If Amy Lee hadn't spoken up, she'd be in a very different place right now. In her nearly two-decade long career as Evanescence's frontwoman and one of rock's top vocalists, she's faced a series of familiar battles. From the day she emerged, falling from a block of CGI apartments, begging to be brought to life, she's had to fight back against people in power who've tried to suppress her voice. Whether that was the old-school music press, who tried to reduce her into a two-dimensional caricature; 50 Cent, who attempted to interrupt her acceptance speech at the 2003 Grammy Awards; or her former record label, who reportedly tried to control her and her work (before she loosed herself in 2014), Lee hasn't been afraid to use her voice, and to bring to light the iniquities she's faced.
Until now, Lee's songwriting has largely been inward facing — directed towards personal drama and sorrow — rather than towards the tensions of the world outside of her. In 2020, that all changed. For the first time in her career, and after almost a decade since Evanescence's last album of original material, Amy has used her voice for political good. While gradually unveiling the songs for their fourth studio LP, The Bitter Truth, Lee has become a spokesperson for the non-partisan organization Headcount, which promotes a user-friendly website on which people can register to vote in just minutes. The band's latest single "Use My Voice" is both a rallying cry for unity and the official song for Headcount's 2020 campaign. Featuring all-female guest vocals from Halestorm's Lzzy Hale, the Pretty Reckless' Taylor Momsen, Within Temptations' Sharon Den Adel as well as friends and family members, Lee is encouraging fans to sing with her, step up and be heard, and help unfuck the world.
Revolver spoke with Lee about the upcoming album, why voting is the best way to use your voice, and the experience of watching her son grow up following the tragic death of her brother.
FIRST OFF, DOES THE BITTER TRUTH HAVE A RELEASE DATE YET?
AMY LEE No. I've been looking at this kind of differently, since we've just been releasing singles every couple months. We wanted to do that from the beginning, but now we're in a different situation where we have to do that. I want to live more in the moment with our music, rather than getting all the songs completely finished, then going in a studio and knocking it out all at once. We decided to do this when we could, and really throw things down and placing things as we went. Since we're still creating the end of it — and we are coming to the end of it — until it's all completely finished I don't want to make a release date announcement. We're not far off though.
HOW WILL YOU KNOW WHEN YOU'VE COME TO AN END?
I'm still writing some lyrics. That's the one thing I can't control. We can lay down a bunch of musical layers, but when it comes to thinking of the words to say what I'm trying to say, that can be a more difficult process. I have two songs left that I'm finishing the lyrics to. Once that's done, I think we're gonna fly.
DO YOU KNOW WHY LYRICS ARE THE THINGS TO COME LAST?
Man, it's always been that way for me. I feel like I only have partial control over them coming out of myself. I do, to some degree, believe in a little bit of magic with the process — there's something that comes from somewhere else. There's something I have to wait for. I always want it to be the best it can be, and if anything comes out that I feel could be better, then I'm not gonna let it go. We've all been spending so much time on this music, and coming to the end of this process, I wanna make sure everything's perfect right at the end. I want to let the art drive.
HOW DOES IT FEEL PROMOTING THIS ALBUM IN TANDEM WITH THE UPCOMING ELECTION?
I'm really grateful to have this music right now to use my voice. I worked on the lyrics to "Use My Voice" for the past two years, it's just been a slow build. More and more, as time's gone by, there's been more to say. The fact the song is able to come out now in time for the election, I feel, was just meant to be. I feel very grateful to speak about it, poetically, in a way I truly believe in. To be silent right now, if that had been the choice I'd made, I think I'd be feeling very depressed right now
CLEARLY YOU'RE VERY COMFORTABLE SINGING AND TALKING ABOUT YOUR OWN FEELINGS AND THE MORE PERSONAL SIDES OF YOUR LIFE. SO HOW DOES IT FEEL NOW THAT YOU'VE CHOSEN TO SPEAK MORE POLITICALLY IN YOUR MUSIC AND IN PUBLIC SETTINGS?
