Avril Lavigne: “Music takes over your whole life; I had to dedicate my entire life to my music”
In an undisclosed location, at a warehouse in Los Angeles, Avril Lavigne and Rico Nasty meet for the first time. One is a giant of her genre, the godmother of modern pop punk; the other, a pioneer of misfit rap, whose idiosyncratic flows and personas (the trap Tacobella and nü-metal/rap Trap Lavigne) have inspired a microgeneration of copycats. It’s the past, present and future of alternative music in two women, sharing pizza and Labatt Blues — a light Canadian beer, a favorite of Lavigne’s — dancing to No Doubt and Weezer over the speakers. System Of A Down set the party off.
Here, Nasty and Lavigne are getting dressed for their Alternative Press cover shoot — a contemporary take on the sk8er girl fashions that Lavigne made the object of every outsider’s affection in the early 2000s. Lavigne hands Nasty a “Bite Me” shirt — merch commemorating the rapper’s favorite song on Lavigne’s recently released seventh studio album, Love Sux, her most ferocious to date. “It’s uptempo and fun; it’s about self-worth, self-love and self-respect,” Lavigne tells AP. “It’s, ‘You can live one life. Make it fucking count.’ And I’m writing from a woman’s perspective, instead of as a teenager, like on my first album,” she says, laughing.
That LP, Let Go, was released 20 years ago this June, when Lavigne was just 17 years old. It is the best-selling album of the 21st century by a Canadian artist, an impressive feat by any measure, but especially when considering the Great White North produced the Weeknd, Drake, hell, even Justin Bieber, in the same time period. Let Go launched Lavigne’s first acclaimed singles — “Complicated,” “Sk8er Boi” and “I’m With You” — the kinds of songs most artists would be lucky to release once in their career.
[Photo by Alexis Gross][/caption]It was also a formative album for a young Black woman in suburban Maryland named Maria-Cecilia Simone Kelly, who would one day start recording her own alt-rap under the moniker Rico Nasty.
Back then, Lavigne was lambasted as a “sellout,” dubbed “un-punk” by a misogynistic music press that failed to see her talent — or future legacy. Not that she ever let it bother her, a spirit that endures in her fans, renegades like Rico Nasty. “Punk, over time, has become you don’t give a fuck. It used to mean something different when Avril was coming up,” the rapper explains. “It’s having fun with your middle fingers up.” Lavigne agrees: “Punk is an attitude, a music style, a fashion style, a way of life. It’s a rebellion,” she says. “It’s being comfortable in your own skin and not holding back. It’s brutally honest.”
That spirit of unbridled truthfulness permeates the conversation as Nasty and Lavigne settle down to discuss music, fashion, family creativity and anxiety.
RICO NASTY: Let’s start with the fashion because we got to give you your flowers, Avril. The cover of Let Go is iconic: The baggy pants, the hair, the highlight is everything. I know you see everyone dressing like how you used to dress now. That must be so weird. But that shit is so amazing. Did you know that [your fashion] was going to become such a staple for who came to be?
AVRIL LAVIGNE: Oh, my God, I had no idea. Even just hearing you say that and point it out… I was oblivious to what was going on. I was literally just wearing…
NASTY: …Whatever you wanted?
LAVIGNE: Yeah, and I would wear the same shit over and over. No one ever fucking does that now.
NASTY: That’s what makes you so fucking raw, bro. None of that mattered. It was all about the music with you. That’s fire as fuck.
LAVIGNE: A lot of the vintage T-shirts I was wearing [at the start of my career] were literally mine from soccer and baseball and different sports. They were the T-shirts I had as a kid for those teams I played on. And the neckties were really my dad’s neckties. It’s really hilarious.
NASTY: People always ask me who I am inspired by, and honestly, there’s been a numerous amount of times where I’ve mentioned you. Who are you inspired by? Who are the people that make your fucking eyes pop out of your head, just like, “Whoa, this person is fucking sick”?
“A lot of the vintage T-shirts I was wearing [at the start of my career] were literally from sports teams I played on. And the neckties were really my dad’s neckties”
LAVIGNE: I’d say an early influence, someone I’m inspired by, is Alanis Morissette. What I thought was really cool about her is that she didn’t hold back, lyrically. She was just angry, and had so much angst, and she just fucking put it right out there. She didn’t care. Looking back, I feel like she was huge and helped me realize that you don’t have to be prim and proper, or perfect, or say all the right things. If you’re fucking over it, or an angsty teenager, just get it out. Say it like it is.
