4. Smoking Popes || Five (or More) Questions With Tommy Black
Sunday, April 29th, 2018
A conversation with Josh Caterer of The Smoking Popes, Five (or More) Questions with Tommy Black
Tommy: Five Questions with Tommy, we got Josh from The Smoking Popes. How you doin’ Josh?
Josh: I’m doin’ real good. We had a great show in San Diego last night at the Soda Bar, looking forward to playing The Viper Room tonight. Played there once before, GREAT, we’re happy to be back.
Tommy: How…how long is this tour? How long have you been out?
Josh: We’ve been out for about a week… and we got maybe a week and a half to go. It’s not that long of a tour. Just sort of a little, a little jaunt… to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of our album Destination Failure that just came out on vinyl. We did like a special vinyl reissue… like an anniversary thing for that. So we’re out to support that.
Josh: -We haven’t been out to the west coast since like, 2012 I think?
Tommy: Are you playing the album in its entirety?
Josh: We’re – no, we’re playing most of the album.
Josh: We’re not, we’re not doing the like, just play it from start to finish thing. We’re sort of taking the songs from that album, mixing them in with songs from the rest of our catalogue…
Josh: …we’ll – we’ll cover about ninety percent of the record.
Tommy: Rad. Do you – are you-
Josh: Some of – some of the songs, we never – we never played them live. It was a very… like uh… studio centric album when we were making it. We didn’t road test most of the songs..
Josh: …you know some of them we were like studio experiments. (?)…but not all of them translate, super well, to a live experience. But we’re – we’re doing our best. (laughs)
Tommy: Road testing that’s cool.
Tommy: Are you doing the Willy Wonka cover?
Josh: Oh yeah, we’re doing that one. For sure.
Tommy: Awesome. What inspired you to do a Willy Wonka cover?
Josh: Well that movie… was just really meaningful to us growing up. I mean, we watched it a lot… and all the music in that film is really… beautiful and brilliantly written. And you know there’s a few songs in there in that we could have chosen from to cover.
Josh: Cheer Up Charlie (Tommy laughs then Josh laughs a bit while speaking) is a really great song. We could have done that as a ballad. Or I Got A Golden Ticket, really would have made a triumphant, sort of, anthem –
Josh: But! In the end we opted with Pure Imagination, there’s something magical about that song.
Tommy: That’s so cool. …And you guys are – you guys are based in Chicago, are you still in Chicago?
Josh: …we’re still in Chicago.
Tommy: I’m told by someone out there you can’t even walk around the street in Chicago, ‘cause you’re so famous in Chicago.
(they both laugh)
Tommy: That Chicago likes you so much… What else? Let’s see, it’s sold out tonight speaking of fame. We shoulda – we shoulda had you two nights. Or it’s ALMOST sold out, we shouldn’t say sold out. Almost-
Josh: Well I’ll tell ya what, whoever’s playin’ tomorrow? Just cancel ‘em. and we’ll stick around and we’ll play again.
Tommy: I’m gonna set that up.
(they both laugh)
Josh: Yeah yeah, just – just throwin’ that out there. (laughter)
Tommy: Or we can set that up. …The contrast of your voice, you know, to… the heavier stuff. You know Morrisey, Sinatra singing Black Flag or something. You know, it’s such a cool – it’s such a cool contrast. It’s such a cool thing. Was… this.. you know-
Josh: Oh thanks.
Tommy: It just came natural? I mean, is this just… that’s what came out? And that’s what you did? How – how did that come about?
Josh: Yeah, it’s really the product of having grown up listening to a lot of different genres of music and liking all of them. Like, you know, as I pointed out we loved… we loved the soundtrack to Willy Wonka. We also were watching… stuff like The Music Man and Singing in the Rain, and really genuinely loving that style of music. And listening to old standards from Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme and people like that. But then also, loving The Ramones, and Black Flag and the Buzzcocks and that sort of punk music. So it just seemed natural to mix all of that together into one musical potpourri (Tommy tries to stifle a laugh) and what came out was The Smoking Popes.
Tommy: (laughing) The Smoking Potpourri –
Josh: (laughing) SMOKING POTPOURRI! (Tommy laughs throughout) Oh we should actually make potpourri, and sell it at our merch table and call it Smoking Potpourri.
Tommy: There ya go. That’s-
Josh: Ah, that’s a – that’s a million dollar idea right there.
Tommy: Genius if I do say so myself. (they laugh) No I’m kidding. No that is, I like it, Smoking Potpourri.
