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Interview with Avril Lavigne

Aired April 20, 2011 - 06:30:00   ET


ANJALI RAO, CNN ANCHOR: She stormed onto the international stage with this anthem of teenage angst. Nine years later and with this, her latest single, today's young singer songwriter Avril Lavigne still proves to be a firm favorite. Showcasing her new song in Hong Kong, it didn't take much to convince the audience why she's sold more than 30 million albums.

But her success has extended far beyond music. She's also pursued careers in acting and fashion as well as steering her own charity aiding young people living with serious illnesses and disabilities. All of this and she is only 26-years of age.

This week on TALK ASIA we catch up with the Grammy nominee and talk about her rise to stardom and well publicized divorce.

Avril welcome to the show, it's good to have you with us today.


RAO: So you're here in Hong Kong to promote your latest album which is your fourth. You've certainly come a long way from Belleville, Ontario. Are you still a small town girl at heart or is it bright lights, big city all the way now.

LAVIGNE: I think I enjoy both. I enjoy the quiet and kind of, the country, every once in a while when going back to Canada but I also -- I'm younger and so, you know, I like to be in the city and hang out with my friends and going out to restaurants and doing all that stuff. So, a bit of both.

RAO: So you started writing your own songs incredibly early. You taught yourself guitar by the age of 12 and then at 15 you were performing with Shania Twain. Take me back to those days, it must have been crazy for a little kid?

LAVIGNE: Yes. I started singing in church and I was probably around seven and I started singing anywhere that I could. I used to sing at my school. I was in musicals and then it kind of got to a point where I started to -- wanted to do my own songs. So I had a guitar in the house that was my dad's so I taught myself how to play guitar and I started writing songs when I was about 14 and I actually put one of those songs on this record. It's called 'Darlin' and it's one of those songs that I wrote and I finally had a chance to record it for this album. So yes I started writing songs and I got a record deal when I was 16 and put my first record out when I was 17 and nine years later, here I am.

RAO: Unbelievable. You've packed a lot into the last nine years but take me back to when you did get that first record deal. As you said, you were 16-years-old. You came to the attention of Arista Records which is now RCA and the famed music exec L.A. Reid. You performed for him for what, 15 minutes, that was all it took?

LAVIGNE: Yes, I was on this trip to New York and it was kind of crazy because I went there to make a demo and play some songs that I'd written to this producer and pretty much, L.A. Reid heard I was in town and he used to be the President of Arista Records and everyone was just like, L.A. Reid is going to come and hear you sing. Work just got to him that there was a 15- year-old girl who could sing, or whatever.

So he came to the studio and I sang two songs for him in person, just like this - - I was sitting in front of him and he was like, Ok sing and I was like, sure. I sang him a song that I wrote called 'Why' and he just looked at me and said "Wow, you totally just brought sunlight into my day, I was having such a down day. Man you've got one of the most incredible voices I've ever heard". I was like 15, so I was like, cool, you know. He laughed and then went downstairs to his car and then everybody came back and the room was just like, so you've got a record deal and you've got to sign. And everyone was like, throwing me up in the air and I was like, wow, that was quick.

So I spent a year working on the record and he gave me time and let me take my time and he also, at the end of making that album, he looked at me and said "Ok, come into my office". So I went into his office with my mom and sat there and he was like "Ok, well, you have a good thing going on, we're not going to change you, you just keep doing that". So it was very much, be who you are, I like what you have going on, do your thing and that was really good because, I think record companies a lot can come in, especially with a new artist, and try to mold them and make them follow a trend. And when I first came out I started my own thing because it was all backup dancers and Britney Spears and lip-synching and that whole Back Street Boys.

RAO: Exactly, you really were like .

LAVIGNE: The whole thing was very pop and then I came in as a singer, songwriter girl with a guitar.

RAO: Yes because when we first saw you in 'Complicated' in 2002 it was unlike anything else that was out there at the time and that song from your first album was what made you instantly famous. How does becoming a star change you?

LAVIGNE: I think that the biggest thing is that I just learnt so much and it's been a really crazy, incredible ride and journey and I'm still the same person. The same personality, I'm just - - you know, I've learnt so much.

