Although the event was billed as The Drop: Avril Lavigne, the timing of the lively hour-plus event at the Grammy Museum coincided more with Lavigne's upcoming 15-city comeback tour in support of her new album, Head Above Water, than the release of the album itself. Out since February, the album, which is her first since her self-titled Top 5 Billboard Album in 2013, draws some of its inspiration from her battle with Lyme disease. Described by Billboard as “a powerful, spiritual epiphany detailing the Canadian singer’s journey through” her illness, the title track and first single broke fresh ground for Lavigne on the Christian Songs chart (where it hit #2).
More in line with her legendary “Pop Punk Queen” status of old, Lavigne dropped the fourth single and video from the album, “I Fell in Love with The Devil,” in June. The song is a metaphoric battle for her soul, with lyrics that claim she is under the spell of the devil, but not without hope that an angel will rescue her from its clutches. The video for that track features eerie goth imagery such as the singer driving a hearse, then playing piano in a cemetery wearing a blood-red dress. The video was the first thing we saw at the event and it was the perfect way to capture the audience’s attention and set the stage for Lavigne's insightful interview with Grammy Museum Executive Director Scott Goldman.
After a brief discussion of the “devil” clip, in which Lavigne mentioned that she wrote the treatment for and did production design on the video, the two got down to business talking about what sparked her newfound creativity post-illness. She admits she didn’t know if she would ever record and tour again, but that “all these songs came" to her and that she realized everything would be ok. "Music is in my blood," she finished, "I can't help it."
Making sure to give props to key collaborators like producer Chris Baseford (co-producer of “Head Above Water” and “I Fell in Love with the Devil") and The Matrix’s Lauren Christy (who co-wrote and co-produced four tracks), Lavigne explained that she built the album around the two songs “Head Above Water” and “Warrior.” Both are about her recent health battles, and she used the songs to bookend her live set.
Wanting to grow from the experience, Lavigne pushed herself lyrically, embracing a more poetic and vulnerable style. She stripped away her tough girl, keep-the-walls-up image in favor of not holding anything back. She chose not to wear clothes on the album cover to mirror the raw, confessional expression in the music. Her hope was that her fans would relate to her honesty and feel both encouraged and empowered through her own struggles.
On the purely creative side, Lavigne said she rediscovered her love for music, and enjoyed crafting the organic sound, featuring lots of live piano and guitar, with her various producers. The result was a sonic atmosphere that was equal parts old school and contemporary. The discussion led Goldman down a fascinating path, questioning Lavigne about her musical upbringing. Most of her fans in attendance already knew everything, but it was engaging to hear her recount her roots in church and jazz and her admiration for legends like Billie Holiday. “Jazz is my cooking dinner, red wine music,” she laughed.
Somehow, the discussion led back to the album’s infectious and edgy, ultra-2019 track “Dumb Blonde,” a co-write with rapper Nicki Minaj, who also featured on the track. “Nicki likes Barbie,” Lavigne said. “She’s super dope.” The discussion then veered back to Lavigne's earliest musical memories, and her classic and modern rock influences—bands like the Beach Boys, CCR, The Mama’s & The Papa’s, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, The Dixie Chicks, Blink-182, Goo Goo Dolls and Third Eye Blind. The singer closed the chat with a plug for her Avril Lavigne Foundation, which supports individuals with Lyme disease, serious illnesses and disabilities. Through programs and grants, they provide funding, education and encouragement for so beneficiaries can follow their dreams, no matter what their circumstances.
The fourth show on Lavigne’s Head Above Water tour is September 18 at the Greek Theatre, but fans at the Grammy Museum drop got a stripped-down preview, a four-song set so chill and relaxed that my friend (a mega Avril fan who frequently jokes about my mispronunciation of her name) posted a clip online and dubbed it a rehearsal of “new material for her tour.” In the intimate space of the Clive Davis Theatre, the proximity between artist and fan brought out the opportunity to hear songs in their purest, most organic form. Backed by a piano and two acoustic guitars, and grabbing a guitar herself for one number, Lavigne’s powerful voice was imbued with raw emotion, intensity and playful energy as she sandwiched her mid-2000s classics “My Happy Ending” between the poignant and empowering “Head Above Water” and “Warrior.”