Amy Lee on Being a Woman in Music: 'I Have Fought So Many Fights'
The Evanescence leader discusses her band's 'Synthesis album, and the inspiration behind single "Imperfection."
Thirty years ago, when metal and hard rock ruled the airwaves, the genre had few female artists in the spotlight. During the ’90s, female-fronted bands like Lacuna Coil, Arch Enemy, Within Temptation and Nightwish started building their careers, but no woman in the scene achieved significant mainstream crossover success.
Then in 2003, Evanescence released its major-label debut, Fallen. Breakout track “Bring Me to Life” introduced the Arkansas quintet’s sound: singer-pianist Amy Lee’s siren vocals paired with crunchy guitars and gothic-flavored atmospheres. To date, the album has sold 8 million copies in the United States alone, according to Nielsen Music.
Lee’s success expanded the opportunities for other rock acts featuring women, and since then, groups like Paramore, The Pretty Reckless and Halestorm have made their mark. Pretty Reckless frontwoman Taylor Momsen, who cites Evanescence as being her first concert when she was about 10 years old, considers Lee an innovator.
“The fact that she’s still [recording] and still dominating the rock world is amazing,” says Momsen. “She took rock’n’roll and she put a female voice in it and didn’t try to be anyone else. She really created her own identity, and that’s something any woman should look up to. She mixed pop to rock to opera to metal, [combined] them and made a really unique balance that hadn’t been heard before.”
“She showed me an open door — no pun intended — because up until she blew up the radio, I was largely the only female rocker in my area,” recounts Halestorm leader Lzzy Hale of hearing Evanescence on a local station while starting out in her home state of Pennsylvania. “A lot of industry folks just didn’t believe a girl rock band could get on radio. So when Amy proved them all wrong, it showed everyone that I wasn’t crazy for pursuing this career.”
Kicking open that door didn’t come without artistic cost. Lee had opposed the rap by 12 Stones singer Paul McCoy that was forced onto the Grammy-winning “Bring Me to Life,” but says her then-record company, Wind-up Records, insisted on it to ensure radio play. Lee calls it “a compromise,” because the label had wanted a rapper to permanently join the band, but that tussle is one of many battles she says she has endured for her music due to her gender: "I have fought so many fights. I feel like I've won most of them," she says.
“It was sometimes difficult to distinguish the difference between just being treated like a young idiot -- you know, ‘You’re just a kid, everybody knows better than you’ -- and being treated that way because I was female,” recalls Lee of her beginnings in the industry. “I learned as I got more experienced, and a lot of it was because I’m a female. People naturally see us as the softer sex that’s going to step aside and let the men do the real work, so there’ve been plenty of times when I’ve had to look at that, recognize it, and go, ‘No, this is what’s going to happen, because I’m positive that I’m right, and it’s my art and you’re not going to change it.’ ”
Lee says those conflicts are one reason Evanescence takes so long between albums. Its newest, Synthesis (released Nov. 10 through BMG Rights Management), is just its third major studio project since Fallen. She calls Synthesis “a beautiful example of me getting to do whatever I want and really believing in it and having a team behind me that really believes in me.”
The album finds the band recasting hits like “Bring Me to Life” (the rap finally got tossed), “Lithium,” “My Immortal” and “My Heart Is Broken" (as well as deep cuts like “Your Star,” “Imaginary” and “Lost in Paradise") with full orchestra treatments. It debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200, moving 34,000 units. To fully bring the experience of Synthesis to a live audience, Evanescence embarked on its Synthesis Live Tour in North America on Oct. 14 in Las Vegas, bringing an orchestra along with it. (The tour wraps Dec. 19 in Portland, Ore.)
Lee explains that wanting to revamp her existing songs “wasn’t so much a departure as like a roots thing. It’s going to part of the root of our music and our core sound in a way that is accentuating a different side of it.” Much of Evanescence’s music already contained a “classical-infused cinematic quality” and electronic programming, but “a lot of that stuff gets a little bit buried,” says Lee. “It becomes part of the atmosphere, as opposed to being able to take that drama and totally pump it up like we have here.”
The band offers two brand-new songs on Synthesis, such as introductory single “Imperfection.” The track is a plea to someone who feels suicidal not to give in to the darkness. Its creation turned out to be eerily prophetic: Lee started working on it in February and completed it in August. In between, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington both died by suicide, and the losses hit Lee hard. “It’s very sad and very difficult to watch people so close in our circle struggle that way and to actually lose them,” she says. “That’s something that rocked the world, but especially the rock industry.”
Lee wanted to write “Imperfection” due to hearing about fans grappling with similar emotional issues. She says Evanescence’s music is a place where people go “to feel like they can connect [with] something that’s hard to talk about -- meaning pain, struggle. I think it’s a misconception for people to think our music is depressing. It’s hopeful; it’s always been hopeful. I want that to be the message from us: that there is hope and that we’re searching for something better… We want to do what we can to reach our hand out and say, ‘This life is worth living,’ because I really do believe that.”
She observes, “I have my own issues, my own flaws, my own struggles. I think a lot of the time that I’m writing songs [they] are [to] some degree motivational, like, ‘Come on, pull out of it.’ Most of the time, I’m talking to myself. It’s a beautiful thing that it extends itself to helping other people.”