Aside from having the coolest name of any punk-leaning Chicago-area band since Big Black, Smoking Popes have been blessed with core fan base that refused to quit on the outfit. When leader Josh Caterer pulled the plug on the Popes in 1998, it came little more than a year after releasing what might have been the group’s best album, Destination Failure, perplexing many but apparently offending few. Seven years later, a sold-out reunion show in the Popes’ hometown was all it took to get Caterer back in a creative mood. From there, Josh and brothers Matt (bass) and Eli (guitar) pretty much picked up where they left off, releasing Stay Down in 2008 and compilation It’s Been A Long Day last year. The new This Is Only A Test (Asian Man) is a concept album that only occasionally comes across as such, with the 38-year-old Josh taking on the role of an angsty teenager to convincing effect. Josh and Matt will be guest-editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Q&A with Josh.
Matt: I’ve been a fan of the Monkees since I was a little kid. Growing up, I would watch reruns of the TV show, and we had a couple of their albums in our collection. When Josh and I started four-tracking, one of the first songs we did was a punk version of Mike Nesmith’s ‘The Kind Of Girl I Could Love” from More Of The Monkees. And I always thought it was interesting that both the Sex Pistols and Minor Threat covered their “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” As an adult, I got back into them again when I worked at Laurie’s Planet Of Sound record store in Lincoln Square, Chicago. Everyone there had different tastes, but for some reason, the one band we all agreed was awesome was the Monkees, so we listened to them a lot.
Everyone knows the hits, but if you dig deeper, there is a lot of great music there. Nesmith’s contributions to their records helped lay the groundwork for country rock, and the Moog synthesizer on Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. is the first on a commercial album. Also, I like how the TV series so directly mirrors the times they were living in. They start off as these fresh-faced, eager kids, and everything gets increasingly psychedelic. Like in the final show of the series, where guest star Rip Taylor gets blasted by a cloud of smoke from what is obviously supposed to be a giant marijuana plant (from outer space), and he falls down giggling, saying something like, “I don’t want to fight anymore. I just want to lay down in the grass and be cool.” Silly stuff, but it’s pretty fun.
Their movie Head takes all that to another level. To brainstorm ideas for the film, Nesmith, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz holed up in a room at a resort somewhere outside of L.A. with Jack Nicholson. Supposedly, they just smoked a ton of weed and babbled into a tape recorder. Then Nicholson wrote a script based on those tapes. The result is a psychedelic cult classic.
Anyhow, if you’re interested in the Monkees beyond what you hear on oldies radio or on Muzak at the mall and Walgreens, check out the Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.—and definitely get some friends together, party a little, and watch Head. Hey, hey, it’s the Monkees!