Nine Songs: Avril Lavigne
As we get older, we often become influenced by what’s going on around us, and are therefore more liable to change. But, when it comes to the things that have brought us comfort and security over the years, some things are destined to stay the same.
It’s safe to say that navigating the kaleidoscopic landscape of our teenage years is one of the best character-building exercises that a person can go through. When you begin to have autonomy over your own decisions and are able to act on impulse and desire as opposed to acting out a path that has already been paved for you, that’s when your own personal identity begins to take shape.
In order to find an outlet for the displacement that comes with the search for self, we often throw ourselves into music, and rely on a modicum of truth in a stranger’s words as if they have all of the answers. When 17-year-old Canadian singer/songwriter Avril Lavigne released her debut single “Complicated” in 1999, it seemed as though she was speaking for an entire generation of confused teenagers who were tired of keeping up pretences for the sake of other people. The answer that she had was simple: just relax and be yourself.
Taking inspiration from her heroes such as blink-182 and The Offspring, Lavigne leant into confessional lyricism with an authentic edge of teenage angst. Whilst her earlier albums such as Let Go and Under My Skin leant more into the territory of rock ballads, Lavigne still became a poster girl for the genre that she’d grown up on, and was coined a “pop punk princess”.
In her earlier interviews, it seemed that she had an issue with being given any sort of label to her sound – simply choosing in a now-infamous video to call herself a “rock chick” – but three years later on The Best Damn Thing’s lead single “Girlfriend”, which was the first music video to reach 100 million views on YouTube, it appeared that she’d had a turnaround and wanted to evolve her sound and embrace the title that was given to her (“Hell yeah, I’m the motherfucking princess”).
Lavigne never fully committed to the raucousness of pop-punk on her subsequent releases, but her forthcoming seventh studio album Love Sux marks an entirely new chapter in her sound. With Travis Barker at the helm of all production, the twelve songs follow the blueprint of the genre that she tried to shy away from twenty years ago. Having signed a two-album contract deal at such a young age, it’s fair to assume that the record label executives might’ve had some say in Lavigne’s image, sound, and branding, and as I meet with Lavigne via Zoom on a rarely occurring rainy day in Malibu, she tells me that Love Sux is the record that she’s always wanted to make, which comes as no surprise considering the songs that she has chosen as the most pivotal in her life.
“I worked with John Feldmann and Travis Barker [on this album] and they really understood me. When I first met John Feldmann, I said: ‘Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you’. Travis and I had worked together before but we only got to do a couple of songs. This has been a long time coming and the album came naturally,” she reveals. “My last album was introspective - it was deep and heavy. It felt like it was time to make a rock record. It’s the most alternative album that I’ve ever made and it reflects the headspace that I’m in right now. I’m really enjoying having loud guitars and live drums again. That’s who I’ve always been and it’s the music that I’ve always connected to the most. The love for what I’m doing has been rediscovered and this is the perfect time for it. I think this is exactly what the fans want from me.”
Featuring collaborations with the likes of Mark Hoppus, Machine Gun Kelly, and Blackbear, Love Sux sees Lavigne taking back her crown as the pop-punk princess, whilst effortlessly joining the revival that the genre has seen over the last year or two. As the title suggests, the album is very much rooted in love and heartbreak, but there isn’t a moment where it feels bleak or depressing. Instead, Lavigne relies on full-throttle energy and catchy choruses in order to promote a sense of empowerment: even if you are feeling low, you can pick yourself up again and carry on. It’s this resilience that Lavigne has relied on over the years, and one that proves she will always be worthy of that crown.
"I don't know where I was when I first heard it, but my brother owned the CD of Dizzy Up the Girl, and I would borrow it. That song was a massive hit that you would hear everywhere, so when I think about this song, I think about how timeless it is; how everybody young and old knows this song. I’ve found that for myself, and a lot of musicians, we’ve all wanted to write this song.
"Everybody wishes they had their own “Iris”. I had the honour and privilege of singing it on stage with Johnny Rzeznik around the time of my first album. It was like a dream come true.
"The production is so epic, the string arrangement is iconic and I’ve definitely been in a lot of studio sessions where those strings get referenced. I’m a huge fan of it because Johnny Rzeznik, Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox Twenty were huge when I was younger, before I had a record deal, and that song is a musical roller coaster."
"There’s a lot of admiration that I feel for Alanis, but I especially feel a connection to her since we’re both Canadian’s who grew up in Ontario. I had the opportunity to jump up on stage and sing with her at the House of Blues in Los Angeles for one of the Jagged Little Pill anniversary shows. That was a massive honour and a very exciting night for me.
"The word-play in this song is obviously what makes it incredible. Nobody writes lyrics like Alanis Morissette. Every single phrase in the song is so valuable, and every line lands the punch. “It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife” is one of my favourites. It’s a shame I can only pick one, otherwise it would be the whole record.
"She is one of a kind and nobody is like her. Her lyrics are insanely poetic, intricate and smart. It’s so conversational and train-of-thought, but at the same time, it’s a genius poem. I love how secure she is with herself. She knows what she stands for and she knows what to say. The fact that we still talk about her to this day says everything."
LAVIGNE: "This is a song I heard on the radio all the time that I just loved. I really love Dolores’ voice and her yodel - the way her voice would crack and the way her melodies would come out was like no-one else. She has her own signature sound and that’s what I connected to most with The Cranberries. “Zombie” was another massive hit, but there are actually really dark lyrics in it that a lot of people probably aren’t aware of. You don’t really notice that if you’re not truly listening because it’s a song that just feels good, but she wrote it in response to the bombings that were happening in Ireland.
