A 17-year-old Avril Lavigne released her debut album Let Go in 2002, and it has sold over 20 million copies worldwide. This year she released her sixth studio album, Head Above Water. We spoke to her by telephone on Sept. 26, a few hours before a show in Chicago and one day before her 35th birthday. She was right in the middle of her 15-date “Head Above Water” tour, her first in five years.
Lavigne scheduled stops in many big cities across the country, and also in Wallingford. (The next-smallest city by population on the tour is Pittsburgh.) On Oct. 5 Lavigne will perform at the Oakdale Theatre. One dollar from each ticket sold on the tour will be donated to The Avril Lavigne Foundation, which supports people with Lyme disease, serious illness or disabilities.
How’s the tour going so far?
The shows have been amazing. I’ve never done a theater tour before. It has a ton of vibe, and I thought it would. That’s why I was excited to do it. I can feel the audience and they’re really close. All the shows are packed, so that’s always nice to look out at and see. Everyone’s been singing along super loud, really excited through the entire show, following me and connected through the whole show. It’s been, I’d have to say, probably one of my favorite tours.
Was it like riding a bike, not having done live shows for five years?
Totally. Good example.
I read an interview once, I think it was with Slash from Guns N’ Roses. He said the members of the band would talk to each other through the earpieces and crack jokes and try to make each other laugh during the concert. Do you ever do anything like that with your band?
Where we’re cracking jokes to make each other laugh, no. My musical director will, if something gets messed up, if there’s an error — because we have video running behind us and everything is synched, so if something gets [messed] up he will talk to us in the microphone just to guide us and give us a count, just that type of thing.
When I hear an older song that I love, I go back in my mind to when I fell in love with that song, or when that song was on the radio all the time. When you hear one of your own songs, first or second album, do you go back to that time?
I’ve never been asked that. I like that. Absolutely. I 100 percent do that, and I noticed it when I started band rehearsals for this tour. We were practicing a lot of the new ones and then when I started practicing the old songs and singing them again, it reminds me of that time. That’s how I remember my life, by albums, album cycles. Yeah, 100 percent.
Do you go back to the writing or the performing, or does it change depending on the song?
When I sing “I Fell in Love with the Devil” — because I go out and I play the piano as the encore song — I feel myself at my piano at my house when I was writing it. And I like that feeling. “Here’s to Never Growing Up” reminds me of five years ago, putting out my last record, writing in the studio with the people I worked with. “Sk8er Boi” takes me way back. It’s cool because the songs that I’m playing live, a lot of them are my hits from the last 17 years. They’re songs that I’ve performed around the entire world. But those are all moments in my life, and it feels good because they’re such a big part of my life and what I was doing, because all I did was be at work, be in the studio or be touring for a year straight on these songs, promoting them really hard. All that hard work paid off and now I can play them and I have an entire setlist of singles and hit songs, which I always wanted. I remember when I was really young going to see Green Day play, and their set was so strong and I only had one record out. So I remember being like, “One day I wanna have a setlist like Green Day’s.”
Do you feel like you need to have some sort of emotional connection with each song you perform, even cover versions?
Yeah, that’s why I took three years to make this record, because I wanted it to be perfect. I always put so much heart and effort into everything I do. I care maybe more than I should. But this means a lot to me, my songs, the videos, things I say, what I do.
What is your motivation for the amount of charity work and activism that you do. Where does the desire to be involved with so many things come from?
When I put out my first record, I had requests to meet kids from the Make-a-Wish Foundation. That was really moving and I realized, whoa, I can make a difference in someone’s life, so I wanted to keep going with that. Ten years ago I started a foundation, and it focused on sick kids and people with disabilities. And then after I got Lyme I put a special focus on that, so that’s kind of the main focus. But I’m still doing the other stuff too.