Twenty years after her multi-platinum debut, Let Go, Avril Lavigne is embracing her pop/punk past with the superb new collection, Love Sux. Working with producer John Feldmann and writing with boyfriend Mod Sun, as well as teaming on tracks with Blink-182’s Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus, Love Sux finds Lavigne totally in her element as she tells me over a recent Zoom chat.
Combining the frenzied energy and fervor of her youth with the 20 years experience she has under her belt since Let Go, Love Sux is Lavigne ready to reclaim her status as a true superstar. If there was any doubt about that it was erased this past January when she took the stage as a surprise guest at iHeartRadio’s Alter-Ego show. Greeted by a thunderous ovation and screams of joy from the sold-out crowd, she was given a hero’s welcome.
It was a fitting way to start off what looks to be a huge year for Lavigne, including a lot of touring. This Friday, February 25, she will celebrate the album’s release with a special show for Sirius XM at the Roxy in L.A. And in October she will be one of the headliners for the highly anticipated When We Were Young festival in Las Vegas, which has sold out three days.
I spoke with Lavigne about bringing the new album to the stage, showing her vulnerability on the beautiful “Dare To Love Me,” her secret passion for painting and much more.
Steve Baltin: I’m excited to talk to you. I did the Forbes piece on the Alter-Ego show on Saturday. Was that as much fun for you as it looked like it was from the audience?
Avril Lavigne: Yeah. It was a radio show and I jumped up and played like four songs and I got to hang out backstage and meet other bands that were there. That’s always really fun. And I was really excited, being able to get back up on stage. It’s been so long with this damn pandemic. So yeah, I was very excited to be there.
Baltin: You can’t plan this kind of response though. You do your thing, there’s no way to predict how people are going to respond. So you’ve been gone a couple of years, you come back with this, and the whole Forum just lost their minds like you have been gone for 20 years.
Lavigne: Yeah. I was a surprise guest at the Forum and at the radio show. No one knew I was going to be there, and they actually pulled it off. So right before I went on, they announced me by not even saying my name. I think they referenced a song lyric in “Ska8er Boi,” and then the whole crowd started cheering, so I definitely got a really warm welcome from everybody, which was really nice.
Baltin: You also did “Bite Me” off the new record. How much fun is it to mix new songs with songs that are 20 years old?
Lavigne: Absolutely. At this point in my career, 20 years in, this is my seventh album. So going on tour, I get to play this album. The theme will be Love Sux, and they’ll be playing a lot of the songs off the new record. But I also will be mixing it with all of the big singles from my last albums. It’s very important to still play all the songs because those are like big milestones for me, songs that reached a lot of people, and so it’s really fun to go back and play some of the older songs as well.
Baltin: Are there some of the older songs that you either have a new appreciation for or that you’ve missed playing the last few years?
Lavigne: Yeah. I’ve played a couple of times, like I played “You and I,” and then I played a Halloween Party with Travis Barker, and I did “Girlfriend” and “Ska8er Boi” a couple other times recently. But I haven’t played “My Happy Ending” since my tour at the end of 2019 in the fall. And yeah it was funny because in band rehearsals, I was like, “Wait, I just need to make sure I still remember this.” But yeah, it’s crazy. It feels great to just to sing my babies, my old babies, to bring them back out and those are songs that did well for me too. So in a situation where it’s a full audience that’s not necessarily there for me [like Alter Ego] it’s nice because I’ve been so blessed to have songs that have done well on the radio that they know it and sing along, and it feels really good, and it’s really rewarding.
Baltin: So which of these songs from this new record are you most excited to bring to the stage?
Lavigne: “Love Sux” is a personal favorite for me. Then I’ll be excited to play the singles, so, “Love It When You Hate Me,” featuring Blackbear and “Bite Me,” “Bois Lie.” I’m actually most excited to play “Love Sux.” That’s actually one of my favorite songs. I think half of them are my favorite, but that’s a personal favorite, for sure.
Baltin: Were there things that emerged writing the record that surprised you?
