to me. It was, ‘OK, this is what I’m supposed to be doing and this is still happening.’”
Lavigne says she would record the songs at her home studio with Kroeger, with whom she maintained a working relationship.
“Over the last few years, I’ve actually gone through a lot in my life, so it was healing for me in that aspect,” she says. “You know, you hear people talk about … ‘Oh, writing, it’s like therapy.’ But it’s good to come to terms with how you feel and talk about it in a way, and get it out and express it and put it down. I felt like it was empowering and it was, like, real stuff that I just felt, ‘Oh, this is cool.’
“I feel like people will hear this, and because it’s so real that I just hope people pull strength from it. And that it’s encouraging, inspiring, uplifting overall. So that was sort of the process. I did that for a few years, and then just when I was ready … laying stuff down and recording slowly.”
Lavigne says she “went into the studio, I recorded. I shot music videos. I shot the music video for ‘I Fell in Love with the Devil’ – I worked 14 hours. I can’t even believe I did that. I’ve come so far.”
Lavigne has come far musically, as well.
Her debut album peaked at No. 2, and by the time she got ill, she had five albums that all charted in the Top 5 in the U.S. (2004’s “Under My Skin” and 2007’s “The Best Damn Thing” hit No. 1) and sold a total of 13 million copies in the U.S.
But the songs on her new disc are far more intense, and seemingly far more personal, than her earlier material.
Her new single, “I Fell in
Love with the Devil,” could easily be seen as a statement on her relationship with Kroeger. While Lavigne admits it comes from personal experience, she demurs about specifics.
“‘I Fell in Love with the Devil’ is just another song about, obviously, being in a situation that’s not very healthy, and taking that stand — finding the power to realize that and to move on and recognize that and to just once again get … make a strong decision for yourself. And choose a better life,” she says.
“So I feel like the song also is about empowerment, which is a constant theme on the new album.”
The title track, Lavigne says, comes from “basically feeling like I’m drowning and having to work so hard to come up for air to survive and to stay alive. And that song, I wrote on, like, a really difficult night for myself, when I literally didn’t think would make it.
“So ‘Head Above Water’ is just keeping yourself afloat.
Like, hanging on, holding on, and finding strength and keeping your head up and moving forward and getting through whatever your circumstances.”
With music that builds from a stark piano to pounding rock and lyrics of desperation that say, “My life is what I’m fighting for/Can’t part the sea, can’t reach the shore .. God keep my head above water/Don’t let me drown, it gets harder,” the song even hit No. 2 on Billboard’s Christian singles chart.
It also has Lavigne’s most emotional lyrics in years — perhaps since her 2002 platinum hit “I’m With You” — a song she says was the basis for “It Was in Me,” another song from “Head Above Water.”
The new song was written with multiple Grammy Award nominee Lauren Christy, who is part of the successful writing/ production trio The Matrix. It marked the first time Lavigne had written with Christy since having a hit with “I’m in You.”
“I think that one will end up being a single after the tour,” Lavigne says of “It Was in Me.” “It really kind of has that same feel and vibe [as “I’m With
You”] ‘cause it always was my favorite song. I was, like, ‘Let’s do another one kind of similar to ‘I’m With You.’ Same thing but different.”
But the album also is full of new musical territory for Lavigne. The song “Tell Me It’s Over” is a straight-up soul and blues song.
Asked about it, Lavigne responds with a giggle. She says that she was writing with different people, and former teen idol Ryan Cabrera brought the idea to her.
“I thought it was really dope,” she says. “This whole album is really about the vocals and vocal performance, and going back to my roots and really just singing.
“It was really like, ‘Wow! I feel like I’m back in church singing. And it felt so good and I had such a great time working on that song. … To be able to sing a song like that felt really good to explore that side of my voice.”
Lavigne says she grew up in church performing gospel music, and singing country music at fairs. “And then when I got into high school, I was listening to punk rock bands, you know? I stated writing my own music at 14, I was, like, kind of more rock-influenced.”
Speaking of songs from her youth, Lavigne’s biggest hits now are, literally, half her life ago. How does she feel performing songs such as “Complicated” and “Sk8er Boi” now that she’s 35?
“It’s so weird — I love it,” she says. “Yeah, I just remember that time in my life, and I think those songs are just so important to me and my career. And I can see how much the audience loves them still. They just feel so good to sing, and that’s a part of me, part of who I was and still part of who I am today. And I really enjoy singing those songs.
“I always feel it’s important to play the old stuff and all the hits during the concert, and then to perform a lot of new stuff, too. But this show is going to be this really cool journey from where I came from to where I am now.
“I have my life back. And now we’re going on tour and I can’t even believe that I’m saying that to you — that I’m going on tour, how this is even happening. So just bit by bit, one step at a time, I get stronger and stronger. Keeping fighting. Keep focused. And just keep my head up, keep my head above the water.”
Morning Call Lehigh Valley Music reporter and columnist John J. Moser can be reached at 610-820-6722 or [email protected]
Avril Lavigne performs onstage at The Greek Theatre on Sept. 18.