” but there are a few reinterpreted versions of Smoking Popes songs in there too. I tried to approach some of my own songs like they were cover songs, which was really fun. Songs like “Need You Around,” which I’ve been playing the same way for many years, it’s exciting to rebuild that song from the ground up, to find an entirely new groove for the song, which gives it a different emotional impact.

Andrew:
While this is a live record, you can’t really tour. Touring is usually a huge part of a working band’s proverbial machine, but as we know, COVID has disallowed it. What do you miss most about touring?

Josh:
Oh man, what a question! What do I miss about touring? Everything! I miss playing music in front of an audience, obviously. There’s nothing like it, and I long to be able to do it again. But I also miss traveling around to all the different cities that I’ve come to love over the years. I miss those music venues all over America that have become so familiar to me. They all feel like a home away from home. I even miss eating at truck stops and sleeping at motels.

Andrew:
On the subject of touring, indie venues were in trouble before COVID, and they definitely are now. I’ve seen and heard about places shutting down for good all over. With companies like Ticketmaster strangling the market and bands unable to tour and generate revenue for these places, what do you think the post-COVID landscape is going to be like out there?

Josh:
I’m afraid that some of the venues that have been so important to us are not going to be there anymore when we get back out there. I’ve already heard of some incredible clubs in a different part of the country closing their doors, seemingly forever. But I’m hopeful that some of them will be able to open up again eventually and that a new crop of indie venues will pop up in the coming years.

Andrew;
One disturbing fact I’ve learned over time is that Spotify doesn’t pay artists well, if at all. What are your thoughts on that issue? How do we as fans do our part to help?

Josh:
I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect fans to be able to address the problem. As music fans, we can try to support artists, buy their merch, and things like that, but the problem is bigger than that. It’s a systemic problem that will probably take some kind of coordinated effort within the music community itself. If there were a musicians union, we could all go on strike or something. I think organizations like ASCAP have been working to change things, and I hope it starts to bear some fruit.

Andrew:
In a world dominated by capitalism and social media, can artists truly get ahead? How do we keep the playing field level so that everyone has a chance to succeed?

Josh:
That’s a huge philosophical question. I can’t quite wrap my mind around it. I’ll just say that I’ve found it helpful to make music for its own sake without any expectation of making money from it. For me, success is making music that I’m proud of, regardless of whether it ends up being commercially successful or not. So, I have a day job to pay the bills, and I can make the music I’m passionate about without needing to make a living from it.

Andrew:
Are you into records? Tapes? CDs? Digital? Where do you like to shop for music?

Josh;
I love vinyl. There’s a record store near me called Kiss the Sky which is where I do most of my record shopping.

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you, and why?

Josh;
I’ve got my Dad’s old copy of Zeppelin II, which I cherish. I spent a lot of time with that album in my formative years. I’ve also got his old copy of Sinatra at the Sands. That album was hugely important for me.

Andrew:
Last question. What advice would you have for young artists just starting? How do they stay afloat in a world that seems to be so abhorrent to creatives?

Josh;
I think you stay afloat by being true to your own creative vision. You have to make music that you would be genuinely excited about listening to if someone else was making it. Once you start making music for any other reason, to get famous, to make money, or any other reason, you’re in trouble.

Interested in learning more about the work of the Josh Caterer? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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