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Amy Lee can already picture it in her mind. The lights go down, giving way to the dream-like synth of Artifact/ The Truth, the first song from Evanescence’s new LP, The Bitter Truth.
“I keep imagining that’s how we’re going to start our show,” Lee says over Zoom.
The recently released record, the alt-metal band’s first batch of fresh material since 2011’s Evanescence, was recorded over the last year and thoughts of being back on the road inspired so much of its writing. Now, like a lot of artists, Lee, 39, is left playing out those concerts in her mind.
“There’s a new song called Part of Me. It just starts and you’re in it,” Lee remarks, thinking about a track she most wanted to perform in front of fans. “I sing that song in my car and I flip to that song most often these days.”
Ironically, The Bitter Truth was born out of the tour the band embarked upon in support of 2017’s Synthesis, which orchestrally reimagined Evanescence’s biggest hits with a new lineup.
“We went through our old songs, and I think that was important for all the other guys in the band because none of them were there then,” Lee says, referring to a musical past that includes two Grammys and two multi-million selling albums — 2003’s Fallen and 2006’s The Open Door. The trek was cathartic and artistically reinvigorating, prompting her to head back into the studio with a desire to record again under the Evanescence banner.
“After that groundwork was laid, then it was like, ‘OK, we know who we were, we know who we are, now let’s find out what the future is,’” the goth rocker says.
Regrouping with producer Nick Raskulinecz, who oversaw 2011’s Evanescence, Lee says she and her bandmates — guitarists Troy McLawhorn and Jen Majura, drummer Will Hunt and bassist Tim McCord — aimed to do something different. But the pandemic and forced time off the road helped Lee’s operatic voice fuel a survival-themed set of songs that veer from propulsive power balladry (Wasted on You) to arena-sized orchestral arrangements (Better Without You) to sweeping riffs (Take Cover) to protest anthems (Use My Voice). “Label me bitch,” she sings on the latter, which features Taylor Momsen and Lzzy Hale on backing vocals. “But I will use my voice.”
What we need to do within ourselves and in the world is face the truth, bitter as it may be.
Amy Lee on the decision to name the new Evanescence album The Bitter Truth
“If there is a way, we could encourage something good in the world that could help us get through this together by using our platform then we definitely wanted to do that,” she says.
“This is a time and a place where there was no escape from anything,” she adds. “We all had to face things about ourselves, some of the things we didn’t want to, and that was good creatively.”
If anything, Lee, a classically trained pianist who formed Evanescence with long-departed guitarist Ben Moody in 1995, says this new period has allowed her to appreciate her past in the midst of this latest comeback.
“We have millions of fans all over the world who have been loyal to us, even in the years we didn’t have an album coming out. That has made it worth something more than just pleasing myself. It makes it more special for me.”
Zooming in from the Nashville home she shares with her husband, Josh Hartzler, and their son, Jack, Lee spoke more about how Evanescence found its voice again.
It’s been a decade since Evanescence recorded new music. Why the long layaway and how did you find your way back?
I don’t plan really well. I’m not usually thinking, ‘I’m going to make a record this year and then another two years from now.’ I’ve done a lot in the last 10 years that wasn’t Evanescence related. I got to work on some solo things. I made a children’s record with my family that was really fun. I just kind of have to go where my heart goes. As for the way back, there was a lot that lead us here. We did Synthesis in 2017 … we toured. All of that was good for us … digging into those old songs, we were recreating them. For me to be able to pour that love back into our past, not just accept and understand it, but to really put love into the past was important. That gave us a beautiful platform to take it and run with it.
How did the times we’re living through inform your songwriting?
I honestly don’t know how they could not. It’s just been such a time where we have to wake up to a lot. It’s been a hard time for so many.
You know, I’m always writing music from a personal place, the deepest losses and heartaches in my life. So I was already on that path about writing from my own heart. But then the pandemic hit and all the political issues and all this pain and loss in the world really made me feel like we had a higher purpose during this time, where we could connect and relate to people on another level where everyone was experiencing loss and the need to fight — together.
So it wasn’t so much a choice to talk about what we felt we need to fight for and stand against, it was more like, ‘That’s what’s happening,’ and music is a place where we have to be true. I have to be completely honest with myself. It’s so wrapped up in who I am.
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What was it like creating an album during the pandemic?
It was different (laughs). We started out at the beginning of 2020, right before the lockdown … We got to the end of four songs, and everything changed — lockdown, no tour. So we committed last year to making it about the album. If I’m going to have all this time with forced isolation and introspection, I’m going to use it because that’s part of my process anyway. But there ended up being a new fire and energy (to the songs) after being apart.
The title of the record, The Bitter Truth, seems apropos for the time we’re living through at the moment.
The title of the album just showed itself … It’s a line from (lead single) Wasted on You and that is the theme we kept coming back to. What we need to do within ourselves and in the world is face the truth, bitter as it may be, because we’re never going to get to a better place or change ourselves if we can’t admit that things are broken right now.
You broke out at such a young age. How have you evolved as an artist, young Amy to now?
That’s hard to sum up; it’s been a long road. There’s been a lot of growth and that comes from my life place. When we were starting out, when Fallen came out, I had played like 12 shows. I was just starting to write music and learn who I was and what I had to say. It was just coming out. By now, we’ve played shows to thousands of people all over the world for years and the skill that builds is real. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of great musicians. I think one big standout difference about the band now is that we really are a band. We can flesh out ideas. We push each other to do better. That’s something really cool that didn’t exist before. I used to be insecure and very protective of my writing process. I was worried I might suck. But you have to suck in front of each other and be willing to trust each other for the magic to happen.
After Fallen, was it easy for you to maintain the musical identity you envisioned for yourself?
Before Fallen came out, there was a lot of label pressure to fit into a box, and that’s not really the band that we are. That was definitely a big thing. But fighting always to be true about what I believe (the music should sound like) has just been part of it for me. Honestly, the fact that it’s something that I had to fight for has made it more precious now and makes me want to keep doing it … But I have to say also that the time in between has also been good for me. Allowing myself to go down different paths and allowing my heart to be free leads me back to this over and over again in a pure way.
I saw a picture of you recently from the Grammys in 2004, which must have been such a crazy time for you. What advice would you give the young Amy?
Not to be afraid. It was a beautiful time, and such an important time in my life, but it was full of worry. If I could show myself a glimpse of the future that I was going to make it to this point, I would have been surprised and relieved. There were a lot of times back then when it felt like it was all falling apart, and I was barely holding it together.
The Bitter Truth is out now