We asked Evanescence frontwoman Amy Lee all about the band’s new album Synthesis – a collection of re-recordings (and two new tracks) of some of the alt-rock group’s most treasured songs, rearranged with full orchestra.
It’s amazing how so many of the orchestral instruments sound like they were always supposed to be there, and the electronic beats you’ve chosen have a very industrial feel, which fits the Evanescence style beautifully. Were many of these elements already imagined in your mind before you started this project?
Thank you! Yes, actually. I didn’t know what the whole thing would sound like when we were done; there is so much detail that was created as we went. But honestly, this is more like the way I hear our music in my head.
Some of the decisions you’ve made here with arrangements, do they reflect ways that you’ve developed the tracks during their lives as part of your live setlist?
Yes. Not in the obvious ways. Our usual live show is very much about amplifying and energizing things to make a non-stop, heavy rock show. We add parts to build drama, make four bars into eight and add a drum solo, go straight from one song to the next. But this project isn’t feeding that need – it’s meant to be experienced in a different way. The things that I was able to add into these new versions that stemmed from the songs’ live growth over time is mainly about vocal performance. That little extra note in the bridge of Bring Me To Life (“only you…”) is a good example. That’s been something I do live when I’m really enjoying the moment and want to push further.
One of the most unique elements of Evanescence is how your music changes from major to minor in unexpected ways; it gives it this malevolent beauty. I hear it on the new track Hi-Lo. Do you think about this sort of theory when you’re writing?
That major/minor switch is one of my favourite little musical moves. Nine Inch Nails and Danny Elfman both do that move very well. Quite a few little song beginnings were tossed around before I finally committed to the groove that became Imperfection. What got me excited was the verse rhythm plus that major to minor back and forth. Hi-Lo’s chorus is another place where that vocal melody lands on that major third when you’re not expecting it – I feel like it just gives my soul what it really wants when it’s used right.
You’ve said you wanted to do the full orchestral re-imagining, “not just strings” – because strings are obviously already a big part of your music. Which other section of the orchestra were you most excited to get working with?
I really love bells. Chimes, glockenspiel, vibraphone, all kinds! It was really awesome to feature so many different mallet instruments. Lithium has at least four different bells on it – it creates a very magical feeling.
With a track like Lacrymosa, which was already so enormous (its string parts, and particularly its huge choral vocals), how did you approach augmenting or remaking it with the orchestra?
Well, part of my choices for this were about goosing the songs that had string arrangements that I already loved – it was a way to give them a chance to shine through. We didn’t scrap the old arrangements, we just made them… more. Added to them, repeated favourite moments, just really put them on a pedestal. So I knew I wanted to do Lacrymosa again and just give the sonic space to hear it all. But the brass section packs a huge punch and adds this cinematic, ‘larger than life’ heaviness to things. That was kind of a surprise to me. David Campbell is all about brass and I’m usually really tentative about it. My view of what it can do has totally changed! It makes things massive when it’s done right. And actually losing the choir was something I had been wanting to do. I love choir, I’m a choir nerd – but the famous Mozart strings of this song are so heavy, so sad and so powerful, and I feel like sometimes when you hear a choir that’s what you naturally listen to above the rest. I think it’s natural for our ears to hone in on human voices. So this version lets that weight really sink in, in a way that actually seems understated at times because you don’t have the big choir in your face.
What have you learned about orchestras you perhaps didn’t know before, in terms of how a band of that size logistically operates when it comes to rehearsing and touring and so on?
Oh, it’s totally different. Soundcheck rehearsal begins at 5. Not 5:01, 5! And if you’re in the middle of the song when it’s time to stop, the song stops! It’s kind of hilarious. Also I learned that following the conductor is not what I always thought – her hands landing on the beat, like dancing. It’s more like she tells you what to do a fraction of a second before you do it. So everyone arriving together is tricky for me! I’m used to headbanging!
You decided to open The End Of The Dream with an electronic drone, which just sits on one note. It really accentuates the colour of the verse’s melody. There are several songs on which you could have chosen to use this trick – why this one?
This was one of my first big, clear visions for the record – that intro. The feeling I had when I wrote the lyrics, it felt like this in my heart. So fragile and raw. When we recorded our self-titled album version of the song, we made all kinds of cool production and arrangement decisions with the band, and with our producer. And that song ended up with these pretty slamming, full on verses. The feeling totally changed. I wanted to take it back to its home in my head this time.
When and how did you come to write the piano solo The Inbetween? It reminds me of the Elements pieces by Ludovico Einaudi.
I wanted to weave some bits and pieces of a few songs that didn’t end up on this project, but almost did, into the music. So the first half of The In-Between does that. Then it just creates this thing, this cloud – it’s another trick that I love, from classical music. This low rumble [of] many notes kind of becom[ing] one thunder, and then the melody pops out. I sort of do it in a little part of Your Star also. I’m trying to remember the first song that I heard that I really loved that did that – I think it’s from a section of Beethoven’s Pathetique, which has all kinds of piano shredding in it that I love. Anyway, the point was just setting up the emotion of the song in a new way that could only really fit in this context. I absolutely love that moment live every night.
Your vocal rhythms on new track Imperfection are much more percussive and brisk than usual. Is it the urgency of the subject matter that inspired this technique, or the new electronic beats you were working with?
“Fast singing.” Haha. I’m constantly trying to break my own mold. I have a habit of stretching long notes over music normally; I wanted to flip the script and challenge myself.
When you arrive in Australia next year, you’ll be performing two Opera House shows with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra – an incredible achievement. I know you’ve seen the Opera House from the ferry; have you ever been inside?
No, never. I’ve been telling pretty much everyone I know that we’re going to be playing the Sydney Opera House. I’m so proud! I have no idea what the inside looks like but it’s something I’ve really dreamed of for years. Can’t wait!
Synthesis is out now via Sony.
EVANESCENCE: SYNTHESIS LIVE 2018
Presented by TEG Live and Sony Music
SUN 11 FEB | BRISBANE ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE W/ QUEENSLAND SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
TUES 13 & WED 14 FEB | SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE W/ SYDNEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA SOLD OUT
FRI 16 FEB | ROD LAVER ARENA W/ MELBOURNE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA