By Brian Ives
Ziggy Marley, They Might Be Giants and Dan Zanes (of the Del Fuegos) have all done it and now Evanescence singer Amy Lee is wadding into the kiddie pool of children’s music. She’s just released Dream Too Much, a collaboration with her father and other family members, featuring original songs (like the title track) and some classic covers “Stand By Me,” the Beatles’ “Hello Goodbye,” Sesame Street‘s “Rubber Duckie). She was excited to talk to Radio.com about the project, but was also game to discuss her solo career and (sort of) the future of Evanescence.
Talk about the decision to do a children’s record, and record it with your family.
Well, I have a two-year-old named Jack. He’s awesome. And songs just have been coming out, just through talking to him and listening to hilarious stuff he says, or watching him get really interested in things.
Also, I wanted to record a little bit with my dad, who’s a musician. We wanted to sort of just make some music for my family really, and the first session that we had went so well with me and my dad and my uncle that we just loved it.
And I feel like in any realm when you start doing something creatively and you feel like you’re riding the top of a wave, it’s going really well, and you’re capturing something, you just have to keep going. So I got my sisters in there, we got more of the family involved, and just really focused on writing new songs and making it into a full album. I love it. I’m so proud of it.
When Amy Lee of Evanescence walks into a record label office, I’m sure the first thing they’re thinking isn’t, “Children’s songs!”
It’s funny, that was the easy part. Well, I’m an independent artist now, so I’ve just been experimenting with a lot of different places. I’ve been doing some film music and doing a little bit of solo stuff, some cool covers on my own, and working on new Evanescence stuff too.
At the same time we started recording this, my new management said, “Hey, Amazon’s kind of interested in doing a kid’s album with cool artists. Would you be interested in doing that?”
And I was like, “Actually, we’ve already started. I would love to do that.” It just worked out very magically. It’s awesome.
Evanescence has been amazing; it’s been such a gift and such a cool place for me to express myself and create. But it’s not the absolute whole picture of who I am. So I am always dying for that opportunity to flex a different muscle and do something different and work outside my zone, not just my own comfort zone, but the zone of what people would think, “Oh, I wouldn’t imagine Amy Lee would do that.” I love surprising people.
So even though you’re “Amy Lee of Evanescence,” to your dad, you’re his daughter. What’s that like when you go into the studio together?
It’s funny. It doesn’t matter how old you get, whenever you go hang out with your parents you’re like, 16 years old again. So it’s definitely a different situation to be in the studio together where I’m very accustomed to being the leader and being the boss. So then I’m telling people what to do… but they changed my diapers and punished me and sent me to bed without dinner. It’s kinda hilarious, yeah. We had a really good time.
How did you choose the covers on the album?
“Rubber Ducky,” I grew up with that song. That’s a household favorite at bath time; my dad has been singing that song to my siblings and I since as long as I can remember. Same with “Goodnight My Love.” That was my number one song that I really wanted to do. That was our lullaby. I’ve heard that song a million times growing up. So it was really cool to be able to not only record him doing that, but do it together.
Some of your covers reminded me of Tori Amos a bit; when she covers a song, she really makes it her song.
Oh, thanks. She’s a big inspiration for me as far as covers. She’s done some really beautiful covers, and the one that struck me the most was “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It’s so awesome, because it really is so different from the original. It’s completely broken down, like take that big, big, big aggression and pull it down to just the most vulnerable and intimate thing.
And I never focused on those lyrics until after his death and then hearing it in this really broken down, completely intimate way on the piano just was haunting. I love that. Big inspiration. I love Tori Amos. Thank you for bringing it up.
A project like this is probably refreshingly different for you.
I think so. It’s what frees up your mind to go back to the thing that everybody’s waiting for, or expecting, or whatever. If you can go some other directions first and totally free your head and not feel like it’s something that you have to do, like it’s work, like you gotta go back and do the thing. It’s like, “No, I’m gonna do whatever I want,” and then you naturally end up there because that’s who you are.