Another one, and this is a crazy story: I met Shania Twain when I was 14. This is before I had a record deal or anything. I won a fucking contest at a local radio station to sing onstage with her. I got to sing onstage with her at this sold-out arena in Ottawa, in Canada. She gave me an opportunity to get up onstage as a young kid, and that definitely helped me in my career. And she’s someone I’ve stayed in touch with. I did an interview with her the other day. She’s so epic — like her songwriting, writing from a woman’s perspective about things we go through. Those two were quite inspiring throughout my life and had a real impact.
NASTY: Just going back to [Love Sux] — “Bite Me” is my favorite song. You talk about [Alanis Morissette’s] angst — the angst in that song! The “fuck me but kiss me” vibe from that song, I love it. You have mastered the art of being perfectly aggressive, sexy, mysterious — it’s really crazy. When you said “You’re so hot when you get cold” [on “Love It When You Hate Me”], yeah, that’s fucking fire.
[Photo by Alexis Gross][/caption]
“Don’t let anybody hold you back, especially when it comes to relationships. We all want love to last, but if it’s bringing you down, you’ve gotta move on”
LAVIGNE: Thank you. [The album is all about] living your best life. Don’t let anybody fucking hold you back, especially when it comes to relationships. We all want our relationships and love to fucking last, but if it’s bringing you down and it becomes toxic, or it’s not good, even if you love someone, you’ve gotta end that shit and move on. Do what’s best for you. Love is hard, but it’s worth it. Also, it’s really lighthearted, and I just poke fun at relationships and my ups and downs in them. It’s like, “They did a lot of fucked-up shit to you, but at the same time, you can laugh about it.” I take you on a crazy ride.
NASTY: That’s sick. So when did you start your career? How old were you?
LAVIGNE: I made the first record when I was 16 and then put out the first record and the first single when I was 17.
NASTY: What the fuck? What did you want to do before music started working?
LAVIGNE: Like, did I ever think about doing anything else? I knew I did not want to be in an office. I think I would have probably done something like being a hairdresser.
NASTY: I feel the same way. I would have been a nail tech or a hairstylist. Something involving glam, like a makeup artist.
LAVIGNE: It’s another fun way to be creative, too.
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NASTY: I couldn’t do a desk job. I used to go to work with my mom. One time she got a promotion, and she took me to work with her. I was happy for her, but she always tells the story like I was very underwhelmed, like, “You got a promotion, but you still have to work in this office. There’s no windows in here. And you always have to come in when they ask you.” She was like, “Yeah, that’s what a job is.” And I was like, “Well, how do you make money without having to do this?” My mom laughed at me. Everybody knew that I wasn’t gonna have a regular job. I think I’ve had one real job. I worked at the hospital. I was the receptionist. Did you have any actual jobs?
[Photo by Alexis Gross][/caption]LAVIGNE: I would hand out flyers around the neighborhood to cut grass and shovel driveways. I was a driven, motivated bitch. I would babysit. I don’t know. I wanted a job and independence so bad.
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NASTY: I remember the babysitting days, too. Mowing the lawn is crazy. That’s something most people would expect a guy to do. Same goes for the music that you make. I’m sure that you’ve gotten so much of, “How do you deal with being in a male-dominated space?” and I don’t even want to ask you that because we kind of just do it. You just do it. But are you aware of how much you’ve done for women? You always do things on your terms, never the cookie-cutter thing. Also, I have to ask, you took a couple years off before this project. That’s something to me, as an artist, I can’t wait for the day that I can just live my life and not feel like I’m wasting time. I should be making music right now. I feel like [it’s] “music, music, music.”
LAVIGNE: I’m the same. I don’t ever want to stop. I feel like that did happen when I was young. I felt like I just wanted to do this forever and have a really long career. When I was young, it was an intense situation to be in. You don’t just write songs and sing them. There’s all this crazy traveling and interviews and photo shoots and video shoots and performances. It takes over your whole life. I had to dedicate my entire life to my music. So, music is my boyfriend. But I’m OK with that because I fucking love it. I wouldn’t change anything for the world. I want to be doing this. And that is exactly how I feel, 20 years later. I’m putting this record out. I’m having the fucking time of my life. I’m doing me.
[Photo by Alexis Gross][/caption]
NASTY: I’m so happy to hear that because I do have that fear in the back of my mind. Like, if I overexert myself and shift everything, will I still love it the same? And that’s so true: Somewhere along the line, music becomes your boyfriend. Music becomes everything. Everywhere you go, it’s for music. Everything you do is for music. Everything that you buy, it’s for music. Going to a show can become like going on a date. You get all dressed up. You get to see your fans. Your fans give you gifts sometimes. You have those emotional moments. What was your favorite show that you ever played?
