INTERVIEW: Evanescence (USA), November 2011

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!”

2012 – A Year in the Front Row. Part One: Jan/Feb/March

So, here’s an idea I had. I go to so many damn shows, why not do a retrospective? Especially considering 2012 was easily my busiest year of gigs ever. So, here is part one of four. It’s a very brief recount of the year that was, but one I was compelled to share. Enjoy! – DJY

JANUARY

With a slew of bands still staying over from the New Year’s festivals, as well as some perfectly timed tours, my first few weeks of January 2012 were insanely busy. Within the first week alone, I’d seen old favourites Bluejuice, Italian skramz band Raein, U.S. hip-hopper Jean Grae, U.K. movers-and-shakers The Jim Jones Revue, pop-punk heroes Tonight Alive (the first of four times I’d see them this year) and mid-teen heroes The Dresden Dolls. An exhausting highlight reel of great, diverse and interesting music hanging around Sydney and Wollongong at the time.

Unfortunately, the only sour note among the lot was Jean – arriving forty minutes late on stage and proceeding to treat her fans like idiots while barely putting any effort into her rapping still ranks highly among my year’s sorest disappointments. Still, you’ve got to take the good with the bad – and, there was so much good to take.

In particular, I point to the Dresden Dolls show at the Enmore Theatre as still one of the best shows I went to this year. For two-and-a-half hours, I partied like it was 2006 and celebrated the reunion of one of my biggest high-school obsessions. Having seen Amanda solo twice before, I already had an idea of what to expect – but bringing drummer Brian Viglione into the mix sent the entire affair to strange new levels. A great one to tick off the bucket list.

Not long after that, I was headed to Melbourne for the first time ever. I had the honour of playing with former A Death in the Family vocalist/guitarist Jamie Hay – eerily enough, on Friday the 13th, the day that AditF had announced their split. He didn’t let the news get in the way of a phenomenal performance, thankfully. The weekend immediately following this show lead to my main purpose of visiting Melbourne – Sugar Mountain.

An awesome initiative from Two Bright Lakes, this night was the first of three times I would see percussive adventurers tUnE-yArDs in this month. Getting to see the delightful Deerhoof and the blistering Thee Oh Sees was the icing on an already delicious cake. The next night at the Corner Hotel, I got to see tUnE-yArDs doing her thing once again. I appreciated a total switch-up of her live set – she even started on the same song that she had closed with the day before, and vice versa! My final time seeing her was a day after returning home, at the Famous Spiegeltent as a part of the 2012 Sydney Festival. I also managed to sneak in a breathtaking set from U.K. chanteuse Beth Orton at City Recital Hall for the Festival, too. Gotta be happy with that.

Onto a far-less cultured festival, the one and only Big Day Out. I only managed to get in a single sideshow this time, but it was more than worth it. Battles shook the foundations of the Metro Theatre like nobody’s business. Having now seen these guys 4 times, I can affirm their status as mind-melting musos that you could watch individually for a set’s entirety and not get bored. That said, their MVP is unquestonably Mr. John Stanier. ‘Tis no man! ‘Tis a drumming machine! Onto the BDO itself: Highlights included the bombastic Kanye headlining set, the world-class rock & roll of Soundgarden, Cage the Elephant and My Chemical Romance and the insane celebratory dance party of Girl Talk. Despite relatively poor ticket sales, BDO was a tonne of fun.

The month finished with a quick visit to Wollongong for day 2 of the Stacked Music Festival. Although I attended almost exclusively for Sydney legends Gay Paris, there were also a few treats thrown in for good measure – local champions The Conspiracy Plan, brattish post-punks Chicks Who Love Guns and the always-delightful folk-rockers The Pennys.

TOP 5:

  1. The Dresden Dolls
  2. tUnE-yArDs
  3. Kanye West
  4. Battles
  5. Jamie Hay

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Jean Grae, plus the shitty local band that opened for Tonight Alive whose name escapes me.

+++

FEBRUARY

I was eased into February quite nicely by one of my favourite events in Blood, Sweat and Beers. This show would mark the first of many times I would see positive-thinking pop-rockers Milhouse, as well as sets from Canberran bong-ripping favourites I Exist, Tassie boys Luca Brasi, country bumpkins Wagons and the brilliant Harmony. With Laneway in town, I caught a sideshow for Canadian sensation Leslie Feist, although admittedly I was going almost exclusively for her support in the delightful Mountain Man. These sweet-singing ladies subsequently wiped the floor with Feist herself, who was half-an-hour late on stage and caught up in her own self indulgences too much to make this show worthwhile.

I then returned to my second home of the Annandale Hotel for three shows headlined by Michigan post-hardcore cult heroes La Dispute. These shows were just as inspiring and engaging as the very first time I saw them back in 2009, but for very different reasons. The 2009 shows were inspiring on account of an American band doing a completely D.I.Y. Australian tour that was done out a pure love for what they do as a band.

These shows were inspiring on account of seeing a relatively little-known band playing a very unfriendly style of music managing to pack out the Annandale for three shows with a huge, hungry and wildly boisterous audience. In other words, they’ve more or less arrived in Australia. We also got some fantastic local supports at these shows: Let Me Down Jungleman, Hira Hira (shout out to Jack Wotton for doing double duty!), Perspectives, Between the Devil and the Deep, Making and the late, great Animal Shapes.

