When she’s in the studio, Avril Lavigne likes working with people who aren’t afraid to push up the guitar in her mix. “A lot of times, I have to go through each track with producers and just get them to, like… turn up the rock knob!” Lavigne says, before letting out a hearty laugh, during an early February Zoom conversation with Billboard. With her new album, she explains, “There was no holding back. I didn’t have to push anyone. It was just like, ‘Okay, yay, finally.’”
Indeed, the ‘rock knob’ has been spun all the way up on Love Sux, Lavigne’s seventh studio album, due out on Friday (Feb. 25). The follow-up to 2019’s contemplative, relatively hushed Head Above Water is a full-throttle, Warped Tour-ready spectacle, 33 minutes of brash guitar licks and snarling kiss-offs that functions as an apotheosis to the pop-punk gestures she made last year on the songs “Flames” with Mod Sun and “Grow” with Willow.
Love Sux could be described as a return to form for the “pop-punk princess” behind smashes like “Sk8er Boi” and “My Happy Ending,” which helped make the Canadian singer-songwriter an international star in the mid-2000s. Yet even Lavigne’s early records weren’t this breakneck from start to finish – on songs like the fuzzed-out opener “Cannonball,” mid-tempo self-assessment “Avalanche” and sneering headbanger “F.U.,” her voice springs out from the production like a pop-up book.
Her collaborators helped push the tempo. In addition to veteran producer John Feldmann (5 Seconds of Summer, All Time Low), Lavigne worked on the album with Travis Barker, the Blink-182 drummer and Svengali of the current pop-punk resurgence that has crossed over from alternative radio to top 40 over the past two years. Lavigne signed with Barker’s Elektra Music Group imprint DTA Records for Love Sux after a one-album deal with BMG for Head Above Water, and brought in revival poster boy Machine Gun Kelly, his “My Ex’s Best Friend” collaborator Blackbear, Barker’s Blink bandmate Mark Hoppus and her boyfriend, Mod Sun, for the album.
Ahead of the Love Sux release, Lavigne reflected on falling in love with pop-punk as a teenager, finding a believer in Barker, and unlocking the latest phase of her career. (Ed. note: this interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
How has the lead-up to the album release been for you?
It’s been good — I’m in my promo cycle right now, so it’s just been shooting videos and a bunch of TV performances. And Travis has been playing with me for all my performances, which has been really fun — I kind of put a new band together for that, which is just like, fresh energy. The whole vibe overall has been super cool.
This is the seventh record, and this year is the 20th anniversary of the first album [2002’s Let Go]. So it feels like there’s a lot of celebration for me right now, and tons of excitement. And now I’ll be able to go on the road this year and tour this album, which feels really good after we’ve all been cooped up, especially. so I’m pretty excited. Writing these songs, I really had my live show in mind — they feel like songs that are supposed to be played out there, they have tons of energy.
This album is probably the most energetic I’ve ever heard you on a record. How did these songs start coming together?
Very naturally. Just hanging and talking with my friends in the music industry. I did not have a label at the time, and I didn’t have a manager, and I didn’t have, like, deadlines, or anyone breathing down my neck or giving me their opinions. So I really made the record I wanted to make. And I found really fun people and cool musicians to make this with.
For instance, when I started working with John Feldmann, I was like, “Where the f—k have you been? Like, I wish I knew you 10 years ago!” We clicked instantly. He’s a fast worker and I’m a fast worker, so we’re in there writing a song, and that day we record it, right away, versus sitting around, waiting for the track to get done. Everything is happening all at once, and I like to work that way — writing and then tracking it, and then he’s laying down his guitar, and I just love his guitar style.
You can’t teach people cool. Travis is cool, Feldy is cool. I like their style, and they get my style. Sometimes you work with people who are like trying to do something that’s not their vibe, [but] these guys are from that world and that style. That’s how that all came together — no label at the time, I worked with Feldy, then I worked with Travis, then all of us collaborated together. Then Travis is like, “Let’s sign you to my label,” and then I was like, “F—k yeah!” And the whole time, it’s just been so fun.
You sound pretty ferocious on the album, as if it was cathartic to have sung the absolute hell out of these songs. What were you thinking about when putting them together?
I like that word, “ferocious.” Like I said, I was working with people that just got me and what I wanted to do. We were writing songs and just having so much fun that there was no holding back with the lyrics. I didn’t hold back in being f—king over relationships and guys and how love sucks. Maybe that could have been like a weird thing to be saying at the time, but that’s how I felt, so that set the tone for the album. I wrote that song, brought it in and talked about how I felt. I was like, “I am focusing on myself and I need a break from relationships and I’m just over it.” [laughs] It’s really funny because I was in that place in my life, but it didn’t last very long, and I’m actually in a really good place.
