Avril Lavigne, the punk-pop princess of the early 2000s who fanned the teenage angst of many with songs like “Sk8er Boi,” “Complicated,” “My Happy Ending,” and countless other tracks — will be taking the stage at Fox Theater tonight for the Bay Area leg of her Head Above Water tour.
On the eve of her Oakland show, she chatted with SFist about her most recent, critically acclaimed album, creativity, Lyme disease, and her struggles of the last few years.
Monday evening, the corpulent teen-something that very much still resides inside my soul had a full-circle moment: I had the pleasure of sharing time with the woman behind the voice that emanated from many a boom box and headphone set attached to a portable CD player during those adolescent years: Avril Lavigne.
With green tea in hand, the two Libras — which she correctly guessed I was, an audible gasp escaping my gaping maw shortly after said inference was made — Lavigne and I sat down to sip the (literal) tea and chat.
Matt Charnock, SFist: On this album, it’s clear the narrative about triumph and overcoming life’s obstacles — but not forgetting the memories created along the way. How was writing, co-producing, and developing this album different than your earlier ones?
Avril Lavigne: I had three years. I had never taken a break. I had so much time to think and live with the songs and music I created. So, unlike other albums where I had to turn them out so quickly, I had the time to be vulnerable and go deep with my songwriting. I got to live with my music, and really make sure what I was creating was authentic to who I am. I didn’t hold back.
MC: I know you said “Head Above Water” and “Warrior” were the first two tracks you recorded for the album, what were the last two you finished?
AL: “Goddess” and “Love Me Insane” were the last two I wrote. I was in a good place in my life, so I could write those upbeat and life-ful songs. And I have a boyfriend now too, so that helped. Isn’t it funny that when you’re in the pits, it’s the easiest to create art? It’s shit, but that’s life. When I wrote “Head Above Water" and "Warrior" was when I was at my lowest, and the music was just pouring out of me. Creating that music helped me along the way, and, in some kind of way, actually saved me, for sure.
MC: How did that feel to have some time to take a step back and create without a deadline nipping at your heels?
AL: Well, this time around making music, I had to take that step back for my health and other reasons. It was freeing and liberating. I got to do whatever the fuck I wanted, and wasn’t rushed in any way. To make something that really means something to not only you but to your fans, you need that time to think and reflect. That’s exactly what I got to do with this album.
MC: As an avid Nicki Minaj fan myself, how did that collab [on "Dumb Blonde"] come to be? How was it recording with her?
AL: I’ve been a fan of hers for ages too, and I knew I wanted to collaborate with her on something. So, my team knew people on her team — and they made it happen. It was so fucking dope. And she had been a supporter of mine through it all, even though we actually haven’t ever met in person. We sent audio back and forth from our separate studio sessions, and really found a groove and a feel that fit us both. Did you hear she just retired? I’m glad I got to reel her in before she did. But she’ll be back, don’t you think?
MC: Hopefully! “I Fell in Love with the Devil” is another song on the album about surrendering yourself to something greater than you. It also pulls at my heartstrings as an individual who struggled with addiction. Kind of the same with “Birdie,” which is another beautifully written song that speaks to fighting through the messy bits of life. They both read like poetry. Did you mean for those songs to cast such a wide net?
Wow, thank you for pointing that out! Literally you’re one of the few people to say that. Yeah, those were the two songs I wrote solo, actually, and even if you strip the music away, they read like poetry. For “I Fell In Love with the Devil,” I wanted to kind of paint a dark, dangerous, morbid kind of love and life. Heated and passionate, like you were underneath their spell. I wanted to be bold. I mean, I’m dancing in a graveyard in the music video! It was a line I was hearing and saying over and over again to friends, and I sat at the piano one night to flesh it out. The same thing happened with “Bride,” where I remembered just feeling like a bird trapped in a cage, and it was a line I couldn’t get out of my head. I wanted them to be more interesting, and really be about the lyrics more than anything, like in "I Fell in Love with the Devil," the lines like "Shotguns and roses/ Make a deadly potion/ Heartbreak explosions/ In reckless motion" I wrote to sound like poetry. And, yeah, as you said, there’s alliteration and rhyme to it, which I totally dig.
[At this point in the interview, I realized we were nearly out of our allotted time, she jotting down the book recommendation, Daring Greatly, and the title of Brene Brown’s TED talk I gave her. Alas, we only had time for one more question, which ended up being more of a statement, before she had to scurry away.]
I just want to thank you for giving a voice to the topic of Lyme disease. I have a few dear friends who have been affected by it, and people like you have given them the comfort in being 100 percent honest with what they’re going through behind closed doors, and to seek the help they need. And fight for that help, too.
Thank you, that really means a lot to me. I have had the Avril Lavigne Foundation for Lyme disease for a few years now, and a dollar from every ticket we sell on this tour will go to help fight for a cure and make sure people are able to seek the treatment they deserve. I’m glad I made it through my battle with it... because Lord knows I still have a lot of music left in me to create and bring into the world.
Avril Lavigne’s 'Head Above Water Tour' stop — which will feature opener Jagwar Twin, a.k.a Roy English — will ignite the Fox Theatre in Oakland for one-night-only, tonight at 7 p.m.; tickets are currently available and between $60–$80, via Ticketmaster. Before, or in lieu of, tonight's how, stream Head Above Water on Spotify or Apple Music.
Photo: Courtesy of David Needleman