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Evanescence's Will Hunt on The Bitter Truth: "We figured out the one rule, and that is there are no rules"

Evanescene's Will Hunt
(Image credit: Dario Salzano)

It’s been 10 years since Evanescence released an album of new material proper. Back then BC meant something entirely different, but in 2021 it’s a reference to the time Before Covid - when bands wrote songs, entered the studio, released them and toured. 

For Evanescence, new album, The Bitter Truth began in this tradition, but four songs into recording, the world was derailed. Not ones to let something like a global pandemic stop them, they persevered, treating fans to songs while the album’s production and release was delayed. The end result is a a band that could have comfortably stood still, pushing the limits of what can be achieved sonically under the wide-sweeping mantle of ‘heavy rock’ in 2021. Spoiler alert: a big part of it comes from the drums.

We sat down with drummer Will Hunt to talk about merging electronics with rock, how he owes it all to Tommy Lee, and why ‘real’ drums will always have their place. 

This is the first new material since 2011 - how was it getting back into it?

"We did Synthesis which was the orchestral record, and there were two new songs on there so we had done some studio stuff since the last record. But that was a totally different process and experience. This was the first time that we’ve really dug in and made an entire record since then. "

"It’s been a really cool experience, the last album was collaborative, but this has been even more collaborative. it’s a really strong record, I think it speaks for itself. We kind of had an idea of what we wanted to do with it, but you know how things go - they kind of take on a life of their own." 

"We just went in with some ideas, and tried to stay true to the origins of those ideas, and a lot of them are based in. A lot of it is based in heavy guitars, rhythm and electronics. We’ve always had some electronic influences in our music, but that’s taken on a much bigger life than say, the orchestral side has, and I absolutely love it."

How did the more collaborative approach work this time?

"Before Covid, we got together toward the fall of 2019 a couple of times. Then we got together in this beautiful cabin up in Mont Tremblant near Quebec in Canada, basically in the middle of nowhere." 

"Side note on that - it’s about 15 miles away from where Rush recorded Permanent Wave and Moving Pictures. That picture of Neil Peart playing on a dock in the middle of a lake? It’s about 15 minutes from this place."

"So we went up there and had a really productive week in this cabin, it was a great vibe and a lot of creativity happened. Most of what we did there is on the album. Then Covid happened. The original idea was to do two or three songs at a time with a few different producers and kind of start dropping songs one at a time, but then…"

"So we got four songs done with Nick Raskulinecz, and we had such a good experience with him - he did the last record - and the direction of it was just sounding so good we just decided to stay with Nick. But then, like I said, Covid happened and we were just locked down."

"So we sent ideas back and forth through email based off some of the stuff we’d done in those first two writing sessIons. When things started to open up a little bit back in July we created a bubble. We all got tested, and travelled to Nashville in a tour bus, we didn’t take flights."

"We stayed in that bubble for two months, and tracked the rest of it. It was a really bizzarre and awesome experience all at once. The weirdness of it really lends itself to the record. There’s not a lack of things to write about or a lack of emotions to put into our art right now!"

Prior to that, you toured Synthesis with an entirely electronic setup, how did that come about?

"I’ve been playing electronics since about 2002 when I was first playing with Tommy Lee - the record that he did at that time had a lot of electronic elements in it and the idea was ‘as much of this as we can play live, let’s play it live’. So that’s basically where I formulated the setup - via Tommy." 

"He was already doing a lot of that and kind of showed me how it’s done. I learned so much from that because fast-forward to Synthesis and I was able to use that when we were in the studio and going out on tour."

"With Synthesis it was an interesting thing, because really when I went in to track my parts it was like ‘Here’s an idea, this is what we’re thinking’. There were no demos, it was like tracking without having any tracks, just me and a click. But through that I was able to try stuff. A lot of it made it on there and a lot of it didn’t, but we really went down the rabbit hole of electronica." 

"I’ve always messed around with that sort of stuff, on some of the Evanescence stuff and with a band called Device, but with that it was all electronic. So when we went into do this record - we didn’t have a style in mind - but we knew we wanted to work off [the electronic] canvas more than the orchestral side of things."

"I played a lot of the stuff that people are hearing that might sound like programming on pads with sounds we created. Some of it is programmed, but a lot of it is just us getting our freak on in the studio and really trying to think of it from a stance of creating some atmospheric s**t, or the sort of vibe that a DJ or keyboard player do." 

"So a lot of that came from Synthesis and saying ‘Hey, there are no rules’. When you take away those expectations and let the freak flag fly, then you come up with what we’ve got now."

Does playing those sounds on pads change the way you play in terms of how you’re striking, are you attempting to emulate a drum machine?

"I think it’s more like being a painter: adding some more colours to the palate. When you do that you can come up with some really interesting patterns, it’s a case of finding a set of sounds that work together for the song, and creating that atmosphere." 

"It’s weird because on one pad I might have a breath, on another pad I might have a siren, then a distorted freaked-out snare sound. When you break it down you’re still creating beats, so those elements are still there, it’s just more ‘What is the kick sound, what is the snare and cymbal element for this pattern?” Then it winds up not sounding like your typical kick and snare."

There’s been crossover with electronic music and triggering in rock music for a long time, but it’s still rare to see someone play a full electronic setup in a rock context…

"I think, different strokes for different folks. It’s all art and it’s all subjective. For some people [acoustic drums] are what they dig and they don’t want to move outside of that, and that’s fine for them. 

"But for me, I don’t know if this comes across right but I kind of got bored as f**k only playing regular drums. I love playing them, but I want something else, I want to be able to emit different emotions from what I’m doing." 

"I’m not a guitar player where I’m playing with all these different effects and stuff, I’m a drummer. So if there’s a way of adding different sounds and voices to your set up then to me it’s a no-brainer." 

"Again, my first foray into that was with Tommy, and his whole thing was pretty much what I just said. By no means am I saying I’ve mastered [drumming], because I learn new things on the drums every day." 

"I just want to be inspired and keep going down this creative path, and it works for me. And it makes going back to a regular kit even more inspiring. It’s a cool thing and I’d never want anybody to shut themselves off from adding some colours to their palate."

That stigma isn’t there for guitar players using effects to broaden their sonic horizons…

"There’s purists, and I get that. Because, take Slayer, or Lamb of God or something. I don’t see the electronic thing working in those bands. They’re not painting those kind of pictures, they don’t need those colours." 

"They’re f***ing awesome, the best at what they do, but I can’t imagine going to a Slayer concert and they bust out some electronic s**t! Plus they’re retired now so it’s not going to happen anyway, but I think it needs to be taken in context."

"But that’s the great thing about Evanescence: when we did Synthesis we basically broke down our walls. We didn’t know how it would be received, and we went in driving in the dark. We didn’t know if anyone was going to show up [to the tour] but it was incredible."

"It kind of shot a lot of light back into this band. We figured out the one rule, and that is there are no rules - we can do whatever the f**k we want and we shouldn’t be afraid to."

It sounds like when you eventually get to tour you’ll be trying to play as much of the electronic parts as possible?

"Oh, absolutely! I’ll play as much of it as I humanly can, with the ‘real’ drum kit being my main thing. There’s never going to be a day where I wouldn’t play the acoustic drum parts in order to play the electronic stuff, the real kit is usually the dominant part. But there’s a lot of sections where there’s no acoustic kit part and it’s loops and patterns that I’ve created." 

"So I’m looking forward to it. It took a long time to go through Synthesis and put the kit together, and figure out which sounds I could play. It’ll be the same for this. I use a Roland TD-50 and there’s only so many sounds you can play because you’ll run out of inputs." 

"What we did for Synthesis is, if I ran out of pads then it’d switch to a different patch for the next section. The biggest problem was trying to remember where all those sounds were, in terms of the pads!" 

"I’d start with a preset of maybe 12 sounds, then it’d shift to the chorus with 12 more, then a bridge. So in one song I might have 36 sounds that are switching, and you’ve got to remember where all this shit is! I got pretty good after a week of rehearsals, but then we took a month off and I had to re-learn it, like ‘Where the hell is that creepy breath sound?!"

And if you get it wrong it’s a recipe for potential disaster…

"Oh man! Let me tell you, I had that happen several times. I’d hit a big scream thing where it was supposed to be this quiet breath noise or something. Once you hit it, it’s out there! It’s done!"

Do you have any methods for remembering which sounds are on which pad, for example using single-zone pads?

"Yeah, totally and you’re 100% correct. Some of the pads they make now are triple-zone, and it works sometimes but the problem with that is you might have a big shotgun snare sound in the centre and then on the hoop you’ve got something else." 

"My problem is that sometimes you hit that rim and it’ll fire-off the centre-zone. I try to dial it in really accurately, but sometimes it’s just unavoidable. But the new TD-50 ride cymbal has got three zones, and it’s super-accurate. You need that on cymbals, there’s so many voices within one cymbal. They’re really starting to figure out the cymbal thing electronically, and that TD-50 ride cymbal is a good example of where multiple zones work."

When it comes time to tour the new material will you be changing your setup?

"No, I’ll be sticking with the TD-50, for sure. More than likely what I’ll do - a lot of the sounds I’ll fire from the TD-50 will come from Superior Drummer. But I’ll also be using some of my own samples from the studio." 

