When you grow up in a rural Canadian town with nothing much to do but sing in the church gospel choir and get bored at school, you’re gonna want to rock sometimes.
Avril Lavigne wanted to do more than just lip-synch in front of a mirror with a hairbrush, though. In fact, she was dead sure she was going to do more than just fake it.
“I always knew since I was really young that I wanted to sing,” the 17-year-old said. “I was just born with music in my blood, and I just wanted to do music so bad.” While most of her peers in Ontario’s Napanee, population 5,000, were worrying about applying for college and picking out prom dresses, high school dropout Avril was out on her own, recording her debut, Let Go (June 4), in New York and Los Angeles.
Even with her built-in teen pop appeal, Avril’s self-assured album — which has already spawned a burgeoning hit with the just-be-yourself anthem “Complicated” — has more in common with the high-energy spunk of Pink than such peers as Britney and Mandy Moore. The 16-year-old music rookie from the hinterlands even ripped a page straight out of Pink’s book of success when she began peddling her songs to record labels.
“When I got signed to Arista, they signed me as a singer,” said Avril, who taught herself guitar at age 12 and dropped out of school in 11th grade. “They didn’t know I could, or wanted to, write songs also. They began to pitch me other people’s songs, but I just couldn’t sing [them]. I said, ‘I don’t care how good these songs are, I want to write my own.’ ”
Arista boss Antonio “LA” Reid’s gamble on letting Pink do her thing paid off, and so, seemingly, did his belief in Avril’s abilities. Her album is a refreshing mix of pure pop energy and catchy rock arrangements laid over the surprisingly mature, slightly hyperactive musings of a self-confessed boy-confused teenage girl.
“It really shows all the different sides of me,” said Avril, who grew up listening to her older brother’s Goo Goo Dolls albums and singing Dixie Chicks covers at state fairs. “I’m a person with a ton of energy who likes to scream and party and rock out. And there are other sides of me that are real serious.”
“Complicated” is one of several songs on the album that deal with the politics of poseurs and how people often change their tune when someone else comes around. “You become somebody else ’round everyone else/ You’re watching your back, like you can’t relax,” Avril sings.
“It’s like, if I’m alone with a guy, you can look into his eyes and everything is great and he’s giving you all the attention you need, and then when they go off with their friends they act all, like, different,” Avril said.
Her next single, “Sk8er Boi,” is a fictional tale, but it slams home the just-be-yourself message even harder. She said the insanely catchy, new wavey tune was her attempt to put a short story to music.
The song is an ultimate outsider’s revenge story in which the snotty, preppy girl who looks down on the baggy pants-wearing skater boy gets her comeuppance when he becomes a huge rock star. While not as autobiographical as tracks like “Anything But Ordinary” and “Things I’ll Never Say,” which chronicles what it’s like when someone you like makes you so nervous you want to jump out of your skin, Avril said “Sk8er Boi” is still a story she’s familiar with. “I know what it’s like to be looked down on for being a skater.”
One thing you definitely won’t find Avril doing (at least not yet) is falling into the “teenie thing” trap. “I’m very careful about my image,” she said of her skater gear and pixie-punk look.
“I see what’s going on out there today, and I’m totally not into glamming up and looking like someone else for the camera.” Avril’s gotten so used to stylists trying to slather makeup on her and dress her up in “heels and skanky tops” that she brings her own clothes to photo shoots.
“I’m not a bitch or anything, but I can be a bitch,” she said. “People want me to look all pretty and sexy for pictures, and it’s just not my thing.”
While she has no problem with the pressure of being compared to a certain other Canadian rocker with long tresses (“Alanis is totally honest in her lyrics and not afraid of what people think”), no matter what happens with her album, Avril’s just happy that her dream has come true.
“It’s a pretty nice job, and better than sitting in an office typing all day,” said Avril, who admittedly has an attention span of zero. “And I like being a minor because you can’t get into trouble. Now I just have to try and behave myself.”