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Through the Open Door

Amy Lee is queen of her dark domain

Amy Lee scares the hell outta me. Oh, it's not so much that she's hot or that she's talented or that she's famous (though she is decidedly all three), but that she's sweet. And sweet can be scary, especially when it's coming from someone so supposedly creepy.

By phone, the frontwoman for hard-rock band Evanescence is friendly, informal, chatty even — just another Arkansas-born star calling to check in. So breezy was our talk, in fact, that I hung up with a smile. Then I crept through The Open Door and crawled right under my bed.

In case you live in a place that doesn't get hard rock, The Open Door is the band's 2006 followup to its incredibly massive 2003 debut, Fallen, released on the originally Christian-oriented label Wind-Up Records. The centerpiece of the latter was "Bring Me to Life," the track that pit Lee's soaring voice both with and against the rap-infused gruff of the 12 Stones' Paul McCoy. The song — huge, heavy, and mightily histrionic — helped net Evanescence two Grammys, for Best New Artist and Best Hard Rock Performance.

But as wildly popular as the song was, everyone better recalls the video: Lee, sheerly clad, is seen first in bed, then windblown and falling. Finally she is spectacularly swept up, sleepwalking before a gothopolis backdrop that would make Tim Burton green with envy. It made the dame a household name.

Then came The Open Door, and the dark got even darker. Gone was the Bible-belting original guitarist/songwriter Ben Moody. In his place came ex-Cold cat Terry Balsamo. Balsamo and Lee proved to be a dreamily creepy team — harder, earthier, and infinitely more shadowed. "Call Me When You're Sober" sent a man away, "Lacrymosa" kept him there, and "Cloud Nine" told the clueless dolt why he would no longer ever be welcomed back.

But it was with tracks such as "Like You" that Lee really got her creep on: "I long to be like you/Lie cold in the ground like you/There's room inside for two/I'm not grieving for you/I'm coming for you." Yet despite the illusional necromancy, there's something almost life-affirming about Lee's dark dig into the deep. Like the proverbial canary in a coal mine, she goes down, down, down to check the air, but unlike the little tweety bird, Lee wasn't sent — she chose to plunge, herself.

It worked: The Open Door debuted last September at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart. The band has been touring behind it ever since.

Lee recently spoke with New Times about the new CD, her career, and opening for Iron Maiden.

You told Billboard the Christian tag that marked your early career was "a Ben thing" and you're "over it," so I won't ask you about that.

Wow, that's a really, really old quote, and I'm not sure how relevant it is today. Actually I think it's one of those things I said that people took and spun and made it like I said things I shouldn't have, and I think it was taken totally out of context.

Are you still in touch with Moody?

No.

Not at all?

Not gonna happen.

Ouch. What about the boys of 12 Stones — you still talk to them?

You know what? I don't. We were never close; it was sort of like we knew each other, kinda, barely, when the whole thing happened and we were sort of forced with that rapping song.... I haven't really kept in touch with them. I think they're doing all right now.

You've just done a summer of outdoor shows: Rock on the Range with ZZ Top, Family Values with Korn, a bunch of dates with Velvet Revolver.... Any one in particular stand out among the others?

Oh, wow, you just named a lot of standouts. ZZ Top actually was awesome. I'd never seen 'em live. Over the course of this year, really, I've gotten to play with bands that I've never even seen live before that were huge and awesome and inspiring. And actually we opened up for Iron Maiden this year.

That's funny.

That was more than funny; that was one of the most insane experiences of my life. It was crazy and I was scared out of my mind.

They still have a pretty rabid fan base then?

Oh yeah. And this was in front of like 100,000 of them. It was definitely intimidating, and we survived somehow without getting a single thing thrown at us, so, I was impressed anyway. I definitely surprised myself there [laughs].

Where was this?

Donnington, you know, the big UK metal festival.

Okay, more old quotes. You said your influences range from Björk, Tori Amos, and Danny Elfman to Mozart. Are there any other you care to cite?

Wow, there's a whole lot: Smashing Pumpkins is a huge influence for me, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode....

Is "Call Me When You're Sober" about anybody in particular?

Uh, yeah [laughs]. It was definitely about someone in particular, but at the same time, when I was writing it, it applied to a bunch of people in my life that I was sort of severing ties with. I don't know, it's been so long now. No hard feelings or anything....

You're not straight-edge, are you?

No. That's more about being in a relationship with someone who's got addictions, and how hard that can be. Whether you're straight-edge or a maniac, it's a really, really difficult situation, really painful.

Here's another: You said, "The Open Door's not only filled with pain and sadness and anger but — yes! — also happiness." Were you with [now-husband] Josh Hartzler during the writing and recording of those songs, and was that the reason for your happiness?

At the end, yeah. Actually, I reconnected with Josh, [a longtime friend], right before writing "Good Enough," which I guess makes a lot of sense. Yeah, and we've been together ever since and now we're married.

Great.... Speaking of happy, aren't Sick Puppies touring with you?

Yes, they will be.... I picked the band because I liked their music a lot. It was sort of like sifting through this sea of crappy bands, and it was really difficult to find somebody who was small enough to open for us [laughs] but at the same time really good. And there was a small handful of them that I actually really enjoyed.

Oh, I also found out on the fan site amyleeworld that you've got some kind of epilepsy research foundation.

Yeah, my brother has epilepsy, and it's something that's become a part of our family, and it definitely inspired me to do something. It's shocking how little we really know about it, and how incredibly common it is, how many people have seizures and they just kind of hide it because it's looked down upon as something weird because it's so unknown.

So I hooked up with the Epilepsy Foundation, and they're really cool, and we made a Web site so more people could learn about epilepsy and seizures and what to do if someone's having a seizure.... I think the whole point of it really is to eliminate the stigma, especially for young people.

The Web site is called Out of the Shadows [www.outoftheshadows.com].

Do you see rock stars becoming more socially responsible these days?

I don't feel like you should ... have to get behind a cause just because you're famous. But it's cool that when you have the platform, and you're passionate about something, to go ahead and share it. I don't know how many people listen to rock stars anymore, they're a dying breed, but I think it's worth it.

I wanted to ask you about covers. You've covered Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" and Korn's "Thoughtless." Do you have any plans to cover anything else on this tour?

Uh, no, not really. You know, it's so cool to have two albums now, plus all the other stuff that came about through years of writing, so we can really play Evanescence music. We still do the odd song — we did "People Are Strange" recently — but I don't think we're gonna do any covers on this tour. We'll just be adding some rarer Evanescence tracks.

You've also teamed with Seether and Aaron from Staind. Do you see any more collaborations coming up?

I don't have anything in mind right now, but if I do, I'd like it to be a step in a very different direction. I'm always down for collaboration, but I'd like it to be out of the rock world.

What about soundtracks? You've been on Daredevil, Elektra, Underworld, The Punisher. Anything on the horizon?

Nothing right now; we're just working on our own stuff. I would, though, love to be a scorer. Making music for movies is something I've always wanted to do, so hopefully that will be happening at some point.

The tour begins here in Miami, right?

Yep. Actually we're gonna be rehearsing down there for a few days before the show. I'll definitely be hitting the Beach.


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