Songwriter Interviews

Amy Lee of Evanescence

by Dan MacIntosh

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When you see Amy Lee baring her soul with Evanescence, you probably can't picture her singing "Rubber Duckie," but in motherhood mode, she's more likely to sing about bathtime with her two-year-old son Jack than to belt out songs about being tormented by love ("Going Under") or the comfort of sorrow ("Lithium").

Dream Too Much is Lee's album of family music. It began as a loving vanity project, but grew into a full-blown family affair featuring her father (a Gong Show winner), her sisters and an uncle. Available through Amazon Music, it's very sweet, with jaunty covers of "Stand by Me" and "Hello Goodbye" along with originals like "If You're A Star," which sees the world from a star's-eye view.

In contrast, Evanescence is famous for deeply introspective songs that match Lee's soaring operatic vocals with big, metallic guitars. Her lyrics on hits like "Bring Me to Life" and "Call Me When You're Sober" cut to the heart, but some of these tracks have taken on new meaning as Lee has matured. One song in particular - "Everybody's Fool" - now evokes empathy instead of derision. We spoke with Lee about how these songs have changed over time, and what it was like making an album for kids.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): You're best known for the sometimes dark and angry tone in Evanescence's music, so I wonder if this new album was freeing for you.

Amy Lee: Yes, it was very freeing. More than just vocally, just the whole spirit of the project, the way that it came about. A lot of the sweet, tender and fun happy feelings, those aren't generally the feelings I put on to Evanescence records, but they're in there a little bit sometimes. It was a really beautiful thing.

Part of it was really special and beautiful, and always will be for me because it's my family and it's completely genuine because we didn't go into the studio intending to make a children's record, we were just making music for our family, for Jack to have. My dad and me getting together in the studio for the first time, it turned into something really special.

Songfacts: Was there one moment where you realized you had an album? Where you knew this was more than just something for your family?

Lee: Yeah, after the first session. We went down for one week, just my dad, me and my uncle Tom. We went to Fort Worth to work with a producer, who I also love who is also a dear friend, Will Hunt, not to be confused with my drummer Will Hunt. We went down there at first to make our little project that we'd been scheming about for fun and it just really jelled.

I think that it's important to follow your heart when it comes to making art. I've collaborated with a lot of different people in my life and sometimes there's a spark. Sometimes you just start working on something or working with someone and it really clicks and you know you're onto something, and I think it's important in those moments to keep going. This was really enjoyable because my dad and I had never been in the studio together and we started out with music we already knew from my childhood that dad had sung to us as kids.

I knew that we were onto something. At the same time, I heard that Amazon was interested in making a kids' record by somebody "cool," so it all came together perfectly at the right time and I thought, "I do want to make a children's record, because we've already done our first session and I'm really excited about it."

Songfacts: My understanding is that you're also looking to put out new Evanescence music, so I'm curious if this experience colored the way you're approaching the music of Evanescence?

Lee: I wouldn't say that. I'm very open minded on what happens creatively for myself, for the band, everything. You have to be. I want it to be fresh. I don't want it to be formulaic. I don't want to go back and always do it the same way.

Branching out and doing something crazy and doing too much isn't actually that crazy for me, believe it or not, because I love playing that way. A lot of Evanescence songs started from me doing something that actually sounds like she's procrastinating and goofing off and not working on the next record.

I always take a lot of time between albums. In between the second and the third, I got myself a harp and started taking harp lessons just because I wanted to. Because it was interesting to me. Because it was inspiring for me. I didn't know what it was for. It wasn't because I had a vision for Evanescence to suddenly create a lullaby album. I think that's our heaviest album, actually. It gave me a new place, an environment to live in at certain times so that I would write differently and it would be fresh to me. "My Heart is Broken" is one of the singles off that album, and it was written primarily on harp, actually.

Songfacts: "Bring Me to Life." What did it mean for you when you wrote it, and what does it mean for you now?

Lee: I wrote It about my husband when we first met. We were not dating or anything, and we didn't actually begin to date until years later. That first part, the lyrics:

How can you see into my eyes like open doors?
Leading you down into my core where I've become so numb


I was in a really bad place, relationally, and going through a really hard time. I didn't know Josh very well - he was kind of a friend of a friend. He sat across from me when we went to reserve a table and he just looked me dead in the eye and said, "Are you happy?" And it shocked my heart and I looked down and just started making up excuses. I choked on my words because I felt like I was completely outwardly acting normal, but inside in a lot of turmoil. And I felt like he could just see straight into my soul. That inspired the whole song. Years later I told him it was about him, and the rest is history.

