Songwriters often turn tragedies into song, but in 2005, Evanescence’s Amy Lee had enough grief and heartache to fill a whole album.
First, guitarist and writing partner Terry Balsamo suffered a massive stroke at age 34 and wasn’t sure if he would ever play again. Then, Lee found herself going through a particularly nasty end to a relationship.
Ironically, the grief inspired Lee to write out her pain in Evanescence’s second album The Open Door.
“Making this record has been really intense,” Lee says quietly between gigs on their first tour since 2004.
Not one to take things lying down, Lee “took the phone off the hook for a year” and wrote 13 songs including Lithium, Lose Control and the first single Call Me When You’re Sober in order to purge herself of emotional scars.
“I work out my personal struggles by writing them out in my music,” she admits.
“I won’t wallow in fear or sorrow of threats. The more clearly I write about something that’s hurting me, the better I feel. It’s healing. Giving it away. I guess that’s why I’m a pretty happy, and healthy person in real life.”
Dealing with her own romantic fallout was one thing. Dealing with Balsamo’s stroke and its threat to the band was a greater challenge.
“We weren’t sure whether he was going to live, or be a vegetable and then it boiled down to would he be able to play guitar again,” she recalls, her voice shaking slightly.
“Doctors said he would never play again, but Terry didn’t listen. He returned to the studio two weeks later and took physical therapy, relearning guitar and getting his arm to work again. He’s still not 100% but he’s doing amazing.”
By the time band began to record in March 2006, the classically trained pianist from Little Rock, Ark., saw the chance to stretch the band’s Goth-piano and strings sound to orchestral proportions. On Lachrymosa, for example, she samples one of her desert-island favourites, Mozart’s Requiem.
“We did a lot of out-there, experimental things on this album just for fun,” she points out. “That’s what it’s all about, trying new things to create something new. If it sounded dumb, then we wouldn’t have put it on the album. I think that we are too often afraid of culture.”
“I studied classical piano for nine years, and loved choral singing, more than most,” she adds.
“I love the drama that classical music and literature evokes. It inspires me.”
The drama that marks Lee’s songwriting also extends to the Open Door live show, which comes to Scotiabank Place on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. With theatrical scenery and operatic stagings, including falling snow, the new roadshow marks the band’s return to bold form says Lee.
“People expect us — Balsamo with John LeCompt on guitars and Rocky Gray on drums — to do the same thing over and over, which isn’t going to happen,” Lee says emphatically. “Being successful opened up a lot of doors and gave us the freedom to make up our own rules.”
That wasn’t the case for the band before 2003. Lee and her original partner Ben Moody felt the pressure to make it big with their first album.
Released in 2003, Fallen went on to sell an astounding 14 million copies, thanks to two singles Bring Me To Life and My Immortal. Both went Top-10 on the Billboard Rock charts, and earned the band two Grammy awards for Best New Artist and Best Rock Performance.
“We felt like we had this one chance to break into the industry,” says Lee.
“It was wild and exciting and scary because we weren’t getting any respect from anyone. It was much easier this time around. The label trusted us, and left us alone instead of trying to control everything.”
Including how long the band sticks around. Lee admits that being in a rock band is “pretty weird most of the time”.
“I get tired of touring and want to go back and write. It’s those two extremes that I get tired of. I’m not doing this forever.”