Marriage mellows some people.
But not Avril Lavigne.
The 23-year-old Canadian wed fellow rocker Deryck Whibley, frontman of the band Sum 41, in July of 2006. She then set about recording “Best Damn Thing,” the sassiest of her three albums, and a No. 1 hit around the world — including a two-week stay atop the Billboard 200 chart in the United States.
“All I knew in my head was, OK, everything’s gotta be really upbeat, really fun and catchy,” Lavigne says of “Best Damn Thing.” “Of course I wanted to make a pop record, ‘cause I want it to be catchy and everyone can sing along, but it’s definitely very rockin’, too, which is good.”
The primary reason for that approach, Lavigne adds, had to do with the kind of concerts she wanted to play in support of the album.
“At this point I’ve learned, after touring so much, what songs come alive on stage,” she explains. “On my last tour, I started realizing, ‘OK, I don’t have enough fast songs,’ and my favorite moments of the were songs like ‘Sk8ter Boi,’ and I would throw in cover songs that were more upbeat.
“I just knew that I was on my third record and I knew exactly what I wanted to make, and it was a lot of inspiration from my tour.”
Lavigne does have a track record for knowing what she wants, and acting on it, throughout her life.
Growing up a skateboarding, hockeyplaying tomboy in tiny Napanee, Ontario, Lavigne was doing studio voice work when she was 15, but eschewed early offers for a recording contract because she didn’t want to be another comely singer whose sound and image were forged by others. She eventually landed at Arista Records, where thenpresident L.A. Reid let the fledgling artist make music mostly on her own terms.
“When I was 16 I got called into his office with my mother,” Lavigne recalls, “and he looked at me and said, ‘You look cool. You have your own style. Do your thing. You don’t need to be styled or anything.’ And I was like, ‘Huh?’ I had no idea what that even meant!
“But no one around me has ever been, like, ‘You need to do this’ or ‘Dress like this’ or whatever. (Reid) let me work on my first record for a year. I needed that time because I worked with all these
different people and I was young and I just had to kind of find myself.
“I’m really lucky, ‘cause I think a lot of younger artists would probably get that.”
Reid’s faith certainly paid off. Lavigne’s 2002 debut, “Let Go,” and its 2004 follow-up, “Under My Skin,” have sold 24 million copies worldwide, spawning hits such as “Sk8ter Boi,” “Complicated,” “Don’t Tell Me” and “My Happy Ending.” She’s won seven Canadian Juno Awards and is nominated for five more at next month’s ceremonies. Lavigne has also been nominated for eight Grammys and has begun a lowkey film career that includes a voice part in the animated “Over the Hedge” and roles in “Fast Food Nation,” the inlimbo “The Flock,” and another psychological thriller that will start shooting this fall.
But, Lavigne contends, that high level of achievement didn’t generate inordinate pressure on “Best Damn Thing,” which has sold more than four million copies worldwide.
“That’s kind of the good thing about me; I don’t really think about things like that. I just do them,” Lavigne explains. “I’m pretty chill.”
Her attitude was tested a bit after the album’s release, however. California rockers the Rubinoos sued Lavigne last year, alleging that the first single off “Best Damn Thing”, “Girlfriend,” plagiarized their “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend;” Lavigne denied ever hearing their song, and the case was settled out of court in January.
Then, fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk, a chief collaborator on “Under My Skin,” impugned Lavigne’s integrity and even implied Lavigne stole a song idea without crediting her in a Performing Songwriter magazine interview. Kreviazuk said she later recanted and apologized for her remarks.
Butch Walker, who’s worked with Lavigne on her last two albums, says that those accusations sell her short.
“Just naturally she is growing as a person and getting older,” Walker says. “It’s not like working with her when she was 18 years old. It’s pretty safe to say she’s learned a lot from touring the world. She was definitely more handson this time, for lack of a better cliche. It definitely made it a lot easier.”
Maturing didn’t necessarily make Lavigne more serious, however. In fact, after the comparatively darker “Under My Skin,” she was more prone to come up with a single such as “Girlfriend,” in which she lets the song’s subject know that “I don’t like your girlfriend/I think you need a new one” and then comes up with ways to drive the couple apart.
“I’ve always found the stuff that kinda flows out of my mouth really quick, like, random, is always the best stuff,” Lavigne says. “The things you have to sit down and think too hard about are the tough ones.
“(‘Girlfriend’) was just...random. The whole time we were on the couch, our feet up, writing these lyrics and laughing. ‘I’m the (expletive) princess’ — can we say this?! It was really fun, and a lot of the songs were like that.”
Lavigne also collaborated with husband Whibley on some of the new songs, which seems like a potentially dangerous situation.
“Well, everyone wants it to be,” she says with a laugh, “but, no, it was easy. Deryck and (Sum 41) and I were all in the same studio at the same time, so it was just like this big party. We were running around with a bottle of Jager(meister), going back and forth to everyone’s room trying to get all the producers drunk.
“It was definitely the most fun I’ve ever had on a record.”
The work, however, started with the April 2007 release of “Best Damn Thing” and will continue throughout this year. That means a period of separation for the newlywed couple, but Lavigne’s pretty chill about that, too.
“Well, we were at home together for a year and a half,” notes Lavigne, who’s also planning to launch cosmetic and clothing lines in the near future. “Even though we were working, we were home together, which is good. And we have the same management, so we can get time off together or play in the same cities or something.
“It’s just kind of like, this is what we do, you know? I respect what he does and he respects what I do, and this is our lifestyle. This is how it’s always been. It all works out good.”
Avril Lavigne and Boys Like Girls perform at 7 p.m. Saturday (March 22) at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $39.50. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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