Saturday, December 16, 2023

Twenty Years of Amy Lee’s “Evanescence”

I was going to write about this sooner or later.

I haven’t written about contemporary music in awhile (just as I haven’t written about many other things that interest me or engage my attention on a more-or-less daily basis). I have missed many “anniversaries” of creative activity—some of which I still intend to write about. But since the magnificent Amy Lee just turned 42 years old on December 13, I have to wish her a “Happy Birthday”! 

And this means I might as well discuss her ongoing musical career, which for me is one of the more fascinating creative endeavors that I am predisposed and equipped to appreciate. In a sense, Amy and her large circle of collaborators have brought about a “musical fusion” that I would have dreamed of in my youth, had I been able to imagine it were possible. And this year marks a particular “moment” in Amy’s career (way back in March, actually, although the commemorative editions and much of the conversation have only recently appeared)—a moment that most observers would classify as “achieving superstardom,” but that in fact was more complex, and in some ways tragic and inexplicable; it was an ending as well as a beginning, involving breaks on the level of artistic collaboration (and, it seems, interpersonal relationships) that remain unresolved as far as anyone knows. We don’t know what the specific personal details may have been, and we must respect the artists’ privacy. But we can legitimately consider (especially in light of what Amy herself has said) the coalescence of creative cooperation and creative tension that shaped Amy Lee’s formative years, launched her unique career, and helped her clarify her artistic vision and commit herself to its further development in the face of many subsequent obstacles.

March 4, 2023 marked the twentieth anniversary of the release of the first album—but was it actually the first album?—okay let’s say the “major label debut” of the long and still-ongoing musical odyssey known as Evanescence. The album was called Fallen, and its music was released on a CD covered with an odd, slightly spooky photo tinted fluorescent blue and filled up with the brooding face of a girl. If you were on Planet Earth in 2003, it’s likely that this music passed over your consciousness in some form or other during the course of that year.

As happens from time to time in popular music (for reasons that are hard to predict in advance) Fallen “blew up” right from the start, and the young artists who made it became instant celebrities. I don’t know the various chart statistics (which were still “old fashioned” in 2003) but suffice it to say that it sold like crazy from the moment the CD hit the record stores. It was hard to deny that there was something “different” about the combination of sounds woven together in this music. Was it “over the top”? Somewhat, yeah. Melodramatic? For sure, though not in a pretentious manner. (Fact: I’m a melodramatic person, and I’ve learned that it’s okay, it has its place.) “Dark”? Some people found it melancholic to a fault. If there seemed to be a “brooding” quality to many of the songs, it was not without reason. Song themes included abusive relationships, death as separation from loved ones, anxiety, and even suicide. 

Fallen was not a “happy” album, and during the long grueling world tour in 2003-2004, Amy Lee definitely developed a distinctive “stage persona,” playing an elaborate rôle that combined tragic 19th century literary romanticism, 20th century “B-movie” creepiness, and elements of rock-star glam. But her real, complex, ardent, grand personality burst through her stage persona. 

Amy Lee took the stage in melodramatic attire with her long hair straight and dyed black. She looked like a “dark queen”—but not “dark” in the sense of some evil power, not a witch or sorceress, no sense of conniving with occult forces (like you find in some heavy metal bands)—nothing like that. Rather, Amy appeared cloaked in sorrow and mourning or else suffocating from oppression—but she was also full of energy and emotional intensity, pouring herself out in a piano ballad and then leaping across the stage, fist-pumping and swinging her head, making great waves from the black ocean of her hair. Above all, her voice rang out with power and persistence; her voice rang like bells in your soul—this gorgeous, rich vivid voice that emerged from dark anguish and aimed for the light, bore up from sorrow and disaster, struggled for freedom. Amy’s “dark queen” was like the dark before the dawn, fringed with light, growing light, the first glimpses of a brilliant sun.

She was spectacular! All this, in a rock concert. (I can only infer this from concert videos, but also from my experience of seeing Evanescence live in concert much later, when Amy was even better.)