Songfacts: Another song that is clearly about someone else is "Call Me When You're Sober." When you sing it now, does it bring you back to the place when that was really heavy on your heart, or do you apply it to other people in your life that may be struggling with addiction or chemical abuses of any kind?

Lee: Well, for me that song is more about a breakup. The ending of a relationship and getting to the place with yourself where you're finally willing to stand up for yourself. Put your foot down when you know you need to. It's the harder path to step out into the unknown.

It's easy for me to apply that across the board to lots of situations in my life. When I'm singing that live, I definitely have different places where I go with it these days.

Songfacts: The song "Everybody's Fool," when that was written it was inspired by a lot of, for lack of a better term, frivolous pop stars. It seems like it's always relevant. When you sing that song, do you picture those artists that originally inspired it, or are there new fools out there that also come to mind?

Lee: It's interesting to write songs when you're in high school and then have them become your most famous songs, because you're stuck singing the stuff you were hung up on when you were in high school when you're 34. And I'm not really hung up about that so much anymore.

I always seemed so preachy about someone else's life. I think there are a lot of ways to look at it. The thing I thought I knew then that I know better now is that you never know what's going on inside anybody, no matter what they seem like. Even if they're the bully. Even if they're the Becky – that's such a funny word. I can't believe I just used that in an interview – even if they're the popular kid. You never know, inside, what kind of struggle they might be going through, the pain they may be suffering and how their outer image is oftentimes a coping mechanism to that. That song I've actually disconnected from, basically, so that's why we haven't played it more often.

Songfacts: We've talked about a few of your most popular songs, so now I'm wondering you'd like to talk about some of the songs you're most proud of.

Lee: Thank you for asking that. We band insiders generally love the songs sometimes fans hate the most. I guess that's not completely true. I really love the last Evanescence record, and that's why we made it the self-titled one. There were so many songs on there we felt were so defining of who we really have become, and I think that there are pieces of that all along the way that finally all came together in a way that was really as powerful as the way that we've learned to do them live. That album for sure.

Songs in particular... like we were talking about before, I love branching out and doing things that are very different. One song that is very different for an Evanescence song that I love very much is called "Swimming Home." It's programming and keyboards with an atmosphere of sounds from another world, basically, and it's not in a minor key. It's very simple, and there's something so beautiful and freeing about listening to it and playing it because it's free from all the rules. I find myself saying rules, and I try my best to break them. I think that song was one of the successes where I broke the rules and I made something really great that I just loved all the more for being different.

It's broad. You can apply it to so many specific situations, but I was literally just living in a dream world and singing about how on the deepest inside...

I'm not going to be able to say this right. I know I sound like I'm on the cusp of saying something really beautiful, but it's going to come out really dumb. I'll just say how much I loved the production and I'll stop myself there. You're going to have to just trust me. It's definitely got some Björk to it.

Songfacts: If you have time to talk about one more, than by all means go ahead.

Lee: Okay. How about "The End of the Dream." That's a song that fans ask us about a lot. It's nearly impossible to sing, not because it's so high, but because the notes are so long. You need an extra pair of lungs to actually sing it. Live, with all the running around, it's really not do-able.

I love the song. We all do. I remember writing it, and that whole experience writing the album was very different. It came from a lot of different places and all came together in one spot, if that makes sense, as a band.

That song is about life and death. I guess that's very general and it's very Evanescence. But it came from a very personal, real place. In my mind when it's going through the very first verse, it's like:

I found a bird closing her eyes one last time
And I wondered if she dreams like me


What does it mean? What is the worth of our life? What is the worth of any life? Shouldn't it mean more than a dead bird laying on the ground?

I'm remembering a moment walking through a cemetery, actually, and just thinking and feeling. And that song came out of the beauty and the pain and the strength that comes out of not being afraid. The point of the song really is, it's worth it to feel. It's worth it to hurt, rather than to be numb. I know I've sung about that before in different ways, but I think in that song it takes it to a more personal place, and I love that about it.

October 13, 2016
Photos: Drew Reynolds

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Comments: 4

  • Rob from CanadaI'm glad about the fact that she feels some remorse about writing and openly dedicating "Everybody's fool" to artists like Britney Spears. Good for her to speak honestly about it (without mentioning her) I wish more people knew about this thought but it's irrelevant at this point.
  • Gleb from RussiaIt was very interesting to read about Amy's preferences in her own music. And she one of the best singers I ever heard)
  • Shawn from MarylandGreat interview! I like Amy Lee's voice. :)
  • Dina from EgyptExcellent interview with such a talanted musiciam
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