Because Lavigne has been positioned as a singer-songwriter, the issue of “written with” takes on a certain significance. Moreover, the Matrix team – Lauren Christy, Graham Edwards and Scott Spock – describe the collaboration differently than she does. Though the publishing royalties get split evenly among Christy, Edwards, Spock and Lavigne, Avril implies that she was the primary author of the songs on Let Go. She says that when she was working with the Matrix, “one guy was in the room while we were writing, but he didn't write the guitar, and he didn't write the lyrics or the melody. Me and Lauren sat down and did all the lyrics together for every single song. Graham would come up with some guitar stuff, and I'd be like, ‘Yeah, I like that,’ or ‘No, I don't like that.’ None of those songs aren't from me.
“When I wrote [‘Complicated’],” she says, “I was feeling what the song talks about – that there are tons of people in the world who are fake, who are two-faced.” And when I ask her how long it took her to write that song, she says simply, “Maybe two hours,” without equivocation. “Songwriting is like that for me,” she adds, with a snap of her fingers. “Someone can say, ‘Go write a song,’ and I can do it. I can write a song a day.”
But according to the Matrix, they wrote the bulk of the three hit singles by themselves, following their first meeting with Lavigne. “With those songs, we conceived the ideas on guitar and piano,” says Christy. “Avril would come in and sing a few melodies, change a word here or there. She came up with a couple of things in ‘Complicated,’ like, instead of ‘Take off your stupid clothes,’ she wanted it to say ‘preppy clothes.’”
A week later, I see Lavigne again, in New York. She seems annoyed when I tell her that I'm confused about how the collaborations worked. “I knew in my heart that I needed to be more pop to break,” she says, staring down at the untied shoelaces of her black Converse All Stars. She says that the harder-rocking songs on Let Go – specifically “Losing Grip” and “Unwanted” – had the sound she wanted for the whole album. Those tracks were co-written with Clif Magness, who gave her enough creative control that she was able to pen “every single lyric and the melodies.” She says the label wasn't thrilled by the heavy guitar sound, and that's when it hooked her up with the Matrix.
“Arista was drop-dead shit afraid that I would come out with a whole album that sounded like ‘Unwanted’ and ‘Losing Grip,’” she says. “I swear they wanted to drop me or something. I don't feel like ‘Complicated’ represents me and my ability to write. But without ‘Complicated,’ I bet you anything I wouldn't have even sold a million records. The songs I did with the Matrix, yeah, they were good for my first record, but I don't want to be that pop anymore.”
L.A. Reid glosses over the issue of who wrote what by saying, “If I'm looking for a single for an artist, I don't care who writes it. I don't place boundaries on writers. Avril had the freedom to do as she really pleased, and the songs show her point of view. Why would it be a discredit to her if she is savvy enough to understand when a song is a hit and decide to sing it? Avril has always been confident about her ideas.”
That confidence has helped Lavigne assert herself where other young artists might not. When Reid suggested she call the album Any thing but Ordinary – after another of the Matrix's tracks – Lavigne balked. She also pushed for the gloomy “Losing Grip” as her next single over the bright-and-bouncy “Anything but Ordinary.” “The main thing is, you gotta work with the artist,” she says. “A lot of people didn't want to listen to me, but I spoke up until they did. And I can always say, 'Screw you guys if you're not gonna work with me.’ If they're not gonna listen to me, I'm not gonna do things. Try and make me – I'm not gonna.”
Britney Spears may have made it a cliché, but in Lavigne's case it's an apt description: She's not agirl, not yet awoman. “I still feel like a kid,” she says. “Even though I take care of myself, I freak out sometimes when it's, like, lawyers, papers. I'm just like, ‘Mom!’” And, like a kid playing dress-up, she shows a charming mix of naiveté and savvy when she talks about schmoozing up radio-station program directors. “Get a load of my little business idea,” she announces to her bandmates one afternoon. “I always make sure I get to meet the program directors and personally shake their hand. And I say, ‘Thanks so much for all your support. Please give lots of spins to 'Losing Grip.' Because it means so much more when it comes straight from the artist.”
Lavigne doesn't have a boyfriend right now, but she says she's not sweating it since she's too busy and, besides, most of the boys who want to meet her have a tough time getting past her bodyguard. Her attitudes about dating are pretty old-fashioned, which isn't surprising considering the rules her mom enforced when she was a kid. “I wasn't allowed to have a guy in my room,” Lavigne says. “Especially not with the door shut. And she wouldn't let me call guys. They had to call me. I have that attitude now – that if a guy wants to hook up with me, he can come after me. I'm not going running after him.” At the time, she recalls, she hated all those restrictions. Now she realizes they were for the best: “That's a good way to bring up your kid, because if you let your kid do everything – go to parties, get trashed really young and get out of control – she's gonna get taken advantage of, and she won't be taught that having sex with a ton of boys is a bad thing. I do a lot of things that are very rebellious, but it's not like I'm sniffing coke or doing dirty stuff.”
