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Credit: Mark Liddell

Avril Lavigne didn't mean to start recording a new album. "It just happened," she says of the still-untitled November 17th release. "I made a record without even feeling like I made a record."

Sitting in a studio in Tarzana, Calif., with her feet — clad in a pair of vinyl hightops — propped up on a mixing board, the now 24 year old pop-punk princess barely looks a day older than she did when "Complicated" took the airwaves by storm in 2002. "I'm sitting on the piano writing in the foyer, and he's in the studio, and it's like, 'Hey. I like that.'"

"He" is Lavigne's husband (and Sum 41 frontman) Deryck Whibley, who has used the couple's home studio to produce eight of the nine tracks she's recorded so far. "I think this is taking the spirit of what she's done on previous records so much further," he says. "It's way more meaningful, has more of an impact, more emotional. It makes me feel something more than the other stuff. And I wanted to match that musically with the track."

Lavigne seems thrilled to have such a crack in-house production partner. "He knows me. We spend a lot of time together," she laughs, in her habitual cackle. "And the cool thing is, if he's recording something and I don't like it, I can be like, 'No, no, no, I don't like that. More like this.' Or I can walk in and be like, 'Love it. Keep going.'"

It was a song snippet called "Black Star" — intended for her fragrance commercial — that launched the recording process back in November; Lavigne played that intro and two complete tracks for EW called "Everybody Hurts" and "Darlin'." The first has a trademark Lavigne acoustic beginning, then explodes into a loud chorus of "Everybody hurts some days."

The second is a love song Lavigne wrote when she was 15: "I always really liked this song," she says, "and I never recorded it." There are other songs from her past on the record, too, including one she wrote at 17, and one she wrote at 20. "I always had material, but some people that I worked with didn't really care, because they wanted to write the stuff," she says, when asked why the tunes haven't surfaced before. "Some people were just like, 'Ah, whatever. You're a little girl. What do you know?' I know how this works. It's my fourth record. It's not rocket science. I think people doubted me before, and I'm finally just like, 'I'm doing this.'"

Both new tracks also demonstrate quite clearly that the rapping/Toni Basil affliction that plagued 2007's The Best Damn Thing has left her system, and she's back to the emo-heavy strengths of her first two albums. "[Best Damn Thing] was intended to be fun, to be rockin'," she explains. "All I had in my mind was my live show, running around on stage, getting the crowd involved. This record, I just really, really wanted to sing. We started recording each song, some of them, just with acoustic guitar and the vocal and building it from there. It's stripped down. I love performing that way, so I really felt like it was time to make a record like that. To just make it all about the vocal and the performance, and the vibe, and the emotion."

She's thinking about doing a theater tour in support of the new album, so she can bring that emotion directly to the audience. "I just wanna have silence around me, and have these acoustic songs and really deliver," she says.

There's more work to be done before the album release, but Lavigne doesn't seem to be sweating it. "My new word right now is 'balance,'" she says. "Work hard, play hard. Maybe that should be the album cover: Work Hard, Play Hard…Bitch." With this, she cracks herself up again. "I swear to God I have not drank anything but green juice today," she grins. "Why am I acting like this?" Part of it may be that the little sk8er girl is finally growing up, and feels comfortable — and demonstrably happy — making an album that reflects where she is in life right now. "I was always really honest in my lyrics," she says, "I think more so when I was younger, and now it's kind of come back to that. Just like, you know what? I'm not trying to write a perfect pop song. I'm just trying to write a song that's honest right now, even if something sounds weird or a lyric might not make sense to someone.

"I'm turning 25 this year. 25, but not 35!  Half of me is really older-acting and the other half is a young spirit. When I'm really old, I think I'll be crazy, and have a young spirit and be fun. But yeah. I am an adult. But sometimes I still feel like I'm 19." She guffaws again. "Sometimes I still dress like I'm 19. I don't think I'll ever be super mad sophisticated. I think I'll always be like this."

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