Photo by P.R. Brown
Evanescence's Amy Lee Talks Musical Evolution, Growing Up & Life Under Quarantine
The current coronavirus quarantine has turned out to be a mixed blessing for Evanescence leader and singer Amy Lee. While she is elated about the new music her band is producing for their first album in nearly nine years, they have to figure out how to finish the project being apart. They also had to postpone touring Europe with Within Temptation and cannot interract with their fans anytime soon. That feels ironic given the anticipation for their new release. At least Lee did not have to face being separated so soon from her five-year-old son Jack and explain why his mother had to go away on tour, and she got to jam virtually with Lzzy Hale on the Halestorm song "Break In." At the same time, Lee admits, her immediate family members are driving each other a little bit crazy. That's to be expected.
Lee and her bandmates have been adjusting to the circumstances. They decided to change the choice for the lead single off of their forthcoming album The Bitter Truth by swapping it out for the song "Wasted On You." Thematically, however unintentionally, it feels like now and features all five band members in their own homes engaging in various activities from contemplation to playing music. The video is very fitting for a band whose singer frequently channels inner emotional turmoil that people struggle with alone. Thus the clip feels like a natural extension of their work.
"Yeah, this is the place I always put myself in," concurs Lee, speaking on the phone to the Recording Academy from her home in Nashville, which fans are seeing for the first time through that video.
"Most of us in the band are very private," notes Lee. "Showing my home is a big deal for me. Just being our real selves without makeup, just living in real life, not acting. What's powerful about that is that everybody around the world is doing the same thing. The idea behind it was to show that at our core we're all still connected even though we're not physically together."
When she saw the first edit of the clip from director P.R. Brown, whom she praises highly, it made her feel very connected to her band. "I missed them," admits Lee. "I pulled the trick on myself, feeling all these emotions about being close to you guys and how we're going through the same stuff. I guess it was going to be effective because it totally worked on me."
Given how depressing life feels for many people right now, Lee believes that new music is extremely necessary, and there are new Evanescence songs still in the making. The Bitter Truth is not actually finished yet, and Lee is not sure how many songs will make up its entirety. Individual tracks will just be released when they are and eventually be collected as a cohesive whole.
"I like living in the moment, and I don't have it all planned out," says Lee. "And that's beautiful. We always wanted to do it this way. It's lucky because we got to continue down our path. We went in for the first batch of songs with Nick Raskulinecz in the beginning of February. We have that batch, but I'm not sure exactly when we're all going to be able to get back together again since we live all over the world. Jen's in Germany. But whether we're going to have to do some things remotely, we still have to get together to some degree."
Usually, the band records new music and it takes a year or so for it to reach the public's ears. They started working on "Wasted On You," a break-up song of sorts about freeing oneself from routine and toxic patterns, the day before New Year's. Sharing it with fans and getting feedback so soon after it was completed feels like a gift of instant gratification that they find special and rare.
Naturally, many fans have been anxious for a new Evanescence album, but they have continued to snap up concert tickets and have remained loyal throughout the near decade-long duration. "It's not like they got pissed off and left," remarks Lee. "They still want it whenever it's going to come, and that's a huge gift. Especially now. There's just so much music out there that you can only find if you're searching for it."
Lee has continued making new music over the last nine years. Following her emancipation from her previous label Wind-up Records in 2014, she jumped into many new projects. The first was the Aftermath album that served as the soundtrack to the movie War Story starring Catherine Keener as a war zone photojournalist. That was done in collaboration with cellist Dave Eggar, who also worked with her and producer/composer/drummer Chuck Palmer on music for the 2015 short film Indigo Grey: The Passage by Irish/hip-hop dance troupe Hammerstep. The musical trio further collaborated on scores for the documentary short I Am Her (2016) and the feature film Blind (2017). In 2016, inspired by the birth of her son two years earlier, Lee did an album of children's music songs entitled Dream Too Much.
Such diversity should not be surprising considering that at the core of Evanescence swirl goth, metal, and pop sounds that commune without overriding each other. This makes the band less easy to tag and simply reflects Lee's diverse musical tastes. Last year, they released a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain."
"I like a lot of pop music," says Lee. "I like a lot of dark, trippy, trap-pop weirdness. Even if that just comes out in the way that I'm crafting a melody, it's there for me enough that I feel it in the way that I want to feel it. Then all those other elements that play a role, like cool guitar riffs and things from other genres, it's when it all blends together that it really sounds right. That's a picture of who we are."
While she knows people certainly expected certain new music from her, Lee has needed to scratch that creative itch that led her to such outside explorations. She felt that denying herself these opportunities would make her feel like she was not being true to herself, even though her fans craved a new Evanescence album. Lee felt compelled to work on that "weird song idea" or collaboration with a cellist. "If I don't let myself do it, then I get frustrated," she concedes. "There was something else I needed to get off my chest first."
The singer and pianist mentions that when she was pregnant, she thought her mom phase would outweigh work, but her need to create only got stronger because it was such an emotional time for her.