"I always mention the beauty of music... For me, I can write a song about something that I am going through in my life and then someone else will hear it and it can connect with them about what they’re going through - even if they are totally different things - and that’s the power of music."
BEST FIT: I read that this song just came pouring out of Dolores, as opposed to being something she had to sit down and think about. Has that ever happened with you?
"When it's prolific like that, and it just flies out of you, is when you tap into that magical unexplained place that a lot of artists will talk about where feels like it’s flowing through you but you didn’t even write it. It makes absolute sense if that's what happened when she wrote that song because I think it’s one of the greatest songs of all time.
"In my personal experience with song writing, the stuff that comes out so quickly is usually the best. You can sit around forcing it but the biggest songs are the ones that just fly out of you. I think about “Girlfriend” a lot and how I wrote that chorus literally walking out of the studio with my bag on. I wrote that in two minutes and then turned around and ran back into the booth. Anything that is really fast, where you can sing it and it just comes out [near-perfect], people can connect with it the most and it has some kind of magic that you can’t really explain."
"When I think of blink-182, I think of my high school hallways and my Discman. blink-182 was a band that had impact on my musical identity. They were really inspiring to me – from the guitars, the style, punk music in general, and how good the songwriting was. It was really catchy and became such a movement. I connected with them at a really important time in my life.
"It seemed almost like they were going against the grain compared to everything else that was being played at the time. “All The Small Things” has the sensibilities of a pop song, but the attitude behind the song meant so much to myself and people like me. It’s so well written. blink-182 brought punk music into the mainstream and they got to reach so many people.
"I worked with Mark Hoppus on this record, and I have to tell you, I was blown away by his talent and how much of an incredible songwriter he was. He’s incredibly fast. He comes up with great lyrics, great melodies. He can record, produce, and play, he’s incredibly talented."
"All of these songs were what I would listen to when I was between the ages of thirteen and fifteen, and “Fly Away” is important to me because it was the first song that I learned to play barre chords to.
"My favourite thing to do was to come home from school, turn on the TV and put some music videos on. It was during a time that you couldn’t fake it. You couldn’t, as a non-singer, go into a studio and have someone work some magic and make you interesting, you couldn’t get away with that. These people were all truly so talented, they were really efficient songwriters, singers and performers. You had to be really gifted to be a musical artist at that point.
"Now that we’re having this conversation, I’ve realised that the ‘90s and early ‘00s were a very special time. Lenny Kravitz is pure rock and roll - he’s just a badass. This is a solid rock song and it doesn’t try too hard."
"This is off the Americana album - the one with all the big hits such as “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)” and “Why Don’t You Get A Job” - and it also takes me back to high school. There’s a badass guitar part that is iconic. As soon as you hear it, it’s sentimental and nostalgic. I’d say it was hugely influential on my music in terms of the aggressiveness of the guitar and the attitude the comes with it.
"I was really connecting with punk rock, aggression and rock and roll when I got into writing riffs. That was the style that I gravitated towards when I was picking up the guitar - I was listening to those distorted sounds as well as bands like The Offspring and blink-182 who were so influential."
"The magic of this song is the acoustic guitar. Anyone who's a guitar player has learned to play this song, and it’s the first one that I learned to play. Definitely, Maybe was an iconic album, and after that this was a song that the whole world fell in love with. I think it sets the standard for what a rock ballad should be. The way the strings come in on the second verse creates such a warm mood - it’s beautiful song through and through.
"They came out and had a massive impact on the music scene. They had massive hits that connected with the public and they absolutely exploded. When a band does something like that, and you are able to fall in love with a band in that way, they’re a part of your life forever. Music lives forever."
"Third Eye Blind is another band who I loved because I had their CD. I could’ve picked any song, but “Jumper” is a bit sad in a really beautiful way because it’s a love song for a friend in need. It says a lot of things in a way that sometimes you wish you could say directly to your friend that is going through a hard time.
"Sonically, I love how it starts out like a ballad in the same way that “Wonderwall” does, but then the bridge kicks in and it’s like a giant burst of energy that makes you want to scream along with it. I really appreciate that kind of music and this is a record that I own and still love to this day."
LAVIGNE: "This song is another one that every guitar player learns. I remember playing this in the family room of my childhood home, similarly to “Wonderwall”, and it set the tone for writing a ballad. Whenever you get a band like that who has aggressive rock music and then they take it down to a dramatic change of pace, it is so good.
"All of these songs are such good karaoke songs too because everyone on the planet has some sort of memory attached them. It’s such a staple in Green Day’s catalogue and it’s always so moving whenever I hear it. They have so many iconic songs but this is the widest reaching one. I performed “Basket Case” on my first ever tour, so I was initially going to pick that one, but this was the song that introduced me to Green Day.
BEST FIT: How does it feel being in the midst of the pop-punk revival almost 20 years after your debut?
"It feels great and I’m so happy that this genre is really being seen and appreciated right now and that a younger generation is loving this music and discovering some of the original OG bands. It’s nice to see the bridge being gapped between the old and new, through the collaborations that are happening.
"I’ve had a lot of younger artists come up to me and it’s really sweet to hear them say that my music had a huge impact on them. Willow Smith had me on her record, and she told me about that my album The Best Damn Thing was an album that she really connected with, and one that she would blast in her car and sing to. Even for me to work with Mark Hoppus and blink-182 – I listened to them when I was younger, and I'm working with them now. It’s just so great.
"I feel like this is truly who I am. I've always been involved with this type of music. With every album I have to evolve and grow with different styles, but coming back to this is like coming home."