Evanescence’s Amy Lee On the ‘Beautiful, Satisfying’ Orchestral Tour + What’s Next
Evanescence's Amy Lee has been fulfilling a creative passion over the past year, first releasing the Synthesis album including reimagined orchestral versions of the band's music and then taking their show on the road with orchestral backing. Earlier this summer, Evanescence kicked off a co-headline tour with Lindsey Stirling; see the list of tour dates here.
We spoke with Lee about the tour, Stirling and opening act Cellogram, and the unique Ozzy Osbourne-Sia show-closing mashup. Lee also spoke about Evanescence's future plans, which includes a loose timeline to start their next album.
I know from your youth, you were a big fan of classical music, so how much of a dream is it to do something like you’ve done with the Synthesis album and your orchestral touring?
It’s such a dream, like from so early on. The first big thing, the first piece of music or artist that got me inspired that made me think, ‘Oh that’s what I wanna do, I wanna make music,’ was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart after seeing the movie Amadeus when I was a little girl. I think I was 8 or 9 and I just became obsessed with that.
It started out with me begging for piano lessons. I wanted to be a composer and then after that I started getting angsty and getting into Nirvana and Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins, and it definitely evolved, but there was always this combination for me that was the idea for the sound of Evanescence between that classic cinematic influence and the hard rock thing.
I honestly didn’t really think it would be possible for us to do a tour like this. It just seemed really lofty and expensive and complicated. The fact that we’ve been able to do it … it was just surreal at first, and we’ve gotten comfortable with it now, but it’s just been this really beautiful, satisfying experience.
It’s a challenge too, because you can’t rely on everything you’re comfortable with. Doing a rock show is one thing. We can do that. Your comfort zone is to stand there and rock it out, but you add in the orchestra and try to change things, and it’s not just changing but also subtracting some of what we normally do. The band sits down and they’re making crazy, ambient sounds with their guitars and blending in so we’re one big unit and I’m standing at the mic stand and not running all over the place. There’s nothing to hide. I’m very exposed.
That challenge made it really exciting and new again and it gave us the opportunity to really love these songs that have become for me such a big part of my life. It’s more than I could’ve imagined when they were first written, but to go back and record the songs with new perspective and a bigger feeling was really cool.
How did this tour come together and what do you admire most about your tourmates now that you've had this time with them?
Man, it's been really really fascinating and different. Pretty much every other band we've ever toured with is a rock band and I can't think of anyone who hasn't been. This is really beautifully different and it fits really well. This whole experience has been a way for us to show another side of who we are that's always existed. Evanescence has always been about what the sound is and even those older songs, part of it was always there with this orchestra thing and the classic influence and the electronic programming, but there was always a lot of stuff going on with the rock in the forefront, so maybe you don't think about it that way. It just gives us a chance to put it in a different light and what the tour is like and who we can tour with because it works.
It's been really cool watching Lindsey because it's a different approach. She's got dancers and she does dancing the entire time amazingly and playing perfectly through it all, just shredding on a violin. It's very inspiring to watch. It's so odd cause this tour this summer it's like high 90s to 100 degrees and they're running everywhere just nailing it and we're over on the side watching like, "We just stand there and it's art." (laughs). So I'm very impressed at the physical talent going on there as well as the fact that she's an incredible performer and player. She's just a really, really talented amazing person.
Cellogram, as well, it's like they do something that is putting the atmosphere in an art festival. Dave Eggar, my longtime collaborator in a lot of side and solo projects, he is just this genius, madman avant garde cello guy who has made his own path too, taking the cello and using it different ways -- turning it sideways and playing it like a guitar and shredding it like Jimi [Hendrix] -- he's like really cool to watch. He knows everybody and he's played in everything. So we go to these cities and play these different shows and everywhere he's got a friend who is some child prodigy martial arts artist who will come up and do karate moves or some other day we'll be somewhere with this amazing violinist guesting. There's almost always some special featured guest in their set and they change what they do all the time. It's really fun to watch.
So we're all having fun not only performing but watching the other talent that's onstage when we're not because it's just kind of a fascinating show in my opinion.
With this tour you've worked with a bunch of different orchestral musicians depending on the city. What's been the biggest challenge and did you perhaps pick up anything from the people you've worked with?
We've met some people that we've made relationships with. It's a different group everywhere we go. It's both awesome, but it was scary at first, but it is awesome because it creates a different energy. You totally get a vibe when you're playing music with somebody. There's a connection there and even when there's an entire group of people onstage, you make some kind of a deep connection when you're playing music together. It's hard to define exactly, but there's an intimacy.
There are recurring musicians who have come back several times, like every time we come back to that area, they get on the job. I made a really great connection with a piano player named Michael who played with us for a lot of shows starting last year and we keep seeing him anytime we're around the New York and New England area and he's so good at it. He's come to me a couple of times and told me he's a fan and that this was something so fun for him to do. It's so different from the normal orchestral gigs that these musicians get. He just seemed to really enjoy it and has been back three times and it's been a pleasure to play with him and connect with him.
It's an intimate thing too as a piano player to give your parts away to someone. Obviously I'm going to be more critical of that than anything else I'm hearing. "Oh, I would've done that different." "Oh, that's 'My Immortal.'" But it's really a beautiful thing to give that to someone and trust somebody with that and be able to stand at the mic and connect with the audience in a direct way, and that song just as an example, in a direct way that I never have before. I've been stuck behind the piano for "My Immortal" for years, so to stand there and look face-to-face with the crowd and have that connection for us is something that I wanted. It's been really beautiful and special. You learn how to break it up and it's special and in no way does this show feel like songs we've done before even though so many of them are. It feels like a completely new set.