Perhaps I’m indulging too much my penchant for superlatives. Perhaps it’s my overly melancholic personality, or even my depression, that incline me to go for this wild, loud, intense stuff. I’m a sucker for “the big music.” But I have also had my fair share of experience in performing the big music in my youth, on numerous stages with a variety of orchestras and bands, on acoustic violoncello and electric guitar, across all the genres “from Bach to Rock,” and let me tell you, Amy Lee is friggin amazing!

Popular music faces a challenge when it tries to take on serious themes: namely, that it’s also expected to “put on a show.” It’s supposed to “entertain.” And as we know only too well, when the artist is a young woman, the “entertainment industry” expects the “show” to involve… well… the woman to do some, uh… showingif-ya-know-what-I-mean. This really makes me angry! This is demeaning to so many amazingly talented women who want to express themselves musically, not sell their bodies to fill the bank accounts of the industry execs. I’ll save this rant for another day.

Amy Lee was not interested in that kind of “show.” In earlier days, when Evanescence was playing in clubs in hometown Little Rock, Arkansas, she was generally shy in doing any kind of performance. You can still find some interesting video on YouTube from 1999, from a venue where people are eating and talking during the gig, and Amy is not even the only singer. Songwriting and composing music were what she loved best, and she was doing it a long time before 2003.

Still, when the band was signed by the major label WindUp in 2001, A&R gave Amy acting and stage presence lessons. I don’t know what they tried to teach her, but clearly she found her confidence and her performance energy. The girl who led her high school choir (and wrote an award-winning composition for them) discovered that she could be the “opera star” (in rock opera). As both composer and performer of these “operas” she picked her own wardrobe, which was eccentric, but it was tailored to the songs

Some facts will help give us a context for the Evanescence phenomenon. Behind the costumes and the melancholy turn of many of these songs were real experiences of suffering and tragedy, the struggle against despair, but also an overall undercurrent of hope. The result (Amy has told us herself many times over the years) was intended to be a cathartic experience rather than a wallowing in sadness. Understandably, not everyone picked up on this, but it’s a crucial feature of Amy’s lyrics and her emotional style. What was unmistakable in 2003, however, was that Fallen was a huge, sprawling, overflowing flood of music. A bit overwhelming, but the music cohered, it was compelling, and it had “classic” written all over it. If you liked popular music and rock music and classical music, you couldn’t help saying, “Wow, great stuff!”

Try to put yourself in the place of someone listening to Fallen for the first time twenty years ago (if you’re a millennial, maybe you remember). You hear music that is catchy, rhythm-driven, and loud. The roaring guitars and heavy beats might make you think, “this is ‘heavy metal’… but not quite…” And then you hear melodic orchestral segments—not synthesizers but an actual string ensemble playing parts that have been clearly arranged and written with musical notation. A choir is heard in the background. Then some dude starts rapping.(?) The guitar hooks roll on relentlessly. A piano plays soft notes…

Somehow, it all “works.” 

And what made it work, what held it all together was the biggest surprise (it was certainly a surprise in 2003). This hard-rock/classical-music mashup extravaganza was fronted by a young female vocalist. Music business executives and radio stations were very skeptical that this combination could work. The label very nearly dropped the album in 2002. But they went with it in the end, and lots of people loved it. Well, that’s an understatement. The album has sold 17 million copies, including 10 million in the USA (earning the relatively rare “Diamond” certification).

That woman. Dang, she could sing!

The multifaceted sound of Evanescence was (and still is) sustained and integrated by the unique voice of Amy Lee. Once people heard this voice, they could not “unhear” it. Amy Lee had a wonderful, beautiful voice (and it’s gotten better through the past 20 years), and she sang with an unusual vocal style, with a sound that was simultaneously appealing and totally outside the box of anything in popular music (or any other music). Her voice was perfectly suited to the innovative music of Evanescence that stormed onto the mainstream music stage in 2003.

Here was a rock band fronted by a woman whose voice was strong enough to belt loudly, supple enough to take flight through at least three-and-a-half octaves and to take awesome, stratospheric leaps to thrilling, breathtaking heights—a voice that could “rock out” as good as anyone, croon with melancholic intensity and soul-penetrating richness, and do it all with tones that integrated elements of theatrical, classical, and operatic style.

