Amy Lee Dives Into the Tragedies That Inspired Evanescence’s ‘The Bitter Truth’ — Exclusive Interview
Pain, grief and social unrest are the common themes you'll find throughout Evanescence's latest studio album The Bitter Truth. Their first proper album in a decade, the collection of songs came from a place of both personal and societal turmoil.
And Amy Lee opened up about all of it to us.
In 2018, the frontwoman tragically lost her younger brother, Robby, who had been suffering from epilepsy since he was young. In early 2020, bassist Tim McCord's 16-year-old daughter died suddenly. Just weeks later, the entire world shut down due to the novel COVID-19 virus, and everyone was left in a state of uncertainty as the lockdowns were extended and the death toll rose.
These horrific occurrences may have been the end of any band, but not Evanescence.
"I think I've learned, yet again, that the biggest challenges and the biggest pains in my life are usually what lead me to music, and it's hard to admit this, but what tend to make the best work for me," Lee explained.
"And for me personally, music has always been my therapy, my catharsis, the place to pour it out and spin it into something good that I can love and reflect on."
But things were different this time around for Lee and the band — by the time they announced The Bitter Truth in April of 2020, they still didn't have all of the songs written. So, they released a new song and video every couple of months, and kept working.
Events that continued to occur throughout the year — like the murder of George Floyd and the removal of various Confederate statues around the country — seeped their way into Lee's mind and, thus, lyrics.
As a result, certain songs that sound personal on the surface actually have other layers to them. The verses in "Better Without You," for example, are each about a different aspect of Lee's life.
"Each verse is dedicated to a different person or entity in my life along the way. And they go in order," she told us. "I don't want to name-call, and I've carefully avoided doing that with this song and it's hard because they're about really specific things to me."
To learn more about the meanings behind the songs found on The Bitter Truth, continue reading the full interview below.
Congrats on the release of The Bitter Truth — how are you feeling?
Thank you, I'm feeling so happy that it's out. It's hard to really sum it up — awesome feelings of satisfaction. I'm really happy that it's out there and everybody's listening to it, it's cool to see the fans react to it and dig into it. We're going to be releasing our video for "Better Without You" (which came out on April 16), I'm so excited about the video!
So we're in a good, happy place right now. Looking forward to when we can be together again, for sure.
Obviously this wasn't your first record, but is the first new, original material you guys have put out in about a decade. Do you still find it nerve-wracking when you release new music, especially when fans have been waiting awhile for something new?
(Laughs) Well, I don't find it nerve-wracking as far as anticipating a reaction, I'm mostly just excited for that. It's just getting back into the groove of doing a lot of press and promo, and running around. And it's different nowadays with the pandemic because it's like, "Do your own lighting! Do your own audio! Do your own everything," and like, make it work from home most of the time.
So it's been a lot of work, but when you're working for something that you really love, it's worth it. I mean, it's fun. So I'm feeling good.
Have you seen any fan theories about any of the songs come up at all, and were any of them accurate?
That's a good question. I can't think of something off the top of my brain like that. I don't know, I feel like mostly they're just getting it. But you ask me whatever you want, and I will answer to the best of my comfort zone (laughs).
How did all of the personal tragedies that the band went through, and all of the events that have been happening in the world impact this album?
Those two things are literally the biggest lyrical catalyst for this time and for this album, particularly the grief. That's what started the whole thing. We started writing this album, focused on it, in 2019, at the beginning of the year. And I'm so glad we did, we had a bunch of writing sessions throughout 2019 in between touring, we'd just get together when we could and write. I was writing on my own, but just setting aside time as a band to write.
I lost my brother in 2018 at the beginning of the year, so that was just a really, impossibly hard life change. So I think I've learned, yet again, that the biggest challenges and the biggest pains in my life are usually what lead me to music, and it's hard to admit this, but what tend to make the best work for me. Not just grief, but challenges — things that are hard.
And the whole world has been going through incredible challenges over the last year, the last couple of years actually with everything going on, the pandemic and the fight for democracy in the world. All of that came at the right time, where I was coming out of grief. I'm still living in it, but processing it, and then this fire and this fight became a part of it. So the journey through all of that, that is the majority of what the album's about.
You kind of hit the nail on the head there because I was going to ask if you think that the best art seems like it comes out of a place of sadness and pain, since it is so cathartic for artists. And as you've called it — it's "writing to heal." So do you find yourself gravitating toward music that is more emotional?
You know, I don't even know if I can say it's "the best," but it's the deepest. It's the most meaningful. You have to go through something to have something to say that is going to touch somebody on a deep level. And for me personally, music has always been my therapy, my catharsis, the place to pour it out and spin it into something good that I can love and reflect on.