At first it was pretty scary. I'd never said anything political ever with my platform. I really have tried to make it about everyone. We need to be unified so badly, the division is not what we need. We all have family that we don't completely agree with, now there's these very difficult conversations we have, and we need to be having those kinds of conversations. If we can't talk about it then we can't fix it, and if we can't face the truth then we can't get past what's going on. It definitely was a choice that was a little difficult for me, but I knew in my heart it's what I had to do.
YOU MUST HAVE HAD SOME CONVERSATIONS ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT TAKING A POLITICAL STANCE WOULD ALIENATE A PORTION OF YOUR FAN BASE, BUT HOW DO YOU THINK IT'S ACTUALLY GONE DOWN SINCE YOU'VE BEEN MORE OPEN ABOUT YOUR VIEWS?
I honestly haven't felt anything negative. The thought in my head was that if anything negative did happen, then I'd just have to accept that because losing fans isn't as important as fighting for what's right.
IS VOTING THE BEST WAY TO FIGHT FOR WHAT'S RIGHT?
Absolutely. We need to feel as though we do still have power and that our voices do still matter — that we're being heard, that we're not just screaming into the void. Everyone standing up and voting — using your voice in that way — that's how we can stand up and be counted. Everyone should be represented. If everyone's not involved in the conversation, then we can't all truly be represented as a whole. Voting is the best way to do that.
HAVE YOU SHARED IN PUBLIC WHO YOU'VE VOTED FOR?
Yeah, I've already voted. I voted for Biden.
THERE ARE CLEARLY MANY LAYERS TO THE SONG "USE MY VOICE," AND I THINK IT'S A PROFOUND STATEMENT FROM YOU, IN PARTICULAR, AS SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN SUBJECT TO SO MANY OF THE EVILS OF THE INDUSTRY. YES, THIS IS A POLITICAL SONG, BUT ARE YOU ALSO USING TO SPEAK TO THOSE EVILS YOU'VE EXPERIENCED PERSONALLY?
Hmm. That's part of my story and it's going to come out all the time. It's interesting, in 2020, so many songs that have been out for a long time have taken on a whole new meaning now. I'm hearing things in songs of ours from years ago that suddenly are just so real. It's like, obviously I wasn't writing about 2020 when I wrote "Sick" and "The Only One," but I was singing about fighting the spirit of someone who's trying to keep you down and suppress your voice — that's definitely a very familiar battle for me. So, yeah, absolutely it's in there.
YOU'VE DEFINITELY TAKEN ON A NEW DIRECTION FOR THIS ALBUM, BUT IF I COULD COMPARE IT TO ANYTHING YOU'VE DONE BEFORE, IT WOULD BE THE OPEN DOOR. ARE THERE ANY COMPARISONS BETWEEN THOSE TWO ERAS OF EVANESCENCE?
I do see them as different, but this moment and that one were both moments of empowerment, for myself and the band. With The Open Door, that was the first time I felt the challenge to make an album without Evanescence's co-founder. I was alone in that. Making The Open Door I was like, OK, this is it, this is my chance to stand up for myself and really become our leader and to prove everything I'd been saying. I took risks on that album that I'd been wanting to take, and I had a lot more control. I think that's happening for us again now, but it's more about us as a group now. This lineup of the band, we've been together for years now, and we're strong and we support each other and respect each other, and everything's in this out of love. That's different from how it was in the beginning. We are really standing together in this moment and challenging each other and supporting each other, while recognizing that we're taking steps out on a limb here to say things that are really real and true and, to some degree, controversial. We're all standing here together, ready to take it on.
NOW THAT SOCIAL MEDIA DOMINATES — I KNOW YOU GUYS ARE ON TIKTOK — AND EVERYTHING ISN'T JUST CONTROLLED BY GATEKEEPERS AND RADIO PLAY, HAS IT BECOME EASIER FOR YOU TO USE YOUR VOICE IN THIS NEW MUSIC LANDSCAPE?
Absolutely, yes. I used to have a lot more fear and anxiety about doing interviews, honestly, because you never know how that's going to translate when someone's put what you've said into context, in the way they want. A decade ago — besides standing onstage and speaking to a group of people in person — that was my only way for my words to get out. That and my lyrics. Knowing that what I said was always going to come through someone else's filter was always really scary for me, because very often I felt not correctly represented by those articles. I felt like people only wanted to see me in one certain way and had their mind made up about who I was before we ever did the interview. Now, I have the power to just say something directly to my fans with no filter. I recognize that that's a power to respect, and to be careful of — I don't want to just go popping off all the time, in the middle of the night, in all caps, because that's going to make the things I say, that really mean something, weaker. I think it's more important to really choose your words, and I'm grateful for the ability to just represent myself a lot of the time. I really do feel that my character and my presence, as perceived by the public, is a lot truer to who I really am now, compared to how it used to be.
YOU'VE DONE QUITE A FEW COLLABS IN THE RUN-UP TO THIS ALBUM. DID TRYING TO SLOT YOURSELF INTO SOMEBODY ELSE'S MUSICAL WORLD INFORM THE PROCESS OF THIS ALBUM, AND THE COLLABS WITHIN IT?
I have been loving collaborating this year. I've been craving human togetherness and unity. We can't be together, everybody's apart. Collaborating has made for beautiful opportunities for connection on a deep level, with people, some of whom i didn't really know before. I most recently did a collaboration with Bring Me the Horizon that's coming out at the end of the month. I don't really know them personally, we'd just been fans of each other's music, and you know how music is — you feel like you know that person because the music lives in you. So, to be able to plug that in and make it alive and have it be mutual when working together, is something that's really beautiful. While I'd been very busy working on our album, and getting a little bit stuck on some of the words, they sent me this track to work on, and it was such a beautiful escape and release for me. It felt like something I wasn't supposed to do, like my secret little side thing, and it really was just so fulfilling to go back and forth, to collaborate, to have all these conversations everyday with Oli [Sykes, BMTH singer]. It felt beautiful to finish something. It was the boost and the inspiration to take the Evanescence music with a new satisfaction and fuel, where I'd just been frustrated before. I've been so grateful to have the job that I have this year, because music gives me the space to focus on my emotions and be vulnerable and honest and face my fears. It's been the therapy that I really, really, really need right now.
WHAT'S BEEN THE GREATEST SOURCE OF CREATIVE INSPIRATION FOR YOU IN THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS?
Whoa, that's deep. [Laughs] If I give you the answer, it's the bitter truth. My brother passed away in 2018 and that rocked my family so hard. I can't sum it up with just regular words. It takes music. That has forced me to see things in another perspective, and to do a lot of deep existential thinking. "Who are we?" "What am I?" "What is life?" "What happens when we die?" Going into a really deep place through our spirits, into some other kind of realm, that experience for me has been hugely traumatic and life changing for me and for my family. But in my own heart, it's made for a place of tenderness, deep love, and it's made me think three-dimensionally. I see the past, present and future at the same time. It's hard to explain, but once I got past the initial, most painful part of it, music really did start pouring out, and thoughts started pouring out of me.
HAS THE LOSS OF YOUR BROTHER CHANGED HOW YOU EXPERIENCE THE GROWTH OF YOUR SON?
Yes, totally. He reminds me of my brother very much. When my brother and I were the closest was when my brother was in kindergarten, which is the age Jack is now. The time we spent most together was when we both lived at home with our parents, during the first six years of his lives. When I was a senior in high school, I'd drive him to his school, and that was our time together. We'd stop at the ice cream shop on the way home — I was the cool big sister. Seeing my son get to that age now is so sweet, and bittersweet, because he reminds me of my brother so much, and I know how much they'd be getting along right now. But it is a beautiful thing to be able to relive that beloved part of my past with my son. We watch the same shows that my brother and I loved, and I tell him the same jokes. I see how my brother is still alive even through the faces Jack makes. It's a beautiful thing.