Evanescence’s Amy Lee finds a new voice in ‘The Bitter Truth’
Not long ago, it almost seemed like curtains for Evanescence. The Grammy-winning gothic rock band fronted by Amy Lee had seen several members cycle in and out, citing personal and creative differences. And there were a spate of lawsuits between the band, its manager and label Wind-Up Records. Then, after Lee made a jailbreak of sorts, and with a new lineup rerecorded the band’s greatest hits in a 2017 symphonic album titled “Synthesis,” came the 2018 death of Lee’s brother Robby, who had suffered from severe epilepsy.
But Lee and Evanescence’s current members used the pandemic shutdowns as an opportunity to write the band’s first record in 10 years. It’s called “The Bitter Truth.”
“I want to show the way around the human heart,” says Lee. “With music you can explore every dimension of it in ways words cannot express.”
Lee, 39, was a classically trained pianist in Arkansas before Evanescence, which began with a heavy dose of high drama. Though the band’s 2003 debut, “Fallen,” would become the fifth best-selling album in the 21st century, its everlasting first single, “Bring Me to Life,” was considered for airplay only once Lee, then a rare young woman in hard rock, was vocally chaperoned by singer Paul McCoy of nu metal group 12 Stones.
“If there’s one thing that I have fought for in my own personal life and in my career, it’s the right to use my voice,” Lee says in a recent interview. “Nobody’s going to take that from me.”
Lee is calling from the Nashville, Tennessee, home she shares with her husband, Josh Hartzler, and their son, Jack. Behind her, a stuffed Alf toy from the 1980s sits politely on a cream tufted sofa; Lee wears a black tee and her hair piled up in a precarious bun, held together by a single chopstick. It’s a dressed-down version of Lee, known best as a steampunk Victorian fashionista whom pop stars like Ariana Grande, Halsey and Doja Cat have breathlessly emulated in their own work. Over the last two decades, Lee has helped light the path for many dauntless young women in music, but she’s not out of the ring just yet.
In “The Bitter Truth,” Evanescence continues to own the space where frosty electronic currents collide with volcanic surges of metal catharsis and coagulate into hard rock candy. Tendrils of doo-wop nostalgia come up for air in the lead single “Wasted On You,” and alt sirens Taylor Momsen and Lzzy Hale join a chorus of women in the stadium-size protest song “Use My Voice” — which soundtracked a 2020 PSA by HeadCount urging fans to rock the vote. Lee, who usually avoids the fracas of American politics, says, “I would be tone deaf not to use my platform, not while millions of people are still listening.”.
Q: “The Bitter Truth” is your first studio album in 10 years. What did it take for you to finally start it?
A: We got together (in 2019) to record this Fleetwood Mac cover — “The Chain” — and it set everything off. We scheduled a European tour with (Dutch metal band) Within Temptation last March. So in January, we went to (producer) Nick Raskulinecz in Nashville, who did our self-titled album, and put down four tracks. ... Then the tour was canceled, so we went on lockdown and decided (2020) was going to be our creative year.
Q: How did you pull it together during the pandemic?
A: Well, we’re from all over the world: Troy McLawhorn (guitarist) is in Atlanta. Will Hunt (drummer) is in Orlando. Tim McCord (bassist) is in Sacramento. And Jen Majura, our newest member and second guitarist, is in Germany. Because of travel restrictions, I haven’t seen her in person since the pandemic hit. We started working remotely, but by the end of July, I sent buses across both coasts to pick up the guys. We all got tests and stayed bubbled up in an Airbnb for about six weeks. Having limited time, my only way out was by nailing the songs. So it became this really urgent mission, and it saved me last year.
Q: Much of “The Bitter Truth” is proper metal, with these electronic twists and balladic turns Evanescence is known for. How do you retain that core sound, despite changing band members?
A: Every album we’ve done has had a slightly different lineup. We’ve had only one swap out since the last album from 10 years ago. But it matters, because Terry (Balsamo, former lead guitarist) and I were the primary writers during his time in the band; now it’s more of a group effort. I don’t think (bandmates) are expendable; they add more personality to the music. When you open your hearts up to each other and create something together, you should hear that. I hear Jen on this album, even though she was stuck in Germany. Troy and Nick would spend hours on the wildest, weirdest sounds, and I’d be falling asleep — then wake up like “Wow!” In all those little details, that’s where you get the character.
Q: Maybe it’s because I haven’t been to a concert in so long — or because I got bigger speakers — that it resonates like a live album. So many of us are starved for the physical sensation of the feedback and the drum beats just coursing through your body.
A: It’s funny because I’ve had times when I didn’t really miss being on the road, especially when I was (newly) in mom mode. I mean, I’m still in mom mode! But after feeling creatively frustrated and just lonely, being able to reunite — we took that pent-up frustration and desire and just exploded. It’ll feel so good to immerse ourselves in the music in real time with an audience.
Q: When you titled your record “The Bitter Truth,” what came to mind?
A: There are things lurking in everyone that we don’t want to admit. The longer you wait to admit it, and the more you try to push it down, the more it consumes you. Inside, I was holding so much grief for the last two years. And in the outside world, between the pandemic, racial and gender equality, voter suppression ... there’s so much pain, there’s so much injustice, there’s so much loss. We can’t fix it by posting “Oh, that’s terrible” on Twitter and going on with our lives. We have to admit that we are broken before we can heal.