Amy Lee knows what she’s doing.
That was the message that came through loud and clear last week after Evanescence’s self-titled third album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart — the second time the heavy, gothic-tinged rock group has hit that pinnacle.
The album, which came out Oct. 11, was originally expected a year ago, after Lee and company began working on new music during the summer of 2009. But as the initial recording wore on, Lee — who was working with producer Steve Lillywhite and writing songs with Will “Science” Hunt (not to be confused with Evanescence drummer Will Hunt) — decided “some of those songs weren’t right for Evanescence” and decided to go back to the drawing board.
“It just wasn’t like Evanescence music,” explains Lee, 29, who was also named the Hottest Chick in Hard Rock this month by Revolver magazine. “Some of it was really stripped-down and acoustic. And I went through this big phase where it was more based on (electronic) programming ... and not about the band really at all.
“The more I had all these songs, I just got really excited about them and started bringing the band into it and wanting it to be an Evanescence record, but when we went into the studio at that time, we just weren’t all the way there. It just wasn’t sounding right.”
But Lee says working on the initial material did help her and her bandmates — Hunt, guitarists Terry Balsamo and Troy McLawhorn and bassist Tim McCord — home in on what Evanescence music actually is.
“I think what was missing the most was the rock” she says. “At the heart of everything, Evanescence is a rock band. We needed all that power, the aggression of the guitarist and the drums. So (‘Evanescence’) is truly an Evanescence record now. It’s got a lot of new attitude and new elements, but it’s still us.”
It also finds Lee “totally focused on Evanescence” after a period of time off — and unsure of where the band fit in her life.
The California-born Lee co-founded Evanescence during 1995 in Little Rock, Ark., with former boyfriend and fellow songwriter Ben Moody and hit quickly with the 2003 debut album, “Fallen,” which sold more than 17 million copies worldwide and won a pair of Grammy Awards. But the success was not smooth; Moody left while touring to support “Fallen” and was followed by the rest of the band members during the next couple of years. Moody regrouped them with “American Idol” finalist Carly Smithson for a new band, We Are the Fallen, in 2009.
Lee persevered, recruited new band members and was vindicated when “The Open Door” debuted at No. 1 in 2006.
But the conflict and pressure made her weary, and once she married Josh Hartzler in 2007 Lee was ready for an extended break.
“I just completely stepped away from Evanescence,” says Lee, who chronicles her feelings in the “Evanescence” track “Lost in Paradise.”
“I was willing to let it go. In my head I felt like if I get inspired again and we make another record, even if it’s 10 years, it will be worth it to wait for the inspiration and make something great.
“And if that means we don’t have any fans left and everyone’s forgotten us — which is a total possibility — then fine. If the music’s good enough, we’ll be able to start over.”
But after “Evanescence” debuted at No. 1, she adds, “it was definitely a very awesome, happy realization that we have so many fans.”
Lee says the time off also let her write the songs on “Evanescence” from a different and more mature place than the material on the group’s first two albums.
“It hits people in different ways,” she says of the album. “Some people think that it’s happier, and I totally get that. It’s less angsty in some ways because I’m not blaming everything on everyone else ... which is what I hear sometimes when I listen to our older music. And at the same time people are like, ‘You’re so full of heartbreak on this record. What happened?’
“I think there’s just a little bit of everything this time. It’s a big spectrum of feeling — big pain and big hurt to self-acceptance and just overcoming fear. I want to think more about life and living life and hope and forgiveness and a lot of themes that maybe just weren’t cool enough to write about when I was a teenager.”
And part of the fear, Lee says, was coming back to Evanescence after her self-imposed exile from the band.
“When we’re on, it’s Evanescence all the time and that’s who you are,” she explains. “After four years of not doing that, living normal life and not even thinking about Evanescence, you feel like, ‘Is this really still me? Have I outgrown this thing? Is this gonna work anymore? Who am I?’
“So a lot of me writing lyrics on this record was about finding myself.”
Lee is confident now that Evanescence will not take over her life as it did in the past. “I do have a wonderful husband who keeps anything from feeling like it’s spiraling too far out of control,” she says.
Nevertheless, the reimmersion includes a world tour that Lee expects to last well into 2012, with hopes of making another Evanescence album sooner rather than later.
Lee also plans to re-address some of those early songs she worked on last year for “different projects some day — maybe a solo thing, maybe something else.”
Those are thoughts for another time, however. For now, Lee is back in her tight black corset and “happy to be doing (Evanescence) right now.”
“I’m feeling so much love from the fans and I’m so proud of this record that we made,” she says. “I feel like this is who I am, and I love it. I know I’m a whole person without (the band), too, but right know it’s a really good thing in my life, and I’m happy to be immersed in it again.”
Evanescence, the Pretty Reckless and the Rival Sons perform Monday, Oct. 24, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $36. Call 248-399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.
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