The dream lives on
After five years, Aubrey Debauchery returns to the studio with a new band and a ton of new songs
I first saw Aubrey Pope perform 15 years ago, in downtown Chico at the old Moxie’s Café (where Taiwanese restaurant Broadway Market & Deli now resides). It was a Bob Dylan vs. Joni Mitchell cover night, and with her smiling parents sitting in the front row, the 13-year-old played just one song, deftly strumming and belting out a cover of Mitchell’s “All I Want.” This was the first public performance by Pope, who a few years later would be much better known as Aubrey Debauchery, and the audience of local musicians and local-music fans ate it up.
In April of this year, Pope—now 28 and working as an art teacher at Inspire School of Arts and Sciences (in addition to her long-running gig as a bartender at Duffy’s Tavern)—posted a fundraising campaign for a new album on the Kickstarter website, and again, fans (who had been waiting five years since her last recording) ate it up. In just two days, the modest $2,500 goal had been met, and a month later the pledges nearly doubled, to a total of $4,242. The increase in funding allowed Pope to move her musicians (local jazz band Bogg and drummer Tino Marrufo) and her engineer (brother Preston Pope) from her house to Origami Recording Lounge. The fruits of the five days of sessions, Death of a Dream, will be released to the public (on vinyl and CD) at an album-release party at the 1078 Gallery this Saturday, Sept. 21.
It would be a few years after that first show before we’d all know her by her stage name, but looking back at that first song choice—tackling one of Mitchell’s emotionally honest tunes about the highs and lows of being in a relationship—we can see that Pope was already heading down the path of the bar-room troubadour, singing into beers about love and love gone wrong. After spending a few years at open mics and honing her performance chops in the frenetic indie-punk crew Stars Upon Thars, Pope moved on to what’s been a decade-long solo career, the first half filled with constant touring and the release of five albums (four solo, and one countrified slab with her old band The Puke Boots). The second half has been filled with many local shows, collaborations with friends, and a lot of songwriting leading up to the 25 songs recorded for, and 12 included on, the long-awaited new album.
“I was playing the whole time,” Pope said of the downtime betweem albums. “It took me a long time to find people [to record with].”
Most of the people she found—the four members from the popular local quartet Bogg—sat down with Pope in an empty room in the back of the Origami warehouse as Bogg took a break from a recording session of its own to talk about the new album.
“We never thought that we’d be Aubrey Debauchery’s band,” said keyboardist Josh Hegg before being interrupted by bassist Gavin Fitzgerald’s gleeful, “We’re playing with Aubrey Debauchery!”
In between jokes and laughs, the band talked about how doing their weekly themed jazz shows at Café Coda—where they’ve interpreted everything from the band Nirvana to the music from Star Wars—has honed their arranging skills and been very helpful for working on arrangements with other musicians, including Pope and her songs.
“Arranging only takes you so far. They have to be good songs,” said Hegg about working on Pope’s material. Fitzgerald added an analogy about how some songwriters start with plain, wimpy little Christmas trees that you have to decorate from scratch, “but Aubrey had this huge Douglas fir, and had this beautiful baby Jesus on top.”
“I still want to continue playing with these dudes,” added Pope, between laughs. Joking aside, it’s easy to hear why. On the handful of tracks available to preview, it’s obvious that the players—which also include Bogg’s violinist Matthew Weiner and guitarist Michael Bone, as well as a trio of horn players on some tracks—are in tune with the emotional intent of the songs, especially on the slow-tempoed bar-rocker “Out of My Mind,” which opens the album with a bluesy burst and gospel organ that complements Pope’s throaty vocals perfectly.
And after a quick reading of the titles on the new album—“Becoming Forgotten,” “Moonshine,” “Love Is,” “Stale Bar Rooms” and “Lover’s Last Kiss”—it’s apparent that Pope is still, as it says on her website, making “music for the heartbroken and the heartbreakers.”
“It’s still about horrible relationships,” Pope said. “But I think that [now I’m] being more reflective of the problems—these things happen and this is why.”