Every girl goes through it â€” the messy task of emerging from her awkward teen years and navigating the complex waters of romance while figuring out what to be when she grows up.
But very few do it as publicly as Amy Lee, lead singer of the goth-rock band Evanescence.
Lee was just 19 when she signed her first record contract, and barely 21 when the band’s major-label debut, “Fallen,” flew up the charts in 2003. The album, co-written by Lee and (now ex-boyfriend) Ben Moody, connected with fans across the globe and netted the band two Grammy awards, including best new artist.
Its hard-driving mix of brooding, spiritually-tinged darkness and dramatic classical orchestration offered fans a window into Lee’s psyche. Or so many of them thought.
“Everyone knows a lot about me without actually knowing me at all,” says Lee, now 24.
Her celebrity status as a singer of edgy songs left her surrounded by teenage fans in search of a role model.
It takes only a few minutes in Lee’s presence to see what drew them: Her porcelain skin and shimmering, pale blue eyes are set off by a mane of black hair, and she seems to embody both confident strength and a delicate femininity.
Think Angelina Jolie with extra eyeliner.
But despite the image of hard-rocking power that Lee projected during her first years in the spotlight, she was struggling with unhealthy relationships and the overwhelming experience of success. And she was still practically a teenager herself.
Then things went from complicated to just plain ugly: within months, Moody abruptly quit the band while on tour. The two have barely spoken since. There were other troubles to deal with as well: Last year, she sued her former manager, accusing him of charges ranging from sexual battery to misusing her money; he has denied the charges.
It’s part of the reason why Lee decided rather than rush out another album to preserve her fledgling stardom to take a break: “I just cut myself off from the world a little bit. Unplugged all the phones.”
(She also declines to talk about Moody or the lawsuit in an interview, worried that she that it has made her dark image even darker: “The things that are out there are almost all things I’ve shared. But I realize by reading interviews that it sounds a lot more negative than it is. So much drama.”)
Lee eventually began working with a new writing partner, guitarist Terry Balsamo (formerly of Cold and Limp Bizkit), who had joined Evanescence. But there were more roadblocks ahead: Before a sophomore album could be finished, Balsamo suffered a stroke in 2005. He’s now nearly recovered, but the experience was life-changing for them both.
It strengthened Lee, she says, making her music even more intimate and confessional: “It really made the album more meaningful. You totally get a new perspective.”
Balsamo says writing with Lee was a more rewarding experience than his collaborations with his other bands because “she was willing to try new things and not do the same old (stuff), and that’s something I’m really a big fan of.”
Last week, “The Open Door” finally hit stores, and this week, it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts, selling almost 450,000 copies in its first week. “The Open Door” offers vulnerability from Lee, and even a healthy dose of hope.
“I’m at the best place I’ve been,” she says, smiling. “Not that I think all the songs from now on are going to be happy and cheery, of course.”
Evanescence fans will be glad to hear that. Although the band’s lineup has changed considerably since “Fallen,” (bassist Will Boyd quit earlier this year), the music remains consistent.
“It’s still, first and foremost, coming from my heart,” Lee says. “But you can definitely say it’s feeling different since Ben’s leaving. The guitars are a completely new style. Terry rocks. It’s innovative, but not so out there that you can’t relate.”
Many tracks on “The Open Door” explore the process of learning not to sacrifice yourself for the sake of love, something Lee says she’s learned about in recent years. She doesn’t regret sharing that experience with strangers, though it’s odd to be looked to for advice at an age when most women are seeking mentors of their own.
“It’s really wild. I never went into this thinking, ‘I’m gonna set a good example,’” she says. “I started creating art because I was searching for answers, and it was that searching that led to my music. From a lot of my lyrics, I feel like I don’t understand how people are really looking up to me. Because it’s all questions.
“But I do encourage people to care. There’s a lot of apathy in our youth. A lot of people living with situations they’re in without doing anything about it. In the new album, I go for, ‘What’s the solution? How do I get out of this?’ I’m hearing myself grow within the music and also personally grow.”
Lee says she’s always been an adviser of sorts.
“I think part of my job probably is counseling. I don’t want to say more than I should. I mean, I don’t have a medical degree. But I’m sort of a friend, like an advice columnist,” she says. “In high school, I was the person a lot of people would come to, even people who didn’t know me that well. They wanted to spend the night at my house and talk.”
Despite that experience, it can be jarring to hear that her music has helped fans through their darkest times, even saving some from considering suicide. But Lee is glad to be there for them.
“It’s important to let out what you’re feeling, to tell somebody or write a song or write a poem, and read it to your class. Better to do that, rather than pretending it’s fine and kicking yourself later,” Lee says. “React to the world. The world is a scary place.