"I can fly them into the TD-50, so I’m going to work a lot with that, keep it as true to the record as possible. But the kit is mic’d as well, we have an incredible front-of-house guy, I’m using Pearl Reference Pure and they sound phenomenal. So it’s always a combo platter, it’s not one or the other in terms of the acoustic sounds, it’ll be the mics with some samples underneath to reinforce them. I know a lot of purists will be like, ‘Why would you do that?’ But there are 1000 reasons why."

Tommy Lee was a big pioneer of triggers in rock, and one of the big reasons he gave for that was accurate monitoring…

"Yeah, you can get mics on a kit and make it sound incredible in your monitors, of course, but anybody who has played a kit with decent monitors and then added triggered sounds underneath it: you’ll never go back." 

"Because there are so many limitations of what you can do in a live setting, if you’ve got a kit mic’d you’ve got maybe a few thousand dollars of nice mics and preamps. But it’s not $25,000 worth of vintage tube mics and $100,000 worth of Neve pre-amps. With sampled sounds, that’s what you’re putting through there, and it sounds like it too. You just can’t recreate that live, it’s not happening."

"When you add that kind of sound architecture to a live show, it only makes it better, and more of an experience. There’s nothing wrong with going to see a kick ass band in a small club playing really stripped down, and I love that. But there’s nothing wrong with all the bells and whistles and sonic chaos that that creates either!"

What influenced you most from your time working with Tommy?

"Just the whole trigger world would be the answer to that, for sure. He showed me exactly how all that stuff works. I had a buddy years back in the early 90s, his band got signed and didn’t really go anywhere. But they were pretty wealthy and he had the original Ddrum brains, had triggers on all of his drums with this kick-ass monitor. That was the first time I sat at a kit that had mics and triggers." 

"He muted the triggers and had the mics coming through the monitor, and then he unmuted the triggers and it was like ‘Holy s**t I’ve gotta get some of this!’, but at the time there was just no way I could afford that, you were talking thousands of dollars. 

"10 years later I started playing with Tommy and technology had come a long way. He showed me how to do it, and what was possible. He was using a really expensive setup, but from there I could figure out how to do it on the budget."

"But the other thing I picked up from Tommy was just being a good dude! I don’t think people really realise what a good guy he is. He gets a lot of interesting press - some bad, some good." 

"He’s a f***ing incredible drummer, those beats that he played are some of the most iconic in rock ’n’ roll, but just as a human being he’s a good guy, he’s got a good heart and he means fucking well. We’re all human, we all make mistakes, but what I’ve witnessed with him - and it’s always been the same - is what you see is what you get."

"I’ve never seen him be anything other than gracious and accommodating to his fans. I picked that up from him, no matter what’s going on in your life at that time, you’ve gotta try and be a good guy."

You mentioned creating your early trigger rig on a budget - these days we’re talking hundreds rather than thousands

"Yeah, they’ve really brought it to the masses. I tell people all the time that if you want to get into that world, the price of entry now is so low: a tenth, probably a hundredth of what it used to be."

"Funny story talking of that - Pearl put out their flagship electronic kit back in the mid 80s. There was a music store close to where I grew up, and I used to go and play on it until they’d kick me out! It was the first time I’d played a kit and heard it all processed in my headphones. But one of the patches in that kit that I always went back to." 

"About six months later Land Of Confusion by Genesis came out. Halfway through the song the drums completely change from a kick-ass - sounding, mic’d-up kit to this processed electronic kit." 

"What that was, was Chester Thompson was a Pearl guy, and he was using that preset from that kit! Recently, Pearl put up all the sounds form that kit as wav files, so I commented on it, told that story and the guys from Pearl didn’t even know about it!"

Those early experiences can really shape the approach you take later on too…

"Yeah, and in the case of Land of Confusion, I don’t remember hearing a song before that where the entire drum sound totally changes, and I’ve really gravitated towards that. I don’t think that drums have to sound the same through the whole song or the whole record. I’ve definitely had conversations with producers who would argue that it does. But luckily, Nick gets it."

Nick has worked with some incredible drummers, what’s it like working in the studio  with him?

"Well, when we first worked with him and knowing his background and the people he’d worked with - Neil Peart, Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins - it was intimidating. like, ‘God, what’s he going to think of me?’ Because I don’t consider myself to be in those guys’ world." 

"But it was awesome, because what he’s really good at is finding peoples’ strengths and then exaggerating them. He’s the same as us - there’s no rules, and it’s encouraging because a lot of producers come in and go ‘Nope, that’s not going to work. It’s too out-of-the-box.’ But he’s not that guy, he embraces that experimentation."

"The first time he and I realised we had a lot of similarities was when we figured out that we’re both really big fans of ’80s hair metal! We bonded over that, we’re both huge Ratt fans, and we started geeking out about Def Leppard and the drum sounds on Pyromania." 