With the whole idea of doing different arrangements, I've always been a fan of the power of your voice and I'm wondering in reconfiguring these songs is there one that stands out to you vocally that you're particularly enjoying in the way you're now able to deliver it?
Well, this isn't a giant hit, but there's a song called "The End of the Dream" that I love and it's on our third album. It's one of those songs that when it was being written it was from a place of programs and loops and vocals and synth stuff, and then we turned it into a full on rock song. The tempo changed and and the whole feeling changed. The verse was all groovy and it was pretty cool, but it was just so different from where it started. That can actually be an awesome thing. I love the original version, but there's also something to me that I remember the spookiness of the first verse, the feeling and the gravity of those lyrics. I love those lyrics and miss the way that it felt when it was very sparse. You could hear them and feel them and perform it in a way that was not tied to a beat. It was just full emotion.
So in this version of it, we stripped it back to that and made it way better than it was in the demo from the early days. We did it though with that in mind that this part that I loved so much ... it was something where I could just go to a place and I'm not tied to a beat or on the click track, nothing. There's just a drone and singing and it feels so good to just start the song off that way and just go into that place and take my time with it and let the song unravel into something bigger.
Actually, that's the most difficult song to sing every night. It's the highest one. We never performed it back in the day during our self-titled album which that song was on. That was one of the songs that we all loved, but we never played it live because I just felt like I couldn't do it. I'm not going to be able to hit that high, long note over and over again in the middle of the set and have nothing left to do the rest of the show. So we didn't do it. But this time I'm like, "This is all about challenges and stepping up, so I think maybe with the way that it's different and the sparsity of it, I'm going to try to do this."
I do try to keep it toward the front of the set so I can do it with a fresh voice and I can move on and recover, but it's been a really cool thing for me to prove to myself that I can do it.
Talk about the Ozzy Osbourne / Sia mashup of "No More Tears" and "Alive": how did that come together and talk about adding Lindsey into the mix as well?
I really wanted it to be this thing where we're doing this co-headline tour and we intersect. I guest on a song during her set and she does "Hi Lo" in ours. At the end of the night, we just thought it'd be really cool to come back together have it be an "everybody in the pool" moment. When she finishes, it doesn't always work the same way as they have an encore built into their set, but when we finish on our night it's just really cool to take it to that place and bring her back in. We even have Cellogram up there cause Dave [Eggar] is already up there in the orchestra. Chuck comes back and does percussion with the orchestra on that too, so everyone from the whole night is represented onstage.
Coming up with what that was going to be though was actually hard. I had in my head that I wanted this rock and roll moment between me and Lindsey -- a really great, epic, classic rock song with a great riff and a great singer. I wanted to recreate that rock and roll moment where we would have a guitar player, but instead it's a violin and a singer staring at each other doing a back and forth kind of versing between a riff and a vocal. I just wanted that moment! I wanted to do that thing, 'cause all night I've been holding my band back, making them sit down and do ambient stuff. So, for once, let's kick the chair to the side, everybody stand up and let's rock out cause it'll feel so good. We have way too much fun with it at the end every night. That's everyone's favorite part.
So Lindsey comes in with a rocked up version of a classic piece with the band but without me, then we go to Ozzy which is full on rock-metal and in with this really hopeful place with Sia's "Alive," which to me is tying pop into it, which is important because that's a big part of our set as a group too -- between Lindsey's set, our set and just the whole show. So it ties in to me all the major genres and lets us show that they can all live together beautifully. I like ending it on the positive message of, "I'm alive." It's about survival and all the stuff we go through. Our music is such a journey and a lot of it is painful, just like life, some of it is wonderful, but some of it is painful, but we've made it. We've survived. So by the end to be able to put it in those words, like "Hey, I'm still breathing. I'm alive." It just feels right.
It was also recently announced that there's a Synthesis Live concert release coming out. I just wanted to get your recollections of the performance we'll see in the release.
I think it was filmed in November last year, so we were still fresh doing this. We're at a place now where we're more comfortable. I think it was more on the vulnerable and raw side, which I kind of love. We were in Connecticut and we filmed with Paul Brown who is the video director for both "Imperfection" and "Hi Lo." He also did all the artwork for Synthesis. It's beautiful artwork that is sort of a blend of reality and this painted other thing. He filmed it and we're releasing it.
I think it's an awesome performance. I'm very proud. This was something right from the beginning [when we started this touring] that I wanted to capture so that we have it. If nothing like this happens again for the rest of my life, which is could very well not, I wanted to make sure we have this documented.
In recent years, you've got into film scoring, you've done a children's book, you've now deconstructed Evanescence's music. Have you started thinking about what the next thing is at this point?
We're going to take a little bit of time, but the next thing we're going to focus on creatively is just the next full Evanescence album. That's the plan. I just like to keep us finishing this tour a little open-ended, like let's all just breathe through the end of the year, and then we'll start writing next year for the next thing.
I think as a band, we're all in a really good place with each other. I've been with the guys -- Will, Troy and Tim -- now for over a decade. Jen's the new kid on the block but she brings a lot of positivity and energy to the group and we're excited for her to be with us. We're all happy together and we make a great team and we're excited to make more music together.
You can catch Evanescence, Lindsey Stirling and Cellogram on the road at these stops. The 'Synthesis Live' DVD / Blu-Ray will be released on Oct. 12 via Eagle Vision and you can pre-order yours at this location.
Where Does Amy Lee Rank Among the Top 50 Hard Rock + Metal Frontwomen of All Time?
10 Best Evanescence Songs