My experience of the phenomenon of Evanescence was not like that of millions of adolescent millennials twenty years ago. I wasn’t listening to much popular music in those days. Eileen and I were juggling four kids under the age of seven in 2003; ain’t no time for rock-n-roll on that stretch of the road of life. It was only a decade later that I discovered the self-titled third album (released in 2012) and began to work my way back through the history of this wildly brilliant music and the people who made it. Only in retrospect can I imagine what it must’ve been like to queue up Fallen when it was brand new. Right from the start, where Amy croons, “Now-I-will-tell-you-what-I’ve-done-for-you…” people must’ve realized they were onto something fascinating and new. By the time I got around to giving some attention to Fallen, I was already sold on Amy Lee as a rare musical prodigy who was branching out in many directions with her talents as a composer, producer, choral arranger, recording artist of outstanding precision and detail, genre-fusing and genre-transcending musical explorer, dynamic and ardent pianist, and… a singer too, a rock chick who could sing with haunting beauty and then belt it out, head-bang, and send her black hair flying all over the place.

Let’s return to 2003, the year of colossal success for Evanescence, the year when songs like “Bring Me To Life” and “My Immortal” became permanent parts of the “soundtrack” of the millennial generation. Amy Lee was only 21 years old, and just beginning to really mature as a solo lead vocalist. Still, she was immediately recognized and identified with the Evanescence “sound.” At the same time, Evanescence was a “band” that had been developing their style and many of their songs since 1996.

But who were Evanescence?

There is another way to tell this story. One can point to the year 2003 and say it was the year that a band called Evanescence broke up. They had already started breaking up before Fallen was even released. In retrospect, it was all for the best (in my opinion), but at the time it must have been really difficult.

The band Evanescence that became famous in 2003 was formed in 1995 by two teenagers, Amy Lee and Ben Moody, who met at a Christian youth camp over that summer, not far from their town of Little Rock, Arkansas. Amy Lee was an introverted teenager with a passion for music, who was studying classical piano, loved Mozart and Beethoven, but was also fascinated by new electronic musical genres as well as the alternative rock music that had emerged in the early ‘90s. She had a dream of composing big dramatic music that combined the energy of classical music with what she saw as the complimentary passion of modern rock. Ben Moody played guitars and experimented with music technology, and also had dreams of creating an epic expansive musical sound. Ben and Amy (especially Amy) both loved intense movie soundtrack music, and admired film composers like Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman. They both had the dream of somehow putting all these genres together to make unique, awesome music. 

They were looking for a sound that we used to call “fusion” back in the 1970s. Some groups were doing it with stringed instruments in their bands (like “ELO” and “Kansas”). The Beatles, of course, had sown the seeds of this fusion (as they had for most of the best trends in popular music that came after them). Our problem as high school musicians in the 1970s was that we didn’t have access to the materials to make the sounds that were necessary for “symphonic rock.” Not that this kind of “fusion” didn’t exist; it had, in fact, just passed out of a “Golden Age” in the early 1970s. My friends and I listened to the amazing music of Progressive Rock, but we had no way of making it ourselves. I played classical cello during the day in the orchestra and electric guitar (loudly and, eventually, pretty well) with my friends in the evening. I had no way of bringing these two music worlds together.

Twenty years later, in the 1990s, technological possibilities for experimenting with “fusion” were accessible even to teens who had the motivation to use them. Amy’s and Ben’s big idea could begin to take shape. It was a big idea, with plenty of room for different approaches, emphases, and hopes to cultivate an audience—and it seems that from the beginning Ben and Amy had different goals and methods in mind in relation to their broad common vision. Still, they were just young teens, and both were misfits in the more preppy environment of Little Rock’s venerable private schools. They became good friends and began to perform and record their own music on an eight-track analogue recorder that Amy’s father—Little Rock radio show host John Lee—let them use at their home.

