Evanescence, minus an original member, are back. The Open Door is Amy Lee’s band’s follow-up to the global hit Fallen, and the weight of expectation is heavy indeed. We caught up with Lee and guitarist John Lecompt to discover what’s changed, and what’s stayed the same, since they shot to fame. The biggest difference to their formative years, Amy says, is creative freedom. In short, it’s glorious what a few extra greenbacks can do…
Oops. I think I’ve created a rift between lead singer Amy Lee and guitarist John LeCompt. All because of one of my crazy questions: who’s the ultimate female rock icon for you? “Janis Joplin,” replied Amy, after some hesitation, allowing me to think it was a calculated response just because it seemed like the right thing to answer for a female rock star – an homage to the grandmother of today’s young rock chicks, if you will.
But then John sounded his incredulity: “Oh no. I can’t stand her voice.”
Amy: “You have to get past the grit and hear the passion.”
John: “Oh, I like grit. I just don’t like her.”
Amy: “Fine, I don’t like you!”
Oops. John already imagines the headlines: “John leaves the band because they didn’t agree on the importance of Janis Joplin!” Amy offers to school him and I offer to move on. So really, who did she want to be when she grew up? “Björk! My biggest influence as a kid. But now I’ve grown up.” That says a lot about Björk, I guess. With her operatic voice and rock chick attitude, Amy could be described as something between Maria Callas and Joan Jett. She points to her t-shirt, the latter singer’s image giving us a rebellious snarl.
But I doubt there’s much rebellion about Evanescence. Sure, they offered afresh take on rock, mixing in guitars and classical sounds with operatic singing, and their debut album, Fallen, was a phenomenal success. And they follow through on that success with their sophomore offering, The Open Door. In other words, the song remains the same. Sorry fans, but it sounds, well, like Evanescence. But then again, why should they change a successful formula, right, especially with a record company who wants a repeat performance of an album that sold a phenomenal 14 million copies worldwide and was certified platinum a whopping six times.
But Amy begs to differ. “If anything, the success of the first album made it a lot easier to create this time. The hard part was in the beginning with Fallen. If we had failed, that’s pretty much like our shot would be over; you have that first shot. If we didn’t create music and break into the industry, we wouldn’t be making our second album right now!”
“The industry has changed. If you don’t do well, you’re pretty much done if you’re a rock band: you don’t sell it, you don’t make it, you’re dropped.” – Evanescence are aware of pressure…
I’m not sure about that. Some bands, like U2, didn’t do great first or even second albums. “The industry has changed. If you don’t do well, you’re pretty much done if you’re a rock band: you don’t sell it, you don’t make it, you’re dropped. It’s a tough industry, and there was a lot of pressure to make it the first time. We were very successful and that was such a great gift for us because we got to completely relax and go, ‘OK, I can do anything I want!’ We made The Open Door because of that – all the freedom, everything that we were allowed, just no rules, and respect, too, gets you a lot of creative freedom.”
A luxury nowadays, creative freedom is a much sought-after form of liberty for most artists. But listening to The Open Door, it’s quite clear that Evanescence equates creative freedom with freedom to indulge in their gothic side. Some of the chords were recorded in church, and the sound is spine-tingling opera rock, but Amy stresses that it had nothing to do with religion. “The strings were recorded in a chapel for the acoustics. It wasn’t any religious experience. Everyone’s asking about it. It’s all sensationalized. It’s like, where did this come from?”
The band was only seeking an effect. “You can record an instrument like a voice and put reverb in a studio or, if you’re just going to be fun and really indulgent like we were this time, you can go get real reverb. We went to a big church because it made the big ambient epic strings.” Obviously, Amy’s classical training is a huge influence, as are “Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Cartoon Network, and Danny Elfman.” John, being a guitar player, lists most hard rock guitarists’ list of bands to cite as an influence: “Pantera, Korn, Slayer, anything from that to old classical music to country to industrial.”
“I had a lot more fun writing it and recording it.” – Amy Lee on the cathartic writing process behind The Open Door
The Open Door is open to interpretation but it’s mostly about Amy’s break-up with Seether frontman Shaun Morgan. “I had a lot more fun writing it and recording it. Lyrically, I was going through some tough times last year, but then when am I not? I mean, that’s just life. Bad experiences can inspire great art, and I felt that I got some great songs out of those situations.”
Considering the pain in her voice and the sombre ambience of the tracks, recording it was cathartic. “Absolutely. It always is. That’s why I do whatI do. I’ve gotten better what I do. I think as a band, we’re all just better musicians and better creators. It was a more fun experience this time – we’ve done this before, we know what we’re doing, now we can make it even better.”
This was especially so with the arrival of guitarist Terry Balsamo in the band. “I think he made a huge improvement in the band,” says Amy. “Playing onstage with him was wonderful as just a musician. He really likes to take things and make it his won. He wouldn’t be satisfied with just playing; he would get creative with it. And once we got into writing songs, we were just totally thrilled because creatively, he’s just totally innovative and trying to push the bar to something better. That’s the way I like to work, so we would just play off of each other.” Balsamo, who suffered a stroke this year, is currently at home recovering. “But he’ll be on tour,” Amy assures us.
There’s still one thing Evanescence would like to achieve. “I’d love to have Tim Burton direct one of our videos, but he doesn’t do videos…” muses Amy. He actually directed the latest The Killers video. “Really? I’m jealous!” Stand by your phone, Tim…