Music Preview: 'Girlfriend' put Avril Lavigne back on the charts and on tour


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Considering the career trajectory of most pop tarts, Avril Lavigne could very well be off the radar by now.

But the girl from the north country -- who came to light in 2002 at the tender age of 17 -- isn't going quietly.

The Ontario native's third record, "The Best Damn Thing," topped the charts last April and is up more than 6 million in sales worldwide at a time when albums refuse to sell like that anymore.

Coming on the heels of the slower darker sophomore album "Under My Skin," "The Best Damn Thing" is, well, bursting with fruit flavor. It's an infectious blast of pop-punk with brighter songs and catchy cheerleader choruses that even your Ramones-loving dad might be singing along to.


Avril Lavigne
  • With: Boys Like Girls.
  • Where: A.J. Palumbo Center, Downtown.
  • When: 7 p.m. Tuesday.
  • Tickets: $37-$51.50.
  • More information: 412-323-1919.

The playful lead single, "Girlfriend," was part of the soundtrack to the summer of 2007. It was everywhere -- on TV, on the radio and, yes, in the law office of two songwriters who sued Lavigne for lifting the chorus to "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend." Lavigne claimed to never have heard that old Rubinoos song and threw some money at them in January to make them go away.

Now, she's opening shows with the hit on her Best Damn Tour, which kicked off to so-so reviews earlier this month in Canada. When she arrives at the A.J. Palumbo Center on Tuesday for her first show here in five years, you can bet her fans won't care what the critics in Canada or anywhere else think. They adore Lavigne not only for her punchy pop and trendsetting style -- goth-black eyeliner, bleached hair, sk8er-boy clothes -- but also her down-to-earth attitude.

In a phone interview last week, Lavigne was a sheer delight, talking with a frequent giggle and never getting defensive whether answering questions about her husband and sometime-producer Deryck Whibley of Sum 41, the "Girlfriend" flap or a recent comment she made criticizing young celebrities for going out of their way to court paparazzi.

The latest tabloid rumors about Lavigne have centered around whether or not she's pregnant, but we didn't mention that because, really, it's none of our business.

I know the record's been out for a while, but can you talk about the poppier approach you took to it?

My inspiration for the record came from my previous tours. I really learned that I like the fun and fast songs on stage and I spend so much of my time playing and touring, so I wrote a lot of fast-rocking, anthemic kind of tunes for the record, so now my show is everything I always wanted it to be. I come out, it's really fast, up-tempo. I break and do an acoustic medley and then I finish the show with a bang.

It must be nice to have a couple of albums' worth of material now to draw from.

Oooh, my gosh. I remember being on the first tour and being like, "Hell, I have three songs that people know." I had three singles, but I had to do every single song off the album. And I didn't like that. Now, I can pick and choose my favorite ones, the ones I know will go over live. I'm in a cool position now with that.

How much do you and Deryck bounce songs off each other as you're writing?

Well, on my last record, I didn't play anything for anyone until I was done. I value his opinion. And I'll give my opinion to him, but we both kind of focus on what we do -- although we've been writing some new stuff when we were back home there for a bit. I wrote a couple new songs, and he just kind of laid them down at our studio. So, like, I listen to him, but I really know what I like and what I want, and I don't really ask people too much.

Despite what you said before, I read a review that said you seemed more comfortable on the ballads and acoustic songs than on the faster pop-punk songs.

Well, I'd have to say, um ... ah, I really don't know what that means. Is that a good or a bad thing?

I guess they were saying you had more authority with the ballads than with the faster ones.

Maybe they mean my voice is strong and you get to hear it that way. That was kind of the point why I am doing an acoustic medley. I have a bunch of songs and I do them stripped down because I want to showcase my vocals. When I do an acoustic set, people come up to me randomly and say, "Oh my God, I didn't realize you had such a voice." During my concerts I come out on the piano and play "When You're Gone," and I do a bunch of ballads and stripped-down versions of "Hot," "Don't Tell Me" and "Losing My Grip." And you really get to hear my vocal performance.

Did the suit over "Girlfriend" put a damper on the song for you, or did you just brush that off quickly?

Absolutely not! You have to understand this kind of stuff happens to people all the time, especially when they have a big hit song. And it's happened to me before with other songs; it just wasn't made public. That's what people do, it's like whatever, it's not a big deal. Everyone made it into a big deal because it went public. It was never a big deal for me.

So, it hasn't made you feel weird about the song?

No. So many things happen. You kind of get tough skin in this business.

You got popular at a young age just like Britney and some of the other starlets. How have you have been able to keep it together where some young stars haven't?

