Another bizarre encounter with an absolute hero of my early teens. Me and a few friends were nothing short of obsessed with Amy Lee and co., so I simply couldn’t pass up the chance to interview her; despite just turning 21 at the time. Even though Evanescence would later go on to be one of the worst bands I have ever seen, I’m very glad I did this interview. Amy, despite major diva status among most writers, was an absolute sweetheart. As shit as Evanescence became towards the end there, I can’t take that away from her. So, enjoy, I guess? You probably hated Evanescence from day one. Hell, I might not even blame you these days.
– DJY, October 2014
If you need any indication of just how fickle the pop industry can be, look no further than the story of Evanescence. Their runaway success in the early 2000s cemented them as one of the biggest rock bands in the world, tallying up over 15 million sales worldwide and two Grammy Awards for their acclaimed 2003 debut, Fallen. A follow-up, 2006’s The Open Door, saw sales halved and the band implode whilst on tour, ultimately leaving Amy Lee as the only original member remaining. Following the end of a huge world tour, the band – and Lee herself – went into hibernation. It seemed as though the band would never resurface – but, as everyone from James Bond to Justin Bieber have warned, never say never.
“I’m glad people have still been interested after all this time,” says Lee, who finally brought back the band with a fresh line-up and a self-titled third album which dropped in October. “At the beginning [of the hiatus], me and the rest of the guys had no plans. It wasn’t the end; we just decided to take a break from it all until one of us had a cool idea. It was just a matter of following the inspiration – I mean, if I didn’t have the drive or the motivation to make another Evanescence record, we wouldn’t be here talking about it.”
In her time away, Lee decided to focus on what had made lose interest in music to begin with, resulting in multiple delays to the release of Evanescence. Thankfully, however, she pulled through, and is particularly enthusiastic about re-igniting the songwriting fire. “There definitely was a period of thinking that maybe the whole thing was done,” admits Lee, “but I can’t help it! I love writing music. I found myself writing all the time, constantly playing. I even started learning the harp, which was really beautiful. Once I started up again, and started writing and playing more and more, I was just like “Wow!” This is a big part of me. I love doing this. I love sharing it, too.”
Lee put together a new line-up with guitarist Terry Balsamo, who took over lead guitar duties upon the departure of founding member Ben Moody back in 2003. Bassist Tim McCord who played on the band’s second album The Open Door returned and fill-in musicians from the tail-end of the last world tour – drummer Will Hunt and guitarist Troy McLawhorn – joined the fold as permanent members. Lee is vocally enthusiastic about the line-up, as she appears to be about practically everything that involves the band.
“It’s a really strong line-up,” she says. “At the end of The Open Door tour, I really felt like we were playing better shows than we had been before. There was a great chemistry on-stage, and we really knew how to play off one-another and work together. We needed a whole new creative environment in order to make this record, and we needed to work more as a team than ever. It felt really good – I was so happy to have so many cool ideas to work with and to pull from. Normally, I just shack up with one guy and we make the record together – the first record was Ben, the second was essentially me and Terry. This time, I had a whole team of brains that just get it. They get what I want to hear, and they play because they love it.”
Evanescence, as a record, is a far more solid affair than the muddled and seemingly misguided sounds of The Open Door. The unity of the band’s sound that Lee enthuses about is unquestionably present and accounted for, from the anthemic lead single What You Want to the bold melodrama of The Other Side. Balsamo’s guitar also provides a darker and often quite heavy dynamic in the midst of the band’s sound, in a way that is unlike anything the band have recorded previously. Amy emphasises, however, that the direction taken on the album was never intentional – or, worse, forced out. “Will is an incredible drummer,” she says, “and working with him was so great because it drove the album from a rhythmic perspective. Terry had awesome ideas, Will had awesome ideas… and Troy was just a complete shredder from the moment we pressed record. None of it was intentional – I just think my band rules!”
With the almost operatic sense of drama and despair found in the music of Evanescence, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Lee is a very self-serious person. She proves to be very much on the contrary of this preconceived notion, however, laughing and giggling her way through her chat with FL and exuding a warmth and friendliness that one certainly wouldn’t expect from someone often seen to be a mall-goth poster child. She also even showed a notably different side recently, when she recorded a cover for a tribute album – not Korn, whom she has performed with on several occasions; nor Bjork, whom Lee cited as one of her biggest influences in the recording of Evanescence. Nope, the artist she covered was that other clear influence on Evanescence: Robin the Frog.
Yes, Amy performed a solo cover of Halfway Down the Stairs, the ballad sung by Kermit’s nephew, for The Green Album. Lee gets particularly excited when the topic of Jim Henson and the Muppets tribute album comes up – “Oh. My. God. Just Jim Henson in general has worked on so many of my favourite things!” she shouts. “I was really big into The Dark Crystal, which was one of those things that I was super-obsessed with as a kid. He’s done so much amazing stuff – so when it came to picking a Muppets song to do for this record, there was really no pressure. I went with the really obscure one because I always loved Robin the Frog. The whole experience was really cool.”
The band is currently planning a large world tour to promote Evanescence, and Lee is happy to let us in on the fact that Australia is definitely on the cards. Despite being a part of the rumour mill for the Soundwave Festival, Amy does not even acknowledge them. “It looks like we’ll be doing our own headlining tour,” she says. “I’m not sure about official dates or whatever, but it will be in the first half of the new year, for sure. We all love Australia so much, and you’ve always been so good to us!”