I’m a rock musician. I feel like that’s a little bit different than if you’re really in the public eye the way that pop stars and actors and actresses are. But even the amount of fame we have, it gets to me sometimes, it gets in my head. I have to get away from it being such a self-centered kind of “on” all the time life. It’s just not totally… it’s not natural. So it really helps me to be able to step away from the spotlight, remember who I am, live life, have experiences, and then be ready for it again.
So, I guess the song “I’m Not Tired” is based on your son not wanting to go to sleep?
Yes. I love “I’m Not Tired.” That’s the most humorous one on the album I think. It’s just so true. Anything but a nap, just anything in the world but going to sleep. There’s phases, for sure. We’re in a slightly better phase right now, knock on wood, with Jack, but there was a good long while there where just going to sleep was the hardest thing, getting him to go to sleep.
I have to ask about the classic “Rubber Ducky.”
“Rubber Ducky” is from Sesame Street; Ernie sings “Rubber Ducky.” This is the first time my dad sang “Rubber Ducky” without the Ernie voice, actually. I told him, I was like, “Okay, for this song I really wanna do ‘Rubber Ducky,’ okay? Awesome. But my biggest thing is that I wanna just do it in your voice, no Ernie voice. Because that’s been done; we gotta do it our way.”
When people think of the Beatles and children’s music, they usually think of “Octopus’s Garden” or “Yellow Submarine,” but you covered “Hello Goodbye.”
There’s so many little concepts that we don’t even think about because you learned it when you were two and then you never thought about it again. And “hello” and “goodbye,” like picking up the telephone and hanging it up, and how a phone works, is actually a thing that you have to learn and be interested in for a minute. Jack was right at the time when he was thinking it was cool and learning about picking up a banana or a toy and be like, “Hello? Hello? Goodbye!” and hanging it up.
“Dream Too Much” seems like a very heartfelt song.
“Dream Too Much” was me sitting in my living room with an acoustic guitar and Jack, again, running laps, just running around crazy and saying different combinations of words that were really funny, just saying stuff that was really funny, not making a lot of sense. So he said, “There’s a monkey in the band.” He’s like, “Monkey in the band.” And I was looking at him, and we were like playing around, and I was like [sings], “There’s a monkey in the band.”
It was really cool to get inspired by a new growing mind and to watch it be inspired by things, and you can kind of share in that fascination and go, “Oh, you like this? Let’s talk about bees. Let’s talk about how awesome bees are for a minute,” and like, “Let me sing that to you.” And we get to where we’re both talking about the same thing and whatever.
So that one was really fun because I actually used Jack’s words, and that became a fun little game. I was excited to show that one back to him once I demoed it out upstairs, because I wanted to see if he remembered thinking about those things and getting to see them come to life. I think he did.
What’s the reaction been from your fans?
The people that are generally talking to me on the internet are fans, so they have a lot of positive things to say. I think the reaction’s been great.
But my rule of thumb in general, and in music making is: regardless of what anybody expects you to be, it’s all based on somebody that you really are. And the most important thing for making something is that you are making something that you love, that’s really true to you. I’m into this, and I’m inspired by this and this is making my brain go, so this is what I’m gonna do. And whether people follow you or not on that specific branch doesn’t really matter to me.
I think what’s important is that you’re constantly following your heart trying whatever, just going down whatever path you feel like. And I found a lot that generally if you make something that you love, somebody else is gonna love it too. We’re not all that different.
A song that you covered that certainly wouldn’t fit in on your children’s music album is Chris Isaak’s “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing,” from your covers EP Recover, Vol. 1.
“Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing” is something that I was working on back in 2010 when we were making this album that didn’t really work. I was working on something, and I wasn’t sure at first if it was solo or Evanescence, and I think I was still trying to figure out what the difference was. And I figured it out, a little bit.
So out of that came our self-titled record. We took a little bit longer to make it because we sort of made two albums at the same time. But it turned into our heaviest, most band-oriented record, and I love it.
But there’s a lot of leftover songs that are in this other world that I think I put in my solo for later category to use later, and one of them was this cover of “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing.” We worked on that and it has, definitely, an edge, but it’s also kind of in this different, electronic, small at times vocal thing.
