Popes find a way to balance God AND music

Hailing from the city most famous for its working class brand of underground rock music, The Smoking Popes are an all-around Chicago band. The Popes are influenced by a large array of musical styles. Lead singer and guitarist Josh Caterer credits Frank Sinatra as being the most influential artist of all, saying that he grew up captivated by Frank. What separates The Smoking Popes from other bands commonly seen at venues such as the Fireside and the Bottom Lounge (R.I.P.) is their ability to use such influences to break out of their simple punk shell. From doing Frank covers to blues jams to encore renditions of Moby Dick, the Popes are an all-around fun band to see.

The Smoking Popes released their first record, Get Fired, in 1993. The band members, three of them being brothers, have been jamming together for the majority of their lives. The Popes consist of Josh Caterer on guitar and vocals, Eli Dixon Caterer on guitar, Matt Caterer on bass and Ryan Chavez on drums.

Josh brought a lot of influence to the band’s music through big bands and old black and white American classic movies, and his voice encompasses a tenor more similar to that of a lounge singer than that of the front man of an influential pop-punk band.

The Popes started off under the name Speedstick in Naperville, Ill. Ben Weasel, singer of the Chicago punk band Screeching Weasel, took a liking to the Popes and helped them get signed. In their early days, the band also won an opening spot for Green Day.

Chicago radio station Q101 and Los Angles radio station KROQ starting spinning the single “Need You Around” off their album Born To Quit in 1995. During the same year, the band also signed a three year contract with the major label Capitol.

“Need You Around” was put on the soundtrack for the movie “Clueless.” The Popes played an opening spot on tour with the Goo Goo Dolls and ended up with yet another track on a movie soundtrack, this time for “Tommy Boy.” Their album Born To Quit had a total of four tracks placed on soundtracks.

Destination Failure was the Pope’s second major-label album, released in 1997 on Capitol Records. The 16 tracks on the record explore life, love and love lost, including a cover of the song “Pure Imagination” from the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

The Popes have been dubbed a pop-punk band, albeit an atypical one. One might compare their style to Morrissey, or even Weezer. The Popes grew in popularity around the world but still held a special place in the hearts of devoted Chicago fans, only to disband a year after the release of Destination Failure.

In 1998, Josh found Christianity and wanted to devote more time to his faith. The band played their “last” show on Dec. 19, 1998 at the Double Door in Chicago, only to return seven years later for a reunion show at the Metro in Chicago on Nov. 11, 2005.

Since the reunion show, the Popes have been playing gigs again and even recorded some new material. Victory records released Smoking Popes at Metro, a live CD and DVD, in February of this year.

Opening for the Smoking Popes during the most recent stretch of their tour is the indie-rock band, Criteria. Criteria began in the basement of vocalist Stephen Pedersen, an Omaha, Nebraska native. Pedersen got a leg up in the music industry with multiple tours with Saddle Creek Records band Cursive and played on their first two records. After attending Duke Law School, Pedersen returned to Omaha to work in corporate law by day and write music by night. Giving himself the name Criteria, he hired local musicians to play the music to his songs and ended up with an indie rock band.

Criteria have three records: En Garde, Prevent the World, and their latest release from about a year ago – When We Break.

Catch The Popes with Criteria this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at The Highdive, 51 Main Street, downtown Champaign. Tickets are $12 in advance and $14 at the door.

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