Evanescence guitarist Terry Balsamo
may appear to be riding a wave of success these days, particularly considering his band's latest album The Open Door
hit #1 on the Billboard charts and nearly hit the half-million sales mark in its first week. But the past year brought about a medical nightmare that any guitarist would deeply fear: a stroke paralyzing the left side of his body. Since the November 2005 event, Balsamo has had to retrain himself on the guitar and now says he is using the latest Evanescence tour as his physical therapy.
Despite the obstacles, former Cold guitarist Balsamo has been welcomed by vocalist Amy Lee
and the rest of Evanescence as one of the primary songwriters, replacing former guitarist Ben Moody
(co-writer of songs My Immortal and Bring Me To Life). Balsamo recently talked with Ultimate Guitar about filling the shoes of hit-maker Moody and his continued efforts to regain his musical abilities.
UG: You've been through a lot in the past year. How is your recovery going?
Yeah, I still have paralysis in my left arm and hand. I'm like at enough where I can get by on tour. Basically this tour is like therapy right now for me. I'm hoping it will get better, you know.
You are so young to have something like a stroke happen to you. Do they doctors know what caused it?
When I went in the hospital, my whole left side was paralyzed. All of my vitals were fine, my blood pressure and cholesterol and all that crap. So they had no idea what was going on. They had to do an MRI. When they did the MRI, the doctor came back in the room and he was like, Have you ever had any neck injuries like from a car accident or anything?
And I was like, No.
Then we were like, Other than banging his head all day and every night for an hour and a half.
I've always had weird thing in my neck doing that, but I never would have thought it would have given me a stroke.
They think the headbanging is really what caused your stroke?
Yeah, they actually saw the clot in my artery in my neck.
What were the events leading up to it?
|"I still have paralysis in my left arm and hand."|
I finished all the guitar tracks on Saturday. On Monday I woke up to get ready to go to the studio and all of the sudden my body went paralyzed. It was so weird. My girlfriend was there. She was like, I'm gonna call 911!
And I'm like, No, don't worry about it. I'm all right.
I didn't say that I didn't know what the hell was happening.
Did the thought immediately cross your mind that you wouldn't be able to play the guitar again?
Yeah. A couple of doctors said that I would probably never play guitar again.
What was your answer to those doctors?
Was it your own mindset that made you believe that you'd still continue playing?
One of my main neurologists, he never said that I would never be able to play guitar again. I don't think he was sure about if I was going to be able pick it up. Then after a couple of months had passed, he saw how mentally I think I was just overcoming it and stuff. He was like, I can't believe it's only been two months! If you keep doing your therapy and stuff like that, I think you'll be all right after a while.
But he thought also it would be a couple of years.
When you picked up the guitar again, was it like having to start from scratch?
It definitely wasn't like from scratch. It's kind of like the knowledge is there. My mind would tell my hand what it should do, but it wouldn't do it. The knowledge was still there, it's just training my hand to do what it's supposed to do.
Through this all, it sounds like Amy Lee found a kindred spirit in you. When you started writing together, did you know immediately that the songwriting would flow so well?
When we started writing, we had no idea. When I started filling in, I was still in the group Cold. We were together touring and Cold was opening up for Evanescence. Basically I came out after Ben (Moody) left and they asked if I'd fill in. I didn't plan on leaving Cold because I was still attached to the guys. We're all from the same city and we grew up together and all that kind of shit. When I came out, things were kind of bad in Cold. It wasn't too terrible, it's just things weren't going good. And obviously, things weren't going good with her and Ben. So when I came out, I kind of like brought this vibe of, Let's have fun and forget all the bullshit that a lot of us have been through and all that crap.
We really got along very well. Musically and influence-wise, we definitely had a lot of the same connections of stuff that she liked and I liked. We just basically got along really well together.
What kind of musical influences do you and Amy share?
|"The pressure really never ever got to us because we had fun the entire time."|
Well, that was another thing cool. I turned her on to a lot of stuff like Pantera and that kind of shit. She turned me on to classical stuff and Bjork. So we threw it all together and made a record!
Is there a certain process that you and Amy use in approaching songwriting together?
From the very first song on the record that we wrote, which was a song called Snow White Queen, she basically sent me some kind of loops, drum beats, plus some melodies she had and some keyboard stuff over it. She was like, If you can come up with anything
Right after that, I came up with the chorus and all that. Every song was a little different. Some songs we would start with a bass line or a guitar line or a vocal line even, and then just kind of go from there. There was never any set way of doing anything.
How did you come up with the idea of working in Mozart's music to create Lacrymosa?
