Reframing the Noise
Known for her powerful vocals and poignant lyricism, Amy Lee’s songwriting has always engaged listeners in the challenges of the human journey. Over the years, life’s most raw and vulnerable moments have brought out some of Lee’s best work, and Evanescence’s latest album, The Bitter Truth, has taken it to another level following a period of intense personal and professional challenges for the band.
Surrounded by passionate creatives from an early age, Amy Lynn Lee (now Amy Lynn Hartzler) has always wanted to write and perform music. Her father was a musician and radio host and her grandmother was a piano teacher who helped ignite Lee’s obsession with composition after watching Amadeus together. Lee had written her first pieces, “Eternity of the Remorse” and “A Single Tear,” by middle school. Teenage emotions and hormones coincided with the grunge/alternative/hard rock scene of the mid-1990s and served to accelerate Lee’s writing, and her fascination with piano, poetry and visual arts combined when she formed Evanescence alongside Ben Moody while still in her teens. Enrolling in university to study composition and theory, Lee ultimately dropped out to focus on the band—a choice that has served her well, given their continued success more than 20 years later.
Lee’s songwriting started with instrumental compositions that added lyrics, but her methodology shifted after a meeting with (now husband) Josh Hartzler exposed a more vulnerable method of self-expression: leading with the lyrics. “I remember meeting him at a time in my life when music was my main focus. We sat down and he just looked me right in the eyes and said ‘So, are you happy?’ I was in an abusive relationship and had never spoken about it to anyone. It felt like this total teardown of the façade,” revealed Lee. “I remember just looking down, kind of malfunctioning, and saying something quick to change the subject—but it affected me.” The conversation inspired “Good Enough” and “Bring Me To Life.”
2006’s The Open Door launched another shift, with Lee stepping into leadership of the band (following Moody’s departure), learning Pro Tools to engineer the album and stay in the “cockpit of creation.” Adds Lee, “I began to feel the beauty and the freedom in its imperfection. Music became a lot more about emancipation in some way.” Creating her own samples, Lee began to take time to experiment with sounds she had been too afraid to share before. Confesses Lee about her sample library of foley and musical fragments, “an idea can come from anywhere—and oftentimes doesn’t feel like I’m setting out to make some epic song.”
During lockdown, Lee created and stored more musical snippets, collecting cheap mechanical music boxes from antique stores, experimenting with recording methods, and deconstructing the sounds. Playing it for her bandmates when they got together to write their latest record, the collaborative result is the introduction to “Better Without You.”
Lee recommends following your heart, trusting your intuition when it comes to your sound, and emphasizes the importance of finding people that you love being around—who all love what they are doing—since you will be spending a lot of time together. Evanescence has never subscribed to a schedule of releasing music since, as Lee puts it, “I want to let it come from a true place and be inspired naturally from wanting it. We take that time in between [touring] for our families and for ourselves—to live life and refuel in the hole where the music is missing, so that we want it again.”
When she first started making music, Lee worried about notes and chords being perfect and tried to fit into a certain genre, setting rules for herself about the delivery of her phrases and words. She now feels the most important ingredient in songwriting is staying open during the experience. “As much as there is a method to making music—chord structure and song patterns—” she shares, “there's this other thing that is really just a little spark of magic, and it has to be about loving what you're doing.”