Nearing the end of the month, I got to spend some quality time with some of my songwriting heroes – namely, Dan Mangan and Ben Gibbard. The former played a wondrously joyful set at Notes in Newtown, while the latter lead his band (and one of my all-time favourites), Death Cab for Cutie, into a second headlining show at the Enmore Theatre just up the road. Despite an annoying, iPhone-ready audience, I still had a great time at my third Death Cab show.

Sandwiched in-between Dan and DcfC was SoundDave, a DIY all-day festival held at another one of my Sydney “homes,” Black Wire Records, curated by Milhouse/Between the Devil and the Deep bassist/FBi radio personality/all-round heartthrob Dave Drayton. I was a volunteer for the entire day, and was so happy to be involved. Highlights including decidedly bitchin’ sets from Epics, Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt and Surprise Wasp, fronted by Gay Paris bassist Dean “Slim Pickin’s” Podmore. Top stuff.

Although I gave Soundwave a miss, I still managed to wrap up the month with two great “Sidewaves” at the Metro Theatre. The first was the final Sydney show from Thursday, a band that I will gladly admit meant a hell of a lot more to most people in that room than me. I was a late bloomer for Thursday, only really getting into them later in high school. And I was a War All the Time guy, as opposed to a Full Collapse guy, which was the album they were playing in its entirety. Even so, I came out of that show with a mountain of respect for what they accomplished in their time, and it was an honour to be a part of it. Finally getting to see Circa Survive live was also a treat.

A few days later, on a rare February 29th, I got a triple-horned hardcore treat with Enter Shikari, letlive. and Your Demise. Each put on a great set with their own style and energy, but I’d be kidding myself if I wasn’t there to get properly mental to letlive. After discovering them in mid-2011, I vowed that I’d be front row centre as soon as they toured. And so it was – I screamed, I jumped, I climbed on things and I essentially acted all of the ways a 21-year-old really, really shouldn’t. And it was GLORIOUS.

TOP 5:

  1. La Dispute
  2. Dan Mangan
  3. letlive.
  4. Death Cab for Cutie
  5. I Exist

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Feist. Sorry, babe. Maybe next time.

+++

MARCH

A pinch, a punch and some motherfucking MASTODON for the first of the month! Don’t mind if I do, thanks. With French destroyers Gojira and Norwegian warriors Kvelertak in tow, my brother Chris and I were treated to one of the most brutal shows I’ve seen all year. This was also the first of three shows at new Sydney venue The Hi-Fi I would attend this month, and all within a few days of one another. The very next day, I saw the delightful Ben Kweller doing his thing, while on the Sunday I’d finally get to see Manchester Orchestra live. Along with my ridiculously similar appearance to Andy Hull, I love all of their albums, especially Mean Everything to Nothing. Watching the band play “Everything to Nothing” live is one of the few gig moments from 2012 where I’ve actually teared up. Truly incredible stuff.

With Future Music Festival in town, I had yet another chance to see Die Antwoord after catching them at both the 2011 Big Day Out and at their show with M.I.A. the very next day, at which they completely blew her off the stage. Here, I found them in the illustrious surrounds of the Enmore, which was decidedly packed full of people from the Zef Side of Sydney. Despite going on late, they put on a truly fantastic show – bounding energy and a seemingly endless supply of bangers.

Next up was a return to Black Wire, to see the hilarious Battle Pope get rowdy along with Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt, The Reverend Jesse Custer and Jesus Christ Posse. Right there is four of my favourite heavy bands in the country, so that was more or less a dream come true. Another festival in March was Golden Plains, and from the cool streets of Portland came the femme-fatale quartet of Wild Flag. Lots of dancing to be had at their show at the Manning Bar with Love of Diagrams and impressive upstarts Unity Floors.

I’ve had the chance to do multiple shows on tours a few times this year, as evidenced back in February with La Dispute. These next two shows would be the first of two times I’d double up on some Children Collide action this year, bringing my grand total to nine times of seeing them live. For what it’s worth, they never let me down. Although the turnout for their Metro Theatre show was abysmal, they packed out the Patch in Wollongong and put on a truly hectic show for all involved.

During the final song, I decided to flip myself off the foldback and into the crowd. Half-expecting to fall to the ground, I ended up being carried all the way to the back of the venue, eventually toppling downward in-front of my bug-eyed sister, who could not believe her baby brother had just crowdsurfed like an absolute champion. Good times. Shout out to the killer supports, Deep Sea Arcade and Palms.

Nearing the end of the month, I was back at Black Wire to see two of my favourite Australian musicians, and people that I’m honoured to count as friends – Jamie Hay and Jen Buxton. I also had the pleasure of meeting Jen’s little dude, Eli. He has the biggest cheeks I’ve ever seen. I showed a world of restraint for not just sinking my teeth directly into them. Don’t tell her I said that, of course.

Oh yeah, I also saw Evanescence. The less said about that, the better. At least Blaqk Audio were pretty good.

TOP 5:

  1. Manchester Orchestra
  2. Mastodon
  3. Die Antwoord
  4. Children Collide
  5. Jamie Hay and Jen Buxton

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Evanescence. Childhood memories tainted forever by this soulless display of mediocrity.