John Lee on The Open Door
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WAITING FOR THE DOOR TO OPEN - John Lee
In February of 2003, Little Rock Band, Evanescence, exploded onto the world music scene with two songs in the movie, Daredevil and then in March with one of the most successful debut albums of all time. To put it in some kind of perspective, that first album, Fallen, has currently sold over 15 million copies worldwide. The album is one of only eight albums in the history of the Billboard music charts to remain in the Top 50 for over a year. Not to mention, a Best New Artist Grammy for 2003 and a Best Rock Performance Grammy. It wasn't a bad start for some kids from Little Rock, Maumelle, and Pine Bluff. In fact, it was nothing short of phenomenal.
Following the release, the band toured America, Europe, Australia, Japan and all points in between for 18 long months. A year and a half! For those of you who think touring is glamorous, think again. It is grueling, it's exhausting, and many times the conditions are absolutely terrible. Much of the discomfort was the result of an over zealous manager who had a hot group and wanted to continue to rake in the cash before the group's fifteen minutes were up. Who could blame him? Here he had a band who could fill a venue at a time when other tours were canceling and experiencing small crowds. But, it took it's toll. Ben Moody left mid-tour and Will Boyd left after recording the latest album and before the current tour. The grind of non-stop touring was a major factor for both members. When the tour finally came to an end in a party-like atmosphere at Alltel Arena here in Little Rock, the band was pretty well spent. They needed a huge break and that's exactly what they got. They slept in, took trips, bought houses, and forgot about the band for a while. They loved it.
It wasn't but a few months later that I started hearing it. Folks would say things like: "So, is your daughter's band still together?" or "When is that new album coming out?" or "Man, they better hurry up and put out some new material or people will forget about them." I explained that they were not in a hurry. They will sell no wine before its time! Evanescence was determined not to follow their huge debut with a mediocre cd. Amy and I discussed this from time-to-time. It was my opinion that folks like Clay Aiken, Taylor Hicks and Jessica Simpson were the ones who needed to continue pumping out product while they were hot whether it was good or not. It was reminiscent of The Monkees, Bobby Sherman, and Shaun Cassidy thirty or forty years ago. Record companies like to cash in on trends and strike while the iron is hot. But, those types of performers don't last. Artists last. I indicated to Amy that we didn't care if Evanescence ever sold another album. It's not about the money. I encouraged her to ignore the business side of record making and just concentrate on creating a beautiful piece of art. Amy is a writer, a poet, a singer, a musician, and a painter. Evanescence is a band filled with very talented members and they are not a fad. I suggested to Amy to just paint a work of art at your pace that you guys are happy with. If, when you finish writing and recording this album, you are pleased with it and totally satisfied, then we'll be pleased too.
The recording process at the legendary, Record Plant in Hollywood was a wonderful experience. The Record Plant likes to customize the artist's studio in a way that fits their style in an effort to create the right vibe. There might be mood lighting, decorations, incense, candles, or whatever the group desires. The group was recording through the Fall of last year (2005) and they said that Halloween was an especially cool time at the studio. Kanye West was recording in the other room for the the Mission Impossible soundtrack. Tom Cruise stopped by. Justin Timberlake was in another room and he ducked into the Evanescence studio to hear their new stuff. Amy even invited her two younger sisters, Carrie and Lori, to fly out and sing background vocals on "Call Me When You're Sober." It was an incredible time. Amy would send us (her family) rough mixes of tunes as they progressed and we always gave her feedback on them. When I heard a very early, simple version of "Call Me When You're Sober", I said to Amy, "There's your Radio hit" and she thought so, too. It's kind of funny when you realize that "Call Me When You're Sober" wasn't even intended for inclusion on the album. It was just a little ditty she was working on and singing on her piano at home to purge herself of a past boyfriend. She said she would laugh out loud while she was writing and singing it and thought it was funny.
They recorded about seventeen tracks (If I remember right) and then had to fly to New York for the big meeting around the conference table with the higher-ups at Wind-Up Records. This is where the executives hear the "product" for the first time. Naturally, they are only looking at it as a "potential" marketable product. It's such an uncomfortable gathering. Try to imagine that it's 1970 and you are sitting at the dinner table playing your new Led Zepplin album for your parents at high volume levels in an effort to get them to like it. Now, here's a twenty-four year old young lady in a room filled with middle-aged folks who are going to "critique" a Rock album and decide which cuts to include. Terry Balsamo went along with Amy to that meeting to lend moral support. The initial meeting turned out badly. Amy called home and was very disappointed. Wind-Up did not like the new material. They didn't hear the "hit" and they were considering scrapping the whole thing and making the band start over.
What a frustrating time. Art is a very personal thing and is very close to the soul of the artist. It's easy to get down and feel rejected. We did our best to continue to encourage Amy. I asked, "Are you guys happy with the songs?." Amy was adamant! She said it was a wonderful piece of art and she was very pleased with it. She liked it even better than the first one. I suggested that she fight for the album. Middle-aged New Yorkers don't know a damn thing about what's a hit and what's not. If they did, all of their acts would be successful. If I was the executive sitting across the table from two young artists who think like many of today's young people, who just sold millions of albums, earned multiple Grammy awards, and made me a ton of money, I'd defer to them. How they (the band) felt about it would be much more important than my opinion. But, we are talking about big bucks here. Everyone has an opinion. I recommended that she remind the head honcho that she wasn't writing the album for him, but for a younger demographic. So, back she went to New York. This time she would not be denied. She was very passionate during that meeting and said that she had tears in her eyes when she stood up and boldly let them know that they (the older execs) weren't supposed to "get it." She said, "It's not written for you and if you can't relate to it, then that's perfect. You aren't supposed to relate to it!" Apparently, she was pretty persuasive. They gave the green-light to move forward with the album. What a great feeling for the band.
The album was virtually finished at the beginning of 2006, but the label wanted to wait until October to release it. There's a lot of science that goes into release dates for albums and movies so, the band just had to be patient and wait. Terry was recovering from a stroke and they had to hire a new bass player to replace Will, so they had plenty to keep them occupied. When the release date rolled around in October, it was very exciting. You can imagine what a satisfying feeling it was for the little band from Little Rock's new album, The Open Door, to debut at the number one position on the Billboard charts. It got even more exciting on the global scene as The Open Door was the number one selling album in the entire world for the entire month of October!
It's been an interesting ride since the release of Fallen in March of 2003. For some, it seemed like a long wait. Three and a half years would have been way too long of a wait for new Clay Aiken product. Heck, he's had three album releases in a two year period! But, that's what you do with trendy performers who are just passing through. You strike when the iron is hot. But, I like how Evanescence went about it. In true artist form, they took their time and painted a beautiful piece of art. Will it be as financially successful as Fallen? Who cares?