The Smoking Popes have a very long history as a Chicago melodic-punk band, spanning almost 30 years. The Smoking Popes was started by the 3 Caterer brothers of the Chicago suburb Lake in the Hills in 1990; Matt (born in '68), Josh (born in '72), and Eli (born in 1975).
In 1980, Matt got a guitar, Josh a bass and Eli a drum set. They began to listen to the punk music of the time, citing influences as The Ramones, The Smiths, and The Replacements, as well as other musicians like Tom Waits, Mel Torme, The Cars, Liberace, and Hall & Oates.
For ten years they played together composing songs, and in 1990, they got a gig as Speedstick at a party and played ten original punk rock style songs. Matt switched to the bass and Josh took up the guitar, and Dave Martens joined as drummer and Eli temporarily left the band.
Josh, as the singer, became heavily influenced by Elvis Costello and took on a pop sound. As Speedstick they recorded an 11 song studio LP which included a Smoking Popes staple, "Brand New Hairstyle." The name was then changed to Smoking Popes: Smoking due to Matt and Josh's excessive cigarette smoking and Popes after one of Chicago's oldest street gangs that had apparently had a segment in their town, although this could have been a different, unaffiliated street gang going by the same name. Drummer Dave Martens became disenchanted with the group's direction and simply stopped attending practices. The Caterers recruited Mike Felumlee of Article One.
In 1991 they released an EP under the new name but recorded during their Speedstick days - Inoculator EP - under Radius Records. In 1992 they released another EP - Breakup. Eli rejoined the group as a second guitar player. They became a member of the Chicago and northern Indiana scene. In 1993 they released a 7" split with Groovy Love Vibes.
Ben Weasel became a fan and used his connections and recruited Mass Giorgini of Squirtgun to record/engineer the Smoking Popes first LP, Get Fired on Johann's Face Records. That same year they appeared on the punk comp "It's a Punk Thing... You Wouldn't Understand"
Born to Quit & Capitol Records
In 1994 they opened for Green Day and finished the second LP Born to Quit released by Johann's Face and Need You Around hit the airwaves with rotation. Capitol Records approached them and they signed and Capitol re-released Born to Quit and they went on tour with Tripping Daisies and Gummy Dolls.
Need You Around was in the film Clueless and in 1996 the soundtrack was released in Finland and they became popular there and toured there and parts of the UK and came back and toured with Jawbreaker. Need You Around peaked at 35 on the charts.
Album sales didn't meet Capitol's expectations and they demanded another hit. Producer Jerry Finn who worked with Green Day and Rancid was called in to help in between their touring with fellow Capitol punk bands The Figgs and Jimmy Eat World.
In January of 1997 Capitol still didn't detect a single hit until the Popes finally wrote "I Know You Love Me" and Capitol deemed it had potential. Capitol fired the Popes' A&R rep and shelved the new album.
Destination Failure was released in August and a 7" single of "I Know You Love Me" was as well. Tom Counihan, a.k.a. Tom Daily joined the band as a touring guitarist. A dream came true for Josh in October when they toured with Morrissey, who described Born To Quit as "...extraordinary, the most lovable thing I'd heard in years."
The band funded its own, low budget video for "I Know You Love Me," in a single-shot, in a rehearsal space at the Metro using members of Defiant Theatre. They toured with Triple Fast Action and Menthol in 1998, and recorded a covers album called The Party's Over in order to fulfill their contract with Capitol, who rejected the record but relieved them of their contract anyway, and so it didn't appear until 2001 when Double Zero released it along with two compilation albums -- Smoking Popes 1991-1998, previously hard to find b-sides and unreleased or bootleg material, and the 2000 concert album Live.
Josh became very involved in Christianity and wanted to devote his work to his faith and quit the Popes in January of 1999.
Josh formed Duvall in August 2001 with Tom McDougal and the drummer for the Popes, Mike Felumlee. They released one full LP, Volume Density in 2003. Mike Felumlee's involvement makes Duvall a 3rd degree Slapstick Family Tree band.
In November 2005, the Smoking Popes reunited for a packed and much-anticipated show at the Chicago club The Metro with Rob Kellenberger of Colossal replacing Mike Felumlee on drums as part of the Flower 15 Festival in Chicago. The tickets sold out in a mere 36 minutes. This performance was captured on video and released by Victory in February 2006 as a CD/DVD package titled At Metro.
They were officially reunited and embarked on a U.S. tour in early 2006 with Bayside. The Popes acquired a new drummer during the tour: Ryan Chavez, who replaced Kellenburger, who couldn't commit to a full-time touring schedule.
On March 2, 2008, the new album, Stay Down, was released on Curb Appeal Records when the band played it in its entirety at Schuba's Tavern.
Asian Man Records re-released 7" releases, Inoculator, BreakUp, and 2 with additional material, and in 2010 reissued "Get Fired" A new LP, It's Been a Long Day, appeared in 2010 as well. Their next new LP titled This Is Only a Test was released on Asian Man Records soon after.
In April 2015, Mike Felumlee re-joined the band as Neil Henessey plans to relocate to Los Angeles.