Avril Lavigne has enjoyed a decade-long career of fashioning emotional but radio-friendly pop-rock -- singles like "Complicated," "I'm With You" and "My Happy Ending" have helped push her career U.S. album sales to 11.5 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Despite her label's best wishes, however, Lavigne was ready to push herself away from mainstream pop and present a more stripped-down sound on "Goodbye Lullaby," her first full-length in nearly four years that's out today (Mar. 8) on RCA Records.
"I'm older now. I've done the whole pop-rock, aggressive, bratty, playful, boy-bashing stuff," Lavigne, 26, tells Billboard.com. "I'm not really there right now, so I definitely didn't want to keep making the same record over and over."
Video: Avril Lavigne, "What the Hell"
Lavigne started writing a new batch of material in late 2008, after scoring an infectious hit with the Hot 100-topping "Girlfriend" in 2007 and supporting third album "The Best Damn Thing" with a world tour a year later. The singer worked in her Los Angeles home studio with longtime producer Butch Walker and songwriter Evan Taubenfeld, and later traveled to Sweden to write and record with pop maestro Max Martin (Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson) for the first time.
Deryck Whibley, the Sum 41 frontman whom Lavigne married in 2006 and divorced last November, also produced six songs on "Goodbye Lullaby." "We had a studio in the house that we were living in together, so it was just really simple," Whibley says of working on the album. "A lot of the songs I did were just supposed to be demos, but she's the kind of person where, if she does something once, it's usually her best take and she never wants to do it ever again. It would be just a quick demo but it would turn out really well."
Although "Lullaby" was still being finished when the couple announced their split in 2009, Lavigne says that recording with her ex-husband was never an awkward experience.
"I think I'm pretty lucky, and I feel really grateful to be able to say that we're like best friends, that we're like family," Lavigne says of Whibley. "I hope to work with him in the future. We have a great friendship, great relationship and a lot of respect for each other."
While first single "What The Hell" features a sunny pop-rock hook and has peaked at No. 11 on the Hot 100 since its January release, album tracks like "Wish You Were Here" and "Not Enough" are less upbeat, which Lavigne says presented a problem for RCA. The album has been done for a year, but Lavigne has had to argue with her label from changing "Lullaby" to a dancefloor-appealing album.
"The biggest challenge and only challenge of this album was my record company," says Lavigne. "I found myself in a situation on my fourth record with a bunch of people at the label who I didn't know, and they're coming in on my project and saying, 'Here's what we think you need to do for your record,' and giving me their vision. And radio's so rhythmic/dance-driven right now, and that's not where I was going with this record. So I had to fight and say no, but… I ultimately made the record I wanted to."
Lavigne will stay busy this month supporting "Lullaby" with appearances on "The View," "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live," and she hopes a second single -- possibly the catchy rock track "Push" -- will be released soon. A tour is also in the works, and Lavigne says of her upcoming live show, "I think I'll do more stripped-down, acoustic stuff, like me on the piano, but I definitely don't wanna make my whole show like that. I'll have those moments and then rock out with the old stuff."