RAO: After 'Complicated' came out then it was 'Skater Boy' and 'I'm with you' and I guess suddenly people wanted to know who you were and I guess there would have been a lot of hangers on. You could have so easily have gone down any sort of road socially that you wanted, you now, rock, punk, pop, you could have gone down the pop road, hanging out with Paris Hilton every night, but you didn't, you really didn't. What is it about that sort of lifestyle that doesn't appeal to you?

LAVIGNE: Well, to be honest I've been so busy working with each album I've put out in the past. I've been on the road for two years and so I've been very dedicated to my career and worked really hard and been gone. So, the longest amount of time that I've had at home was during this last period of making this last record, my fourth album. So, I'm really grateful for everything that's happened to me and I feel very lucky because there are so many people out there who had the same dream that I have and so I feel very fortunate to have had all this happen to me.


RAO: Let's talk about your latest studio album now 'Goodbye Lullaby'. It sounds like it was the one that actually meant the most to you. How come?

LAVIGNE: All of my albums come from my experiences and are personal. This is just on a different level. It's more in depth. The subject has more meaning to it. So, yes, it is a more personal album I guess. They all are. This album is, outside of the first single, is less pop rock, it's, the album is a more stripped down, kind of, more organic. I would say laid back on the production side. It's less pop rock as the majority of my other songs.

I produced on this album for the first time. I wrote half of it by myself. I've always written on all of my songs but I did a lot on my own this time. So, kind of a different approach.

RAO: I gather also that in the making of this album was the first time that you really came up against internal politics and bureaucracy and all that nasty stuff. What happened and how did you handle it?

LAVIGNE: Well, pretty much, as I was mentioning before, L.A. Reid signed me and he really understood me and let me do my thing and gave me my freedom. It's been sort of interesting over the years how the record companies and how the music business has changed and how new people come in. So, pretty much on this album, I had the record company explaining how they - - what their vision was for this record but I had my own vision and so I had to put my foot down and express that side of myself to them and stand up for myself.

RAO: One of the collaborators on this album was your former husband Deryck Whibley. The general rule of thumb seems to be, don't ever work with you spouse. But you worked with your ex, what was it like?

LAVIGNE: Well, we're really good friends and we still work together and he's super talented and I'm really grateful for that. He produced seven songs on this album and he did such a great job.

RAO: When you did get married, back in the day, a lot of your fans were quite shocked because you were so young, as well, and at the time, you went, you know, actually, anybody who actually knows me would not say that I was too young. With the benefit of hindsight now, do you think you were?

LAVIGNE: I don't regret anything that I did and yes I was young but I'm glad I did it because it was a really beautiful time of my life.

RAO: Let's talk about your fashion sense because your look has been emulated by fans right back since the days of 'Complicated'. These days though you're on the front cover of magazines. How has your style changed over the years?

LAVIGNE: Well, definitely since my first album it's a little more feminine than before. On my first album I was wearing a lot of guys pants, baggy clothes and stuff like that. I was 17 and I was a little tomboy. And you would never see me wearing a dress or heels on my first record.

Now I'm a lot more with the fashion and I have a clothing line that's called Abbey Dawn and I started that a couple of years ago. Fashion really ties into my music. I have so many photo shoots and video shoots and I'm up on stage so I'm constantly thinking about what I'm going to wear and what I want to wear and how I want to express myself.

It's been really fun to see with each album when I change to see the fans of the show emulate my style and with the first record a lot of the kids in the crowd were wearing neck ties like I was and now you'll see a lot of girls with pink hair. It's cool, it's actually really neat. I remember on my first record looking out of the window and seeing a line of the fans before - - one of my first shows and being like, oh my god, they're dressed like me. The tie and the really straight hair and the black eyes. And I was like, wow. With every album when I changed, they changed with me. So, it's kind of cool.

RAO: As a teen though, skater goth that you were, didn't you mom just go, Avril, must you leave the house wearing that?