"Everybody knows that record sounds insane. There’s been a lot of rumours about how they got that sound, like, ‘They took a 16” floor tom and put snares on it' and stuff like that. Last time I was there we went down this wormhole and figured it out." 

"So from that came the idea for how we got some of the drum sounds on this record. What they did was recorded real drum sounds in the studio. Kicks, snares and two toms. Then they flew that into a Fairlight which was this $100,000 sampler. So without getting too deep, they took real drum sounds and then slowed the tape down, which is why that snare sounds so fat." 

"They’d take those slowed-down sounds and put them into the Fairlight. If you listen to those tom sounds, it sounds like a tape machine being slowed down as it tapers down. It’s the weirdest thing! So anyway, it set us in this whole path on this record of doing something different."

"I’ve always had this thing about room mics and squashing the s**t out of them. Except when you do that the loudest thing becomes these overbearing cymbals. So what we did, was recorded the drums using my samples that I used live then got a PA system and played my drum tracks without the cymbals through the PA into the room. We’d tune the mix of the drums, and then record them coming out of the PA with room mics." 

"Then we squashed the s**t out of it, and it sounds unbelievable! We did that on the first four songs that we did, and it sort of evolved a bit as we started tuning the samples up and down and to the song, tuning the room and running it in stereo. So you’re getting the acoustic kit with everything, but then you’re getting these drum samples squashed to hell and back as room sounds. I’m proud to say, I think people are going to go ‘How the f**k did you get those drum sounds?’.

Nick has a fine drum collection of his own, what did you use?

"He’s got this old Slingerland 24” kick drum that’s on the Foo Fighters records that he did. Then he’s got this kit that Neil Peart sent him. I think it was the kit he used to track the record and then toured with for Clockwork Angels. Neil didn’t even tell him he was sending it to him, he just boxed it up and sent it to him. It’s this beautiful bubinga/birch/maple kit that they made for Neil."

"But for me I’m like ‘Hey, whatever sounds good in the studio…’ but the truth is - and I’m not just saying this - the kit that I used on this record is my newest Pearl Music City Custom Reference Pure kit. We A/B’d a lot of things too. We used the 24” Slingerland on a couple of songs, and then tried the DW kick and went back to mine. It sounds killer." 

"We used about 8 different snares on this record. We used a regular Reference, it’s a 22 or 24-ply snare that just sounds incredible. Then I have this 10”-deep mahogany free-floater. On The Game Is Over, we switched out the toms for the chorus." 

"We used my floor toms, but that kit Nick got from Neil has every tom size known to man! There was a 15” rack tom that was probably 14” deep, then there was a 16” tom and we used them both as rack toms." 

"If you can imagine how weird that looked! I had to play like Keith Moon, praying mantis style to hit these f***ing rack toms! But we wanted that really big tom sound, so that’s what the toms on the chorus are." 

"I had to stop a couple of times because I was laughing at myself. It kind of reminded me of Vinnie Paul because Vinnie had those massive toms, but he had them angled. But I play flat, so they were sitting way up above my kick drum. There’s video of it that will probably surface one day!"

Your kit got burned at Knotfest in Mexico City, what will you be playing once you can tour again?

It’s a Pearl Reference Pure Music City Custom kit, with a really customised ICON rack setup that I have. I’ve always wanted to be able to fly things in the air with the electronics, and make it as visual as possible." 

It’s really similar to the chrome kit that I had, that got burned at the bonfire in Mexico. But I didn’t want to just replace it with the same chrome kit, so I’ve gone for a different finish. It’s a 2x 22 kicks, 10",12", rack toms and 16" and 18". I've got a Roland KD-A22 kick pad to the right of my main kick for the electronics. Then there’s Roland triggers on everything. Then I’ve got five pads - three on my left, two on my right that I use the Roland triggers on with the silencer heads." 

"The Reference is this proprietary thing that they did 18 years research on. Different woods lend themselves to different tonal characteristics, so maple has a lot of focus and a lot of attack, where birch is a little more mid-rangey with some punch, and mahogany has a lot of low end." 

"They started playing with different combinations of these woods for different sizes. When you start with a 10” tom, that’s almost all maple. Then as you go up in sizes there’s more birch added, and the floor toms there’s no maple, just birch and mahogany. Then by the time you get to the kick drums, it’s all mahogany."

"On top of that, they started messing around with different bearing edges. So the smaller drums are 45-degrees, and the bigger drums have a rounder edge. I love the regular Reference, you’ve got to smack the hell out of them to really get them to sing, but they’re awesome." 

"But the Reference Pure is something again. Every company has got their thing, but I’m a believer. All you’ve got to do is sit behind one of these and you know that this is not normal! They sound killer and different, Pearl really nailed it with these."

Evanescence The Bitter Truth is available to buy and stream now.