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 guitaristJohn Lecompt. All because of one of my crazy questions: who’s the ultimatefemale rock icon for you? “Janis Joplin,” replied Amy, after somehesitation, allowing me to think it was a calculated response just becauseit seemed like the right thing to answer for a female rock star – an homageto the grandmother of today’s young rock chicks, if you will.
But then Johnsounded 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 becausethey didn’t agree on the importance of Janis Joplin!” Amy offers to schoolhim and I offer to move on. So really, who did she want to be when she grewup? “Bjrk! My biggest influence as a kid. But now I’ve grown up.” That saysa lot about Bjrk, I guess. With her operatic voice and rock chick attitude,Amy could be described as something between Maria Callas and Joan Jett. Shepoints to her t-shirt, the latter singer’s image giving us a rebellioussnarl.
But I doubt there’s much rebellion about Evanescence. Sure, they offered afresh take on rock, mixing in guitars and classical sounds with operaticsinging, and their debut album, Fallen, was a phenomenal success. And theyfollow 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 Evanscence. But then again, why should they change a successfulformula, right, especially with a record company who wants a repeatperformance of an album that sold a phenomenal 14 million copies worldwideand was certified platinum a whopping six times.
But Amy begs to differ. “Ifanything, the success of the first album made it a lot easier to create thistime. 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. Ifwe didn’t create music and break into the industry, we wouldn’t be makingour second album right now!”
– Evanescence are aware of pressure…
I’m not sure about that. Some bands, like U2, didn’t do great first or evensecond albums.”The industry has changed. If you don’t do well, you’re pretty much done ifyou’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 firsttime. We were very successful and that was such a great gift for us becausewe got to completely relax and go, ‘OK, I can do anything I want!’ We madeThe Open Door because of that – all the freedom, everything that we wereallowed, just no rules, and respect, too, gets you a lot of creativefreedom.”
A luxury nowadays, creative freedom is a much sought-after form of libertyfor most artists. But listening to The Open Door, it’s quite clear thatEvanescence equates creative freedom with freedom to indulge in their gothicside. Some of the chords were recorded in church, and the sound isspine-tingling opera rock, but Amy stresses that it had nothing to do withreligion. “The strings were recorded in a chapel for the acoustics. Itwasn’t any religious experience. Everyone’s asking about it. It’s allsensationalized. It’s like, where did this come from?”
The band was onlyseeking an effect. “You can record an instrument like a voice and put reverbin a studio or, if you’re just going to be fun and really indulgent like wewere this time, you can go get real reverb. We went to a big church becauseit made the big ambient epic strings.” Obviously, Amy’s classical trainingis a huge influence, as are “Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Cartoon Network,and Danny Elfman.” John, being a guitar player, lists most hard rockguitarists’ list of bands to cite as an influence: “Pantera, Korn, Slayer,anything from that to old classical music to country to industrial.”
The Open Door is open to interpretation but it’s mostly about Amy’s break-upwith Seether frontman Shaun Morgan. “I had a lot more fun writing it andrecording it. Lyrically, I was going through some tough times last year, butthen when am I not? I mean, that’s just life. Bad experiences can inspiregreat 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 bettermusicians 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 evenbetter.”
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 takethings and make it his won. He wouldn’t be satisfied with just playing; hewould get creative with it. And once we got into writing songs, we were justtotally thrilled because creatively, he’s just totally innovative and tryingto push the bar to something better. That’s the way I like to work, so wewould just play off of each other.” Balsamo, who suffered a stroke thisyear, is currently at home recovering. “But he’ll be on tour,” Amy assuresus.
There’s still one thing Evanescence would like to achieve. “I’d love to haveTim Burton direct one of our videos, but he doesn’t do videos…” muses Amy. He actuallydirected the latest The Killers video. “Really? I’m jealous!” Stand by your phone, Tim…