The Ups and Downs of band life….
Your twenties are the years when you are finding your feet, going through stressful transitions on the road to discover who you are or what you want to be. It can be tricky decade for most, but what if you are having to maneuver round all its challenges and obstacles in the glare of the spotlight. Evanescence’ striking front-women Amy Lee was just twenty two when their debut studio album Fallen was released. Selling more the 15 million worldwide, topping the charts in 10 countries and earning them five Grammy nominations, the band were catapulted to super stardom, resulting in Amy being unwittingly labeled as a role model and sex symbol, as well as a commended and respected songwriter. The next few years would see further success, which would ensure many months on the road touring. This, compounded with departures and other numerous strains created a tumultuous and unsettled time for the band. After a necessary break, one which allowed Amy to get married and enjoy normality, 2011 saw Evanescence triumphantly return with a self titled album. But the process of creating their latest ‘dynamic’ output was not without its stalls, when their pairing with producer Steve Lilywhite proved to be a bad fit. Thankfully teaming up with acclaimed rock producer Nick Raskulinecz (who has previously worked with Foo Fighters, Deftones, Stone Sour to name a few) proved to be a very savvy move, culminating in an album the band are completely proud of. Culture Compass had the chance to speak to the idolized front-woman about the making and performing of new material with band-mates Terry, Tory, Tim and Will, her upcoming landmark birthday, as well as her plans for Christmas……
You have just completed the tour in Munich. You have said that writing the record as a band brought you closer, did the tour prove to bolster the new bond further? No, now we’re sick of each other (Haha)! It was a great first tour back, we’re having a really good time out there. Having a mission, something to fight and make sacrifices for, gives me the sweetest satisfaction. We’re in a good place being back on the road where we started again and remembering parts of ourselves that had been dormant for awhile.
After such a long break I know you worried about being able to evolve back into your on stage character. How did you manage, and has the stage persona you embody notably changed since your last tour? I’m your average bad-ass housewife who tries to replicate food she sees on Iron Chef and makes weird music in the attic all night. I’ve been pretty domestic and totally underground the past few years since I got married and I was a tiny bit nervous about getting back up onstage and throwing my soul down. But I swear I’ve never felt more comfortable onstage than I do now. It’s a great release if you let it be, and I’ve really loved performing again.
When working with Steve Lilywhite you were experimenting heavily, and with the latest album in its completed state it has been described as ‘fun’ – very different to the descriptions of previous releases. Is there a certain amount of anxiety when trying something new. Do you think it is necessary for musicians to be brave? I do think it’s necessary for musicians to be brave. How can you know everything you’re capable of unless you try everything? What if your greatest talents haven’t even been discovered yet? You have to challenge yourself, experiment, play. It is music after all, it’s supposed to be fun and creative.
From the audience reactions, twitter and forum conversations, can you get a good gauge of the overall feelings towards the changes in sound? It’s funny, different people hear it differently. Some people think it is a great departure, and more positive than our other albums, and then other people think it’s very dark and heavy, and classic Evanescence. I think that’s because it is both. You have a song like Swimming Home, which is the most peaceful and experimental sounding song I think we’ve ever had, but then you have Never Go Back which is an extremely heavy, epic song, both in sound and meaning. The album is just very dynamic.
Working with a name as big as Steve I am guessing you entered the NY studio excited and expecting great things. Why do you think it didn’t work and how well do you cope with moving forward when things don’t go to plan? Some of the songs we started recording in 2010 were just the rad new flavor we needed and others just weren’t right for the band. I realized that after spending a little time in the studio. It just wasn’t happening, it felt wrong and the vision was getting lost. I care too much about the music to ever sacrifice what could be something great if you let it fully bake. I’m willing to put the work in- even till it almost kills me- to get it right, to make something I want to listen to or the rest of my life.
It has been described as less angsty in content. Do you think this is because of where you are in your life, because you gained closure via previous outputs, or merely because you wanted to channel a different side of your personality? I’m so not sure it’s less angsty! Made of Stone, A New Way to Bleed, Sick- all pretty angst-ridden. But I’ve grown up a lot, I don’t blame everything on everyone else anymore, you know? I’ve started to accept things, appreciate what I have, forgive faster because life is too short to spend bitter and angry. My lyrics are just- me, so I guess you’re just hearing who I am now.
I imagine performing extremely emotional songs must be draining for you. Does the emotion get diluted when performing the songs so frequently or are you always taken back to that moment in time? It is draining but in a really good way. I can’t honestly say I’m completely lost in the meaning of every song every night, there’s a lot going on in my head on stage (Focus on the pitch, transpose the keyboard for the next song, what town are we in again??). But there are these great moments, when everyone is in the zone and the crowd is singing along and you don’t even have to think you just feel the music. There’s nothing better than that.
You have said that nature features in some of the lyrics. Do you find a particular environment more conducive to creativity… Stormy weather or crashing waves over LA sun for instance? Yes. I’m the most creative when it’s storming. The rain is my favorite writing tool, it just sets the perfect mood. I shack up in my house and make things- music, paintings, clothes, whatever. It just feels like my time- like a sick day. No one expects anything and I do it just for me. I feel a weird connection to bad weather- it brings my feelings to life. I’ll be writing a song and start to feel like I’m on to something and then it will start pouring on cue. Then I feel like there’s magic in the song- like nature and I are in sync.