The Lees and the Moodys knew one another as families and supported the creative endeavors of their kids. If you’ve raised teenagers with a healthy measure of freedom and encouragement within loving and pedagogically shaped “boundaries,” you know that with a little support and access to resources they can be astonishingly creative. Amy and Ben collaborated on writing and recording songs. Media possibilities were in a transitional stage in the mid-1990s, and the technology for recording and copying one’s own music on a CD was becoming more available. Amy and Ben would record three independent EPs in the 1990s, which included very primitive versions of songs that later were recorded on Fallen. They received some local radio airplay and played local gigs, for which they would draw from among their musician friends to play bass and drums onstage.

In the beginning, the two friends browsed through the dictionary looking for possible names for their (then two-person) “band.” Amy liked the word “evanescence” because it pertained to things that are brief and fragile, that appear and disappear rapidly, often beautiful things; for example, the “evanescence of a rainbow that shines for a moment in the clouds after rain.” It seems ironic that a band with such big artistic aspirations would choose a name that implies something ephemeral. But Amy Lee was familiar with the experience of precious realities that vanish. She had already lived through a terrible family tragedy that had inserted something hard, even traumatic, into her childhood. She has spoken about its impact, and indicated its importance to her artistic and human vocation.

John and Sara Lee were dedicated to raising their family in a healthy, loving, and generous way. They were Evangelical (Protestant) Christians and they endeavored to build a faith-filled home. Amy was their firstborn in 1981. Three years later she became an older sister. From the ages of 3 to 6, Amy delighted in her younger sister. Siblings form strong bonds early in life, and their companionship is integrated into their emerging identity. Amy loved her sister and the wholeness of her family during these crucial formative years of her life. Then, tragedy struck. We don’t know the details, but it’s enough to know that her sister became ill and died. Amy was suddenly afflicted by a “loss” she couldn’t understand, and had to struggle with her own grief and the grief of her parents at this particularly vulnerable time in her own childhood.

Amy has spoken about how this event caused her to “grow up quickly.” The central questions of human life—“why do we exist? what is the purpose of living? what happens to us when we die?”—became specific and urgent questions for her at the age of 6. She had a basic child’s idea of Christian teaching about “eternal life” but it also seemed very mysterious to her (as it still does for her today). She wondered, “Where is my sister?” and “Why can’t I be with her?” Adults know that death provokes these questions, and that even with deep faith there is a sense of loss when someone we love dies. We know and grow by the adherence of faith, especially when we can’t “understand the reason” why God permits terrible things to happen in our lives.

Eventually, Amy got two more sisters and a brother, but the loss of her first sister remained like a wound that hasn’t yet been healed (her brother was also afflicted from childhood with a severe form of epilepsy; his harsh seizures brought on a long degeneration of his health and led to his death in 2018—the Lee family has thus endured a long and extraordinary measure of suffering and grief). Amy’s grief and her questions about life and death also left a deep impression on her poetry and musical style. The “heavy sorrow” in Evanescence’s songs is founded on real tragedy. It represents an effort to work through the pain of tragedy as much as possible, to express emotions and share them with others. In music, Amy found an outlet to let go of the sufferings, and allow her sorrows to create something beautiful. These songs don’t always present an easy resolution of the complex psychological problems involved with pain and sadness. In some songs a sorrowful mood seems to predominate vocally and tonally, which might make us think they offer no hope (for example the beautiful, mournful “Hello” from Fallen, which draws on the experience of a little girl trying to grapple with the news of her sister’s death). People may find this unsettling, and some Evanescence songs are more successful than others in evoking pathos in their listeners. It’s similar to the diverse responses people have to the lavish productions (and often fatalistic stories) of the famous Italian operas. Not everyone finds Italian opera cathartic, and the stories enacted don’t carry much weight by themselves. It’s the music—instrumental and vocal—that makes the difference. I happen to come from several generations of opera lovers and amateur opera singers, so I “get it.” But when many people hear “sad music” and emotionally complex, unresolved, or strange circumstances expressed lyrically, they wonder, “What are you trying to tell me to do? Are you ‘advocating’ despair?”