Once we got into it and decided to just really do this, it pretty much came together. At first it was kind of weird. It was like, What are we gonna do with this?
But Amy always had this idea of taking the song and kind of adding stuff to it. So we just kind of fit the song with vocals and then laid down some drum loops and shit. Then I came up with the bass line for it. Me and her would come up with a lot of bass lines together. She would just like hum it out and then I would write something funky into it. Then we decided from there to take the song and add a drum loop, add bass lines, add guitars, and it all came together.
Do you do a lot of your writing on the bass?
If it's something like the song Cloud Nine, we got a cool drum beat that we liked. Then she came up with a vocal melody. It was cool because I just took the bass and started writing the bass line to the actual vocal melody. That was something different that I had never really done. We never really had any set way. If there was an idea, we would just do whatever we could to move forward with it.
Is there a big difference between the way you approach songwriting in Evanescence in comparison with Cold's music?
In Cold we would pretty much just go to band practice, sit down, smoke some weed or drink. Then we would kind of go from there and write together in a room. This is a lot different because it was just me and her, and we would just sit down and kind of demo everything while we were writing it. That was fun to do because you can kind of like picture ahead what it's gonna be like once we do it for real in the studio.
Is there any one song on The Open Door that you feel particularly connected to?
|"In the studio, I kind of use a similar setup to what I used on the last Cold record I did."|
Yeah, definitely. I mean all of it is definitely very special in some sort of way. I would say called The Only One. I think when we got to that song and started writing that one, when we finished it there was a point in the writing process where we were just really excited. It's not one a big single kind of song. That's not what we were going for. When we got to that song, we were both so excited because we knew we had something. It was like, Okay, we can do this. We can move forward and not have to worry about it anymore.
With the huge success of Fallen, was the band intimidated by the idea of trying to write another batch of hit songs?
No. The pressure really never ever got to us because we had fun the entire time. It was kind of like, It's either going to happen or it's not.
We could do a fucking Back In Black record and it could bomb. You never know how it's going to work. It never really got to us. I think if anything, all those feelings just kind of fueled us in wanting to prove everybody wrong.
What guitars and amps are you using these days?
I use Ibanez guitars. In the studio, I kind of use a similar setup to what I used on the last Cold record I did, which is mix up the amps and combine the sound together. It's a Diezel and a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier and mixed that for one side. Then I took a Bogner and a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier on the other side. I combined it and made one big wall of metal.
A lot of people describe Evanescence's music as ethereal in its sound. Did you explore more effects and guitar pedals when you joined the band?
No, I've never been a huge effects guy, other than maybe a delay.
What kind of delay do you use right now?
Right now on tour I'm using T.C. Electronics, the G-System.
Do you find it easy to recreate the studio sound in the live show?
Yeah, because I'm using my Triple Rectifiers and the T.C. Electronics thing just has tons of effects. You can dial it all in and match it pretty damn close. I don't think anybody's going to tell a difference live.
You recently started your tour in early October. How have the crowds been so far?
The crowds have just been amazing. I mean, louder than the music! The sound guy and the lighting guy, they've been wearing earplugs. They're like, We're not wearing earplugs because of the music. We're wearing them because the crowds have been so loud!
It's been really cool.
In your thank-you notes on the new CD, you mention Dimebag Darrell. Did he have a big influence on your playing?
|"The crowds on tour have just been amazing. Louder than the music!"|
When Pantera came out, I must have been like I guess 16 years old or something like that. When I saw them live, that was a night probably in my life where I was like, I don't know if this is something I really want to keep doing or what the fuck I'm gonna do.
But when I saw them live, it was like, This is what I want to do forever.
Would you say he is your primary influence?
Yeah, as far as the rock stuff. I mean, I even love U2's The Edge. He's incredible to me and Rush's Alex Lifeson. What's funny is like Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen are big influences, but once Dimebag came along, his kind of influences that he had in them were kind of bundled together. So Dimebag basically took over. Not that I'm in any way as good as any of those guys!
Are you and Amy writing any songs while on tour?
There's a couple of extra things that we have. But as far as the future of music writing-wise, I think with both me and Amy, it's either the tour or writing. A lot of bands tend to go on tour and bring their rigs out with them on tour, but that's something that never worked for either one of us. She might come up with a melody or something and I come up with a riff or something, and that's cool. If we remember it, cool. If not, it wasn't meant to be.
Does the band have any future DVDs planned for release?
There's been talks and stuff. But as far as the live ones, I don't when we would record them. I don't want to do something like that until I'm a little closer to being 100 percent better. Right now, I'm just far from itnot far from it, but a good 50 percent from it.