How Evanescence Came Back From The Brink
They'd sold 20 million albums while still in their teens, but after a self-enforced five year hiatus, just how did Evanescence make the long journey back?
This article originally appeared in Metal Hammer #223.
Evanescence. You’ll be forgiven for having forgotten exactly what that word means. It’s been five years since the band have been fully active, after all, but while the dictionary definition suggests “the process of vanishing or fading away”, after selling over 20 million albums in their career thus far, the chances of this band sloping off into the annals of history are slim.
The good news for Evanescence fans across the world is that they are back. As in, actually back. We meet the band in Nashville, Tennessee where they’ve been recording their third album.
“We should be finished in the next 48 hours,” says the instantly recognisable Amy Lee, making herself comfortable on a sofa. “I’ve been taking these speakers around with me wherever I go. I have to go into the other room, listen to the mix, make some notes and go back to work.”
The band are also preparing to headline their first show since 2007. Even at 3pm there are already around 50 fans queuing up in the searing August sunshine on the plaza outside the splendid-looking Nashville War Memorial Auditorium. With 100ft pillars, battlefield monuments and huge brass plaques adorned with the names of fallen soldiers, this municipal building isn’t a conventional venue for a concert of one of the biggest-selling rock bands of the past decade, but here we are nonetheless.
Already, it’s an interesting mix of people. There are the teenage girls who look up to Amy Lee and the young couples wearing matching Evanescence t-shirts. There are whole families dedicated to the cause but, curiously, there is a handful of men in their mid-20s wearing the kind of t-shirts you wouldn’t readily associate with fans of a multi-million selling, female-fronted alternative metal band: Amon Amarth, Periphery, Hatebreed. And no, these gents are not with their girlfriends. They are here of their own accord.
“We’re pretty comfortable with the show. It’s going to be our show so we’re going to have a lot of our fans there,” says drummer Will Hunt, the ends of his blond hair touching the collar of his vintage Metal Hammer t-shirt. And there’s nothing affected about his choice of attire today: since Evanescence were last a going concern, he’s drummed with Black Label Society, Static X, Hollywood Undead, Methods Of Mayhem and Staind.
“It would just be nice if the record was out and we could play more new stuff,” adds dreadlocked lead guitarist and co-songwriter Terry Balsamo. “I mean, we’re still playing some new stuff but we wanna play the whole freaking thing. I’m over the old shit.”
Terry also points out that it’s “the first time an Evanescence cycle finished and is starting up with the same band”. While bassist Tim McCord readily admits that he “sat on [his] ass for the whole time” and rhythm guitarist Troy McLawhorn had an unhappy time in Seether, Terry played with his former band Cold as well as in another band with his friends, John Otto and Sam Rivers from Limp Bizkit. Ultimately, however many other bands they were playing with, they all came home to create arguably the most stable lineup in the band’s history.
That stability has led to over five months of work on this self-titled album with Nick Raskulinecz. Having produced the likes of Alice In Chains, Rush and Deftones over the last few years, he’s no stranger to the proverbial big rock record and, judging by lead single What You Want, the new album will marry the grungy, alternative rock heaviness suggested by the band members’ other dalliances with the huge pop sensibilities that Bring Me To Life brought to the fore back in 2003. Indeed, Amy Lee describes the band’s sound as “almost like Janet Jackson meets Nirvana or something… in my own head anyway.”
While writing 2006’s The Open Door held the obvious pressure of following up Fallen, an album which had sold 14 million copies worldwide, there was also a newfound freedom after founding member, guitarist and the debut album’s co-songwriter, Ben Moody, departed. This allowed Amy to incorporate a lot more of her own influences and experiences which ultimately led to an album she was happier with.
“I’d throw on The Open Door way faster than I would throw on Fallen to listen to,” she says. “They are both great and I am proud of all my work but I really love The Open Door. I wrote it for me.”
“I knew there was all the pressure of the record before and I felt it but what I really, really wanted was to write an album which is better than the one before and we did,” she explains. “It didn’t sell 14 million, because how are you going to do that twice unless you’re Michael Jackson? But it sold five million, and I was so happy with that.”
Halfway through 2007, Miss Amy Lee officially became Mrs Amy Hartzler. Using a mid-tour break to get married in her parents’ garden and take a honeymoon, real life was being squeezed in around her commitments to the band.
“The week we finished I just told the guys that I wanted to stop for a while,” she recalls. “I didn’t know if it was the end or if I wanted to make another record or go have kids. I had to figure myself out because it had been all Evanescence all of the time for me since I was 18 and they were all great with it.”
The band agree that while they had only as much idea about when they might regroup as Amy did, there were no hard feelings. When her solo project didn’t quite work out, however, she knew it was because she needed the band back together.
“It was missing something and it took me a minute to come back around to the idea that I wanted to be in Evanescence again because I’ve been so defined by it but it’s not the whole picture – it’s just a part of me,” she says. “There are other aspects of me that aren’t so serious and sometimes it feels like, ‘Wait a minute! Nobody really understands who I really am.’ I had to try some other things and express myself in other ways to fully get myself out there and I did that.”
“Now the thing to overcome is the time away,” Amy says, nodding. “We’ve been away for five years and the suits are all saying nobody remembers us and that we’re going to have to work twice as hard to re-break. The amazing surprise is that our fans are as strong as ever. It’s like there’s been a gap where we’ve been gone and they’ve been able to appreciate us even more.”
After some time away, where does Amy Lee think that Evanescence fit in to the rock landscape in 2011?
“I kinda feel like we’re a band that never fit in. We’ve always been different to the fads that have been coming and going and we somehow made it through anyway,” she laughs “It wasn’t on purpose. It was sort of us being who we are and the fans loving it. I feel like so much of our career working out in the first place has had to do with the fans from a really roots, underground level, calling the radio stations and insisting they play our music and just hammering them. We have amazing, crazy fans.”
The show itself is a resounding success. Those crazy fans are here in force. They’ve come in from the scorching Nashville heat into the beautiful War Memorial Auditorium.
“It’s considered cheesy over here, to have a cool show – like you’re trying too hard,” says Troy. “So there’s a lot of bands who don’t do anything onstage – they just hang out and play.”
“Overseas, the liberal arts are still such a big part of society,” explains Will. “But over here being tough is about as deep as America gets sometimes.”
The band stroll confidently out, decked out in black with Amy Lee sporting a trademark tutu. Needless to say the expectant crowd goes bananas. It’s interesting to see how comfortable they look on stage. Terry is almost static on stage, his head bowed as he riffs in contrast to Troy who stomps around with his guitar, while the rangy figure of Tim adds a dynamic aspect with his bass. Will surely lists the ability to twirl a drumstick at any given moment on his already impressive résumé. Opening with the jarring, fuzzy riffs of What You Want is a wise move. Their fans have had a month to familiarise themselves with the new song and once the deafening screams die down it’s clear that every single word is sung back to Amy.
“It’s not a very rock’n’roll thing to admit but I was nervous before going on,” admits Amy with a smile after coming off stage and somehow still looking immaculate. “It’s been two years since we’ve got up onstage and vocally our songs are really demanding. By the time we got to the end and played the very last song – one of our new ones – I was feeling awesome about the whole show. I could really tell the fans were loving the new songs as well.”
And it’s interesting to note how many members of the audience are new fans, only discovering the band in recent years. Not including What You Want, the band premiere three other new songs: epic ballad The Change, upbeat, string-laden rocker Oceans and characteristically dramatic and thunderous set closer, The Other Side. Playing four drastically different new songs to woo your hardcore fans is a bold move but there should never have been any doubt in her mind. The crowd takes each song into their hearts immediately. There’s enough space on the floor downstairs to dance and it’s duly used.
With US and UK tours planned and selling well for autumn 2011 – around the time when their third album will be released – Evanescence are really back, even if the days of partying hard seem to have been left behind.
“On the last tour we were all partying really hard but you can’t do that every night, every year,” says Troy. “We’ve all been at home long enough to pull our heads together now and realise it’s not really a good way to live.”
“It’s a new day and a new age,” adds Will. “I want to be in this game for a long time and the only way to do that is to stay healthy.”
Evanescence are all set to hit the global rock scene once again and this time, you just get the feeling that they have absolutely no intention of fading away.
“Now my only regret is that we’re not about to go on the rest of the full tour immediately,” she laughs. “But we’re back and it feels very good to be back.”