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Within Temptation's Sharon den Adel and Evanescence's Amy Lee: In conversation with metal's leading ladies

(Image credit: Future/P.R. Brown)

Half rock and metal festival. Half… classic car show? Riverside Open Air in Aarburg, Switzerland is certainly one of the European festival circuit’s more unique propositions. And this year, amid a bizarre congregation of 10,000 metal fans and 50s pin-up girls draped across vintage car bonnets, history was made. 

For the first time ever, Within Temptation and Evanescence performed on the same stage, co-headlining the final night of the weekend, a union that sent the internet barmy when it was announced back in June.

Today, the stars are aligning again. It’s four days after their historic performance, and Metal Hammer is catching up with Within Temptation’s Sharon den Adel and Evanescence frontwoman Amy Lee. Amy joins us on the phone from her hotel in Brno, Czech Republic, where the band are playing tonight. 

Sharon is on the other line from her home in the Netherlands where she’s spending a few weeks before Within Temptation hit the road again. Both are in the midst of European tours and in high spirits. They greet each other warmly, pleased to hear each other’s voices and, before long, we can barely get a word in edgeways. 

Both bands formed in the late 90s but got their breaks in the early 00s. During a hyper-masculine time in rock and when the mainstream was dominated by overly sexualised pop stars, Sharon and Amy inspired a whole generation of metal fans by redefining the meaning of the female artist. In 2003, just as nu metal’s dick-swinging reign was ending, Evanescence smashed into the UK and US mainstream with nu-goth anthem Bring Me To Life

Their debut album, Fallen, went on to sell 17 million copies and bagged them two Grammys (for Best New Artist and Best Hard Rock Performance). Across the pond in mainland Europe, Within Temptation’s breakthrough wasn’t quite as dramatic, but they became real contenders with 2004’s The Silent Force, which went Top Five in charts across Europe. 

Since then, they’ve risen steadily to become one of modern metal’s most important bands, releasing a consistently acclaimed stream of albums. Along with Nightwish, they put symphonic metal firmly on the map, while their tour for 2014 album Hydra saw them headline both Bloodstock Open Air and the legendary Wembley Arena in the UK. 

Now, for the first time in history, Within Temptation and Evanescence are preparing to head out on tour together next spring, including a blockbuster stop at London’s biggest arena, the O2. 

So, clearly, there’s a lot to discuss. From each other’s careers and experiences to how metal has changed since they first walked into the scene over two decades ago, there’s plenty to get stuck into. And although Sharon and Amy have blazed fairly parallel paths since then, they’ve never been interviewed together… until now.

(Image credit: Future/P.R. Brown)

You shared a stage for the first time this week, but when did you guys first actually meet?

Sharon den Adel: “We met last year in… October was it, Amy?”

Amy Lee: “I can’t remember exactly, but we met each other once last year. Within Temptation were very sweet and came to one of our concerts.”

Really? It’s surprising your paths didn’t cross earlier…

Sharon: “It’s quite strange that we didn’t meet earlier, but I’m delighted that it did [finally] happen. I was happy to meet her finally after so many years. You don’t know what to expect when you’ve never met someone before, but we had a really beautiful conversation.”

Amy: “We started talking about the meaning of life within five minutes. This big, beautiful, vulnerable conversation – at least from my end I felt vulnerable, but I felt safe being vulnerable with you. I don’t have a gazillion friends all over the world, I’m more of a one-on-one person. 

"When you meet another woman who’s in the rock or heavy music scene, we tend to cling to each other. We are like a little gang. I think about you sometimes and I think about that conversation and, this is going to sound a little bit weird because we have only met a couple of times, but I feel for you.”

Sharon: “The same goes for me. I didn’t know what to expect and then when I left, I was full of emotion with goosebumps everywhere.”

In the early 00s, gothic and symphonic-influenced metal wasn’t exactly at the forefront of the metal scene. Did you feel like unfashionable kids crashing the party?

Amy: “I didn’t want to be fashionable. All the bands and musicians that I idolised were unique, they didn’t sound like anyone else. That was the biggest struggle I ever had with the record label. They saw that as an obstacle. I have fought a lot of battles over the years to do it our way. Being an outcast is cool! All those people need a voice and I feel like there’s more of us than them.”

Sharon: “At the time we broke through, we were the ‘new kids on the block’, but we’d been around for a long time. We just outgrew the underground scene in Europe. People didn’t know what to make of us. We were an underground band, filling all these venues.”

What are your memories of the music industry at that time?

Amy: “We had a surreal moment when we won those two Grammys very early on in our career. We were there on the red carpet, and half the people weren’t even coming up to ask us questions. Nobody knew who we were. All these famous people were hanging out like Fergie and 50 Cent.”

Sharon: “A totally different world!”

Amy: “I didn’t expect anything because we were up against 50 Cent. And then they called our name and I was like, ‘Oh, shit.’ I had to put my shoes on and scramble up there.”

