If you asked Avril Lavigne in 2014 if she believed she would ever go back onstage after being diagnosed with Lyme disease, she might have hesitated to give you an honest answer. “I thought that music would be taken away from me,” she says during our phone interview. The Canadian pop-punk artist goes on to say she feels “so blessed to be on that stage, celebrating music and life. I’m ready to connect with the audience once again.”

To say that Lavigne’s audience is ready to connect with her again is an understatement. (The day before our interview, I casually tweeted that I had the opportunity to chat with Lavigne ahead of her Portland show—and multiple fan pages replied, asking me to tell Lavigne that they loved her and missed her.) Following its release on February 15, Lavigne’s new album, Head Above Water, debuted in the Top 10.

Lavigne wrote most of the record during her prolonged illness, and the project is a testament to how precious life is. After a six-year hiatus, many wondered how Lavigne would fit in when she returned to the spotlight. What would her new material sound like? Would the singer be able to deliver in the way fans hoped she would? The answer is a

resounding “yes.” Head Above Water’s 12 tracks speak to a more personal side of the songwriter than we’ve heard before, and the result is haunting and exquisite. On the title track, Lavigne belts out, “God keep my head above water,” and it feels as though you’re right there, praying alongside her during a particularly difficult time.

Water represents the “emotional journey and everything that I’ve overcome,” Lavigne says—something that’s evident when listening to tracks like “I Fell in Love with the Devil,” which is about a toxic relationship that Lavigne ended. “I think that both boys and girls can relate to this,” she says of the song, while stressing that the theme of empowerment is intentionally prevalent throughout Head Above Water. The video, produced by Lavigne, is about “knowing what you deserve and keeping your eyes wide open.”

At the time of our interview, Lavigne was in the middle of rehearsing for the accompanying “Head Above Water” tour, which kicks off in Seattle on September 14. The next day, she’ll swing through Portland to play the Keller Auditorium with opener Jagwar Twin. It’s her first tour in five years, and Lavigne’s been preparing for quite a while. When asked what she missed most about touring, Lavigne explains that when she’s in the studio, she’s “focused on production, and then I’m focusing on recording the video. When I perform live, it’s a whole other version of the song. It brings so much life to it.”

The tour will feature 17 years’ worth (yes, you read that right) of Lavigne’s work, from “Complicated” to “Dumb Blonde” (featuring recently “retired” rapper Nicki Minaj) and everything in between. “It’s going to be really diverse. It’s going to show this big journey, and I think that fans will be so happy,” she gushes.

Lavigne says it with her chest when she declares, “This is my life and I’m going to do what I’m supposed to do.” Who can argue with that? Before we get off the phone, I do as I’m told and let Lavigne know her fans are beyond excited she’s back and that we really missed her.