A few months ago, I was sitting in a bar in Nashville watching Amy Lee play Ping-Pong. This was amazing for several reasons, the least of which was the fact that she was actually pretty good.
Because while the image of Lee — frequently corseted dark princess of hard rock — clutching a tiny racquet certainly threw me for a loop, it was the action around her that really struck me. Her bandmates were sitting at a nearby table, cracking jokes with the road crew, cheering whenever she cracked a return volley over the net or caught the corner of the table with an arcing lob shot. Lee was laughing and taunting her opponent, who just so happened to be her husband, who could do nothing but smile and take a drink of beer. Everyone seemed to be happy, having a good time, very much enjoying their particular lots in life.
And that was important, because it basically flew in the face of everything I thought I knew about Evanescence, a band for which drama was about as common as a Drop D tuning.
Fans already know the backstory: the abrupt and acrimonious departure of co-founder Ben Moody and a sundry of other lineup changes (firings, etc.) that followed; Lee's no-apologies kiss off to former boyfriend Shaun Morgan, "Call Me When You're Sober"; and the lengthy hiatus that came at the conclusion of the tour behind 2006's The Open Door. Even the most casual of music fans was probably aware of Lee's reputation as a difficult, oft-domineering taskmaster (or, if they weren't, her former bandmates were more than happy to talk about it).
In short, being in Evanescence didn't seem like a whole lot of fun. And when I first spoke to Lee earlier this year, just as the band was putting the finishing touches on their third album, she admitted that all the Sturm und Drang of fronting the band had taken a toll on her — so much so that she thought about giving up altogether.
"There was drama. ... There's always freaking drama," she said. "So we get towards the end of [the Open Door Tour], and I was like, 'Guys, I don't know about this. I need a break.' I just wanted to be normal; I didn't want to think about the next thing for as long as it took."
But after reuniting her estranged mates for a warm-up in 2009, something changed. Lee told me that she fell back in love with "the Evanescence part" of her personality and, recharged, she and the band holed up in Nashville to record what would, rather tellingly, be their self-titled album. It was released on Monday, ending a five-year drought, and it is very much a band record, with Lee sharing writing credits on 11 of the 12 songs. It is, as she told me back in June: "About the band ... about falling back in love with this thing, with Evanescence, with what I've obsessed over for a decade, longer than that."
Of course, I nodded. But I wasn't sure if I believed her. After all, this was Evanescence. And that doubt only grew each subsequent shoot: In Nashville's Blackbird Studios, where Lee — and producer Nick Raskulinecz (and none of her bandmates) — played me songs from the new album. At a sweltering video shoot in Brooklyn, where, though she was surrounded by the rest of the band, Lee did most of the talking. And, finally, back in Nashville, were Evanescence premiered their comeback single, "What You Want."
But it was on that second trip to Nashville where I began to notice something about 2011 Evanescence. Namely, they genuinely seem to like each other — a whole lot. Sure, in interviews, Lee answers most of the questions, but that's only because the other guys in the band aren't exactly leaping at the chance to do so (except bassist Tim McCord; he's a funny dude). Man-mountain guitarist Terry Balsamo prefers to let his thundering chords do the talking, but behind the scenes, he'll light up if you mention his beloved Florida Gators. Troy McLawhorn, who left the band to join up with Lee's ex in Seether (but was welcomed back with open arms during the recording of Ev's new album), kids around with his mates and talks at length about his wife and son. And drummer Will Hunt is, like all good drummers should be, a bit of a wild man, a guy who enjoys nothing more than playing loud and fast (and living much the same way).
They each play a role, and they do so willingly, gladly even. They laugh and crack inside jokes (like the one about McCord, a fire alarm and a New York hotel — ask him about it sometime), they protect one another, and they keep the machine running, because they genuinely care about each other and their band.
In a lot of ways, through all the trials and tribulations, Evanescence have become more than a band; they have become a family, a collection of individuals as different as can be, yet united by a common love for one another. Their new album — and the lengthy road that led to its creation — is a testament to that fact. And that night in the bar, with Lee whipping forehands and her bandmates cheering her on, was proof. At least for me. It was the kind of camaraderie that cannot be forced; it must be forged. And Evanescence have definitely gone through their share of hardening. Now, finally, they can enjoy not only being a band, but a functioning (albeit nontraditional) familial unit. In the best scenarios, the two are usually one in the same.
What do you think of Evanescence's new album? Share your reviews in the comments!