Sharon: “People didn’t want to play us on the radio even though we had huge success with our album [The Silent Force] and everywhere we played was sold out. We had something called [TV channel] The Box in the Netherlands, where you could call in to request your favourite video, but they didn’t want to put us up for selection. 

"Then everybody started calling that came to our shows, so without telling us, they put us up for selection. It was all accounted for radio – because of The Box, we got to No.2, so they had to play us on the radio!”

(Image credit: Future/P.R. Brown)

So suddenly, you were both famous. What was that like?

Sharon: “I had a hard time going from the underground to the mainstream and breaking through, because everyone had an opinion of you. We were playing on every big festival and you’re being seen, which is nice, but we lost that cosy, cocoon-y feeling of the underground where we so fit.”

Amy: “Suddenly you’re up for so much criticism because people are hearing of you who wouldn’t have chosen to hear about you. It took some major getting used to. We’re sharing the most vulnerable places inside ourselves, on a huge stage, for people’s entertainment so they can throw tomatoes at if they want.”

Life in the spotlight was not without challenges. Although Sharon has maintained she always felt welcome being a woman in the metal scene, she’s also had to grapple with inherent misogyny in the industry, most recently branding Dutch magazine Veronica “sexist” after they called her a “metal mama” on their January 2019 cover. Amy, too, has had a rough ride with the media, who brandished her a “diva” after several messy line-up changes and inter-band spats, most notably with band co-founder Ben Moody, who left the band in 2003. Most frustratingly, though, despite the distinctive differences in their sound, both women have seen their music hastily lumped together with other ‘female-fronted’ bands of their generation.

Comparisons were soon made between your bands. Why do you think that was?

Sharon: “We grew up in two simultaneous worlds at a similar time, but Evanescence sound very different to Within Temptation. There’s a synthesiser, it’s heavy in parts and orchestral, but they were more nu metal. You could compare the two – the way we looked, we both have dark hair and we wore similar type of clothes – but Evanescence were a more American version and we were a more European version.”

Amy: “I remember the first time we toured Europe, there were this whole group of bands I’d never heard of before. Many of these bands, like you guys, had been around long before we had. We came to Europe and I remember getting bombarded with these questions: ‘Oh, so obviously you’re inspired by Within Temptation.’ And I remember being frustrated like, ‘Why are you telling me I’m a copy of something when I swear to you I don’t know what that is?’ With female-fronted bands in general, people just see that as a genre. ‘Female-fronted band’ is not a genre. There are a lot of female-fronted bands and they all sound different. Just the gender of the lead singer. Really? That’s all it takes for a genre to happen?” 

Sharon, in 2007 Within Temptation did a tour with Lacuna Coil and In This Moment called ‘The Hottest Chicks In Metal’…

Sharon: “Oh god! Ha ha! I had nothing to do with that! I didn’t hear about it until I was on the plane. One of the guys said, ‘We’re on the Hottest Chicks In Metal tour’ and winked at me. I said, ‘The what? Who came up with that idiot of a title?’ But it’s how they sell a tour of course, because it will appeal to a certain audience. The tour was fun, we had a lot of fun.”

A tour with a name like that just wouldn’t exist now though, right? 

Sharon: “I hope not! It depends on who thinks of it and if no one refuses it! There’ll be someone in an office who thinks that’s an amazing idea.”

Amy: “I was on a Hottest Chicks In Hard Rock [magazine] cover. I was like, ‘OK. Fine, it’ll be good for the band.’ But then for the next two years one of the questions in every interview was: ‘So you got voted the hottest chick in rock! How’s that feel?’ It feels stupid; it feels like you’re focused on the wrong thing. It’s not that hard to look hot in a photoshoot. Any girl could do it.”

Sharon: “Any guy could do it as well and they don’t call him ‘hottest guy in metal’. They call him coolest guy in metal.”

Amy: “Whoever the suits are behind the scenes – the guys with the cigars – they think the world, the public, are dumber than they are. You think that people are so dumb that you have to spoon-feed them stuff.”

(Image credit: Future/P.R. Brown)

Have you ever been pressured to ‘sex things up’? 

Amy: “I never did what I didn’t want to do. I’m proud of that, but there’s always those times when they’re telling you, ‘Hey, this is just how it works. People are going to focus on this, you need to lose 30 pounds.’ 

"It is truly your choice whether you follow that advice or leave it. The only thing it ever did to me is make me a little insecure, especially being 21 years old…” 

Sharon: “Yes, you were very young…”

Amy: “The ultimate decision was, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ It was always, ‘I’m going to be who I’m going to be.’ We were talking before about being inspired by bands who are unique, and that was more important to me than having a huge success. 

"Thankfully we also got to have a success and that’s partially, I like to think, something that set us apart was because we weren’t doing what every other girl in the industry was doing.”

Sharon: “I loved big, fairy-tale dresses because I wanted to be a designer when I was a kid. I did both in my time. [Sharon has a bachelor’s degree in fashion management and has worked as a stylist and designer] I wanted to make music and be a singer, and the other thing was drawing and being a designer. 

