Evanescence is used to taking its time between albums. Although there was only three years between its 2003 debut, Fallen, and 2006 follow-up The Open Door, another five passed before Evanescence arrived. Synthesis, a collection of previously recorded material recast with classical orchestra, didn’t appear until 2017.
So after completing that album cycle, the band was fired up to produce a collection of all new music. Singer-pianist Amy Lee, drummer Will Hunt, bassist Tim McCord and guitarists Troy McLawhorn and Jen Majura had been working on what would become The Bitter Truth (which BMG released on March 26) as time permitted before officially entering the studio in January 2020. They had finished four songs with producer Nick Raskulinecz (Evanescence, Korn, Alice in Chains) when the pandemic hit.
But instead of seeing the statewide lockdowns as a reason to take even more time with the record, it fueled a sense of urgency among the quintet because doomsday now looked fairly certain. “We didn’t want to waste a day,” Lee tells Billboard during a Zoom call from her Nashville home. “[I was thinking], ‘Maybe this is the beginning of the end of the world, so we better get our music out there.’”
Evanescence kept recording via file sharing and Zoom until around July 2020. By then, Lee felt they couldn’t continue without being in the same room together. So she sent buses to bring Hunt, McCord and McLawhorn to Nashville. Everyone got COVID-19 tests and they stayed podded while working at Raskulinecz’s Rock Falcon Studio with his engineer for about six weeks. (Majura had to keep making her contributions online because the crisis prevented her from traveling from her home in Germany.)
The album was completed in November even as home confinement gave Lee time to ruminate about her life and how she got to this point. “It really forced me to go deep and face myself, and there was no escape,” she says. “It’s like being in this situation where it felt the world was on fire, and we really don’t know if we have tomorrow — which was already a theme for me [in my music]. But suddenly it became literal.” Lee sees her life and career from a “bigger and wider” perspective that she thinks is reflected on The Bitter Truth.
For instance, she struggled with her public identity after Fallen exploded. The album has been certified seven-times-platinum by the RIAA in the U.S. alone and the band’s catalog has logged two billion on-demand U.S. streams, according to MRC Data. The success turned her into a rock star who was oft described as a “‘corset-wearing goth girl from Arkansas [who sings] Christian nu metal.’ Oh my God. I wanted to run from that so hard,” she remembers. “I feel like it’s a bad cartoon of one tiny side of yourself, when as an artist, I always am wanting and trying to show the truest picture of myself and my experiences and all the different layers that that is.”
Yet she realizes that such experiences made her who she is today. “So I’m not running from it anymore, if that makes sense. And it’s interesting to say that because I don’t think this album sounds old. I think it sounds like an evolution of us in a really big way,” she says. The defiant “Use My Voice” was going to be the first single, but when “the mood of everything changed so drastically” due to the coronavirus, Evanescence wanted to release something that better fit the moment. So they pivoted to the downtempo, meandering “Wasted on You” to introduce the album in April 2020 with a phone-shot video of the bandmates passing the long hours at home. (The clip was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award for best rock video.)
As Election Day 2020 approached, the fivesome felt that, in the face of news reports about voter suppression, the nation needed to be encouraged to cast their ballots. “We really wanted to empower people to feel that their voice is necessary, that everybody’s voice should and can and will be heard,” explains Lee. “And the more that we stand up and say, ‘Hey, I’m here. And this is me. And this is what I need to be represented,’ the more we will be represented. That goes beyond a presidential election.”
“Use My Voice” found its literal calling that August by becoming the official theme for HeadCount’s voter registration campaign. It features vocals from Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale, The Pretty Reckless’ Taylor Momsen, Lindsey Stirling and Within Temptation’s Sharon den Adel. Although it was a Mainstream Rock Airplay hit, reaching No. 17 on the chart, she admits it was a bit scary to release a political track. Her long-held policy about discussing religion and politics is “just don’t do it. Don’t divide people. Let music be a big, open place where we can all unify across differences.”
But she crossed that line because she felt social justice issues were more important than any potential blowback. “I’m kind of a private person. I definitely don’t want to welcome drama,” she notes. “But I felt passionately about it, and I totally stand by it … If you believe what you’re going to say, then it doesn’t matter what somebody’s opinion is of you for that.” Another song influenced by the current civil unrest is “Blind Belief,” whose title succinctly explains its meaning. Lee wonders, “Do we only believe the things we believe because they’ve always been there? If so, that’s not good enough. We need to question that and think about why something that’s important to you is important and rediscover that yourselves. Sometimes that means, ‘Hey, change is good.’ Let the change happen so that things can be better. That doesn’t have to mean that we’re betraying the people who believed in those things or the people who still do.”
While political commentary is new territory for Lee, “Far From Heaven” is a quintessential Evanescence ballad. A tune partially inspired by her brother Robby — who died in 2018 after suffering from severe epilepsy — it focuses on “processing grief and questioning our place in the universe.” Sadly, it is not the first time Lee has lost a sibling: Her sister Bonnie, who inspired the band’s songs “Hello” and “Your star,” died when Lee was a child. “Part of it is trying to connect with the other side,” explains Lee. “To be honest, I feel something about that in music creation and through living in the music. Even in certain performances, the music is a place where I do feel some kind of a connection to something else.”
While the loss is obviously painful, she says, “I’d rather live inside the pain than ever forget him. But that’s part of it, and that’s part of the healing. So to go there and to stare the darkness down in the face, it oftentimes leads me to a hopeful, empowered ending by the end of the song.” Once restrictions lift, Lee’s looking forward to performing The Bitter Truth live. Evanescence has always been a rock band, but tracks such as “The Game Is Over” and “Take Cover” feature straight-up metal.
Some of that passion stems from a collective case of cabin fever, but she primarily attributes it to “the group of musicians that I am running with these days are incredibly talented, powerful musicians. That’s part of the reason it felt like, ‘We have to do this. We have to put ourselves into making a full, awesome album with the way the band is now after all we’ve been through.’ “It’s not like everybody who’s not in this band anymore that’s ever been a part of it are my enemies,” she continues (Evanescence has experienced its share of lineup changes, the most notable being when co-founder Ben Moody quit in 2003.)
“I’m on a regular texting basis with a few of them,” she adds. “It’s just really hard to have that relationship and have a dynamic that works where everybody feels satisfied. It’s a very special thing that I’ve been with the guys in this band for like 13 years.”
Watch “Use My Voice” video below.