Evanescence has sold more than 10 million copies of its debut album and won two Grammys, but it hasn’t been easy for lead singer Amy Lee.
She endured a very public split with her lead guitarist and a battle with radio stations nationwide that believe women can’t rock. Now, after finishing a huge tour, Lee finds herself back where she started — writing the lyrics that catapulted an Arkansas rock band to the world stage.
Lee was 14 when she founded the rock band with Ben Moody after they met at summer camp. They wrote music together and played at small Little Rock venues before landing a deal with Wind-up Records, which released “Fallen” in the spring of 2003.
Moody abruptly left the band about seven months later, leaving Lee to work on Evanescence’s sophomore effort. But this time it will have to be different.
Lee is the words of Evanescence, and Moody was the music. She says not having him around this time gives her liberty.
“Ben has a certain kind of pop structure that he follows that I wouldn’t,” the 22-year-old singer said backstage before her tour wrapped up in August with a hometown Little Rock show. “He would always be corralling my ideas. It’s going to be cool this time to have more freedom, just in that there’s more people writing like a real band. Everybody’s involved and we have a good successful album under our belt, so there’s less pressure.”
Less pressure too, with Moody working with pop stars Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne and on several movie soundtracks.
Sense of relief
“When Ben left the band we were all relieved,” she said quietly. “It was a really uncomfortable situation for everybody. It was completely unstable and unhappy. It was a scary time before he left the band because I knew something was going to happen and I didn’t know what and I was afraid everything we worked for had the potential of going down the toilet.”
There’s no word on when the next album will be released. Lee hopes to quell fans’ demands for new material with a DVD release of tour footage, possibly around Thanksgiving.
The demands of nonstop touring kept Lee from writing, but for fans the treat of seeing an Evanescence show may stave off the desire for new material. To see the band on stage is to realize how unique it really is in today’s pop-heavy music scene.
The most recent tour had Evanescence topping a bill that also featured rock band Seether, headed by Lee’s boyfriend, Shaun Morgan. At the last show in North Little Rock, she knelt backstage as Seether played, cheering and clapping for the band, crawling forward to get a better look before walking onstage for a duet of “Broken,” which she and Morgan wrote.
When Evanescence comes on, Lee is a woman obsessed. Her long black hair flies everywhere as she jumps and pumps her fist in the air to punch the meaning of her lyrics home. Her haunting wail and strong voice echo in the arena after she’s finished singing.
“When you get up there ... you just draw a blank and zone out and become Evanescence,” she said.
Her magic is an ability to draw her fans into the music. A piano rises from the stage and the crowd quiets as she sits and plays her solo — no singing. The audience slowly begins to go wild — a rarity today of teenagers and 20-somethings cheering for piano riffs instead of bare midriffs. And the thing is, she wrote it herself.
That, some argue, makes Lee a strong role model for women.
'I make tons of mistakes'“I never saw myself as a role model. It’s a word I hear a lot now,” she said. “What am I going to say? I’m a good role model? I make tons of mistakes. It’s funny. You always have a vision for your music and you think, ‘Who’s going to like it?’ And 14-year-old girls are never what I had in mind. But I think that’s awesome.”
Being a woman heading up a rock band has given Evanescence a unique sound, but it didn’t come easily. Rock radio wouldn’t play the band at first.
“Program directors and DJs would hear the track and just turn it off,” Lee said. “(They would say) What are you doing with a chick on a piano? Go take this somewhere else.”
Eventually a few stations relented and fans reacted the music.
“I like to think that it’s because I’m coming from a place where a lot of people are,” she said. “Everybody feels the same feelings all around the world. Everyone has the same biological makeup. I think it’s cool for people to hear somebody talking about something they’ve been through and understand. I hope people like our music because it’s real music, a real experience.”
Her inspiration comes from trying to understand tragedy, Lee says, and learning how to deal with it. She moved around a lot when she was young and says she didn’t fit in when she came to Arkansas at age 13.
Feeling like an outcast“I think there’s a lot of closed mindedness here in the South,” she said. “There’s a certain set of views that a big majority of the people here have and if you don’t follow their views exactly then you’re an outcast. I remember a lot of times feeling like an outcast.”
Lee calls Los Angeles home now, where she says she paints and designs her own clothes.
“I’ve always been like an artist, like a painter, I-sew-my-own-skirt-because-I-couldn’t-find-what-I-was-looking-for kind of person,” she said. “I don’t consider myself like a fashion designer. I do have a little dream that someday maybe I could open a store in Seattle. But I’d only make one of each thing. I just don’t like repeating myself.”
So no Amy Lee clothing line anytime soon.
And despite rumors and an obvious talent for acting in her videos, she says she has no interest in becoming a professional actress.
“I really don’t like the whole Hollywood scene at all,” she said. “It might be cool to do some fun indie thing, maybe some joke appearance. But as me being a new center-stage diva now-on-screen girl, no never. I’d like to play a girl who gets shot at the beginning of a horror movie. I’d like to be in it for five minutes and get mauled.”