Lavigne: So with the album, “Love Sux” was one of the first ones that I kind of wrote. I wrote that one earlier on and that ended up setting the tone for the rest of the record. Then I was like, “I need a minute. I need a break from relationships, I’m over love.” That was the headspace I was in. And then through the process of making the record, I got into a relationship. And then a song like “Dare To Love Me” I was like, “Okay. It’s a more vulnerable song.” I went to a place where I was like, “Okay, I have to open up here.” And to be honest, it was not an easy thing for me to do at that point in my life. I was like, “Don’t mess with me, don’t hurt me. And if you tell me you love me, you better make sure that you really mean it.” Like, “Don’t say it unless you mean it.” And because it’s not easy to let down the walls and open back up I didn’t even really want that song on the record, but Feldy [John Feldmann] loved it so much. He was like, “This is my favorite song. You have to put this song on the record.” I was like, “Okay, fine, I’ll put it on the record.” But I think what you’re saying, it’s nice ’cause it breaks it up a bit.
Baltin: And “Love Me When You Hate Me” was actually co-written with Mod Sun, right?
Lavigne: Like most of them were, yeah.
Baltin: And Feldy, Travis and Mark [Hoppus] all work together and are a tight-knit group. All of these people have their own style and their own sense. How much fun is it for you to get to incorporate their style and what they bring with what you’ve done over the last 20 years?
Lavigne: I feel like this group of guys that I worked with all really got me, and we all kind of get each other. We come from the same type of musical background, and I felt like working with them was so easy. It was so much fun, it was so natural, and there was just such an organic epic flow. Like when I started writing with Mod Sun and John Feldmann, I felt like we all complemented each other. When I started working with Feldmann, I was like, “Where have you been in the last 10 years of my life? I feel like I’ve been waiting to meet somebody like you.” Working with him was just so fluid, it was like we would write a song and have it recorded in a day. And maybe that’s his style, but that’s my style. So he works the same way I like to work, which is fast and you’re inspired and you’re writing and laying it down. And I loved his style, like his guitar playing. Like normally, I’d have to sit there with a f**king producer and be like, “Okay, no, replay it this way. Do more like this. Change the distortion.” And everything about Feldy’s guitar playing, I was like, “Feldy, you’re my favorite guitarist.” Everything that he was doing just felt and sounded so cool to me. So he was an awesome producer, and working with the two of them, it felt like we all just complemented each other, and it was just so fun and so easy and effortless. And then I worked with Travis in his studio, and that was a different dynamic. I would write some stuff at home to tracks he sent me and come in, grab, what I wrote, and then Travis would sit with me and we’d work on the lyrics together and actually finish the songs together, some stuff we started together. But seeing Travis, over the years, go from just being in the band and a drummer to being a songwriter, producer, it’s incredible to see how much he’s grown. And so, yeah, working with these guys, I felt like I was just like hanging out with friends.
Baltin: It’s a fun record. When you go back and you hear it, do you feel like it captured the sense of ease you had making the record working with all these guys?
Lavigne: Yeah, definitely. And though it’s called Love Sux, it’s very light-hearted and playful and fun and feisty and funny, and there’s a really good message there too. It’s like self-empowerment, having self-worth, knowing when to say no, putting yourself first. It’s like the trials and tribulations of love, and love is not easy, but also like you live, you learn and you know what you want and deserve, and there’s that message in there.
Baltin: I was there with a friend of mine who’s like 27 and then afterwards we ran into four friends of mine who are all in their 20s. And every single girl was screaming every single word you sang. So how gratifying is that to you to be able to deliver that message to fans who have grown up with you?
Lavigne: Well it’s really cool to see so many fans have followed me throughout the years. I feel so lucky to still be here making music at 20 years in and to have this incredible supportive fan base. And it’s really unique that so many girls have looked up to me. And I do think I’ve done a decent job of vocalizing that it’s okay to be a strong woman and to fight for what you want, and people seem to identify with that. Or also just to be true to yourself just as a person of male or female, and people seem to identify with that and relate to the songs and that’s really cool.
Baltin: Who were those artists that did that for you?
Lavigne: I feel like rock and roll in general you’re allowed to say whatever the f**k you want and be the way you want. You don’t have to be pretty and polished and perfect. And that’s why I love this genre of music. I think artists like Alanis Morissette did it right. She was a woman who said whatever the f**k she wanted and was so brutally honest, raw, really just exposed her feelings and emotions and put it out there with just not holding back at all. And I had so much respect and admiration for somebody like her and she just seemed so cool to me. And also just so poetically genius and just so intelligent. And she’s just her own and there’s no one like her. But she’s definitely somebody that I’d say back in the day just was really able to do that and do that well. And she’s definitely one of my favorites.
