Unschooled cool; Anti-teen queen skates onto music scene

Unschooled cool; Anti-teen queen skates onto music scene


Sorry, Britney hopefuls. Pop music’s next dominion of teenqueens writes their own songs, plays their own instruments and prefers rock ‘n’ roll.

“I think we’re honest and people can relate to us,” said Avril Lavigne, 17, who joins Michelle Branch and Vanessa Carlton as leaders of a new female singer-songwriter movement welcomed by young Americans with surprising eagerness.

“We play instruments and we’re not dancing around on the stage with background singers and lip-synching our vocals,” Lavigne said.

She might be breaking later than Branch and Carlton, but Lavigne (whose French surname is pronounced Luh-VEEN) is breaking much bigger with her confident blend of polished pop and rock. Her album, “Let Go,” is the fourth-biggest album in the country. And her radio- ravaging “Complicated” is the third-biggest single.

“I didn’t ever really sit down and think what would I be on the charts,” Lavigne said, calling from the road in Orlando, Fla. “But I did always believein myself and believed I would do good.”

Lavigne said “Complicated” is about her experience with two- facedboys.

“I’ve been with a guy who was really cool when we’re alone, and then when he’s around his friends, he’s a (expletive) and he acts like someone else,” she said. “People are just so, uh, fake — especially people in this industry. I just got really fed up one day and I was like, `Ughh! Why does this life have to be so complicated?’ “

Some things about Lavigne are simply so HER AGE. She chews gum on the phone. She injects a “like” before every fifth or sixth word. And her description of Napanee, Ontario — her rural Canadian hometown, population 5,000 — leads off with a predictable beef.

“You can’t shop there,” she said. “If you need to go shopping, you have to drive at least a half an hour out of town.”

You can tell Lavigne writes her own lyrics, too, since they obsess over skateboarding and boys. (Her new single combines both. Its title: “Sk8er Boi.”)

But Lavigne has lived more life than most 17-year-olds, and that shows in the maturity with which she handles hercareer. “I’ve been through a lot because I’m in the business, and it’s aged me,” she said. “I’ve had to take care of myself and make really important decisions.”

Shortly afterher 16th birthday, Lavigne trekked down to New York City for a working vacation. Her brother Matt, two years older, came along to chaperone.

Though her only musical experience was singing in church and at country fairs, Lavigne had sentaround a video that elicited interest from a Canadian production company, which arranged a writing session with New York producer Peter Zizzo.

“The first day I got to the city, somebody from Arista heard that I was in town and checked meout, and was like, `Can you come back and sing for L.A.?,’ ” she said, explaining that the label wanted her to perform for Arista Records CEO Antonio Reid.

Later that night, pens were already clicking.

When she told her devoutly Christian parents she was dropping out of high school to move to New York, Lavigne claims they were supportive. “They knew how much I wanted this and how much I’ve put into it,” she said, adding that her mom claims to have known the girl was destined for singing stardom from the age of 2.

But most other adults don’t take 15-year-olds seriously. This was a problem.

“Being away from home, being on my own and having this new life, I had so much to write about,” shesaid. “But when I first got signed, (Arista) didn’t know Icould write, and they were giving me songs to sing from other people. I’m like, `I can write my own songs, thank you.'”

“They were like, `What? You’re only 16!’ “

Inspired by the Goo Goo Dolls, Third Eye Blind and Matchbox Twenty, Lavigne began writing her own material at age 12.

“I’m not just trying to make songs that make people dance,” she said. “I’m not trying to sound nice and rhymey and stuff. I’m talking about real-life experiences. And people are like, `Oh yeah, that’s happened to me.’ “

Lavigne said she doesn’t know if she’ll ever return to high school. But she would like to return to bed.

“Right now I’m in a different city every night, a different hotel, living out of a suitcase,” she said. “I don’t get to sleep enough.”

Or shop enough.

Copyright Copley Press Inc. 2002

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