For those who witnessed Avril Lavigne’s entry into the music world with Let Go from 2002, it’s surprising that Avril Lavigne hears jazz and soul music every day of the day in 2019: Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Frank Sinatra, to name just a few. These interests have impacted on the latest record of 34-year-old musician Head Above Water. “I’m getting a bit jazzy on the album,” she tells EW. “I had to develop musically and not do the same pop rock thing again and again.”
The water is also a departure from Lavigne’s 2013 self-titled work. It’s about guitars and live drums for a less pronounced, less pop-oriented experience. While there are exceptions – the Power Ballad “Head Above Water” and the playful empowerment anthem “Dumb Blonde” – instead Lavigne offers a tough project that is tuned to their vocals.
The road to this latest version was not easy for Lavigne. In 2015, she revealed that she had been diagnosed with Lyme disease, which had kept her bed and spotlight out. “It was painful to face that, and sometimes I do not like to talk about it, but turning it into music and turning it into positive experiences to help others was good,” she tells EW.
From Los Angeles, Lavigne discussed her soulful new album, her health, and the crazy conspiracy theory about her that became viral.
I know your record took longer than expected to come out. What’s the story behind the delay?
AVRIL LAVIGNE: The funny part is that I’m ready to take pictures. It took a long time to find producers that matched them perfectly. I wrote all the songs, and most producers do not want to record songs that are already [completely] written. It was like this: “Who can we take on board?” I had several people produce “Head Above Water”. until it was right. Since I am very close to the music and have a vision for it, the production is a big part of it. It takes longer than being an artist to give songs to you.
How did “Head Above Water” end up being the lead single?
This was the first of my first songs – “Head Above Water” and “Warrior” – about my health. The entire team – the record company, the management and myself – said it should be the lead, as I’ve gone through it in my life. It felt so powerful and emotional that it was very special to me.
I feel like this record is much more focused on vocals [compared to your previous releases]. Tell me about the direction you wanted to head in.
I wanted to record this album over the vocals so that you can really hear the lyrics and feel the emotion, because sometimes the music can be overbearing. I just wanted to sing and talk about it, so it was nice to explore with different sounds like “Crush” and “Tell Me It’s Over”. They are a bit more back and jazzy. I felt like I was going back to my roots – before I started writing my own music, I started in church and music theater. It was nice to have time to write music for myself and to write songs about something I went through because I had some crazy years.
You’ve said that there was a point you felt like you were going to die [from Lyme Disease]. How did you come back from that moment?
It was so bad that night and I thought, “I do not think I’ll be able to do it.” I think I would die because I had this weird feeling, “Whoa. I feel like I’m on a cliff, and I’m about to fall, and it’s dark. “When I came out, I felt like I was under water, drowning and gasping. Then I literally said, “God, help me keep my head above water.” I did not even think about music – it just happened.
How’s your health now?
It’s up and down I do my best to maintain a healthy lifestyle – eating healthy, sleeping well and exercising. I definitely have to move up and down. But at the same time I have my life back: I can make music and make videos. I have come this far
With this record, did you feel like you had to convince people you’d grown up?
I have no need to convince people with something. I think, after what I’ve been through, I really only make music today because I love it and it makes me happy. I do it for myself. I’m also anxious to release music because I know that my fans have been waiting.
“Dumb Blonde” is one of the most radio-friendly songs on the record. What’s the story behind that one?
It was something I actually went through, where I had an experience with someone who calls me stupid blonde. I said, “Oh, that’s a good concept and a good title.” It started as a misogynist, intimidated by my independence. I just thought that was really unfair. If you are an executive or a strong woman or someone who has an opinion or is driven, you should not feel bad. Men or anyone for that matter should accept that and not downplay you because of their own insecurity. That’s what this song really is about.
“Birdie” is a stunning, Memphis soul-influenced track. How did that come together?
I had this concept in my head for two years before I wrote it. I felt bad. I kept saying to myself, “I feel like a bird locked in a cage. I feel like I’m in prison. “I was just stuck with a few inmates. From there came this concept. It’s not necessarily about my illness, but about other things in my life. I love this song because it has a powerful message to stand up for yourself, to do something in a situation in which you are, to take responsibility and move away from yourself. I think a lot of people can relate to whether this is a toxic relationship they are in or whether they are not satisfied with their work.
Besides getting healthy, what were you up to in-between records?
I painted a lot. I undressed and spend a lot of time with my family. When you go through this, you really see who your true friends are, and many people fled because I was no longer the “funny party girl”. I needed my friends and family. I needed support, and it was generally an eye-opener. So it was just a lot of lessons for life. I gained a lot of perspective. But I have come this far. I could not get up from bed for nearly two years and there are still days when I can not get up. To give out songs that mean so much to me … I’m excited.
Have you joined any apps since you started dating?
No, there’s been no need for that. [Laughs] I don’t have an issue there.
There was a conspiracy theory a few years back going around that you died and a doppelgänger named Melissa took your place. Seeing that story go viral, how did that affect you personally?
It’s rather a stupid internet rumor, and I’m amazed that people bought it. Is not that funny? It is so stupid. And I look the same. On the one hand, everyone is like “Oh my god, you look the same,” and on the other hand, people are like “oh my god, she died”.