Exclusive: Amy Lee on the New Evanescence Album
The Grammy-winning singer discusses band drama, taking a new musical direction, and spending 18 months painting tiny sea creatures.
Evanescence singer Amy Lee is over the drama.
“There’s a lot of bullshit related to that band name for me,” Lee tells SPIN.com, “but I’m ready to move past it. I’ve realized that Evanescence is who I am.”
She’s not kidding about the bullshit. Since their 2003 Grammy-winning, multi-platinum debut Fallen rocketed the Little Rock, AR, natives to world stardom, the group have been plagued by in-fighting and lineup changes, beginning with the departure of co-founder Ben Moody. In a very public 2006 spat, the last remaining original members — guitarist John LeCompt and drummer Rocky Gray — left or were fired, and soon joined Moody to form We Are the Fallen with ex-American Idol finalist Carly Smithson on vocals.
Evanescence is also moving on. The goth-rock outfit will release their first album since 2006 this September, with a new lineup — and a new sound.
Lee, guitarist Terry Balsamo, bassist Tim McCord, drummer Will Hunt, and the band’s newest member, producer, songwriter, and studio whiz Will “Science” Hunt (that’s right — the band has two guys named “Will Hunt”), are recording the album in a New York studio with producer Steve Lillywhite (U2, Rolling Stones). And they’re taking Evanescence’s characteristically heavy, goth-rock sound in an electro-pop direction inspired by Lee’s favorite bands: Massive Attack, Bjork, and Portishead.
“The album has sounds that are distorted, changed, reversed,” says Lee. “There’s a lot of that fun stuff going on.”
Below, she tells SPIN.com more about the record, her former bandmates, and her favorite hobby: painting.
How did you get a second guy named Will Hunt in your band? That’s freaky.
[Laughs] Well, part of getting back to Evanescence was the new Will Hunt. I met this Will — I call him Will “Science” Hunt because he does a lot of programming and beats — when we recorded “Sally’s Song” for Nightmare Revisited.
Evanescence took about two years off. Why return now?
For a long time I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I really love scoring film and that was definitely where my head was. I took a few stabs at doing that, but then I started writing more songs. I had such a good time in the studio with Will “Science” Hunt recording “Sally’s Song” — it was a cool, free, creative space.So we thought, “Why don’t we just try writing an original song?” He has a studio in Forth Worth, TX, and we spent two days down there writing and a new song came out that was so different — it was dark and inspiring. It was a groove that I hadn’t found in a long time. So we spent all of last year writing like crazy and somewhere halfway through I said, “You know, I think we’re writing an Evanescence album.”
Tell us about that first song you guys wrote
“Hi-Lo.” It’s a working title. It’s going in an electro-pop direction — there are no organic instruments. It’s a Portishead or Massive Attack direction, and lyrically it’s about moving on, but in a very non-confrontational, non-angry way. It’s just, “Hey, everything that happened, I’m over it and I’m not mad at you.”
Will fans of Evanescence’s heavy sound be surprised?
Well, it’s definitely still heavy. Like The Open Door, the new songs are a rainbow of sounds. But this album spreads out even more. There are moments that are amazingly heavy, but then there are moments that are completely stripped down.
Did you write the entire album together?
Most of it. He was definitely my big inspiration and co-writer. Some songs I wrote by myself, and I wrote a little bit with Terry [Balsamo, guitarist] and Tim [McCord, bassist] as well. I have a studio in my home and I flew Will “Science” out here a lot. And we’d work by ourselves then email each other ideas to play with, sort of like a Postal Service method. The songwriting and sound is inspired by a lot of our mutual loves — Bjork, Nine Inch Nails, and music with a lot of programming and sounds that feel larger than life.
How did you hook up with producer Steve Lillywhite?
We decided it would be good to have another brain in the room to provide some perspective, since we’ve been living with the demos for so long. Steve Lillywhite randomly called my record label said, “Hey, what’s Amy Lee and Evanescence doing? I’d really like to work with her.” I thought that was really interesting. I honestly wouldn’t have thought of him if he hadn’t called. So we went to lunch and I showed him some of the songs. He really loved them and wanted to do it!
It’s an interesting fit, considering his work with U2 and the Rolling Stones.
True. And this album isn’t going to sound like either of those bands, that’s for sure. It’s not an organic record. Our idea is to take synthetic and atmospheric sounds and find a way to blur the line between organic and synthetic.
Is this direction a byproduct of listening to any new music?
I think so. There is something really cool happening in music right now. There are bands that sound like they’re from another time — it’s like ’80s throwback music with analogue synthesizers and Moogs. I love it. I’ve been listening to a lot of La Roux.
Is there a lyrical theme?
I write about what I’m going through at the time. There are moments of, “Hey, I’m over it and I’m good” and others of fun sarcasm like, “Hey, everything’s not the most dramatic thing in the world.” But it gets really, really, really deep in places, too. That’s probably why it’s been really hard to pick an album title. [Laughs] But lyrically, it’s a more real version of myself. I’m saying things that I would’ve been afraid to say before. I’m more confident and more comfortable.
When we last spoke in 2008, you were writing Celtic inspired songs for a solo album. Any plans for that?
I was in a very different creative space then, before hooking up with Will “Science.” I wrote a couple of songs that are good, but in a totally different direction. Nothing from that period is making it to the new record.
Other than music, what does Amy Lee do in her spare time?
I love to paint. I’ve been working on this one painting for a year and a half. It has a lot of tiny sea creatures and I keep going back to it, but it has become this daunting project. When I need to free my brain, that’s one of the things that I do. I have also been playing the harp. When Evanescence took time off, I bought a big concert harp and started taking lessons like I was in high school again, which was really, really fun. I felt like I was learning again. I’m definitely going to use it on this album.
What are your thoughts on We Are the Fallen?
I don’t have any. I doesn’t have anything to do with me or Evanescence.
Would it be safe to say that you haven’t talked to Ben, John, or Rocky?
Oh yeah, that’s very safe to say.
It sounds like you’ve over the drama and revitalized.
I am, definitely. I’m in a new headspace. I’m good with me and I don’t need everybody else’s approval.