Instead of running away from all of the hard things in life, if I dive into them through music and really start pouring it out and processing there, it's like you're able to make it worth something. It wasn't just all a waste, because I have seen, over the last 17 years, with interacting with our fans how much that it can mean to them and help them connect and process and be something good in their lives.
Knowing that now, too, was something that pushed me forward in the times when I felt like it was too hard. Knowing that we were all going through something and our fans were down too and hoping for something, we promised we were gonna come out with a new album in 2020. We just all kind of made a pact at the beginning of the year when everything started getting shut down that we weren't gonna let anything stop us.
So how was your experience writing this album versus others in the past, and how do you think you've grown as a songwriter and a musician this time around?
We had to be brave. And you know, I have to say, it's weird to connect it to this, but Synthesis taught us something about being brave and trusting that something would work that we'd never tried before and just going for it.
I have always been the person who over prepares, practices for way too long before we get together, has everything totally run through when we're gonna play a concert that we've done before a lot of times. And I have broken from that routine so much in the past years.
Synthesis was important for us because we had to trust every day, the only way to do it was to work with a different orchestra every night. Having a different group of musicians onstage every single night was the only way to make that happen. You don't have time to have rehearsed the whole entire set with that group that day, and then play that whole concert that night, it's just not possible.
So we were literally playing the majority of our sets on that tour for the very first time with that group of musicians — without a click and everything else — just live in front of the audience. It was literally like a tightrope, like there's no way to know if something's gonna go horribly wrong, and we just had to trust that we were gonna be good enough musicians and performers to handle it and look at each other, and work through it and get to the next place.
Man, it was so satisfying, it was such a good experience, and it was so beautiful and rewarding. Part of the takeaway from that for me was to be confident and not to be afraid, and just to trust that we've got it in us to do what it is that we think we can do, that we dream of.
This year, going into it, we just started breaking rules. Before the pandemic even hit it was like, 'We don't have the whole album written. We just have a few songs and a whole bunch of pieces. We're not going on tour 'til March." That actually didn't happen, but we weren't planning to go on tour until last March (laughs).
Why don't we hit the studio for just a couple of songs and avoid burn out of having to have all of the songs before we go in, "Let's just go in for a couple of songs." It went really well, it turned into four and then we had to be apart for the rest of the album.
It was another one of those moments where it's like, "Okay, we can either have faith and just say 'Fuck it, I don't know what's gonna happen with the pandemic or when we're ever gonna be able to go back and get together again in person. But I have faith that we're gonna find a way to work it out no matter what. So let's go ahead and start putting singles out.'"
It was either that or just wait and go, "Sorry everybody, I know we said we were gonna release music, but we're not going to." I didn't want to be another disappointment. There was so much of it last year, I wanted to be something that was proof that life could go on.
So the decision was just like, "Okay, we're gonna go ahead. We're gonna put out 'Wasted On You' and make a video from home, and then release another one in a couple of months." And it wasn't just about not knowing when we were gonna get back together, it was that the songs weren't written, and for me, that's terrifying. Like, before the songs are written, we're already on a promo schedule and talking about the album, releasing songs already and like, the clock is ticking in a way.
That was a lot of pressure to put on ourselves, but it really was just like, "We're just gonna have to have faith in this. I know we can do it somehow. We always do. In the end it works out, it's gonna work out!" And thank god it did, we finally got to get together, most of us, last end-of-July. Jen [Majura, guitarist], we still haven't seen since those first four songs right before the pandemic lockdown.
That's wild. I mean, it's out now, and it seems like it came just at the turning point in all of this with the vaccine and everything. Everybody's starting to get back on their feet.
Yeah, I think it's working out honestly. Because now, it's just come out and we can at least see the light at the end of the tunnel. Like you said, with the vaccines and stuff and getting back and eventually going on tour. Because the next thing that we're all just looking towards and dying for, is to play these songs live.
Absolutely. How do you think that these songs might translate live differently from anything you guys have done in the past?
It's just going to feel really good to have new material to play live, like so much of it. Because for so long, we've been playing shows a lot over the past, I don't know how many years, during this time that we haven't been putting out new music. So our live show has really just been about picking out hits and our favorites and whatever, and making set lists out of our music that's been there.
We finally have something that represents us now that isn't, there were a couple of songs on Synthesis, but literally since like 2011. We're a new band since then, a lot happened since then. So to put something out now that feels so exactly in tune with who we are, what our tastes are, what our abilities are, is just gonna feel really good. It's gonna be hard to play the old ones, honestly.