LAVIGNE: I played a stadium in Japan. That was crazy. I’ve played a couple stadiums, and that’s when it’s like, “Whoa. Fuck.” In Brazil, I think [there were] 30,000 people [there]. It was one of the biggest shows, and it wasn’t a festival. It was mine. That was just gnarly. But the stadium in Japan — when you see a sea of people and it goes so far back, I think back to my bedroom, singing into my hairbrush. That’s what I wanted. I was like, “I want to sing for the world.” Then I traveled internationally, and it actually happened, like a dream come true.
NASTY: Do you still get nervous?
LAVIGNE: You know, I don’t get nervous. Doing interviews on TV is a little awkward… I can’t “public speak.” Oh, my God, I don’t like that stuff. Getting up onstage is totally different.
NASTY: It’s your own world up there; it’s free. Whatever you want to do up there, you can do it, and they’re gonna appreciate it. It’s definitely a different vibe with interviews. They can be super scary sometimes.
LAVIGNE: Sometimes. The music industry is nuts. We get to just be ourselves. It’s comfortable to be me… and then when I have to do the other stuff, like meetings, I get quiet and nervous.
NASTY: I’ve just started to talk more in meetings. When you’re in meetings, you feel like you have to be a certain version of yourself. You can’t really say the shit you want.
LAVIGNE: Yeah, I know.
[Photo by Alexis Gross][/caption]NASTY: So, what do your parents think about your music?
LAVIGNE: I grew up in a Christian home, so I think my mom was like, “You shouldn’t be swearing. What are you doing?” They were also like, “Why are you dressing like a boy?” I was a tomboy. Baggy pants, baggy clothes. But now, my parents are huge fans of the music and are totally supportive. [Growing up], they saw that I was a singer, and they were like, “What are we going to do here?” So they drove me around and helped me find places to sing. When I made my first record, my mom came to LA with me and had to chaperone me because I was so young. So they’ve totally been on board and supportive. We’re from a very small town in Canada, and none of us fucking knew anything. It was just like, “OK, I want to sing — now what do I do?”
NASTY: It’s scary, too. Because you’re edgy as hell, with the rockers, some hardcore motherfuckers at these shows. It must have been an experience for them. It’s the same [for me]. My mom was like, “I can’t understand the music. I don’t understand why it’s so angry.” But her biggest thing was like, “I don’t understand why you have to wear so much makeup and cover up your face. It’s so dark.” I got off on creeping her out a little bit.
LAVIGNE: Yeah! My parents were confused as to why I seemed so angry. It was like, “Well, this is my music. This is an outlet for me to really open up and express these feelings as a teenage female.” They were surprised. But they totally believed in me as a singer, and they helped me. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.
NASTY: Did they ever come on tour with you?
LAVIGNE: Oh, hell yeah. I had my mom on the tour bus with me, the [2011 album] Goodbye Lullaby era. She’s in the “What The Hell” music video. And my brother has toured with me my entire career, from the second album on. He’s had my back.
NASTY: That’s amazing advice — I feel like the artists that have longevity, they’re always surrounded by their family and their loved ones. Tour can get hectic, the ways the days bleed into each other. It can drive someone up the wall.
LAVIGNE: And shit can get out of hand.
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NASTY: When you talk about teen angst, this is something I’ve always wanted to tell you; I have personas that go with Rico Nasty, and one of them is called Trap Lavigne. She’s when I’m melodic and angry, very angsty. That whole character is inspired by you and everything that you are, bro.
[Photo by Alexis Gross][/caption]LAVIGNE: Shut up! That is so cool!
NASTY: Your songs be barred up. A lot of your songs have so many bars in them that I’ve always, as a rapper, looked to you for inspiration. Your melodies are amazing. The other new song that I fucking love is the one with Machine Gun Kelly, “Bois Lie.” I have to know about your process. When you come to the studio, what do you do? How do you navigate knowing what you want to talk about and knowing how vulnerable you want to get?
LAVIGNE: First of all, thank you. My process… Melody is the fucking easiest thing for me. The melody flies out. The thing that takes me more work are the fucking words. I hate writing verses because it takes so much time, but I love to write choruses. Sometimes I write a song, and it begins at the piano, just me, by myself. [Other times], I sit down at the guitar and come up with a melody. The concepts are weird. Sometimes I’ll just come up with a concept, a title and ideas for what I want to say. But usually I’m thinking of melody, playing the guitar, and then words start flying out. That’s typically how it goes. All at once, but different. I write alone sometimes, and then other times, I’m writing with other people.
NASTY: It’s crazy that you say melodies are the easiest part because I can do that all day. I can make hooks all fucking day. But when it comes to verses and explaining what the hook is about, it can be so draining.
