Chico’s own Pope(s)
From Chico High to local stages, the Popes have it covered
At Chico High School, some 300 teens are making and recording music in a professional studio. The old auto shop is gone, and the large cinderblock building has been cut up into several workspaces. There’s one huge classroom, with a small stage littered with acoustic and electric guitars and amplifiers, plus another smaller classroom with a recording studio and all its equipment, including an isolation room. There’s also a giant soundstage with cameras, a light rigging and another room full of computers for editing.
It’s impressive, and the person largely responsible for creating the Academy of Communications and Technology (ACT) housed on this side of the campus is 26-year Chico High veteran Ron Pope, who took over the electronics instruction job at the school from his father
“My father taught in this room. I took my father’s job, and I’m waiting for her to take my job,” Pope explained on recent sunny Sunday afternoon, taking a break from some weekend wiring.
The “her” is 20-year-old daughter Aubrey, recently known to local music aficionados by her stage name, Aubrey Debauchery. She flashes a playful frown at her dad’s suggestion, shaking her head.
If it weren’t for the tattoos—including two cool Derringer pistols, one on each hip—giving her away, the diminutive, olive-skinned musician (her mother Maria is Polynesian) and Peet’s Coffee superstar (she’s been the “Service Superhero” for her district for nearly a year) would still look like a student in dad’s class.
It’s not much of a stretch to suggest that Dad is the one doing the following … following his daughter’s interests and giving his kid, who was bored and struggling in the high school he taught in, a place to “breathe,” as he put it.
“Like a lot of kids, [Aubrey] was sort of done with the game,” Pope explained, “and she was ready to move on.”
Aubrey did not finish high school, opting instead to take the GED. During her time on the high-school campus, though, her dad funneled her music interests and those of her older brother Preston into recording projects using the school’s equipment. From there, Pope and other instructors applied for the grants and made the proposals that led to the formation of the ACT program.
“Both her and Preston got into that. Nobody else did [back then], but now they are,” Pope said. “Now we have kids writing songs, and we’re helping them produce them.”
In place of high school, Aubrey played music, performing regularly at Has Beans open mics. At the age of 16, still knowing little more than how to play an A-minor chord, Aubrey joined a group of fellow Food Not Bombs volunteers in forming what would be end up becoming one of Chico’s most inventive and entertaining bands, the short-lived indie-punk crew Stars Upon Thars. “That’s where I seriously learned guitar and had to really do it. … We had this band and had to play shows.”
Now she’s Aubrey Debauchery, and with fellow SUT veteran Curtis Zinn, Aubrey has already garnered the kind of attention and popularity it usually takes local musicians years to cultivate. Though this new semi-solo venture started as just a way to stave off boredom and mimic the simply built songs rich pop stars were making, Aubrey’s insightful tales of break-ups and pitfalls of the rock lifestyle come on like the heart-stomping confessionals of someone who’s lived quite a few years longer.
“She’s totally different than I was,” Pope says, turning to his daughter, “You write prolifically. You go in the back room, and I hear you writing. You write more in a month than I wrote in the entire time I played music [Pope played in the popular Chico Top-40 band Great Scott back in the day]. I liked playing, and I loved music, but I didn’t have this sort of need. … Both you and Preston, I don’t know if you would do very well in this world if you didn’t have music.”
Aubrey concurred. “Some days I’ll be with my friends, and I’ll have this itch, and I’ll just be like, ‘I have to go home and play.'”