"When I entered the band, I wanted to wear these big dresses and the record label was like, ‘Could you not be a bit more sexy?’ I thought, ‘No, this is who I am and I feel very comfortable in it.’ It also underlined the music we were making which was big and epic and orchestral. It suited the music.”

Amy: “I love hearing this about your fashion interests because I didn’t know that about you. I used to make my own clothes too because I couldn’t find what I wanted. Even in high school I wanted to be different. I had something specific in mind so I learned to sew with a sewing machine.”

Amy, you were often labelled a ‘diva’ back in the day. Do you think that was an unfair perception?

Amy: “Definitely. I think that has to do with the people I had around me and they were all men. When you’re represented by a lot of older men who want you to do what they want you to do and not have an opinion of your own, of course they’re going to say you’re a bitch when you don’t do it.”

Since those early days, Amy and Sharon have steered their bands’ careers down very different paths, but both bands have consistently nudged at the edges of their sonic boundaries. Within Temptation have steadily grafted away, drifting from grandiose symphonic intentions and releasing their futuristic seventh album, Resist, earlier this year. 

Easily their biggest, slickest and most anthemic record to date, it soars where 2014’s Hydra faltered and could well be looked back on as the moment the band solidified their modern powerhouse status. In comparison, Evanescence took a five-year hiatus following 2011’s self-titled album, a period during which Amy had a baby and assessed the band’s next move. 

The result was 2017’s Synthesis, an album that saw her strip away the crunchy guitars and give Evanescence’s previous material a cinematic, orchestral makeover. Both albums suggest that intriguing, exciting futures lie ahead.

Are attitudes towards women in the metal scene changing? 

Sharon: “When we were playing live, I never encountered any problems, but maybe because I had my boyfriend with me! Ha ha ha! I heard so many nasty things happen to girls in the scene, I was very lucky. The audiences were always very appreciative and positive. I’ve never had anyone say, ‘Show me your tits’ or anything.”

Amy: “There was one time that happened. I stopped the song, I called the guy out and I was like, ‘What did you say? Everybody check out what this guy’s saying. I’m not telling you to punch him in the face but if someone dragged him out I wouldn’t blame you.’”

Sharon: “Ha ha ha!”

Amy: “That was early, during our first year of touring, and I just never had to deal with it again. You make a line in the sand of what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not going to stand for. When you look like a wounded animal you get eaten alive.”

Amy, what did you think of Within Temptation when you first listened to them?

Amy: “[To Sharon] I only really got to listen, like really listen to your music in depth, full albums, when I got to meet you. It was after we talked last year. I went back to the bus and was like, ‘I need to listen to that music.’ I don’t remember what song it was, but it was a big hit…” 

Sharon: “…probably Ice Queen…” 

Amy: “I was totally closed off because I didn’t like being compared to something. I didn’t listen and I should have listened because I was like, ‘These melodies are killer and her voice is awesome!’”

Both of you have evolved and experimented with your sound. How important is it to you to do that?

Sharon: “We always try to do something new and develop ourselves, but also go along with what is happening in the world now musically. There are so many new sounds and new programmes and things you can do, it’s so exciting! You don’t want to stick to how you sounded in the 90s or 00s, you want to sound like 2019 or 2020.”

Amy: “You want to make music that sounds like what you want to listen to! I’m not listening to the same music I listened to 20 years ago. I really like your new album that just came out. I really like the direction you guys are taking; it’s into the future in a beautiful and natural way that feels like you always belonged there.”

 And now you’ve finally announced a tour together! 

Amy: “I’ve heard fans asking for us to do something together for a very long time, I think they’ll be very excited. I’m interested to see the reaction because I think a lot of people are going to be like, ‘Finally!’”

Sharon: “I think we’re going to have a lot of fun!”

On that note, we start to wrap up our conversation. But before they go, our interviewees want to reflect on the importance of female representation on music stages. “Something I think is really strong and powerful is women who embrace their femininity,” says Amy. “It’s really an easy road to go down to be overly aggressive to fit in with all the men. That is the coolest thing you can do, especially in the heavy music scene, because it is such a contrast. That’s something a guy can’t do like we can.”

“Sometimes that’s also why you get criticism,” adds Sharon. “You get guys saying it’s ‘too feminine’. Some men don’t relate to it, which I can understand, but that’s what we women should bring to the music. That’s what makes us different from all the men and bands that are fronted by men.”

And as for the impact they and their bands have had on the evolution of metal, it’s Amy who offers a final thought. “There’s nothing more rock’n’roll than not being ashamed to be exactly who you are,” she says with the kind of conviction that could only come from having survived 20-plus years in the business. “That is metal.”

It’s an ethos every one of us can live by. And with that they’re off, to lead their bands into brand new eras where there’s another generation to inspire. 

Within Temptation and Evanescence's co-headline tour heads across Europe in April 2020. The tour will hit London’s O2 Arena on April 7.