By Jon Wiederhorn
Photo: Jim SpellmanThe first day Avril Lavigne started working with Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger on songwriting for her fifth album, the pair sat with writer and producer David Hodges (ex-Evanescence) and penned the duet "Let Me Go." Ironically, the number started out as a breakup song. "It was about letting go of someone and having them let go of you," Lavigne told Yahoo Music.
After the song was finished, Kroeger and Lavigne did the very opposite of letting go: They continued to work together, and soon they discovered their chemistry was more than musical.
"We started off [in March 2012] just getting to know each other, and then we really bonded through music," Lavigne said. "We became really good friends and then things blossomed. The effect was very natural." Lavigne and Kroeger became romantically involved in July 2012, and a month later they got engaged. The couple got married July 1, 2013 in the South of France.
Even after becoming a couple, the two continued to write and record together in the studio. By the time Lavigne finished her new, self-titled album – which comes out November 5 – Kroeger had co-written 10 of 13 songs, produced three, and co-produced a fourth. But when the couple looked back at the first song they did together, "Let Me Go," they decided the lyrical theme was no longer appropriate.
"After we were together we were both like, 'Okay, we're engaged and our duet together is a breakup song.'" Lavigne said. "It was kind of f---ed up. So we changed it. We rewrote the last chorus to put a twist on it so we end up together. Therefore the message of the song is more the journey of love through one's life. Obviously I've been in other relationships. So it's like going from one stage in one love into finding the right one. It's kind of sweet."
Anyone thinking Avril Lavigne is a serene record full of "sweet" love songs is in for a serious surprise. The album features sunny pop cuts, upbeat rockers, reflective ballads – and even a dark song, "Bad Girl," which includes guest vocals from Marilyn Manson. "I met Marilyn at his concert when I was 18," Lavigne said. "We hung out after his show, and then we were buds. We've kept in touch over the years, so when I was in the studio and I was working on this rock song, I thought of him. I called him up, and he came over and he liked it. And then he sang on it. It's one of my favorite songs. It's really cool. It's dark, provocative, and heavy. And it’s sort of sexual. So he seemed perfect for it."
The ghoulish cover art of Avril Lavigne depicts the singer's pale, overexposed face; frowning and smudged with makeup that makes her look like she has two black eyes. It's far more morbid than the white dress and perfectly coiffed hairstyle she sported on her 2011 album Goodbye Lullaby. "I have a darker side to me and I like to express myself differently with clothes," she said. "I love black eye makeup. So even though I wore black eye makeup over the years, for the album cover I went nuts with black oil and mushed it all over my eyes. But it's not that it's a dark record. It's diverse. And that's why I didn't put a title on the record. It's self-titled because you can’t really sum it up."
The diversity of Avril Lavigne is a reflection of the range of experiences she had immediately before and during its creation. "Rock and Roll" and "Here's to Never Growing Up" are upbeat and energetic; while "Bitchin' Summer" and "Slipping on Sunshine" are breezy pop anthems. "Hello Kitty" is a catchy number about, well, Hello Kitty.
"The majority of my past records are about love," Lavigne said. "They're about falling in love or breakups. This record's not like that. It's not just about relationships. I'm talking about different subjects so there were different places to go and more storytelling. But it's all very natural. I always write about the stuff I'm going through or how I'm feeling or things I can relate to. It's just that I'm not a teenager anymore, so there was new stuff to talk about."
One of Lavigne’s favorite songs is "17," a fond flashback on her childhood growing up in Canada. "Whenever I'm remembering anything from my past, I always go back to the age of 17," she said. "It was a really big year for me and I always wanted to write a song about being 17, so we did. And it's cool because there’s this one line, 'Stealing beers out of the trailer park/Flicking lighters just to fight the dark,' and it totally makes me think of my brother. When we were young we totally stole beers!"
While Lavigne enjoyed working on the record with Kroeger, her easygoing approach to finishing songs caused some anxiety at her new record label, Epic. When she was on tour for Goodbye Lullaby, everything was going right on schedule. Three months after that record came out she announced she had eight new songs for the follow-up. And in November 2011 she said she was entering the studio to start recording. Then she went through a major life change. She broke up with her boyfriend of two years, Brody Jenner, in January 2012, around the same time she sold her house in Bel-Air.
"I had just finished a world tour, so then I worked on this record and then I took some time and I left and moved to France by myself," she said. "That was a new chapter for me. When I got home from tour I was living in a hotel and I was in the studio and got a head start on the record. And then I took some time off for myself, which I had never done. I'd been making music and touring straight since I was 17. And I had always wanted to go to France and learn French, so I just did it."
Since Lavigne's father is French by birth, she was able to secure a passport and move to Paris, where she enrolled in the Berlitz language school. "It was really good for me to have that independence back and take a little bit of time to do something just for myself. I'm a Libra and Libras need balance, so I'm constantly trying to create that in my life. It was good for me just personally as a woman.
"It was a goal of mine, also," she continued. "So I really got to find myself and really get in touch with myself. But I discovered it's really hard to learn another language. I know the basics, but I'm not fluent. It was just, like, a fresh start, a new chapter. I was in a really good, new head space and I was having a lot of fun. So when I came back home I felt refreshed and I went back to finish the record. And after France is when Chad and I started our relationship."
For some people, being around a significant other at work and at home can be smothering, but Lavigne said she and Kroeger enjoy every minute they spend together – and that being in the studio was so fun and productive she didn't want to leave. "For me, being in the studio is not too serious," she said. "You get to go in and create, and that's rewarding. And I really respect Chad. I think he's a great songwriter and I've learned a lot from him. We have fun in the studio together. Even just when we're at home or doing our thing, we're always talking about music or coming up with ideas nonstop."
With her fifth album finally finished, Lavigne is enjoying the ramp-up to release. She had a blast filming the video for "Rock and Roll," a surreal post-apocalyptic cartoon adventure, in which she made out with "The Wonder Years" star Danica McKeller ("I think the fans really liked that, and we had a lot of fun with it"). She's also enjoying the mix of press, photo sessions, and scheduling for her upcoming tour. "Everything feels really fresh again," she said. "But what I’m looking forward to most is release day when everyone gets to hear the whole record, because we worked really hard on it and it's something I'm really proud of."