Yes. I made it when I was 17. "Complicated" came out when I was 17, so I've kind of been watched by the public growing up. Every time I change, when I decided to curl my hair for the first time or wear a dress and heels on a red carpet for a movie premiere, everybody kept talking about it, so it's a little weird, interesting, very unique. I would have to say that you really just have to be careful and balance is important.

I go on stage and have thousands of people that are, you know, there for me, but I always feel that you go on stage and you go into star mode and then walk off and go, "OK, I'm just normal. Just a normal kid, a normal person."

I think it's important to take breaks. It's important for me to tour and do all this crazy stuff, but it is so crazy I think it's good for me to also just be at home, be cooking in my kitchen, be doing normal things and keeping a balance. And that's kind of with anyone in life, balance is important.

Don't I sound so smart? [Laughs.]

I read your comment about the starlets seeking the publicity. I guess at one time you wanted that attention. When did it change?

I don't know what comment, but what I said before is that I was never like, "Oh, I want to be rich and famous." It was just, "I want to sing. Sing in front of people and I want to write music." And that's what got me to where I am today. Some people nowadays because of the whole fame thing are so crazy, they just want to be that. I was like, I just want it to be about music. Just that.

You and Deryck are considered part of a pop-punk scene. I wonder when you get in the car, are you more likely to listen to New Found Glory and All-American Rejects, or will you put on the Ramones, Clash or maybe fellow Canadians like Black Mountain or Broken Social Scene?

We listen to everything. Deryck loves, like, Elvis Costello and all that kind of stuff. I'm the fan of Blink-182 and Green Day. He doesn't really listen to that kind of stuff. He listens to different things than I do. We both listen to Radiohead and the Beatles and the Beach Boys and CCR. And then we like jazz music and Rod Stewart. And then I'll listen to, like, Justin Timberlake when I'm working out or something [giggles]. So it's kind of all over the place.

So do you have friendly debates over Elvis Costello and stuff?

No. We don't really have debates. It's cool because he listens to a lot of older stuff, whereas I'm five years younger than him and sometimes he'll turn me on to things that I didn't grow up listening to.

Yeah, I saw Sum 41 and was pretty impressed with him. He's more musical than people give him credit for.

It's very true. He's extremely talented. He wrote every single Sum 41 song and produced the entire record that's out right now, and everything he does for me is really cool. It's got an edge. And I think he's a really good guitar player.

We're in a time where artists are having trouble selling records. Are you having to find other ways than selling records? Do you feel that pressure?

No, actually, my record was the top-selling female album of 2007 -- not too many people talk about that. It was the biggest selling album last year and "Girlfriend" was the most downloaded song. So I thought that was really cool.

Did you expect it to be that popular?

No. A lot of it is that I have a huge international fan base, which I'm very grateful for. So it is interesting, the music business. I'm glad that my first record got a really big shot at selling albums. My first record sold, like, 15 million. And then now it's like people sell half that. I still have 6.5 million, I think, on this one, which is great. I've been happy with how the record's done.

But I do do other things now and not because of that, just because I want to keep myself busy. I have a clothing line coming out for back to school. Launching at Kohl's in the U.S. It's called Abbey Dawn. It's just fun.

Are these clothes you wear?

Ooooh, yeah, are you kidding me? I come up with everything. I get to design it and come up with the fits and patterns and the colors and the prints, so it's like a lot of pink and black and skulls and stars and purple and zebra and leopard. It's very kind of young and bright and colorful and rock 'n' roll. And anything that I would wear. I love hoodies, so I have a lot of cute hoodies.

I've noticed that. Is it bizarre to look out into the crowd and see everyone dressed like you?

Um, I think it's cool. It puts a smile on my face. Like, I do meet-and-greets every night before the show for 150 people and all the girls have pink in their hair, because I have a pink streak. And I'm always, like, that's craaazy. I love seeing for each album when I have something I do consistently, my fans do it. Like for my first album, the tie and the tank top and the black eyeliner and the straight hair. That's what everyone did. And then on my second record I wore a lot of bondage pants and I had blond hair with black underneath. A lot of people did that [giggles].

This record everyone has the pink in their hair, so it's really cool, I gotta say.

So do you have a plan for the next one?

I'm thinking my new color is going to be purple. 'Cause my first two albums were black and red. And this album is black and pink so pink is the new red for me. And now I'm really getting into purple, so purple is going to be the new pink [giggles].

So when you're writing the new record you're going to be thinking in terms of purple.

Purple!

Purple songs. Like Prince ...

Oh, that's funny.


Scott Mervis can be reached at smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576. First Published March 20, 2008 4:00 AM


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