But it was fun to think about the dynamic between two people in a relationship, and the things that are challenges – the stuff that’s fun, what happens when you fall in love, what it’s like when you fall out of love. Even “Love It When You Hate Me” – there’s a bunch of red flags that you see with a person, but there’s mad chemistry, so you decide to dive in anyway and just go for it. [I was writing] a lot of stuff about relationships, my ups and downs. I had a lot of time to reflect, and it’s all very lighthearted and I think kind of funny.
In terms of not having a manager or label at the time — did you feel like you needed to shake things up before getting started on this album? Or was this new direction something that just came naturally?
I had a one-album deal with BMG, and they were all super sweet. But then I went off and made this album, and then at the end, a lot of people wanted to pick up the the record — that’s how that worked on the business end. But I went into this album and just said, “I want to make a pop-punk record, a rock-and-roll record. I don’t want to be on the piano. I don’t want ballads, really. I just really want to rock out.”
I think especially after my last album being so mellow and dramatic and deep and introspective — you know, it was beautiful, and it was where I was at in my life, and that’s what worked for me at the time. But I was just ready to get back out there, rock the f—k out, and again just thinking about the live shows.
I mean, this is the kind of music I fell in love with, when I was old enough to buy CDs, to discover bands — like, my first year of high school, which is grade nine in Canada. Do you guys call it grade nine?
We do not!
Yeah, you guys are freshmen! So yeah, grade nine. When I first started singing, I was singing in church as a little girl, when I was around five, super young. And then I was singing around town at county fairs and stuff. When I was like 14, those songs didn’t feel cool anymore. And so I stopped, and then I discovered bands, and the stuff that I fell in love with was rock and roll, guitar-driven stuff, like Blink-182, Green Day, Offspring, Goo Goo Dolls, Alanis, Matchbox Twenty. That was the stuff when I was finally old enough to start figuring out who I was, and what I liked just as a person, and then very soon after, musically. That was always what I gravitated towards, what moved me the most.
What has that process of working with Travis as the head of a label been like?
In the beginning, I was like, “Oh, this is really cool,” because we had to have serious conversations and make business decisions. It was [a process of] going through all the songs, me choosing the songs, him giving his input. And it’s been easy, and nice, because he’s been an artist for a long time, and so have I. He’s not going to come in and tell me what to do. And that was the first thing, right off the bat — he was like, “Here, I’ll give you my opinion, this is what I think, and then you make your decision.” And that’s much better than being forced by a label, like, “You cannot have this song,” or “That cannot be a single.” Everyone just respects everybody, and they also want me to be happy.
He’s chill. He gives me his opinion. Obviously, I respect it, and then I make my decision. And it doesn’t feel as business-y — like, last night I was in the studio with him, working on new stuff. Now I’m doing all this promo, he shot the videos with me, he’s doing all my performances. We’ve been onstage a bunch now. He’s super talented — obviously, we all know he’s an incredible drummer. But it’s been amazing to see him grow and evolve into a producer, and he’s a really great songwriter, he comes up with great lyrics. He’s just insanely talented.
How close have you guys been over the years as friends, before you fell into a working relationship?
I mean, he was on [2007 album] The Best Damn Thing, and we’d see each other out. I actually bought his old house off of him, and lived in one of his houses, which is kind of funny. But we’re closer now… we talked in 2020, when the pandemic first happened. He was like, “Are you writing? What are you doing?” I was like, “…Sorta! Yeah, writing songs at home.” And he’s like, “Let’s f—kin’ get together.”
That week I had connected with Mod [Sun] and Feldy as well. MGK and I had met at the We the Kings concert, and we’d been talking about doing a song together. Everyone was just showing up in my life, and it was obviously this big sign that this was the direction I was supposed to go in. I wasn’t even trying to make an album, you know? It just all happened.
It’s been interesting watching this pop-punk revival over the past year to two. Travis and MGK have been part of it, artists like Mod Sun and Willow have been part of it, and you have as well. Did you expect this sound to come roaring back like this?
It was weird to me that radio wasn’t playing rock and roll anymore! I was just like, “Are you f—king kidding me?” Because I love pop-punk music and all the bands that I grew up listening to. But because I’m in the industry and writing and playing shows, it never went away for me — that energy was always there in my shows, and I still saw my friends that were in these bands and went to their shows. And even though it wasn’t trendy or big or mainstream, everyone still had their fan base, and were still playing concerts and doing their thing.
So I’m happy that it’s come back around, and radio will play guitar and live drums again. And I mean, it’s not just all about radio. It really comes down to fan bases, and the fan bases stuck [around], and it’s great to see the younger generation rediscovering the older bands, too.
You mentioned you were in the studio with Travis last night, working on new stuff. Obviously you’re focused on Love Sux right now, but how much does this album indicate about the next couple of years of your career?
I am ready to be super-focused and on the road. We were in the studio working on, I might say, the deluxe for this one? But this year’s touring, next year’s touring, and like, I’d like to keep going, because I’m doing so much work, so much writing. I wrote probably 30 songs [for this album], and I just feel like I’ll keep going. The next project I feel like, right now, would be an extension of this. This feels so good, and I have so much material, that I would want to continue.