LAVIGNE: Definitely, my parents - - I remember during High School, that was when I started doing the dark eyes and wearing West 49 Skateboarding baggy clothes and my parents were like, you're dressing like a boy. You need to take that make-up off and dress like a girl, actually when I went to New York on that trip, when I met L.A. Reid, they looked at me, like, what are you wearing? Put something nicer on. And I remember going to one of my siblings graduations or something like that and them making me take off what I was wearing. They are obviously cool with it now but - - yes, my parents were like, what are you doing dressing like a boy.


RAO: Early last year, Avril Lavigne, created a foundation in her name. Its aim is to work with other charitable organizations to raise awareness and support children and teenagers living with an illness or a disability.

Recently, you've definitely been giving back through your Avril Lavigne Foundation. Tell me about it and also what it means to you to be in a position to do something like that. Something that's truly good?

LAVIGNE: I've had a lot of opportunities to give back and to do charity. Charity events and to get involved with different programs and stuff and basically I just wanted to take it to the next level to really give back as much as I possibly can. So, I started the Avril Lavigne Foundation and I'm developing that right now and I'm getting that started. A lot of work goes into it. I definitely want to do everything right so primary focus is on sick and disabled children and the reason why I chose that is obviously because there is so much in this world and environmental issues effect slavery and poverty and aids and water and food. Theirs is so much. So many different things that we should all help out with.

I chose working with kids with disabilities and that are seriously ill because I did a lot of stuff with the Make a Wish Foundation and that really touched me so I wanted to stay there. I've met a lot of kids, they've come to the concerts and it's their last wish to meet me or just to come to a show and I was really moved by that. So, that's what I'm involved with and I'm really happy about that because I wanted to have my own Foundation for a while and now that I'm just starting it I'm so excited because it's going to be a huge learning process and I can't wait to get my fans involved so they can contribute. I'm developing programs right now.

RAO: Something else that you've gotten into in the last few years is acting. You've been in a few movies. What's that experience been like?

LAVIGNE: When I was younger I was into the theatre and I loved acting on stage and singing and now that the singing thing has happened for me I've had the opportunity to do a little bit of acting. I did a voiceover in Over The Hedge. And I was in Fast Food Nation and I was in The Block. They were really small parts but I would definitely love to (inaudible) one day. I think that would be amazing and that's a goal that I have.

RAO: I think, one of the things that are really interesting about you is that when you look at songs, you know, the more upbeat ones, like 'Girlfriend', they're really bratty happy but then the more slow tempo ones like, 'When You're Gone', they're a lot more thoughtful and anguished in a way. Does that contradiction tell us something about you as a person?

LAVIGNE: Yes. As a human being I have different emotions and there's - - I'm a very deep person. Sometimes I can be very serious and introverted and quiet and I think a lot and that's why I'm a songwriter because I go to that place and of course, then there's a side of me that's just a chick, I like to have fun, I like to be spontaneous, I like to live on the edge a little. So, you know I love with my music to have that diversity and to go out on stage and rock out and to have my guitar and run around but I also love the feeling of just sitting down at a piano and just singing alone to that.

That's why music is great. You get to express all the different sides, the different emotions to me as a person.

RAO: So four albums on and nearly ten years after 'Complicated', it's not a bad innings. What's the key as far as you're concerned to lasting in this business?

LAVIGNE: I don't know. It's so different now coming out as a new artist today than it was when I came out almost ten years ago. Now, it's all about singles, it's really quick, it's online. I came out when people sold records and they still do today but - - I don't know what the key is. I think it's really important to be true to yourself and be as real as you can be because when you fake something I don't think people will buy into that. So, I've always been really honest with myself and always followed myself and my heart and just done my thing.

That's why on this album - - new people at a record company trying to come on board and trying to tell me what to do for this album didn't fly with me. Because I can't fake what I do. I do it for a living and the music is so close to me. I write my music. I perform it every night and I'm on tour for a year or two straight so I happen to believe in that. And, I think that should be the key in life is you need to be happy and be who you are and that's always been my message to my fans, is follow your dreams, be yourself, believe in yourself and don't let anybody push you around.

RAO: Sage words. Words for us all to live by. Avril, thank you so much for being with us today. I really appreciate it.

LAVIGNE: Thank you.