The Mooney Suzuki's first reaction to Avril Lavigne's six-times-platinum CD ''Let Go'' was predictable: The New York rock revivalists tossed it out the window of their speeding tour van.
But a year or so later, the quartet -- whose usual listening revolves around a Hendrix/MC5 axis -- has enlisted the Canadian pop star's glossy producer/songwriter team, the Matrix, to record its first album for a major label. ''We spend so much time trying to make music that nobody buys,'' explains 27-year-old Mooney frontman Sammy James Jr. ''So what's the difference between what goes on in our rehearsal space and when a [megaproducer] puts something together and it makes a billion dollars?''
The Matrix trio -- Lauren Christy, Scott Spock, and Graham Edwards -- had abandoned floundering rock careers to form the hits-for-hire collective in 1999. Their Avrilutionary pop-rock, most recently heard on Hilary Duff's ''So Yesterday'' and Liz Phair's ''Why Can't I,'' then made them the industry's go-to Svengalis, even scoring them a deal for an album of their own. But they felt capable of even more. ''We thought we'd been pigeonholed too much to be offered something like Mooney,'' says Christy. ''So we went, Yeah, bring it on.''
Still, forging a partnership was, ahem, complicated. ''Every time they'd sing something, it sounded like a million-dollar hit,'' says James, whose last brush with the mainstream was penning the title song for Jack Black's ''School of Rock.'' ''But now you want me to sing that? I'm supposed to write a rockin' guitar riff under that?''
The collaborators, though, are finding middle ground. The Matrix are adding key changes, melodic shifts, and a new emphasis on vocals to gritty new songs such as ''Diary'' (which James describes as ''kind of like Sly and the Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix'') and ''Alive and Amplified'' (''a cross between these crazy, Frank Zappa guitar licks and this old, kind of Funkadelic melody,'' says Christy).
As recording continues for the as-yet-untitled album, which is due in May, the Matrix's goals are simple: ''I would love for them to be the first garage-rock band to have a big Top 40 song that's a hit around the world,'' Christy says. And as for Mooney? ''This is the Matrix; they are modern bubblegum,'' says James. ''I love the idea of us filthifying this bubblegum.''