We meet the rock icon to talk about the band’s new album, working with women and the beast that is fame
For those among us who were watching Kerrang! religiously in 2003, there likely isn’t a more memorable image than that of Evanescence’s Amy Lee scaling a giant building in a flimsy nightie while screaming save me from the nothing I’ve become into the night. “Bring Me to Life”, with its huge chorus, guitars, and rock-rap went quickly platinum, brought Evanescence to global relevance, and ensured that they wouldn’t ever be forgotten. Even if that’s the only song of theirs you know, the opening piano is probably more than enough to get you amped up enough to start screaming (badly) along.
Evanescence followed 2003’s Fallen, their most commercially successful album, with The Open Door in 2006. After a hiatus and another change in line-up, the band returned in 2011 with Evanescence before going back on hiatus. Now, in 2017, the band are very much back – and while their continued legacy is thanks in part to their huge, dramatic sound and that one, timeless banger, it’s more than anything thanks to their one remaining original member: Amy Lee. In a scene and genre full to the brim with men, Amy Lee, with her outrageously impressive voice and dramatic gothic decadence, was instantly iconic.
Amy Lee has been busy in the last few years with solo work including film scores and a children’s album. But now, Evanescence, with new guitarist Jen Majura, are well and truly back. This November they’ll release Synthesis, a reworking and re-recording of some of their biggest hits (yes, including “Bring Me To Life”) with a full orchestra and electronics. It also includes brand new songs, and is the precursor to more new music and a full tour from the band. We spoke to Amy Lee, eternal alt icon, about Synthesis, why it was the right time to revisit their old work, and being a very famous woman in music since she was just 21.
The new album sounds and feels very Björk-esque, that mix of electronic with strings. Not identical, it’s your own thing, but similar.
Amy Lee: I’m a huge Björk fan, I’ll take that as a huge compliment. I think the difference might be taking that traditional Evanescence sound which has those indulgently dramatic and epic moments. Going full on with them, sometimes I feel like the drama is all a little bit too much these days. I guess part of that’s just growing up as your tastes change. This album was an outlet to go, ‘You know what, we’re just going to go completely nuts with it and let the orchestra do all of that stuff we were hinting at before and go ahead and be a little bit more classical and dramatic and make the piano parts even more Mozart inspired. Just kind of tricky crazy old school.’ It was just really fun, it’s a fun project. I’m looking forward to doing it live. I’m a little bit nervous, it’s definitely different and asking a little bit more of myself and everyone. But I’m excited.
Why did you decide to rework your old songs on Synthesis?
Amy Lee: Our music from the beginning has always had the elements of very intricate and beautiful arrangements by David Campbell, but it also has this other side of the electronic programming that I really love. In fact, most of what I listen to is in that world. Once we put everything on there; the guitars, the big rock drums, you go through all the different levels of production to the point that you have the finished product of the song but a lot of that beautiful intricate stuff gets kind of buried. Many times I’ve left the studio and wished I had a mix just of the string arrangements and the programming together with vocals because there’s something really beautiful about that. I think that was my initial thought but that snowballed into something a lot bigger, because going back in with David Campbell he completely rearranged these songs in a way that takes the whole orchestra and lets it fill in all this space that isn’t taken up by the full band at full power all the time.
So we started from scratch with Will Hunt, the programmer and producer on the album, who is brilliant at just playing with all sorts of samples and sounds and keyboards to create this beautiful synthetic world, and then we married it to the orchestral arrangement. I don’t know why, but it scratched an itch for me. I love our old songs and I wanted to make new ones too, but I just wanted to go crazy with some of this music right now before we move forward into a next album and a new direction. I want to take a moment with this catalogue of stuff, but at the end of it my favourite song is our new song ‘Imperfection’, so maybe it was all in vain just to get to that one song for me.
Is it weird revisiting the place you were in at that time?
Amy Lee: It was really good for me, I am in a healthy place about it. It actually helped me get into an even more healthy place about our old music. I love it. I mean, we played these songs live, most of them, on a regular basis and have for a long time. Live always gives me a chance to show growth even within those old songs that I connect to less nowadays. It’s always funny to listen to the recorded versions that are so old. Some of the choices we made in production back then I might have been a little bit more confident and done differently now. All of those little things I get to do live, but you hear the old recording and it’s still frozen in time.
This is a cool opportunity to take some of those old songs and make them better. I think I’ve developed as a vocalist to where I can do things that are a little bit more interesting than I could before. Having sung for so many years now, then I was still pretty young. But, also when you write a song, for example ‘Bring Me to Life’, we were still making changes and we wrote it that same year it came out. When I sung it on that recording, I was still getting used to the melody and everything else about it. Now, I am going to go sing it with a different type of confidence and perspective.
“I think it’s really funny, that stereotype that women can’t work together, it’s so old school and silly because it’s a pleasure to work with women in the industry” – Amy Lee
You do film soundtracks too, right?
Amy Lee: It’s always been a dream of mine and I’m finally getting to work in that world a bit which has been really fun. I definitely still have a lot to learn but I think the one important thing that I have learned along the way is that collaboration is a beautiful thing and there’s no reason to feel to proud too work with someone on something. It’s cool to be involved in the film stuff soundtrack and scores because you’re working for something that really is an even bigger level of collaboration where everybody is working together to create music for something that’s even bigger than the sound.
The sound itself can go a million different directions because a movie is two hours long. You have to fill in a lot of different emotions and situations so there’s a lot of experimentation and a lot of people involved to create that thing. I love working with other people, I really do. I think when I was younger that was harder for me because so important for me to prove I could do everything myself. Now I feel like, ‘Alright I know what I can do, I proved what I can do, and if I’m ever going to get better at what I do that means looking out, not just in.’
I guess as you were such a young woman when you started there’s more of that need to always prove yourself and prove that you can do it alone.
Amy Lee: It gets easier the more that you do. I feel like I’ve had a lot of good experiences. I’ve put a lot of music out by now, had a lot of live shows. To the point that I feel like okay, cool, I’ve done that and now I can experiment more.
I remember years ago someone tried to pit you against Britney in an article and you posted saying something like, ‘No, don’t do that, we’re all here trying our best.’ It was just really nice and supportive. The media always seemed to create drama between alternative female singers and the pop artists that really wasn’t there.
Amy Lee: Which is just another stereotype that women are competitive with each other and have to fight for attention. It’s just not always true. I find that I need women, I need my girlfriends. Especially being in a world where you’re surrounded by men. It’s been really cool having Jen in the band, our new guitar player. It’s the first time we’ve ever had a female in the band, I think it’s really funny, that stereotype that women can’t work together, it’s so old school and silly because it’s a pleasure to work with women in the industry. I’m sure you feel the same way. You get me on a slightly deeper level than my other co-workers.
So I think having Jen in the band is cool because we have a different level of understanding with one another about stuff and because she can sing background vocals and we’ve never had that live. It’s always just been me, It’s cool to have that support. We have to respect each other as artists to just in general. It’s hard for everybody. Nobody is out there just not trying hard and making money, we’re all working our asses off trying our best to say something whether it’s pop or rock, whatever genre you’re in. You’re putting yourself out there, which you’re really doing even if you don’t write you own songs. You’re opening yourself up to everyone’s criticisms and you’re saying ‘Hey! Here’s me, start firing your arrows, attack!’ I think recognising that we’re all under that same microscope is important and we need to care for each other. we really do. And I have big respect for anybody who puts themselves in a position that they might be famous because it’s a beast. It’s not my favourite part of things.
Synthesis will be released on November 10