However, it seems to me that we must not assume that the logic of lyrics in a song is always intended to “teach us a lesson” or even to present us with a complete, coherent experience. The song may be ironic, or it may present a fragment, or an unresolved emotion or unanswered question that is left to reman as such, because these interior struggles are human: they are steps on the path of human suffering that people often take as they discover their own inner poverty and search for redemption and healing. An artful recognition of a tragic experience or painful process can be much appreciated by people who have had similar struggles. This is something entirely different from lyrics that are designed to lie to us or manipulate us, which can damage or undermine entirely the beauty of a song. No one should be obscene or glorify violence or encourage self-destructive behavior in their songs. Unfortunately the dominant trends in pop culture do precisely these things, which deserve their own mournful lament (and get it, in a sense, in the song “Everybody’s Fool”). But personal loss is a more prevalent theme.

Ben also knew the sorrow of losing a loved one. The lyrics of the famous “My Immortal” were written by him in honor of his late grandfather, who had been an inspiration and source of strength to him growing up. It remains one of the most beloved songs in the Evanescence catalogue.

Back to history: In 1999, Evanescence acquired a third full-time member and collaborator in local keyboard player and mutual friend David Hodges. David was Ben’s roommate and he was active in “Praise and Worship” music at his church (as I recall, somewhere on the Internet you can hear Amy singing some P&W songs with David on a church music recording). In the year 2000, the band put together a collection of what Amy calls “demo recordings,” had 2000 copies made, designed a cover and inserts, and “released it” as an album called Origin. Years later, it was re-released as part of a comprehensive box set. Amy laughs about it today, and denies that it was their “first album”—according to her, it was just a collection of demos put into the form of a CD so as to get the attention of industry executives. But many Evanescence fans consider it a “real album” because they recognize that it has so many fascinating features in its own right. Personally, I think that while the recording is primitive, the content provides precious insight into their developing sound. This is the recording that the young musicians made “on their own”—in some ways it’s like an audio “peek” at the sometimes-rough explorations of a talented group in its early phase. Listening to Origin reminds me of the way you can watch the early work of artists in the 2010s who were video-recording using laptops and webcams, playing covers or primitive versions of their own songs in their bedrooms and posting the videos on YouTube. 

Some of what Evanescence came up with on Origin was really cool, and—whether or not they recognize it—I can see clearly that they were the true successors of the spirit of Prog rock, which at its best was adventurous rather than pretentious, crafting rhythmic and melodious “order” out of a wide spectrum of sound. We live in a world in which we are constantly bombarded by artificial sounds. Someone has to make music out of these sounds, to help us to inhabit this electronically humming world, to keep it from driving us insane! Prog in the early 70s and Evanescence thirty years later were convinced that harmony was possible not only with the brave new sounds, but also that they could be integrated with the beauty of classical music traditions.

After the monster success of Fallen, bootleg copies of Origin appeared all over eBay, offering the “rare first album” for hundreds of dollars. Evanescence’s website responded by telling fans not to waste their money, and posted audio files of Origin and other previously recorded material for free download. That killed the inflated bootleg CD market. (Between then and now, internet audio technology has killed the entire CD market, period… and many other things about the old-fashioned mechanics of the music industry.) Today there are many more options for artists to connect with listeners and even interact with them in ways no one dreamed of a generation ago.

Bootlegs of Origin can still be found (at normal-to-low prices) online, and I’ll admit that—even though I already had the free download—I bought one of these CDs some years ago, for like ten bucks or less (not a hundred!). It looks perfect, but I’m sure it’s a reproduction of one of the “original 2000.” It has value for me, nonetheless. I still eagerly collect vinyl records and Compact Discs because I have OCD for “archival purposes” and because it’s still more fun to have things I can handle and examine. I like accurate credits that can be more easily found, and little details like those that can be found in the “acknowledgments” section. Inside the Origin booklet the band is identified and pictured as Amy Lee, Ben Moody, and David Hodges (This is the same trio that later signed with WindUp and performed all the songs on Fallen.) There is also—in the “thanks” section of this wild album (that also has a few similar references in songs, although you probably won’t hear them without the accompanying lyrics)—about a half a paragraph that makes no secret of the “radical origin” (and purpose) of Origin. After thanking everybody else, the text says: in closing, we give all praise and glory be [sic] the Lord Jesus Christ. All we have and all we are we owe to the Grace of Jesus. He is our strength and our redeemer. Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4.