Josh: And we’ll have to give you – we’ll have to give you 1 % because it was your idea.
Tommy: Awww, thank you. Very generous. (they laugh) Let me think, you guys are all… brothers. There’s three of you that are brothers, right?
Josh: Yes. The whole front line of the band is brothers.
Tommy: That’s pretty cool when brothers make music. I wish I had brothers to make music with. You were Catholic raised initially? Pretty Catholic family.
Josh: Catholic family?
Tommy: Oh no, not a Catholic family – religious family.
Josh: We were not a religious family growing up.
Tommy: Oh, I was misled. But you – there was a, uh, a Christian period to the music, shall I say?
Josh: Well we started out… not Christian at all. And then… when I was about twenty-five…
Josh: …um, I became a Christian.
Josh: But like, you know, religion was all new to me. It was like… something that I came to as a result of like…you know… a personal kind of journey where I was looking for some answers and I needed some deeper truths-
Josh: -in life. And I found, I found that in Christianity. And so that (?)…and actually this album that we’re touring on right now, Destination Failure, is an album that we recorded right when that transition was happening-
Josh: -in my life. So, some of the songs on the album have this… quality of, like, seeking. You know, and sort of sorting through some spiritual questions. Like one of the songs on the album is called I Know That You Love Me, and it’s a song that I wrote about Jesus right at the very beginning of my faith in Him.
Tommy: Wow, that’s cool.
Josh: You know that’s short of… It’s actually cool to be – to be playing through the album for that reason, and sort of revisiting that time period.
Tommy: Mentally, you got-
Josh: I’m still… I’m still… a Christian. In fact I work at a church. I’m a Worship Pastor at church in Chicago. That’s my day job.
Tommy: That’s really cool. That’s really cool. Speaking of worship on a lighter note, Angry Dave, a friend of the club and our door girl, Stephanie Mata – Dave’s from Chicago and he doesn’t like anything, he’s a tech for Bad Religion right now and he definitely worships your band. He speaks very highly of you guys. (laughs) I don’t know if you guys know him, (Josh laughs) but he’s out tonight. He knows you guys are from Chicago I guess. It’s gonna be a good night, we’re all very excited. Oh when’s the last time you played a room about the size of The Viper Room?
Josh: You know, we play rooms that size pretty regularly.
Tommy: Oh cool.
Josh: Like, you know if we’re in Chicago we’ll play bigger rooms, but usually out on the road, you know, 250-300 capacity places so that’s kind of our sweet spot.
Tommy: Yeah, cool. Alright-
Josh: We like to have a smaller room that’s just packed to the gills and it’s all hot and sweaty and everybody’s uncomfortable.
Josh: You know, too many people in there and that really makes for a good show.
Tommy: It’s intimate. Intimate and hot. (laughs)
Josh: Intimate and (Tommy chimes in at the same time) HOT.
Josh: It’s gonna be great.
Tommy: Is this what you wanted to do? You doing what you want to do right now?
Josh: Oh completely. Yes.
Josh: This is like, like in general, this is what we wanna do. And specifically, like playin’ a place like The Viper Room and bein’ in California. It’s like we’ve really, we’ve really been lookin’ forward to comin’ back. Like we – we love playin’ California shows. It’s like, one of the places in America that like, the shows are always… they just sorta have a special – special energy, a special vibe. We love it here like, the… I love the trees in California. (laughs)
Josh: I can’t get enough. You know, in Illinois, like the variety of trees is just really boring. You got like, elm trees, (Tommy laughs) maple-
Josh: Just stuff like that.
Tommy: Yeah, it’s beautiful out here.
Josh: But here you’re lookin’ around, you just got this wide variety some of them are really exotic. Palm trees and the occasional cactus, and beautiful like, kind of flowered shrubs like exploding with color, that you just don’t see in the Midwest. And so visually it’s an exciting place to be. The air feels good ‘cause you’re so close to the ocean. The people are nice and laid back and friendly. I like it.
Josh: If only I could afford to live here.
(They both laugh.)
Tommy: Well, we’re glad to have you tonight. We’re lookin’ forward to the show, and I’ll put – I’ll put a cactus in the green room for you. (laughs)
Josh: Oh excellent.
Tommy: We’ll get you a cactus in the green room-
Josh: Love it.
Tommy: Alright, Josh. Thank you very much, Josh, I’ll see ya tonight.
Josh: See ya tonight! Thanks, man.
Five (or More) Questions with Tommy Black is produced by Joshua Chévere Cohen & Prickly Pear Marketing