For Evanescence lead singer Amy Lee, her latest project, a children’s album to be released exclusively by Amazon, started out not just as a labor of love, but also a family affair. The first-time mother of son Jack, who recently turned two years old, Amy began the recording as a birthday gift to her father John, a radio DJ, voiceover artist and multi-instrumentalist she credits with passing on the gene of music to Amy and her siblings. Adding three part harmonies with younger sisters Carrie and Lori, bass and guitar from dad’s brother, Tom, and even a few vocals from her youngest sibling, Robby, Amy proceeded to record an album featuring not only clever originals, but also songs sung to her by both her dad and his mom, grandma Ruth. With young Jack’s voice added to a cover of The Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye,” Dream Too Much encompasses four successive generations of the Lee clan.
“This album represents a connection to my having a son, being a mother and reconnecting with my own childhood,” she explains of the collection, which intersperses playful originals, like “Bee and Duck” and “Little Bird” – honed at playtime with Jack – to her personal childhood favorites like “Goodnight My Love,” which her father used to listen to growing up when it was used as the nightly sign-off of the local Miami radio station, and later made into a bedtime tradition for his own children.
While Dream Too Much started out as a family hootenanny, much like the ones that still take place in the Lee home when they all get together, it eventually evolved into an album very much about her own parenthood. “Alice” is a song her grandmother Ruth used to sing for her, making up her own melody to a song from the Boy Scout Handbook, and now sports Amy harmonizing with sisters Carrie and Lori. The title track, “Dream Too Much,” whose lyrics about a “monkey in the band” and “ the muffins are sleeping,” came directly from things Jack himself said, while for “I’m Not Tired” and “The End of the Book,” Amy put herself in the mind of her son while trying to put him to bed.
“Jack was my test audience for these songs,” she admits. “After first recording them, I’d bring them down to him, and we’d listen together. It’s been really fun because a big part of the creative process has been observing his interests, spinning them into songs and watching his reaction.”
If the video to “Dream Too Much” seems almost surreal, its imagery represents exactly the words that came out of Jack’s mouth. “It’s all so cool to do that for him,” says Amy. “He imagines something, hears it back in a song, and now he gets to see it come to life visually. And it’s so much fun to see his face when he realizes it. ‘Yes, this is exactly what I was talking about!’”
Dream Too Much may have been created with kids in mind, but Amy made sure it would appeal to adults who’ll be listening to it on repeat. Her dad provides ukulele, dobro and other instruments to the arrangements, while the Lee sisters’ luscious three-part harmonies enliven several of the songs, including a version of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.”
“We’ve learned as new parents that if a kid loves something, they’re going to listen to it 500,000 times,” says Amy. “So I wanted my album to be something the whole family can enjoy and listen to over and over.”
By enlisting her entire clan in the recording of Dream Too Much, Amy pays tribute to the love of music she inherited from her parents and grandparents, and hopes she can do the same for her son.
“Music has been a big part of my life as far back as I can remember,” she says. “It’s always been music and family. It’s a beautiful way to come together. I’m hoping it inspires kids’ minds. It’s been fascinating for me to get inside Jack’s head, to try to understand what he’s thinking. Every week, there’s some new milestone in his learning, and that’s inspiring to me. I tried to write from his perspective. It gave us a lot of room to be totally whimsical.”
The album’s reference to dreams and sleep is indicative of its nighttime themes. Like the iconic story Goodnight Moon, Dream Too Much is very much about imagination and wonder, exploring the world, your mind and expanding creativity.
“Jack’s bedtime is a time for reflection, wondering and thought,” she says. “We think about nature, the stars, being connected to other humans and animals, what we learned that day and our love for each other.”
Instead of crowding out her creativity, Amy has discovered motherhood only enhances it. “I always thought, when I had kids, I wouldn’t be able to do my job anymore, grind it out, focus and make these elaborate albums. I actually thought it meant me quitting and becoming a full-time mom. But literally, the week he was born, I felt so inspired, so creatively energized. My mind opened up to new things I hadn’t experienced before. It had a monumental effect on my heart and it changed my perspective. I felt recharged. Yes, I’m going to be way busier, be more tired and get less sleep, but I’m not going to stop being me, and doing what I love. I feel I have much more to say, plenty more ideas I want to try.”
If Dream Too Much started out as a gift to her father, it became much more along the way. “I’ve felt creatively frustrated at times in the past, sucked into the album-tour-album cycle,” explains Amy, indicating her current indie label status has liberated her. “There doesn’t have to be a set of rules to follow- I can create my own way, which is to go for what I’m feeling right now, in the moment. There’s way more freedom in this approach. I have the ability to come up with an idea, throw it down and move on. I like being able to juggle and be spontaneous because it keeps things fresh.”