So let's dive into the album a little bit. Starting with the opener, I'm not sure if there's an actual significance to this or not, but is there a reason "Artifact" and "The Turn" are split into different parts?
They're different songs in my head, it was kind of a decision about the first bit, the second bit and "Broken Pieces Shine," like where the track markers were gonna go. And that was a tough choice for me because I know the majority of people aren't really listening in order on a CD, a lot of people are just plucking out a song.
So I want you to be able to click to "Broken Pieces Shine" and just hear the song, but it so needs that build-up, that's part of it in my mind. So it really was just a decision about clipping it.
The first part — "Artifact" — that's me in a hotel in the middle of the night on tour in 2019, just recording into my laptop. I just had an idea. We actually kept it and didn't re-record it, which was really weird, and I didn't expect to happen. But it just made sense in the end.
That next portion — "The Turn" — that's a collaboration between Scott Kirkland from the Crystal Method and myself. We just sorta met on tour one day and made friends, and decided, "Hey, send me stuff! I'd love to work with you, okay I'd love to work with you." And he sent me a bunch of stuff, and I sent him stuff. He had that bit of music sort of, and I rearranged it and wrote vocals to it and that turned into that part.
I knew early on that I wanted that into "Broken Pieces Shine" to be the beginning of the album because of the way the lyrics set it up. The first part, "Artifact," lyrically is just a dedication to my brother. I'm just gonna put it that simply — it's a dedication to my brother.
And then when "The Turn" starts, it's sort of just like this calling-us-back, like calling all of the spiritual forces in the universe back to ourselves and collecting all the pieces of who we've been, who we were, who we are and who we're gonna be.
After all this time that we haven't been out, it's like we need to just build into the moment where you finally hear the guitars come in. So that's part of it.
And then when "Broken Pieces Shine" happens... I've always sort of seen this album, the moment, like where it begins and what it's about, is it begins sort of at ground zero of a tragedy. The result of the album is about the journey getting back up.
So when I hear those guitars, and the first line starts, "There's no way back this time / What is real and what is mine / Survival hurts," it's like I see somebody face-down on the ground standing back up again and dusting off, clawing back up and then starting to walk forward and refuse to just lay there and die.
So that's the setup to the beginning of the album, and then the rest is plenty of ups-and-downs, and it's about plenty of things. But that's the beginning of the journey.
"The bitter truth" is a line that's repeated a couple of times throughout "Wasted on You." How did you go about choosing that as the title for the album, as opposed to any other phrase that's repeated throughout the album?
I think it really sums up a theme that we come back to a lot on the album, which is about facing the pain. The only way out is through, not just the pain, but facing the broken pieces, facing the things about ourselves and about our society that aren't perfect, that are flawed, that are broken or that are wounded.
Because we can't heal, we can't improve, we can't change, we can't grow and we can't ever leave the horror of the moment until we first accept the brokenness of ourselves. Until we accept that something's wrong, we can't fix it.
That song, "Wasted on You," that was one of the first ones that was really finished, and it was time to pick the album title and we were still writing songs. But it was already forming and I was like, "This sums up what we're talking about now and what we're going through in a really big way on an outward-in, inward level."
Evanescence - "Wasted on You"
Based on the lyrics in "Wasted on You," do you consider yourself someone who has a hard time getting over things and moving on from things? What advice can you give to people who do struggle to move on from either failed relationships or a loss?
It's hard, because sometimes you're in a relationship that you just need to cut out of your life in order to move on. It's just true. It doesn't make you a bad person for you to just step completely away and cut somebody out of your life, and there are times I've had to do that. It sucks.
But you don't need to feel guilty about it if you're making a choice that's for health and stability and all of those things. But I think that we don't always have to do it that way either, and I do also think it's important to remember it's important not to just stuff stuff down like it never happened deep within yourself. I feel like it's better to hold onto your memories.
And even in those bad relationships, those bad breakups and those moments in time that you've had to move on from, I'm at a place in my life now where I'm not feeling anger anymore really. Not for the most part, even the people that were horrible (laughs). I'm not sitting around thinking about horrible, I wasn't able to actually still remember the good moments, too.
It's weird to say that. It took a really long time. But you only get one life. So I don't know, I try not to be the person who's constantly saying, "Oh that time was terrible, that person was terrible, everything about that was a monster," and flush it all away and forget about the parts about it that were why you were in that situation, too.
There's things that you need to move away from and then there's also things that you need to learn from, as well, so it's better not to forget, I guess is the right way to say it.
In "Yeah, Right," you talk about getting paid. Is that a literal reference to getting paid by an actual job, or is it in allusion to something deeper?
