Smoking Popes bassist talks Middlewest Fest, new release

By Jerene-Elise Nall

To find a fan of Chicago punk music who doesn’t appreciate Smoking Popes would be a challenging feat.

Smoking Popes have been making music since before some of NIU’s freshman class was born, and, luckily for their fans, have no intention of quitting anytime soon. Despite a breakup in 1998, the band reformed in 2005 and hardly missed a beat. DeKalb Scene spoke with Matt Caterer, bassist of Smoking Popes about the band’s newest releases, past experiences, and the upcoming Middlewest Fest show at Otto’s, 118 E. Lincoln Highway, this Friday.

Northern Star: Let me just start by asking, you’ve played Otto’s before, right? You’ve played here within the last couple years?

Matt Caterer: Yeah, we played… it seems like the end of last year, we played there and at least one other time, maybe two years ago. So, yeah, we’ve played there before. I like that place.

NS: You like it here?

MC: Yeah. Yeah, we played there and we’ve also played at that place down the street, it’s kind of that smaller club.

NS: The House Cafe?

MC: I think so, yeah. Yeah, we did a couple shows there.

NS: And you’re going to be playing here on the 10th of September for Middlewest Fest, correct?

MC: Yeah, that’s right.

NS: Now, how do you feel about playing this type of festival? You know, because it’s about the Midwest and it’s about celebrating the music that comes from here. How do you feel about being a part of something like that?


MC: I think it’s cool, because I think, John [Ugolini of Kickstand Productions] either put it together or was instrumental in putting it together, so it’s pretty exciting because I like him as a dude. I think he’s done all of the shows we’ve done in DeKalb over the last few years.

And, you know, it’s cool that he’s putting this thing together. When we were going to do it, I thought it was just, like, one show that was a little fest of a show with like, four bands at one club or something. I didn’t realize it was a part of this whole big thing but I think it’s real cool.

Because those kinds of fests, we’ve been a part of those for years off and on, but it’s cool that he’s doing it in DeKalb, you know? I like that area. I’ve just noticed that for a lot of shows that we’ve played sort of in different parts of the Chicagoland area, there’s sort of an, I don’t know what you’d call it, a certain geographical group of people that goes to shows at Otto’s that don’t come to other shows I think. So, it’s a good way to… illustrate that there’s some awesome places to see shows around there. Someone was telling me, I haven’t been to this place, but I guess it’s one of the venues, the Egyptian or something like that?

NS: Oh yeah, it’s the Egyptian Theatre.

MC: Yeah, that’s what I heard. He’s got like, I’m not even sure, he’s got what, 12 different shows? I don’t even remember. It’s a lot. A lot of cool bands. Ha Ha Tonka, a bunch of people.

NS: What are some of your favorite tour memories or even memories from just one show? Because you guys have been around for a good while, so I’m sure you’ve seen some interesting stuff.

MC: Yeah, (laughing) yeah, we have. Probably the first one of these things we played where it was a big festival thing at multiple clubs around a town, I think it was out in Providence, RI if i’m not mistaken.

And this obviously was a long time ago, because I remember we opened up for that band, Blind Melon, remember that band? But it was weird, because it was seriously like, a couple weeks before that guy ended up passing away ‘cause of his drug overdose. So I remember that very distinctly ‘cause we were all just like, “oh my gosh, we just saw this guy!” I remember talking to the dude, walking around backstage with him. Um, you know. It’s all a blur at this point.

NS: Yeah. It’s really great that you guys are still producing music and everything though, because I know you just came out with the new album, “It’s Been A Long Day.”

MC: Yeah, that’s part of our reissue series.

NS: Yeah, I noticed a lot of reissues and a couple new tracks I saw on there.

MC: Yeah, we found a couple things that hadn’t been released before so we tried to put it out. That album came out before kind of in a different format, but we were trying to make it a little bit more comprehensive ‘cause we’re going to try to have them all come out on Asian Man [Records] so they’ll all be in the same place and they’ll all be out there finally. I just got through remastering “Born To Quit”, and we also just remastered “Get Fired,” which will be out in October. And I’ll be going in to master our new album. We just got through recording a new album, brand new material, so we’ve been pretty busy as far as getting stuff together to come out. We’re looking to have a pretty busy year coming up.

NS: Yeah, it sounds busy.

MC: We’re all pretty excited. We settled in Neil [Hennessey], he’s been our drummer for a good couple years now I’d say, and we finally got in the studio with him to record these new songs and it just feels like what our band is now with Neil. You know, we’re getting it together, you know. We hope we won’t be slowing down.

NS: Is there a song that you feel you’ve put the most of yourself into, or even an entire album for the Popes?

MC: I’m sure it might be different for the other dudes, but for me I guess almost more in retrospect the album, especially after listening to it again because I was remastering it, “Born to Quit” has a special place in my memory just because it was like, when we made that album, we were like, “let’s record this album even though we’re only going to spend a couple hundred bucks on it or whatever. Let’s record it like we’re recording it for like, the top of the charts. So, we sort of like, tried to, within a limited means, to achieve that. And we had a lot of fun doing it in a very sort of low-key way. Then, you know, it ended up getting picked up [by a record label] and stuff like that and it just got better and better. So it’s weird, to me, that album has the elements of us before anything really happened to us and also when everything started happening to us at the same time. So, I like that one! Plus, the remaster sounds really good. The dude that I worked with, Carl Saff, really brought out a lot of the middle range of the guitars and the low end in the sound, so it sounds a lot fuller than I think it ever has, really.

So, I’ll be excited to get that one out there.