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  • Jonathan Widran

AVRIL LAVIGNE at The Grammy Museum

Although the presentation was billed The Drop: Avril Lavigne, the timing of the lively hour-plus presentation at the Grammy Museum with the eight-time Juno Award winning, eight time Grammy nominated singer-songwriter coincided more with her upcoming 15-city comeback tour in support of Head Above Water than the release of the album itself. Out since February, the collection – 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).

On the flip side, and incisively more in line with her legendary “Pop Punk Queen” status of old, in June she dropped the fourth single and video from the album, “I Fell in Love with The Devil.” The song is a metaphoric battle for her soul – under the spell of the devil, but hoping somebody will send an angel to rescue her from its clutches. The video for that track, featuring eerie goth imagery and the singer driving a hearse, then playing piano in a cemetery wearing a blood red dress, was the perfect way to capture the audience’s attention and set the stage for her insightful interview with Grammy Museum Executive Director Scott Goldman.   

After a brief discussion of the “Devil” clip – including Lavigne’s mention that she wrote the treatment for and did production design – 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 “all these songs came to me and I realized everything would be okay. Music is in my blood. I can’t help it.”

Making sure to give props to key collaborators like producer Chris Baseford (co-producer of “Head Above Water” and “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 about her health battle that came to bookend the set, “Head Above Water” and “Warrior.”

Seeking to grow through the experience, she pushed herself lyrically and wanted to be poetic and not hold anything back. She stripped away her tough girl, keep the walls up image in favor of vulnerability. 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. Her goal was to encourage and empower them through her own struggles, and give them hope and strength to face their own.

On the purely creative side, she says she fell in love with music again and liked the organic sound featuring live piano and guitar achieved by her and various producers, which gave it a dual old school/contemporary vibe. This led Goldman down a fascinating path with his questioning about her musical upbringing. It’s a good guess that most of her fans in attendance 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, this discussion led back to the album’s infectious and edgy, ultra-2019 track “Dumb Blonde,” a co-write with featured artist, rapper Nicki Minaj. “Nicki likes Barbie,” Lavigne said. “She’s super dope.” And then they got back to her earliest musical memories and classic and modern rock influences – Beach Boys, CCR, The Mamas & The Papas, 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 our beneficiaries to 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 jokes about my mispronunciation of her name frequently – posted a clip and dubbed it a “rehearsal of new material for her tour.” That’s the real spark of these nights in the intimate space of the Clive Davis Theatre – the great proximity between artists and fans, and the opportunity to hear the 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 vocal instrument was all 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.”  

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