The album will be accompanied by a full-length video which features whimsical animated interpretations of each song in a unique style. “It’s been amazing collaborating on this video and seeing these stories visually come to life,” says Amy. “We found a really creative group in Italy called Take Productions – they film everything in a very unique way using stop-motion animation and creating all the characters and backgrounds from paper. I think kids and their parents will both love watching it together.”
As for solo work and Evanescence, Amy has several things planned, including a very special vinyl box set due later this fall and a series of cover songs, along with a few film scores and soundtracks, in addition to the occasional live gig with the band. But for the immediate future, she’s totally focused on Dream Too Much… when she’s not toilet training young Jack, that is.
“He recently had his second birthday, and I think the most exciting gift was the one Jack gave to us: a poo-poo in the potty,” she says proudly, as only a mother can.
Amy Lee on individual tracks from Dream Too Much
“Stand by Me”: This is just a fun family jam song. When we all get together, there’s always a part where some instruments get pulled out, and we sing and play together. That’s just one of many songs we would sing. The girls and I especially had a lot of fun doing this one. Oh, and my sister Lori would want me to mention that when we are a trio, we call ourselves “The Shrieking Violets.”
“Dream Too Much”: This literally came from Jack’s words. I was sitting down with a guitar and he was just making these weird combinations of words and phrases, like “Monkey in the band” – which became the first line of the song – then, “muffins are sleeping”... all this creative nonsense that he really said. It’s been so cool to watch him imagine something, hear it back as a song, and then get to see it visually. It’s so fun to see his expression… “Yes, this is exactly what I was talking about!”
“Bee and Duck”: I’m pretty sure I wrote this in under a minute! Jack and I we’re playing with his toys and it just came out of my mouth.
“I’m Not Tired”: “This song is from the perspective of a kid who will not go to sleep. It’s funny because, as an adult, even of a very small child, these are all the things I know he’s thinking. Anything to keep you in the room, anything but a nap!
“Little Bird”: It’s really fun to make music this sweet and playful when you’re used to making stuff that’s so serious. This was the first original song I wrote for the project. It was inspired by my dad, who lives in the country in Arkansas. He likes to sit out on the porch, play ukulele or banjo, and watch the birds. Whenever we go home for the holidays and hang out, there’s usually an element of bird-watching involved… in fact all the ones mentioned in this song. (Dad thinks we should make the Audubon Society aware of this one).
“Alice”: This was a song my grandma Ruth, who passed away a couple of years ago, used to sing to us. I’ve never heard the melody she used anywhere else, but I grew up singing it that way all the time. It’s a song from the old Boy Scout Handbook. We turned it into this old timey three-part harmony thing for the album.
“Rubber Duckie” (Ernie from Sesame Street): This is another one dad used to sing to us all the time. He’s been playing that on ukulele and singing it for as long as I can remember, so it was very cute to document that because of how important it was to us as kids. Making a duet part for myself was the icing on the cake.
“Hello, Goodbye”: The Beatles were big in our house growing up. Jack and I listened to a lot of Beatles songs to find the right one. He was really into the concept of “hello” and “goodbye,” using a banana as a phone. It makes total sense. It’s a fun concept to answer a phone. And Jack gets to make a vocal appearance on that one. He listens to the songs on this album every day. He loves them. And when he listens to this one and hears his part, he gets this big smile on his face. We just threw everyone in the pool on this one, the whole family.
“Donkey and Chicken”: My dad plays a lot of different instruments. He was stoked to pull out his banjo and dobro for this one. And my siblings and I we’re cracking up on the couch as he tracked the voice of the farmer. The moral of this story: Don’t eat too much ice cream.”
“The End of the Book”: That came from Jack making his desires known. He loves books and being read to. But every time I’d say “the end,” and close the book, he would just cry, and be really upset. I’d have to explain, it’s not really the end; We can just start all over at the beginning. I had to get him to understand that it’s not the end forever just because the story is finished.
“If You’re a Star”: My husband and I both sing to Jack all the time, making it up as we go. Josh came up with the beginnings of this song. I asked him if I could take what he did and turn it into a whole song -- which was really fun. One of my favorites!
“Goodnight My Love”: This was one of the first songs I wanted to record with my dad. That was our lullaby at night. Growing up, at bedtime, we got a story or dad would sing us a song or two and tell us stories about his childhood, which was so entertaining because it involved people we knew, like my uncle Tom. The reason he and his brothers loved that song was because they grew up in Miami, and at night, that was the song the local radio station played to sign-off.