Wow. I mean… wow. 

Actually, this clear statement is not really surprising. Nothing comparable appears on Fallen (Ben “thanks Jesus”), although the song “Tourniquet” has the theme of someone asking and pleading for redemption after a suicide attempt. The themes of death and desperation, though sometimes coming off as morbid or melodramatic, also broadly incorporate Christian symbolic language as a counterpoint. “Bring Me to Life” evokes images of salvation, although Amy Lee says it was inspired by a powerful encounter with a guy who was, at the time, only an acquaintance but whom she eventually married in 2007: Josh Hartzler (they recently celebrated their 16th anniversary and they live In Nashville with their 9-year-old son Jack). “Whisper”—a song they’ve been playing in simpler forms since the ‘90s—is the final track on Fallen, where it sprawls out into the “big song” that has everything in Evanescence’s musical repertoire mashed into an epic quasi-apocalyptic musical storm about confronting fear and temptation and, ultimately, death. As strings swirl and guitars churn, the song ends with a choir chanting repeatedly in Latin: “Deliver us from danger / deliver us from evil.” Amy Lee views the song today with nostalgia and a sense of humor regarding its cheesy over-the-top qualities. But it stands as a classic example of their youthful aspirations, and of the success of Amy’s fight to get a real string ensemble to play on the album instead of settling for cheaper and easier synthesizers for the string parts.

Amy, Ben, and David were indeed believing Christians raised in Christian families, and active in the edgy part of the large Contemporary Christian Music scene in Little Rock. By 2003, CCM had become a vast superstructure that covered virtually every genre in popular music, including “Christian Metal.” But Evanescence didn’t want to be labeled a “Christian band” or carry out an evangelistic ministry through their music. David Hodges wanted to move more in the evangelistic direction, and this was one reason why he didn’t stay with the band. But clearly Fallen didn’t fit into CCM as a marketing category. This doesn’t mean that Amy and Ben were rejecting Christianity in their lives. Amy Lee has affirmed even in recent interviews that she still is a Christian. Coming out of a Protestant background, she’s not clear on the form this faith takes in her life or how she conceives of it. She has acknowledged something of a crisis, a painful reawakening of questions about the meaning of life and difficulties with God, or at least her understanding of God, following the death of her brother in 2018 (her recent song “Far From Heaven” expresses this crisis—in her signature poignant and hauntingly beautiful manner). Amy is one of the artists I pray for. I pray for her growth in faith and for her artistic vocation.

We are beginning to see part of the picture of “who Evanescence was” not only during what “Ev-heads” (fan experts) classify as the “pre-Fallen era,” but also the central collaborators who made the famous Diamond-certified album 20 years ago. The actual recording is credited to Amy, Ben, and David, and two session musicians on bass and drums. The original collaboration, however, was “falling apart” before Fallen was released. David Hodges left the band after the studio work was completed, moving on to other musical projects and a successful songwriting career. And whatever other interpersonal dynamics may have been involved, Amy and Ben had long grappled with creative tensions that became “creative differences” in the wake of fame. The way it has been summarized (which is informative enough) is that Ben was striving to lead the Evanescence sound in a more “commercially accessible” direction while Amy wanted to follow the artistic sensibilities that had always inspired her, and for which she would continue to fight for years to come. 

This is not to say that Ben wanted to “sell out” or that Amy was infallible as an artist. It points to aspects within a large musical vision that couldn’t hold together after making one hugely successful, memorable, remarkable album of genre-defying music. The pressures of fame and a relentless touring schedule probably contributed to the breakup (or, at least, the perceived public drama of it). Ben quit the tour after six months, and went home to Little Rock. The tour continued with another guitarist, who turned out to be Terry Balsamo, a fixture of the band and close collaborator with Amy for the next two albums and over a decade of touring. Terry played on the live album/DVD of 2004 and worked with Amy on the exquisitely-crafted studio follow up album The Open Door. I actually got some sheet music (and there was sheet music!) for this album so that I could follow the multiple vocal parts that Amy brilliantly composed and beautifully recorded with her own voice on multiple tracks on this album.

