Evanescence on Embracing Change: An interview with Amy Lee

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Evanescence on Embracing Change: An interview with Amy Lee

Amy Lee Evanescence
by David James Young

Evanescence's Amy Lee chats creative evolution, the legacy of 'Fallen' 25 years on, and much more ahead of the band's forthcoming tour Down Under.

What comes to mind when you hear the name Evanescence? For most, if not all, it begins with the pale blue face of a young Amy Lee, adorning the cover of the band’s 2003 debut Fallen. One of the biggest rock albums of its era, its worldwide multi-platinum success has cemented a legacy that has afforded Evanescence a ticket to the world at large. However, its creation was infamously tense, with Lee entering conflict with both label executives and her own bandmate Ben Moody over the creative direction. 

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“There was a lot of drama during the creation of the songs on that album, and it gave me tons to write about,” says Lee as she reflects on the album 20 years after its release. 

There was so much I needed to express – in my life I felt trapped, misunderstood and silenced. I needed that microphone with all my heart.” 

Lee credits Fallen’s creation with allowing her to gain the confidence needed to exorcise her own personal demons through not only that album but the entirety of Evanescence’s discography since, with the debut serving largely as a documentation of the innermost turmoil, grief and anguish of her early 20s.

“Music has always been my outlet for the biggest emotions and hardest struggles in my life,” says Lee. 

“When I feel trapped, writing my way out through a song sets me free. When I feel lost, music feels like home. I think the secret ingredient for me, personally, is trust. I have to trust that I’m safe to be nothing but 100% real in the music. If I allow myself total freedom to speak in the lyrics, then that genuineness comes through and people can really relate to it. That courage to really say what I needed to say all started pushing through on Fallen.”

A potent blend of the downtuned riffage of the still-potent nu-metal wave of the early 2000s and a classically-tinged flair for orchestral melodrama, all of the key calling cards of Evanescence’s sound came to fruition through the making of Fallen. In particular, the idiosyncrasies of the band stemmed from the ornate use of both choral and string arrangements on tracks like ‘Imaginary’ and ‘Whisper’. Though a big risk at the time, this ultimately allowed the newcomers to stand out from their other guitar-toting contemporaries with a true sense of grandiosity. 

“There’s something really motivating about feeling like you’re onto something unique,” Lee says. 

“We were still developing our sound, and had this addictive feeling that we  were tapping into something really different and special musically. That blend of heavy rock and film scores was basically our big idea on Fallen

“Honestly, films and their scores and soundtracks were as big an influence for us as albums and bands were – especially films like Donnie Darko, The Crow, City of Angels, Gladiator and Edward Scissorhands. Having a real orchestra, in particular, was essential. It was something I had to fight for, because it was expensive and it was our first record. I think [string arranger] David Campbell, and all that he brought to the table, was one of the key elements that made Fallen, and everything we’ve been fortunate enough to create since, what it is.”

Amy Lee Evanescence

The album’s two biggest songs are also Evanescence’s two signature songs: the anthemic ‘Bring Me to Life’ and lighter ballad ‘My Immortal’. However, neither version on the album was the one Lee had envisioned. The former had a male vocalist forced onto it by the label, while the latter had its original 2000 demo used in lieu of the full-band version (however, that was later released as a single). 

Though things didn’t go the way Lee had planned, Lee feels as though she has been able to ultimately reclaim the songs over the ensuing decades. 

“I say it on-stage almost every night, both of those songs have come to mean so much more to me through the years because of what they now represent between the band and the fans,” she says. 

“Both the demo and the David Campbell studio version of ‘My Immortal’ ultimately made it to the record, and as for ‘Bring Me to Life’? It really has grown tremendously live. The cool thing about the guest vocal is we have a built-in collab anytime we want. That comes especially in handy during festival season.”

The video for ‘Bring Me to Life’ is arguably just as memorable as the song itself, with Lee dramatically performing the song while hanging from the ledge of a skyscraper. It achieved one billion YouTube views in 2022, one of only a handful of rock acts to do so alongside giants like Guns N Roses and Nirvana. Lee recalls travelling to Romania to shoot the video, marking the first time she had left the US, and beginning a bond with director Philip Stölzl that would extend to a further two Evanescence videos.

“I remember my knees were scraped and bleeding during that shoot,” she continues. 

“It came from hanging off the side of the building with Paul [McCoy, guest vocalist] over and over for the scene before the fall, and I was proud of it. We worked on the video for 17 hours straight, then went directly to the airport to fly back to the States. We missed our connecting flight, so we were stranded overnight without bags and crying just a little. Christopher Guest and Michael McKean were at the gate waiting for new flights too, so of course I tapped them on the shoulder to say I loved them in This Is Spinal Tap. They seemed like maybe they’d heard that before.”

In August, Evanescence will return to Australia for their first arena tour in over 11 years. Last in Australia to perform orchestral shows circa 2018, the upcoming run will see Lee and co. celebrating 20 years of Fallen by showcasing a selection of songs from it in tandem with favourites from across the band’s career. The tour will also be their first in the country since the addition of Australian bassist Emma Anzai, formerly of Sick Puppies. 

“She’s the perfect fit,” says Lee of Evanescence’s newest member. 

“We got to really know each other in 2007 when Evanescence went on tour with Sick Puppies, and I always low-key dreamed of working together someday. We have a lot in common, and her name’s held in high regard in the rock world for good reason. She’s a bad bitch!”

In a final reflection on Fallen, Mixdown asks Lee about what key lessons she learned during its creation, which would carry into the band’s work thereafter. Her response opens with a key two-word mantra that she feels is impertinent to the entire creative process for Evanescence: “Embrace change.” 

“Don’t get caught up in routine, or the way you always do it,” she says. “See what different starting points, environments, people and instruments do to the recipe. I get really excited about sounds and grooves that feel fresh and different for us. I’ve looked at it that way for a long time; now, experimentation itself is a critical part of the routine. So long as the honesty is always there, the heart will remain the same.”

Evanescence will be touring nationally this August, 2023. For more information, head here.