Evanescence: Why Amy Lee is done being silent
Amy Lee doesn’t mince her words. That much becomes clear when, at the start of our interview, Kerrang! politely enquires as to whether we’re distracting her from anything important.
“You are – I was writing some lyrics!” she exclaims. “Garbage media!”
Our feelings would be hurt were it not for one crucial thing: her barbed comment is delivered with a huge grin. And an even bigger eruption of laughter.
“It’s okay, I was kind of stuck anyway,” Amy smiles, reclining on a sofa in her Nashville home, nursing a cup of black tea. “I’m going to get back to it after this.”
The song in question is the latest addition to Evanescence’s highly-anticipated upcoming album The Bitter Truth – their first record of all-new material since 2011’s self-titled release. It only seems fitting that we ask about what we’re interrupting. So brace yourselves for a world exclusive: the latest Evanescence song is called…
“Pickle Mustard,” says Amy.
“It’s a tentative title,” she deadpans. “I’m pretty sure that’s going to change.”
The existence of, er, Pickle Mustard – alongside recent singles Wasted On You, The Game Is Over and latest release Use My Voice – is further proof that the protracted wait for Evanescence’s next outing is nearly over. Back in March, there were only four tracks completed, yet the group – completed by guitarists Jen Majura and Troy McLawhorn, bassist Tim McCord and drummer Will Hunt – have diligently worked around the small matter of a global pandemic to make huge strides with producer Nick Raskulinecz (Deftones, Foo Fighters, Alice In Chains). Just how close is it to being done?
“Seventy per cent,” says Amy, her upward inflection making it sound more like a question than a concrete statement. “It’s hard to say because I’m still writing.”
This is precisely why The Bitter Truth is yet to receive an official release date, Amy being reluctant to tether Evanescence to a fixed point in time when inspiration is still striking daily. Which it is.
Amy Lee is feeling very “fuelled” right now. Take their rousing latest single for instance, in which she sings, ‘Gather your friends and wave your gun in my face, but I will use my voice.’ This is not a hollow sentiment.
“The one thing this band has always been for me is a place where I can’t lie,” Amy explains. “I’ve ended up standing up to a lot of really hard things in my life after writing lyrics. I’ll write them, feel conviction and then, after we record, I feel like I have to follow through.”
Hear Amy Lee discuss the thrill of releasing new songs so quickly after writing them
While Amy has long enjoyed a multi-platinum career using her voice – one of the most singular in rock – she’s learning to leverage its power in new ways in 2020, both on and off record.
“A president who calls a press conference in the middle of a nationwide outcry, only to try to change the subject and not even mention the murder of George Floyd and the immeasurable injustices that came before it, on top of his threatening, racist tweet,” she vented back in May via Facebook. “My blood boils…”
Previously, Amy never wanted to risk dividing the beautiful congregation of people she witnessed at Evanescence gigs along political faultlines, yet the fear started to linger that her silence could be mistaken for complicity. Hence, for the release of Use My Voice, Evanescence teamed up with HeadCount.org to promote voter registration in America, while the protest-centric video notably includes Amy staring out of a window bearing the reflection of the White House. It doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots.
“There’s a fight for democracy in the world,” she says. “I am full of a new sense of purpose. Who I am in this moment and what I say is going to matter to me for the rest of my life. I’m going to have to look back on this and go, ‘This is what you did or didn’t stand for.’ If this is a time when I was just quiet, I don’t think I’d ever be able to forgive myself. Not when there are millions of people following me.”
While Amy has no regrets that she hasn’t been more outspoken previously (“It happened when it had to happen…”), she accepts that some Evanescence fans could feasibly become casualties of her convictions. Not that she actually regards her recent comments as being political in the first place.
“This is so much bigger than policy,” she begins. “This is about freedom, this is about lies. We are coming from the spirit of love, not hate – this is not about hating somebody. This is about wanting love, freedom and justice for all the people who aren’t getting that. The most important thing is that everybody feels empowered to use their voice and not be afraid or think it doesn’t matter, won’t count or is going to be rigged. We all need to make our voices heard. That’s the solution here.”
This, it turns out, is just the tip of the iceberg.
“There have been a lot of things to affect me on a deep level over the past few years leading up to this,” says Amy. “I have plenty to say.”
It’s time, then, for us to listen.
The words not only reduced Amy Lee to tears; they shook her very core. They belonged to a statement written by Chanel Miller – the survivor of a 2015 sexual assault by her fellow Stanford University student Brock Turner. Miller first read them out loud in court at Turner’s sentencing. Trigger warning: what follows is her account of sexual trauma.
“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me,” said Miller. “In newspapers, my name was ‘unconscious, intoxicated woman’. Ten syllables and nothing more than that. I had to force myself to relearn my real name, my identity, to relearn that this is not all that I am, that I am not just a drunk victim at a frat party found behind a dumpster.”
Amy, so often prone to speaking in rapid-fire bursts, halts as she tries to summarise her admiration for Miller. She exhales deeply before she proceeds.