Lots of other points could be addressed, but this article is already too long. Conflicts between the record company and the band absorbed time, and would continue over subsequent albums until Evanescence finally won full control over their entire “brand” in court in 2015. I don’t know the details, but they have served Amy’s development of her artistic vision for the group as a collaborative effort under her direction. I’m not complaining about this, since I’m a huge fan of Amy Lee as a creative force in music today, and I hope to hear further development of her splendid talents in musical composition and performance. Though the band lineup became much more consistent after 2007, the history of Evanescence has been very much the history of a “musical project” led by Amy Lee, with various talented players coming and going over the early years and lots of behind-the-scenes contributors and occasional collaborators, culminating in the astonishing achievement of “Synthesis” in 2017-2018. The band was re-tooled with experimental electronic instruments and combined with a full symphony orchestra along with Amy’s soaring vocals and a grand piano in a reimagining and rearranging of their old songs and a few new songs, followed by a concert hall tour that brought Amy and the band together with local orchestras in cities around the world. I went to the Washington DC area concert with my two oldest kids in 2018 (and wrote about it on this blog). The band then returned to a “traditional rock” format (as the critics termed it) and released a new album, The Bitter Truth, in 2021 and have just finished another (reasonably-paced but thorough) world tour.

From my perspective, coming across Evanescence after their self-title third album in 2012, I have always regarded Amy Lee as the leader of the band, and the key to its originality. The record Evanescence is a hard-driving, solid rock album which drew my attention to a then-more-recent band member and now a veteran and mainstay of the lineup: the marvelous drummer and percussionist Will Hunt. In my opinion, his expert and versatile playing has refreshed the whole catalogue of Evanescence songs and he also played a crucial rôle with percussion on the Synthesis tour. All the band members have their own formidable talents, but Amy still “makes the show”—she is a precise perfectionist as a recording artist in the studio and an energetic and daring singer and performer on stage.

Old videos make it clear that Amy owned the stage right from the start on the 2003-2004 Fallen tour. The songs she writes are difficult to sing, and her voice is greatly challenged in live performances. She never shies away from facing those challenges on stage, where a singer has only one chance to execute all the vocal acrobatics the song requires. Amy is not always “perfect” in every live concert, which is normal for any singer but with Amy you have to admire the ardor and determination she brings to every performance, and the risks she takes singing difficult songs at live concerts. The fact is that her vast imagination as a musical composer is continually “outrunning” even her formidable vocal capacities. This is a point I have made for years that she indicated in a recent interview was something she recognized herself. She keeps “setting the bar higher” for her own superb, vivid, agile, and now increasingly mature singing voice. 

Until recently (with the addition of other female band members) Amy couldn’t present on stage the rich harmonies that she composed and sang on Evanescence’s studio recordings. Thus, in concerts, Amy had to place all her vocal energy on the central melody. But the melodies were gorgeous, and her voice carried them brilliantly on stage. If she didn’t hit every high note or manage every transition perfectly, it wasn’t for a lack of trying, and her efforts were always exciting. It was like watching an Olympic gymnast plan a very difficult floor routine, and then execute it as close to perfectly as possible, and always in a breathtaking way. 

Amy is a such a superb singer with a unique sound, but she is an even better musical composer. In the past decade, she has had the chance to write and perform music for films, and collaborate in the composition of complete soundtracks with Juilliard music professor and cellist Dave Eggar (several Evanescence songs feature wonderful parts for cello, ah wow!). Amy also released a delightful children’s album in 2016, where she not only sings but also plays accompaniment on the harp. These sweet songs that grew out of singing to her own son as a baby and small child. Dream Too Much is an album I look forward to sharing with my grandchildren.

Here I must conclude these reflections with gratitude to Amy Lee for all the tremendous music she has shared with us. It has meant a lot to me, and to countless other people. Thank you!!