Jesus didn't break up the Smoking Popes, one of Chicago's more promising punk-pop acts of the '90s, but he did play a role in its reunion.
At least, that's the story told by singer/songwriter Josh Caterer, who was on a self-destructive path for years before leaving the band and the rock 'n roll lifestyle.
"I left the band because of my conversion to Christianity and the kind of complete change of my worldview that took place as a result of that," says Caterer, from a church in Rolling Meadows, Ill.
What may seem like a born-again, knee-jerk reaction from some bad acid or a night of heavy partying actually is nothing more than a lonely person searching for guidance.
Raised in a non-religious, non-denominational family with his brothers and fellow Smoking Popes members, Matt and Eli, the talented songwriter found solace in the punk lifestyle, which to some is not only a musical genre but a religion itself, allowing acceptance of society's unaccepted.
As the Smoking Popes rose through the ranks during the '90s, including tours alongside Green Day, the Goo Goo Dolls (when that actually meant something) and even emo act Jimmy Eat World, Caterer's reliance on drugs escalated. His marriage was failing and, as good as the band's 1995 major label debut, Born to Quit, and 1997 album, Destination Failure, seemed to fans, the frontman probably wasn't on top of his game.
"I wasn't headed in a very good direction, and I just was not a very happy guy," Caterer says.
So, at his lowest, Caterer promised his life to God. It's a poignant moment in Caterer's life, except he wasn't too familiar with, well, God. At that point, he took a year to study religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, various Eastern philosophies and even meditation. Soon he gravitated to Christianity and made plans to leave the band.
Not wanting to screw over his bandmates/brothers, he stuck around until the end of 1998, and the final Popes' disc, the aptly titled Party's Over, wasn't released until 2001.
"For three years, I didn't do anything," Caterer says. "I got a job and went to church."
Eventually he formed Christian band Duvall, which released a few albums. Essentially, Duvall was the Smoking Popes with biblical themes.
At some point last year, Caterer realized he could reconcile the notion of being a Christian while performing secular music in clubs again. A reunion gig was scheduled, fans cheered and a successful co-headlining winter tour with Bayside led to the band's own headlining outing.
Caterer stresses that the future remains positive. A new Smoking Popes album is due out next year, which, he says, is not Christian punk. Perhaps the biggest question regarding Caterer's return to the Popes is whether or not he still can relate to the lyrics crafted by his old self.
"Yeah, a lot of those songs are about my wife," says Caterer, who has been married for 11 years. "There are still a couple that make her cry, and I can still connect with the emotion of a lot of the songs. But they don't make me cry. The thing that moves me to tears musically is being involved in worship at my church. There's a whole other level of experience there that you don't really get from just singing love songs."
The Smoking Popes with Lovedrug
3317 E. Colfax Ave., Denver
Friday, May 19, 9 p.m.
$12 in advance, $14 day of show; call 866/468-7621 or visit ticketweb.com for more.