“Some of the things they said in the case against her to let him off lit a huge fire in me,” she says. “But what lit the biggest fire wasn’t the negative, it was the positive. After he was let off with a very light sentence, she stood up and read her truth, her story, to her attacker. It was the most inspiring, powerful thing. It sparked something in me. I was so hit by the fact that the clear, simple, uncomplicated truth of her experience was stronger than any weapon they could have used against her. She used her voice. After all that time, struggle, money and fighting, the most powerful thing were the words she said. I literally took that statement, read it like three times, and then put pen to paper.”
It was Miller who first inspired Amy to write Use Your Voice – the notion of someone’s words cutting through lies like a razor quickly became a galvanising one.
“This is, in my heart, a battle of truth and love vs. lies and hate,” says Amy of how the song evolved to take on a broader personal meaning for her. “In my life, band, career and personal life, I’ve had to fight for my voice to be heard and not be ignored, or taken out of my mouth and put out of context. It’s very close to my heart that our voices matter and need to be heard.”
Amy once told K! that when Evanescence first broke big in 2003, she was often left confused by the way she was treated in the music industry. At times it was hard to tell whether it was just because she was young, or specifically because she was a woman. It was something she didn’t always want to dwell upon.
“I often shied away from some of those questions about ‘being a woman in the rock industry’,” she explains. “At some point I just got sick of hearing it, I didn’t want it to define me.”
Yet Amy did bear the brunt of rock’s double standards, be it having her artistic capabilities called into question when Evanescence guitarist/co-founder/co-songwriter Ben Moody departed, being unfairly portrayed as a diva or ice queen in early interviews, or even having her image critiqued.
“I felt – very literally – the pressure around me in the beginning to look my best, be a certain weight and be beautiful, be a goddess,” she reveals. “But at the same time, I had very strong feelings about the sexualisation part from the get-go.”
Indeed, back in the early ‘00s, Amy was cognisant that, simply by virtue of being a woman in an otherwise male rock band, her image or gender might even distract attention away from her talent.
“I could just feel that inner critic in me going, ‘Make sure they know you write the songs, that you play piano and you’re classically trained. Don’t be too pretty. Don’t be up there looking perfect. Don’t make that your first priority,’” reflects Amy. “I always wanted to be taken seriously and appreciated as a musician. Not as a ‘woman musician’, not as ‘the best female singer’, but ‘the best singer’.”
Acutely self-aware as always, Amy catches herself here – her face screwing up into a wince as she realises how cocky this might sound.
“Well, not the best singer, but you know what I mean? Put that right!” she laughs.
In so many different, frustrating ways, the even playing field Amy desired didn’t exist. ‘If we don’t talk about it, we keep on drowning in it,’ she sings at one point in Use My Voice. This sentiment is precisely what prompted her recent candid Facebook post in which she dissected women’s status in rock music compared to all the “tatted up riffmeisters”.
“Honestly, women do get skipped over,” she confided. “We do get left out of the recap when it all boils down. It is harder to make it onto the cover or the radio.”
Listen to Amy Lee reveal how she learned to stay true to herself when voicing her opinions
“Me being gracious, humble, forgiving, and happy to have had all the incredible success is awesome, but it’s not helping any of the other women who can’t break down the door,” she says. “If I’m not honest about the fact that it wasn’t easy, and there are extra barriers, and there are just things about being a woman in the rock industry that aren’t even, then I’m doing a disservice to the other women, myself, and our future.”
Far from a disservice, however, one of the most overlooked aspects of Evanescence’s impact on rock is, well, just how big an impact they actually had on the next generation of bands. Taylor Momsen was just a kid when her father bought her the band’s debut Fallen.
“As a nine- or 10-year-old girl, I looked up to Amy,” Taylor tells K!. “And if you listen to the music that came after her you can easily hear the direct influence she had. There was just nothing like it, a beautiful dark female operatic singer with metal and pop elements. It was captivating.”
A few years down the line, The Pretty Reckless’ first opening tour was provided by – you guessed it – Evanescence. Now, in 2020, Taylor, alongside Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale, Within Temptation’s Sharon den Adel and more, appears on the backing chorus of Use My Voice.
“Whether she knows it or not, Amy had a huge influence on how I would handle my career from the time I met her,” reflects Taylor.
Very much on the same page is Lzzy, who also appears on Use My Voice. As with the rest of the world, the Halestorm leader discovered Evanescence when Bring Me To Life had a vice grip on airwaves. At the time, Lzzy says she didn’t relate to “normal” girls – she even went through “interventions” at school because she insisted on wearing black and listening to Alice Cooper.
“Amy embodied and represented all the girls that were just like me,” she explains. “She was, and is a voice, for our generation. Up until her, I had to reach back to my parent’s generation of women in rock for inspiration. When Amy broke the mould, I knew the door was wide open for all of us to walk through.”
This is a legacy Amy is deeply proud of, and one she very much intends to build upon. She can barely hide her excitement as she talks about working with them on Use My Voice.