Baltin: Do you see in the shadows how much people have been missing you and how excited people are for your music?
Lavigne: Because of social media and being able to see the fans commenting , I can see and feel their passion and their wanting new music. They’re vocalizing and being so expressive on Instagram and Twitter where I can see them. And so I feel them, even though I’m not in their country. And that’s the one f**king thing I love about social media is that I can connect with my fans on that. So yeah, I feel them. I feel them still there and their passion. And then, I agreed to do the Rock In Rio festival and it was just like everyone kind of lost their s**t. And it’s so heart-warming and so special to still have that fan base there be so solid and over the years like this. And I honestly attribute that to how much work I did and how long I toured. How much time I’ve spent over in all these other countries and how dedicated I was. And they were so dedicated and I was so dedicated and I’ve dedicated my whole life to my music. But I often think about it just how special and unique this is to have this as my life. And I’m just so thankful and grateful.
Baltin: Do you feel like right now being older and also having gone through illness you appreciate it more now?
Lavigne: When you go through anything hard and challenging in life, and then you come out on the other end, everything just has so much more of a glow and a spark to it, it’s more vibrant, you see it differently. I’ve always had a really good head on my shoulders, and I come from a small town, I worked very hard to get where I got, I got here on my own, and I’m a very grounded person. But I do think when you have the simple things taken away from you, it’s that much more rich, it’s that much more vibrant and beautiful. And what’s nice is, I’m here today making music because I truly want to, it’s not ’cause I feel like I have to or it’s a job. I just love it so much, and I get to have fun with it. And I think even after the pandemic too, I’ll appreciate being out on tour even more and me going out to dinner with my friends and family. But I’ve never taken anything for granted in life that I worked hard to build.
Baltin: I want to go back to something you said about Travis and how he started in a band and now is a producer and a songwriter of course. As you watch how people evolve and grow, are there people that you admire for the way their careers have evolved and made you realize you want to do different things?
Lavigne: Yeah, I have a clothing line, Abbey Dawn, and that’s a lot of fun for me. And I’m turning “Sk8er Boi” into a movie and that’s gonna be a massive project that I work on, that I’ve already been working on for two years. I’m making a documentary. And there are always little other projects that’s usually tied into my music. So yeah, it’s fun to do other stuff, but I also feel when I’m in an album cycle that takes all my time. But yeah, it’s really fun to have Abbey Dawn, which I’m revamping currently right now, ’cause the fashion ties in with the music, and it’s just fun for me as a visual person. I like to paint, so I love to design clothes, and I love to cook and decorate my house and things like that. So I’m a very visual person, so any type of way I can create and see things, that’s very fulfilling.
Baltin: I didn’t realize that you paint. Do you show your stuff as well? Or is it something that you just do for you?
Lavigne: No, I’ve always been so private in my entire life. I’ve always made sure that no one could ever see my paintings, I don’t know why, like in the background especially when people are taking pictures. I’ve kept it to myself and I was like, “Oh, maybe one day my paintings will be in a museum in Japan or something, or in New York city.” I’d love to have an art show one day, have a party and have an art show in New York or L.A. I guess. I’ve been painting my whole life.
Baltin: When you listen to Love Sux all the way through, what do you take from it start to finish?
Lavigne: There’s just like a lot of energy and passion, and it’s fun and it feels good. This record was really made for taking out on the road and playing live. I just see so much in front of me, and I’m so looking forward to the tour and to see the fans and their faces and hear them singing along, and just to be back out there, I’m just so grateful.
Baltin: Who are you excited to share the stage with When We Were Young in Las Vegas?
Lavigne: There are just gonna to be so many cool people there, different bands from over the years. I’m really excited to see My Chemical Romance. I see a lot of these bands in different festivals. I’ve seen them throughout the years. So I think I’m really excited to see them and like AFI. I’m excited to see Paramore. It’s just so fun to be around other bands, other musicians and just catch up. And yeah, I’m excited to see My Chemical Romance for sure.