LAVIGNE: “Oh God, now I have to come up with all these fucking words?!” What is your process?
NASTY: I like to make the beats from scratch, so I definitely understand the process of you playing on the piano, on the guitar, and building it up. That’s what I do. I’ll cook up with some producers. They’ll create something that’s like eight bars, and then I might lay a verse. I’ll go into the verse first, and if the verse is good enough, we’ll spend a lot of time on the hook to build around. I smoke a lot of weed, too. I don’t really write well like other people. I don’t know why. But working with a lot of producers has helped me be more collaborative and know where stuff fits on a song. It’s been a learning experience.
LAVIGNE: Do you find that when you write with other people, you get closed off and shy?
NASTY: Yeah, I do. Because a lot of the stuff that I say is a little bit random. If you don’t get it, then you just won’t get it. I don’t like having to explain things to people. Actually, we have to talk about this, too: How did it feel, being an outsider? Like, in those [pop music] realms where there’s the cute, perfect, cookie-cutter type of girl and the industry tries to egg you on, “You should be more like that”?
“Avril made room for girls right now to be able to do their own thing. She created a standard, a realm for us to be in”
What did it feel like for you to be like, “Bro, I’m normal, and I’m just doing what I want to do,” and people be like, “You’re weird. You’re different”? Did it ever make you feel different? I’m in that phase in my life right now where so many people say that I’m different that it makes me feel different. What’s so different? I’m regular. Did you ever feel the pressure of trying to tone yourself down?
LAVIGNE: I’ve always been pretty good about keeping it real, and I’ve always been pretty unapologetic about it. It’s a different time now. But yeah, for sure. There were times at photo shoots [where] they’d want me to wear girly clothes, and I was super tomboy. When I came out with my first album, I was fighting with people. I brought a book bag, and I’d pull out my clothes. They’re like, “You can’t wear your clothes. You have to wear what’s on the rack.” It’s a pink blouse. I’m not fucking wearing that shit! They would be like, “Do you want to be on the cover or not?” I would have to fight a lot.
[Photo by Alexis Gross][/caption]NASTY: You doing that has made room for girls right now to be able to do their own thing. You created a standard. You created a realm for us to be in. Back when you were coming up, it was like, “Well, this is what the fuck is going on.” But now you’re on the fucking mood board. You’re who people want to dress like. You created legendary shit. Sticking up for yourself is a key thing that people need to hear. Because it’s not just the music telling people to fuck off — it’s also the way that you handle your legacy. You didn’t let nobody tell you differently. That is some iconic ass shit.
LAVIGNE: I was tough. Honestly, a lot of people, when they meet me, [they] think I’m going to be a bitch. I’m actually really nice. They’re always like, “Oh, my God, you’re totally not what I was expecting.” People think I’m, like, whatever. I was weird, tough and strong. You [had to] stand up for yourself. You might come across as a bitch, but I think being a bitch is a really good thing. I’m totally a fucking bitch, and that’s a good thing. It means that you’re not a doormat. You’re not a pushover, and you speak your mind.
And like you said, yeah, I’m stubborn and strong-willed and strong-minded, and if I feel a certain way, I stick to it. I’m constantly fighting. I’ve been fighting since day one to write my own songs. I had to fight my whole career to write the type of music I wanted to write. Sometimes labels would give me pushback and didn’t understand my vision. I had to always fight, and fight on each album to keep going in the musical direction I wanted to go, even if they’re trying to sway me another way.
“Being a bitch is a good thing. I’m totally a bitch. It means that you’re not a doormat. You’re not a pushover”
NASTY: You didn’t do all that fighting for nothing. It’s been put to good use, all the things that you’ve done to stand up for yourself. You make it OK for people to do what they want to do in their own way. Whether it was music or the way that you look, you remained yourself through it all. I’m just really happy that I get to talk to someone like you. You know how you were talking about performing in your bedroom? I performed in my bedroom to your songs so many times.
I have to ask one more thing — is there anything that you want to do in music that you haven’t done before?
LAVIGNE: Yeah, for sure. This is going to sound funny, but I want to make a Christmas record. I actually really love country music. Country music is hard. I listen to that shit in my truck, and the fucking lyrics are as real as it gets. It’d be cool to write a country song or something. Or do a duet with someone. Then [I’d like to do a] more old-school, classic type of rock album.
NASTY: I can hear it. I think that would be fucking fire.
LAVIGNE: Yeah, like ’70s rock or some shit. But now, doing this, I love pop-rock, pop-punk music. It’s so fucking fun. The energy and the tone, it’s all of me onstage, all the live shows [I’ve performed] throughout the years [on one album]. I feel like I made this album with my live show in mind. I’m ready to go out, party and perform.