Amy Lee misses Brooklyn. She lived there for 12 years with her husband (and later their son, born in 2015), before they left their apartment for Nashville a year ago.
“The perfect year,” she says with an eye roll over Zoom. Lee had hoped to be closer to her family in Arkansas and friends in Nashville when she moved, only to find herself stuck at home with the rest of the world. “We haven’t gotten [to see people] as much as we would have liked to because of Covid, but now we are here, and we will be set up for a better next year,” she adds optimistically.
That’s not the only plan she’s had to readjust: Earlier this year, her alt-metal band, Evanescence, returned to the studio with producer Nick Raskulinecz, writing and recording songs for what will be their first album of new material since 2011’s Evanescence. While the pandemic slowed them down, the group has forged onward, working remotely at first and later, after getting negative Covid tests, at a Nashville studio. In April, they released the sobering power ballad “Wasted on You” as the lead single from their very much in-progress LP, The Bitter Truth, which is due to be released in early 2021.
“I’m not going to rush,” says Lee, 38. “I’m just trying to live in the moment, feeding my soul with the music.”
When the band began making a concerted effort to work on new material last year, their one rule was that there would be no rules. They began with a wealth of material and inspiration, along with a couple decade-old songs that finally feel ripe for release. Since August, when her U.S.-based bandmates took tour buses to join her in Nashville (guitarist Jen Majura has remained in Germany), they’ve been powering through the rest of the album.
“The energy was just amped,” Lee says. “We were in there on fire. Now, the guys are back at their homes, and I am wading through the aftermath of all the music, piecing it together and finalizing the record.” In some ways, she says, lockdown has been a blessing: “The upside of this time is that I’ve had to buckle down and focus. Even on the days that I don’t want to, I come out here and I go, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s finish the album.’ ”
The near-decade leading up to The Bitter Truth has been both eye-opening and invigorating for Lee. After the release of Evanescence, the group went on hiatus to deal with a legal dispute with their former label. Lee took some time to work on solo projects, including a children’s album. When the band got back in the studio, it was to reimagine their past hits with orchestral arrangements for the 2017 LP Synthesis.
Those changes, among others, mean that The Bitter Truth will be their first album with the current lineup of Evanescence. The band has changed significantly since Lee formed Evanescence as a duo with guitarist Ben Moody in 1995, the year after they met at a Christian youth camp in Little Rock at age 13. Lee, whose father worked in the radio business, had grown up loving Motown before seeing the film Amadeus and falling for classical music. “I wanted to be like Mozart,” she says. “I begged for piano lessons. I got to take piano lessons. Then grunge hit.”
Soon, she was deep into the radio rock of the day, like teens across America, listening to Nirvana, Soundgarden, Tori Amos, and Beck. At the same time, she was writing poetry and thinking about the connections between her favorite sounds. “It just all fell together,” she says. “The heavier the music — the more it was in the Metallica, Pantera world — the more similarities I could draw with Bach and Beethoven.”
Evanescence signed their first record deal in the late Nineties, when Lee was 19 and starting to study theory composition at Middle Tennessee State University. It took a few independent EPs and a jump to a major label for the duo to become a full band, enlisting a few friends for their first full-length album, 2003’s Fallen. The LP became one of the year’s hugest commercial success stories, going platinum seven times over and making them instant peers to Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Norah Jones, and Avril Lavigne. “Bring Me to Life,” its thrashing thunderstorm of a lead single, became an enduring goth-pop anthem, with follow-up “My Immortal” not far behind. At the 2004 Grammys, Evanescence took home the Best New Artist trophy, beating out 50 Cent and Sean Paul, and Fallen was nominated for Album of the Year (it lost to Outkast’s unstoppable Speakerboxxx/The Love Below).
Behind the scenes, though, success proved difficult for Evanescence to handle. “It was weird,” Lee says now. “I grew up in public.” She was surprised that an album so informed by real-life darkness, including the tragic death of her sister when they were both young kids, could yield Top 40 hits. “[We were] rock-band kids at the Grammys or the American Music Awards or whatever, rubbing elbows with the pop stars of the day,” she adds. “When we won, it felt like somebody was going to jump out from behind and surprise us and go, ‘Just kidding. Losers. You don’t belong here at all.’ ”
Lee spent the band’s first major tour worrying about an ailing brother, and tensions in the band boiled over with Moody’s dramatic departure halfway through a 2003 trek across Europe; he has never returned to the band. “I remember lots of times just wanting to go home,” Lee says. “I was the only female for miles, and I felt alone in my band and on the road.”
Every rock era has been defined by how few women have been able to break through to the mainstream, and Lee felt isolated even as her operatic mezzo-soprano became one of rock’s definitive voices. At one radio show, a DJ introduced the band by admitting that he had “jacked off” to the Fallen album cover, a close-up of Lee’s face. After the first song and a few minutes of simmering rage, Lee called him out. At another show, she interrupted her performance to confront a few members of the mostly male audience who were chanting “Show your tits.”
It took until this year for Lee to feel comfortable expressing her opinion on politics, speaking out in interviews against Donald Trump and the police killing of George Floyd. On “Use My Voice,” released as a single this summer, she makes it clear she’s no longer willing to stay quiet: “Drown every truth in an ocean of lies,” she sings. “Label me bitch because I dare to draw my own line/Burn every bridge and build a wall in my way/But I will use my voice.”
Evanescence recorded the song with backing vocalists including Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale and the Pretty Reckless’ Taylor Momsen — two leading voices in today’s hard rock who told Lee she’s been a major influence on their careers. “That started giving me life,” Lee says. “It made me pour myself into it with a new sense of understanding and purpose and confidence that what I was saying was worth hearing.”