Amy Lee’s rock band Evanescence sold almost 14 million CDs worldwide, and this was her reward: Her songwriting partner, Ben Moody, abruptly quit the band; Terry Balsamo, who replaced him, had a stroke; and she broke up with her boyfriend, Shaun Morgan of Seether. Then she had to make a new record.
“There’s a lot of sensationalism right now about my whole story, that everything’s been really tough and dramatic and hard. And yes, there have been challenges, but this has been one of the best experiences in my entire life,” says Lee, 24, whose band performs Monday at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan, a week after Evanescence’s third album, “The Open Door” (Wind-Up), arrived in stores.
“I definitely feel like the challenges we’ve been through as a band have made us stronger,” Lee says. “It’s weird – bands break up all the time over things, and instead of letting the things that happen to us hurt us and let us get separated, we became a lot closer.”
In an hour-long conference call with several music writers, Lee firmly and charmingly deflects the most personal questions. Asked whether her new song “Call Me When You’re Sober” was related to Morgan’s checking himself into rehab last year, she says: “I don’t know…. I really hope that he’s doing great.”
Upbeat and occasionally bubbly, Lee’s phone personality contradicts her deadly serious vocal style – she has an almost operatic pitch, and it meshes nicely with the layered, piano-based metal of her quintet. Evanescence formed in the late ’90s, in Little Rock, Ark., when guitarist Moody coaxed pianist Lee into performing with him, and Moody pushed the band in a Christian direction. Since Moody left, Lee has distanced herself from that identity – “The Open Door” is more intensely personal than broadly spiritual.
Evanescence’s 2003 album, “Fallen,” jumped into Creed’s niche and became one of the decade’s biggest rock hits. To make the follow-up, Lee had to write songs with a new partner, Balsamo, who played guitar in the band South, then adjust emotionally after Balsamo suffered a stroke a year ago. (He’s recovering and back in Evanescence.) “‘Fallen’ did really, really well – better than we expected – and a lot has changed for our band in the lineup and everything else. More than anything, it [‘Fallen’] gave us a lot of freedom this time around,” she says. “We could do whatever we wanted this time around and actually expand the box.”
On “The Open Door,” the band augments its dramatic gloom and doom with a choir and orchestra on several tracks, particularly the closing “Good Enough,” which is almost jarringly happy. “‘Good Enough’ is the best representation of the new me, and it was the last song written for the album,” Lee says. “‘Good Enough’ actually came out of feeling good, which is a big first for me because I’ve always felt like I have to be going through something, struggling with something, to write. Passionate, tragic things inspire my music, but I’ve realized that I don’t have to be sad to write a good song…. It makes me happy to hear it.”