The trials and ups and downs of life also influence the words on the record. Do lyrics and creativity flow better in times of darkness? Has the period of time off, getting married and enjoying domestic bliss made it harder to write? I have a lot of ideas, I am very in touch with my emotions, and I just plain love music, so I never go too long without feeling like I have something to write about. Being happy is a GOOD thing, and I can write when things are going well. But I think great art is something people feel connected to because it reminds them of their own life, and everyone with a heart will have it broken at some point. Often times the most honest expression comes from that broken place.
Eventually you joined Nick Rasculinez in the studio, who produced one of my favourite recent albums ( Deftones’ Diamond Eyes). Did you all click instantly and what makes his company and contribution unique to him? We all really love Nick. He and I did click instantly. I flew down to meet him at Blackbird studios in Nashville, in the same room where we ended up recording. We started talking about music, the industry, why we do what we do, and how we work and all of a sudden, 2 hours had gone by. I knew he would push us to be a better band, make this album really special. He made us work together and completely expose ourselves as musicians. He pushed every one of us to be the best possible version of ourselves, and you can hear a lot of personality coming through in all of the parts. I love that about it.
Has the success of working with him made you think its best to stick with rock producers from now on? Nope. I will always remain open minded and want to continue to experience new forms of music and art till the day I die.
You incorporated the harp into the album. Is it important to you to continue challenging yourself musically? I took up the harp for fun and it ended up being something I really love. I hope to always improve myself musically, throughout my life. Music is such a big part of who I am and I will probably always be searching for new ways to make it.
You have expressed admiration for the work of Bjork (her 1st record in particular). She is extremely inventive in every respect of her work. Do you also consider the visuals, video treatments, styling, technology just as carefully as the music? Absolutely. it’s important to have a vision, fashion and visuals express who you are and draw the landscape for the music. I design most of my stage clothes and come up with a lot of the concepts for our music videos and special events. Like the album cover for The Open Door- I sketched the cover, and then had the giant door and the dress made, so we could recreate the drawing in a photo. You need your artwork and look to do the best possible job describing you as you see yourself so that people can get closer to the heart of the music. I always have video ideas, the videos are the visual expression of the songs, and another dimension of what they mean to me. I love them because anything is possible!
Were there any records you were all listening to at the time of writing or tracking the record that ended up informing your sound? I like for the ideas to come from within, honestly. Just trying things until something strikes you. But I do really love these big, 80′s Analog synths that are back in music today, and there are definitely more synths and keyboards on this album than our previous ones.
Are there any current artists you are enjoying at the moment, ones that you’d even consider a collaboration with? I’ll collaborate if somebody awesome asks me. I’ve always wanted to work with Trent Reznor, I think we could make something beautiful.
You were on stage at the EMAs, is that as daunting as it sounds? How do you feel about mingling with other musicians like Justin Bieber etc? Haha. it’s a circus! it’s kind of fun to have a front seat to watch that craziness up close once in a while. I had a nice time that night, all I had to do was look pretty and read a paragraph off a TelePrompTer without fumbling over the words and then sit back and watch Lady Gaga hop around like a weird bird. Nice.
Whether you wanted to be or not you have become a role model for many. How do you cope with this? Has it got easier as you have got older and does it affect what you put out on a day to day basis? I am the eldest in my family, and have always been in that big sister role- its not entirely different from the way I feel about our fans. I always try to encourage people to be independent, creative and not to give up hope. Nothing good can really come from being too cynical, even when you’ve been dealt a difficult hand. I try my best to live that way and remember that people are listening, and it really matters what you say- in front of a mic or not, your words and actions affect people.
When fans and journalist are speculating over member departures and in-band issues they like to point the blame at someone. As the front-woman/poster girl for the band I expect you got the brunt of this. Did you make a point of avoiding reading such things? Being the front-woman comes with a lot of responsibility. When any part of this goes wrong I’m the one who has to answer for it. It sucks but I’m used to it. Sometimes the hardest part is just saying nothing-because its the only way to stay above the bullshit. I had to get over the need for everyone to know “the real me.” You can’t really know someone you’ve never met, and you can’t know the real story if you weren’t there. There are more constructive and fulfilling things I’d rather do than worry about settling scores and read articles about myself. My job is to make music, and I try to stay focused on that.
You are on the cusp of reaching a landmark birthday, how do you feel about turning 30 and how has your perspective changed since hitting the big time as an early twenty something? It feels pretty good. I’ve lived a very full life already and I am very grateful. I’ve seen life as brief and precious since I was a little girl when I lost my sister. I still see it that way and consider every one of these 30 years a gift, I don’t think that will ever change.
I saw via your twitter that you had your apron on and were ‘ready to rock the kitchen’ on Thanksgiving… What are your Christmas plans, do you have time off from your hectic schedule to relax and party? HA! I love the holidays. I love how the kitchen brings everyone together. I’ll be home with my parents, siblings and husband for a few days for a pretty traditional Christmas. Dad got a manual pasta maker and were going to try making homemade ravioli for the first time.
What is on your ipod recently played list? Lykke Li. My current favorite.
Hopes and plans for 2012? Loads of touring and not much else! There’s a big world out there and we’re going to play as many places as we can. We start in January in the US and Mexico, Japan in February and much more to follow, we’re just booking as we go.
Something that people might be surprised to know about you? I have a recurring dream that I’m still in high school, and everything I’ve done since happened before taking the final exam, and I’ve totally forgotten everything including my locker combination so I can’t even study, and I’m flipping out because I’m going to fail and never get my diploma.
Will we get to see you back in the UK next year, any festival dates lined up? We’re still planning the tour dates but we will definitely to come back to the UK at some point next year. Download Festival was a highlight for us back in 07 so we’re seeing if that will work for us next summer.
Photos courtesy of Chapman Baehler
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