Her requirements for boyfriends are simple. “I need a guy who's sensitive,” she says. “I need a guy with edge. And most importantly, a guy has to give me lots of attention and hug me all the time.” She says that “Losing Grip” – her favorite song on Let Go – was inspired by a boyfriend who didn't value her enough. “Right now I feel invisible to you,” goes one lyric.
“I was this guy's girlfriend, and he didn't even treat me like it,” she says. “If he sat there with his arm around me, it was just because I was his chick. It wasn't like [wrapping her arms around imaginary person], ‘Oh, baby. I love you.’”
If the cute sadness of that scenario doesn't melt your cold, cold heart, try this pubescent romance narrative: “Too Much to Ask” is about a summer crush who smoked too much weed and blew Lavigne off more often than he should have. “He'd choose to go get high instead of be with me in certain situations,” she recalls. “He was never my boyfriend or anything. I was pissed off at the summer crush. I mean, he was a dick. I liked him. And I wanted something. And he liked me. But if I had a boyfriend, I would cherish him so much. I might look like a tough chick – and I am – but I'm also a hopeless romantic inside.”
In “Unwanted,” she addresses rejection by one boyfriend's parents with the line, “I just don't understand why you won't talk to me.”
“It's important when you have a boyfriend to go over to the house and bond with the parents,” she says. “I was really polite to them. I had dinner with them at the table, and I had my manners, like, ‘Can I help you with anything? Can I wash the dishes?’ But they didn't want me with their boy. I guess they thought I was a bit wild for him. And I was so hurt by that.”
But Lavigne is a bit of a hellion. In Tokyo, during a drive to TV Asahi, a Japanese channel she's performing on, Lavigne points out the window at a gigantic Ferris wheel that rises above the skyline. Last time she was here, she says, she and her guitarist, Evan Taubenfeld, dropped trou on the ride and mooned the people in the car behind them. “The first night we hung out, she took us to a bar,” says drummer Brann. “Within five minutes she's like, 'We're gonna do body shots. Pour salt on my neck and then lick it. We were doing tequila, tequila, tequila right away. I was like, ‘This girl is insane. This is going to be like Motley Crüe.’”
Lavigne and her band make perfect co-conspirators. The boys are all a few years older and treat their pint-size leader like a kid sister. The four punk rockers have been trying to school Lavigne on what she should listen to. “For her birthday, I got her [AC/DC's] Back in Black, the Clash singles and the new Me First and the Gimme Gimmes — your straightforward rock & roll, your punk and your pop punk,” says bassist Charlie Moniz, the resident indie-rock connoisseur. Brann gave her a copy of Nirvana's Nevermind. And Colburn gave her the Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream and some Pixies stuff. “I started her off with the more palatable ones, like ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven,’” he says. “Then I give her ‘Debaser,’ and she's like, ‘I don't know about that.’” She even got a lesson in recent music history from one of her heroes: the Goo Goo Dolls' Johnny Rzeznik. “What's that CD that Johnny Rzeznik bought me?” Lavigne asks her tour manager, Dan Garnett. “It starts with an R.” She squinches her forehead and tries to remember. Finally she asks me, “Do you know who Johnny Rzeznik's idol was?” The Replacements, I suggest. “Yeah, the Replacements! I never have time to listen to it, but I like it.”
She's hardly punk, but you gotta start somewhere. And there's no arguing that Lavigne is a different kind of girl than other teen superstars. She's girly and tomboyish at the same time – like when she shows me that she had her legs waxed and then explains that she did it because she can't be bothered shaving. Or when, regarding herself in a dressing-room mirror, she pulls her shirt up and pats her tummy to check for jiggles – and then points out the sparkly little bellybutton ring with dolphins hanging in her navel. She recently stopped wearing antiperspirant because she heard the aluminum in it can give you breast cancer, so she's constantly sniffing her armpits and spritzing herself with perfume.
Lavigne says she's always wanted to live on her own, but she admits that it has been difficult to adjust to the constant traveling. “When we're on tour,” she rhapsodizes, “I'll finally be able to go to bed in the same place. The tour bus is like your home, your security. For the past nine months, I've been in a different bed every night, a different city. On the bus, it's like living in a house with your family.” Lavigne should know: When she's not on the road, she still lives with her parents. “Basically, right now, my only friends are my band,” she says, before lowering her voice to add, “which I guess is kind of sad, but that's the way it is right now. Pretty much, this is everyone in my life.” With that, she takes out her new green and black disguise hat and gets ready to head back to her hotel room. “Look,” she says, and turns the hat around to show me what's sewn on the back. “I have something with a flower on it,” she says and giggles devilishly.
This story is from the March 20th, 2003 issue of Rolling Stone.
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