I can’t totally explain it. We’re just in this different place that was really fun and experimental. So it was like a leftover, and I had most of it finished, and I did a little bit more work on it and just threw it on there.
At this point, does it matter who is in Evanesnce, other than you?
I think what I learned is it’s not about who, it’s about what. Evanescence is more than a person or a group of people; it’s become a sound. I didn’t use to think about it as much that way, because we just made it. But after living with it this long and going through all the changes it has, and still I know what the core sounds like. So I think I’m learning that you’re either in that world of Evanescence or you’re not.
Are you working on another covers EP?
I’m working on volume two of Recover, but I’ve just started working on it. It’s gonna be a minute, because we’ve had a whole bunch of other stuff happening all at once, which is really great. But that one sort of took a back burner.
The kid’s album really took off, and I’ve been doing a lot of work creatively for that, and then we’ve been doing this cool Evanescence box set thing with extra stuff that I recorded, and then there’s an Evanescence tour coming up, and then there’s some other stuff that I can’t quite talk about yet.
Do you know who you’re covering?
Yes, I do. I can’t give ’em away.
Can you tell me about one song?
I’m working on a Bjork song. And that’s a big thing to tackle, because she’s like my number one. So I’m gonna try to do it justice. If I can’t, you’ll never hear it.
That’s intimidating; do you worry if she’d like it?
I worry a little bit, yeah. Definitely. That’s the thing about covers is you never wanna make a cover that the originator would hate. That would break my heart. She’s amazing, she’s a genius. Just don’t ask her what she thinks of it if I cover her song.
Did you enjoy the process of working on the box set?
It was actually really cool to reconnect with the history of the band, because it’s been a minute now. I’m 34, and I think we started making Evanescence music when I was, I don’t know, a young teenager. So there’s a big history, and there’s a large volume of music.
It’s cool, it feels really good to be able to listen back just at the body of work and be like, “Wow, this is cool. I did something with my life.” And there are things from the oldest stuff especially where I would never do that now. Like oh, my gosh, we were trying to sound like some crazy orchestral Metallica thing, I don’t know.
But I was cringing at moments; I have to be honest. I’m listening back at that stuff and cringing. But as a fan, I love it.
Are your friends with the former members of the band?
Every different relationship is different. So I don’t even know how to begin answering that question. Tim [McCord], my bass player, has been with me for the longest now, and that was like 2006?
It feels really amazing to have a group of people that really enjoy playing together and really wanna make the whole show the best that it could be. We’re having a lot of fun right now looking at the entire catalogue, especially in light of this box set, and going, “What haven’t we played in forever? What are the fans talking about that we never, ever do that we could pull out from like forever ago and blow their minds with or like maybe in the past?”
And it feels really good to have the freedom to change it up. I’m just saying that I think that right now every member of the band is a really strong musician with a positive attitude, so it feels like anything is possible. Like we’re just enjoying playing Evanescence songs, which is the best.
Are you thinking about doing the next Evanescence album?
For someone who became a pretty big star at a pretty young age, you’ve always seemed relatively grounded. How have you been able to do that?
Wow. You gotta remember your roots. You gotta stay connected to the people that really matter, your family and real friends. People who aren’t just gonna tell you what you wanna hear.
I kind of get instantly disgusted by people that I can sense are just trying to kiss my a–. I want a real relationship with somebody if we’re gonna hang out. So I’ve generally made a habit of keeping great people close to me and not getting super close to people that aren’t real. And I really, just in general, for me to stay real. I don’t know. I guess I’m maybe not explaining that very well.
In general, what’s important to me isn’t being the “awesomest.” I take an interest in other people too. I do think it’s important not to always be so focused on yourself, and that’s really easy to do in this job, because it’s really easy to just quickly go on Twitter or whatever and be like, “Okay, who thinks I’m cool?” And I’m just not that person. I’m just not into that. So yeah, I find healthier ways to put the energy out there.
Dream Too Much is available exclusively through Amazon.