Uh, it's about money (laughs). I've seen money change people more often than I would've liked to. And it's always in a negative way.
Well I guess maybe this follows suit, does "Better Without You" happen to be about the music industry?
Part of it is, but it's not entirely about that. "Better Without You"... so each verse is dedicated to a different person or entity in my life along the way. And they go in order. I don't want to name-call, and I've carefully avoided doing that with this song and it's hard because they're about really specific things to me.
If you know me personally, then you know who it's all about. I don't really want to drag people into things many years later. So it starts out a long time ago (laughs) in the first verse with some battles there — a big one for independence. All of it was really a fight for independence.
The second one is the one that's more for the industry. And then the third one kind of brings us to today, in our world and the world around us. I sang the last few lyrics to "Better Without You," including the bridge, the day they called it for Biden. Not to make it political, because the song isn't really. But that was in my heart. I mean, "It's over. It's over now." Feeling it. And it felt so good to sing it knowing that it was true, at least in regards to Trump.
Evanescence - "Better Without You"
Wow that's cool, I wouldn't have looked at it like that. There were a couple of songs where I was wondering if it was about a relationship or something on the grander scheme, and you letting go of that.
Yeah, it is. And it's funny because I don't want it to seem like it's all about the label. It's really not. That's been part of my journey, but there is stuff that's been way more personal than that, and harder. But when I say "the industry," it does mean more than the label. It's just the whole world of people that surround you when you're doing this.
And there was definitely more to it than the label that I was fighting against and struggling with during my journey, but one of the things that I remember being a threat at times was like, "If you don't do this or you don't do that, then it's just all gonna fall apart. You're not gonna have it. This is all gonna crumble. Everything that you have."
And I'm looking at it and going, "I don't want what I had. I want my future, I have an idea for something more." So the chorus, "As empires fall to pieces / Our ashes twisting in the air / It makes me smile to know that / I'm better without you," going like, "It's okay, go ahead. Let it burn down. Let the old idea of the tiny thing that you thought this could be go ahead and burn down because I have an idea for something bigger."
Can you explain the chorus of "Blind Belief," specifically the lines, "We hold the key to redemption / Let icons fall?"
This is another one that's a little bit in the political zone, or social. Why do we believe what we believe? Why do we do the things we do? Why are the laws that are in place, some of them aren't there for good reasons. Some things are just the way they are because they've always been that way.
And I think we've reached a time where we need to say, "That's not enough. We need to make changes that make sense for how much our world and our awareness has grown, and how we need to be better." We need to improve over time and not just leave things the way that they are.
I was actually writing those lyrics, being inspired by the Confederate statues coming down. We can still love our ancestors even if they made mistakes, and we can actually love them better, we can actually do better for our world. It doesn't have to be a betrayal if your grandparents thought differently than you.
We can only grow by moving forward and making better and better decisions as the generations go on. And if we want this place to get better, then we need to admit that things are wrong!
Saying "We hold the key to redemption" is saying you don't have to stand by something that's wrong. Go ahead and let icons fall! Just because something is the way it is and it's always been that way doesn't make it right. We should be asking those questions, and sometimes change is good. It's nothing to be afraid of.
To wrap up, of all of the topics that you cover on The Bitter Truth, what are you hoping at the end of the day that people will take away from this album as they sit with it?
I hope they feel empowered, I really do. I didn't go into this writing process feeling empowered, I started to feel that way through the process. It starts from feeling human, feeling vulnerable, feeling fragile and feeling broken.
But as I start to work, especially together with my friends, with people that support me and I support them, having a band is a really cool thing. Just having something to work on together last year and the year before, amidst the pain and the loss and the frustration, just made it so much better. It was such a healing thing for all of us, and I'm hoping that that same healing and empowered feeling can spread to those who listen to it. I really do.
Instead of just wallowing in grief, we found a way through the music to feel strength and inspiration and hope for something better in the future. I think, if there's a punchline, the biggest thing is that life is worth living.
I think that's something that people need to hear right now, because there has been so much to just feel sad about, so much to feel depressed and frustrated about and helpless, without a voice. Like, "It doesn't even matter what you do, I'm just one little drop in the bucket." But it's not true, that's a lie. We are strong, and change is happening.
And the greatest losses that we can imagine, we actually can overcome and there can still be good things left in life to experience, you just don't know what they are yet. If it can be empowering and spread hope to people, that's what I would most hope for.
'The Bitter Truth' is available everywhere now. Stream it below, or order your copy here. Evanescence have also just announced a tour with Halestorm, that will kick off in late 2021. See all of the details here.
12 Stories Behind the People on Iconic Rock + Metal Album Covers