If the 6 million fans who made Avril Lavigne's first album, Let Go, among the best-selling records of 2002 think they know what makes the 19-year-old rocker tick, they're just scratching the surface.
As her second album's title, Under My Skin, suggests, Lavigne's about to show them what lies beneath.
"There are some songs that are really deep," she said. "I have this song called 'How Does It Feel.' It's just a very mature song. Just me stepping back and looking at my life, talking about how I am small and the world is big. I'm a deep person and I think of weird things.
"[Let Go] was just a few things I went through and wrote about," she continued. "There's so much more to my life now."
Lavigne understands why some fans might think they've got her pegged. Songs like "Anything but Ordinary," "Complicated" and "Losing Grip" paint her as a misunderstood adolescent struggling for her own sense of normalcy while rebelling against conventional ideas. Nearly constant media coverage — even when she may not have always welcomed it — presented another sketch of the artist.
"I think a lot of people think I come across as a bitch," she said. "Everyone I meet tells me, 'Man, I didn't think you'd be so cool,' which kinda sucks."
While she may be letting her wrist-banded guard down, she's hardly turning into a pushover, evidenced by "Don't Tell Me," the album's first single, expected to hit the airwaves in mid-March. One of the few songs on the album that's not inspired by personal experiences, the song is less an anthem for abstinence than it is a statement about not giving in to pressure. Featuring the lyrics, "Don't think that your charm and the fact that your arm/ Is now around my neck will get you in my pants/ I'll have to kick your ass ..." and "Get out of my head/ Get off of my bed/ Yeah, that's what I said," the track presents Lavigne as the big sister many girls don't have.
"It's about being strong," Lavigne explained. "There are a lot of guys out there who just want to take you out to dinner and then, like basically go home and 'unhh' you. That's what a lot of guys are like and I just think girls need to be strong and not let any guy pressure them into doing anything."
Under My Skin finds Lavigne working with fellow musicians rather than the songwriting ringers who assisted with Let Go. Her guitarist Evan Taubenfeld penned the music for "Don't Tell Me" while the band was in the early stages of promoting Let Go. Many songs were written with singer/songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk, whom Lavigne describes as a big-sister figure. Our Lady Peace frontman Raine Maida produced some tracks, as did Marvelous 3's Butch Walker. But the collaborator with the most star power was former Evanescence guitarist Ben Moody (see "So Where's Evanescence's Ben Moody? Ask Avril Lavigne").
The pair penned several songs together, though only "Nobody's Here" made the cut for the album. Another tune not directly inspired by personal events, "Nobody's Here" is about a girl plagued with problems who just wants things to return to normal. A collaboration with the guitarist behind the toothy riffs of songs like "Going Under" and "Bring Me to Life" might suggest "Nobody's Here" will sound like an Evanescence song with Avril, not Amy Lee, on vocals. To that, Lavigne has a simple response.
"Uhhh ... no.
"It's actually an acoustic song with strings," she added.
That's one surprise that awaits those who flock to malls across the country to catch Lavigne and Taubenfeld premiere the new material on only acoustic guitars. Beginning in Minneapolis on Thursday, the pair will embark on a 21-city North American trek well in advance of the album's May 25 release date. Each successive gig will be announced only 48 hours before show time on local radio stations and online at AOL CityGuide. The tour is expected to wrap in Dallas in mid-April.
"It's kind of funny, because we're just going to randomly show up at malls," she said. "It'll be good practice for me to play my guitar every day."
There's another upside to the trek, too. Unlike the sheds and amphitheatres she's been accustomed to playing, mall gigs have an advantage crucial to almost every 19-year-old.
"When we're done with the shows, we can put on disguises and go shopping every day."