"Up until the week before Jack was born, I was working on that Aftermath album which was so great because it was moody and weird and creative, and it didn't all rely on the same old tricks," recalls Lee. "A lot of it was instrumental. People want me to sing a ballad. I actually wanted to play the piano live with Dave [Eggar] and write as we play and record that, then create the song that's totally weird, electronic, Africa-inspired. There's all kinds of weird stuff on there."
Ten months after Jack was born, a lot of emotions were welling up inside of Lee, which naturally led to Dream Too Much. "I just felt like I had a whole new chamber of my heart that started up that I didn't know about before, and I needed to express it," she elaborates. "Weirdly, becoming a mom made me need to create a lot more. There hadn't been an all original Evanescence album until now, but it's just been everything else." She chose to jump onto all of those "someday, I want to do..." projects.
When Lee did return to making music with her main project, it was for 2017's Synthesis album featuring Evanescence songs reworked with a full orchestra and electronic music elements along with two new songs and three instrumentals. She notes that many people thought that that release was a clue as to where the band's music was heading, but in fact, it was the opposite.
"Because we got to do that very different thing, I felt so motivated and inspired to run the other direction and really dive headfirst into the rock part of our music and our current sound as a band," says Lee. "I think allowing yourself to do all the things that your heart wants to do as an artist is just healthy. It's not like there won't be more fuel inside you that's going to want to create more the next day."
The long break between albums certainly helped feed her fire for the band. Further, Lee's artistic life has been augmented lately by two special musicians. The first is aforementioned cellist Eggar, whose resume includes The Who, Josh Groban, Beyoncé, Carly Simon, Bon Jovi and Manhattan Transfer, has been a great collaborator for her.
"He's just got such a bright energy and is so encouraging but also really, really talented," enthuses Lee. "He pushes me to the next level without it being painful, if that makes sense. We were talking about wanting to make a documentary of his life because you just sit down and listen to him talk about stuff like living on a beach in the south of France and playing a million dollar cello."
On the recommendation of Eggar, Evanescence guitarist Jen Majura came into the fold back in 2015 following the departure of longtime member and songwriting collaborator Terry Balsamo. She is the other key player.
"What I've learned over the years is the harder thing about finding a person that's going to be in your band family is the way they fit as a person," explains Lee. "There are a lot of people that can play amazingly, and Jen is a great musician, but for somebody to really fit into your family dynamic is hard. I called her and flew her to New York, and we just spent time together. We went to guitar shops, went to lunch, got drunk, and had conversations about music and jammed a little bit. But mostly it was just becoming friends, and it happened really quickly. It just felt right. We knew that. I knew that I liked her, and I could see things in her that reminded me a little bit of myself. It's been really nice to have such a cool jolt of positive energy that she inserted when we needed it a lot. Now we can also have background vocals. We've never been able to have that before with me being the only girl, and I wanted it to be a female voice."
Circling back to the new song "Wasted On You," there is reference to being "six feet low" that reminds one that on first two Evanescence studio albums there was one song apiece that referenced Lee's late sister, who passed away at the age of three when the singer was six. It turns out that Lee recently lost her younger brother, who died at the age of 24.
"It's really hard," says Lee, turning somber for a few moments. "This has been a crazy time, the last few years. A lot has happened to us within the band. Since the last album, there's a lot to say. We are still who we are, but there have been things that have caused us to change our perspective, and the way that we see the world, the way that we see other people, and the way that we think because of the losses that we've suffered. I'm speaking in plural because our bass player Tim just lost his stepdaughter."
Lee adds that this has been a time during which, in so many ways, she had to grow up and didn't want to. "I just want to be a kid again," she concedes. "I just want to be a kid with my siblings and my mom and dad, and somebody else I know at the end of the day is going to take care of it. Somebody else is going to be the dad, somebody else is going to be in charge. It's a really shitty thing that when you grow up, you have to be the one who does that. You have to be the one to make everybody else feel okay. And sometimes it's not okay. That's the bitter truth."
This moment dovetails into the Recording Academy's recent conversation with Tori Amos about how one does not really understand another's pain unless they have experienced it personally. And a person does not need well-meaning but cliched platitudes from others to deal with pain. They just need to process it in their own way.
"That's a huge part of this band and making music for me from day one," declares Lee. "I just need to process the fact that I hurt right now, and not say, 'But it's gonna be okay.' I still have hope after all, but I think it's important sometimes just to say, 'Hey, I hurt' and let that be the message because other people are hurting too. Instead of being fixed immediately, we need to process our pain, we need to feel the pain. It's important. It's part of what is eventually going to let you get through it. The only way out is through."
That concept might seem anathema to many people caught up in a social media and mass media world where everyone wants to put on a happy face and does not admit to feeling wounded or defeated.
"Right, we don't show the pictures," acknowledges Lee. "I don't Instagram when I'm having a horrible day. We're just showing little clips of life when something was awesome, so when you look through that window into somebody's life you're not getting the full picture. You're just getting the highlight reel. That isn't real."
Funnily enough, the music and videos of Evanescence represent the opposite aesthetic. They show when they are not having a good day.
"That's true," concurs Lee, laughing out loud. "You just listen to my album, and you hear how horrible everything is."
At least that emotional sincerity has allowed her to produce some timeless tunes, with more on the way.