“Feeling their support, their love and hearing their voices with me makes me stronger,” she beams. “The more of us there are, the more there will be. When I first went on tour, to a festival, on TV, there were no women. And now there are, both behind the scenes and onstage. That gives me hope.”
Here are some things you might care to know about The Bitter Truth as it nears completion. While new lyrical inspiration has come to bear between the start of recording and the present, the basic premise for Evanescence’s new album remains the same.
“It’s a rock record,” Amy affirms. “We wanted to showcase the strength, fun and power of the band. There’s no holding back. It’s heavy sonically, and it feels good to go heavy. Really good. But it’s not heavy for heavy’s sake.”
Amy goes on to state that, despite now being three singles into the record, we “haven’t heard all the sounds of the album yet”. She promises songs with “score-like drama” and “aggressive power”. Sometimes the unbridled energy sparked by the group reconvening after months of quarantine spawned utterly joyous “balls to the wall” moments. Double bass drumming is mentioned. Perhaps most exciting is Amy revealing there is an infusion of the “catty vibe” that defined classic single Call Me When You’re Sober.
“That is definitely here, but taken to the next level,” she says with a glint in her eye. “I hope we can deliver everything the fans could expect, and more. The ‘and more’ is the most exciting part for me. The music that we make is just the sound of my feelings and there are a lot of big feelings, so it’s a strong sound.”
Hear Amy Lee discuss “self-acceptance” in all aspects of her life
Indeed, big feelings have been par for the course throughout Evanescence’s discography.
“I know that we have touched lives,” Amy explains, pointing to the fans she has met around the world who have used Evanescence’s music to overcome grief, illness and tragedy. She can relate.
“I am somebody who’s been through some very, very difficult moments, for my age at least,” she continues. “When we see somebody survive through the unimaginable, it gives us hope that we can, too. I do recognise that I’ve been that for other people, and I can’t tell you how much it means. It makes the most terrible parts of my life have a purpose. That is the closest I can come to reaching back in time to soothe myself. To take a terrible tragedy and use it to help someone else? For me, that has been the most healing thing. There are beautiful things that can come out of pain. That has become such a central focus for what Evanescence means to me.”
Amy lost a sister when she was a child. In January 2018, her younger brother Robby, who battled severe epilepsy, passed away.
Kerrang! wonders if his passing changed her perspective on life, and if both her grief and love for her brother will find expression on any new songs?
“Of course, it’s the biggest thing on my heart,” Amy says. “Bigger than anything else. It changes your perspective. This is the second sibling I’ve lost. The first time I was six, so the processing was very different. That was more about fear; this time it was more about love and pain. The perspective is very valuable, but I’d rather not have it. I’d rather he be here more than anything. It definitely made me look at my life and zoom out at the much bigger existential picture. Asking those type of questions is something I’ve always done in our music, but it had been a while since it had been fresh. For me, thinking about my brother is part of my every day. I don’t know how much this relates to answering your question, but I have come to believe that when we lose somebody we love, we absorb a little piece of them. Like they become part of you.”
What part of Robby is now part of you?
“It’s from big things to little things…” says Amy, trailing off into silence before resuming her sentence. “I can feel myself saying things he would have said. My brother loved nature and animals in an almost Buddhist way. He wanted my parents’ house to be a sanctuary for all things.”
Amy recalls one exchange with her brother that occurred when she was about to lay the smackdown on a wasp.
“Come on, don’t kill it!” insisted Robby. “Just catch it and put it outside.”
“Dude, it’s a wasp – I’m killing it,” Amy replied. “It’s horrible.”
“I just don’t like to kill stuff. Can we just not kill anything?” he asked. “Let’s just be in a peaceful place – if you don’t bother it, it’s not going to bother you.”
Amy takes another second to collect her thoughts.
“And now I don’t kill bugs,” she grins. “It’s such a silly thing, but then again it’s not, because the sentiment is so righteous and pure. It makes me look at our existence in a different way. How different are we really from any other living creature on this planet? We need to take a step back from our self-importance. That is the biggest thing perspective-wise.”
Will we hear that in the record?
“I hope so,” she says. “I’m still writing a lot of lyrics, but it’s all just very deeply from the heart on all kinds of things.”
Indeed, it seems the stage is very much set for Evanescence to deliver their most powerful album yet – the latest chapter in one of rock’s biggest success stories. There have been a lot of music biopics lately, from Straight Outta Compton to Rocket Man and The Dirt. What, we wonder, would make a good title for a film about Evanescence’s journey. For the first time, Amy is stumped.
“How would I sum it up?” she hmms and ahs. “Part of our conversation has been about taking difficult things, big challenges and tragedy and making it your fuel. Taking a bunch of hardship and spinning it into something beautiful – how do you put that into a title? You’re the writer!”
She may not have settled on a good title, but she summed up The Story Of Amy Lee perfectly. Amy Lee, who is done being silent. Amy Lee, who doesn’t kill wasps anymore. Amy Lee, who has a song called Pickle Mustard to get back to.
Evanescence’s The Bitter Truth will be released later this year.
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