A revealing interview from 2012 illustrates a rock princess finding herself
Many of us had seen the Golden Globes this week and noticed that Lisa Marie Presley looked off. Not quite right.
We later saw the pre-show interview with Billy Bush on “Access Hollywood. She wasn’t inarticulate, but she wasn’t making eye contact – again she seemed off and unsteady. Then, we learned the next day she’d been taken to the hospital in “cardiac arrest.” And around 9 pm Eastern time Thursday, the news broke: Elvis’s only child, the mother of Benjamin, a son who committed suicide in 2020, and three daughters, the ex-wife of Danny Keough (the bassist in her band), Michael Jackson, Nicholas Cage and Michael Lockwood (the guitarist and music director in her band) was dead. She had sole control of the Elvis Presley estate – Graceland and the myriad merchandising revenue streams that kept Elvis alive.
I spoke with her about 10 years ago as she was making some changes.
Lisa Marie Presley has got a brand new bag. And it’s one fans of adult rock / progressive country / roots rock / Americana might feel very comfortable with. Which is to say Elvis’ daughter – the mother of four children, including now teenage twins – has shed the pop-glam skin of yore, and on Storm and Grace, sounds like she’s wrestling with the kind of problems and emotions many of us have who’ve been around a block or two. It’s a sultry, smoky effort, suffused with a roots-rock sound ably aided by producer T Bone Burnett.
Presley didn’t make her first album until her mid-30s (in 2003) and then it seemed she was trying to cut through the Britneys of the world and get into some nebulous pop star position. Same with her second disc in 2005. Of course, her personal life has been tabloid fodder – her marriage to Michael Jackson, another to Nicolas Cage.
The following interview, however, focused on the music.
Storm and Grace is perhaps not the record people expected from you. You’ve sort of re-invented yourself here with this one. Do you see it that way?
I think at some point I felt really uninspired so I kind of got rid of everything that was around me and decided to start new and go as far away as possible to see what happened creatively. So, I was put into a wide arena of freedom to write with anyone and everyone of all different walks. And this just kind of came from that, of 8 months of living there [in England]. I fell in love with England and we came back [to the States] to basically sell my house and move and then – people had heard the demos by then – and I got the call that they wanted to do it.
Let me backtrack a bit. Were previous editions of you more manufactured – what somebody else wanted to project upon you? Or were those your decisions?
It was definitely a …. big potpourri of decisions at the time. I don’t think anyone knew of a target audience for me. Previous labels were always trying to go for the quickest gratification possible. Look this way, go to this hit writer, do that – and I was trying to stay authentic throughout it. So there’s a huge difference in all of that. I wouldn’t say I had no say-so in all of that, because I’m not like that. But it was confusing. Where are you headed? What are you doing? They were thinking something I definitely wasn’t. They were thinking, “How do I get to the biggest market the quickest?” That was not at all the case.
I saw you at the Paradise, the Boston club, maybe five years ago. I got the feeling there was somebody else in there waiting to bust out, not exactly the person I saw on stage.
The music now, it’s rootsy, soulful, sometimes sad. Where did it come from? Was it digging back to your roots or just something in the air? In other words, how did you come around to this sound?
My inspiration for writing it is my life and my experiences, and processing different things I’ve been through or seen. That’s my writing. I wasn’t listening to any music at the time and I wasn’t trying to write rootsy. This is just kind of what ended up happening.
Not a calculated genre shift?
I had written a lot of songs like my previous material. When I started the process it was safe and easy and I knew how to go there. Then, when I just kept going things started changing and evolving and it just sort of naturally arose out of everything.
You’re 44 and the mother of four. I’m a bit older, and I’m somebody who grew up with rock ‘n’ roll and still enjoys it a lot, but also realizes you have different concerns as a fan or an artist at 44 than you do at 34 or 24, whenever. Is this, then, a more mature you that’s out there now?
I think so. Or just as you live, things change and shift. I think maybe when you hit your 40s you start reevaluating everything. That happened with me.
I don’t how this played into it, but in terms of your name and how celebrity played into how you were sold: Have you always encouraged it or has it been something you’ve discouraged?
Which part of it?
Well, let’s just say being the daughter of Elvis and its effect.
No, it’s just something that I’ve embraced. I’ve always been proud of that. At the same time, you get caught up in that thing – you have to over-prove yourself or you feel like you don’t want to be compared. The first couple times around I didn’t want that. I was trying to avoid anything like that. It can go either way. You sound just like him and you’re stuck right there, you don’t have your own individuality. Or you fight it, which is kind of what I did. I’m not knocking the songs. I’m just saying I was trying to prove something, somewhere, to myself, someone, I don’t know. But that’s not there anymore. That was kind of like shadowboxing. I wasn’t sure what I was up against.
You have that line in “Un-Break”: “I’ve got run over by my own parade … What am I not doing right//But shit it keeps on coming/Maybe I should change my plumbing.”
Right. (laughs). It’s very descriptive and almost repulsive, but it rung true.
This is kind of a naked record. We’re really hearing what you’re going through and we’re not hearing just as you, but how it applies in a larger sense, to the rest of us. Taking something personal and making it more universal.
Thank you. That is really what I aim for, ultimately, in spite of me and all that comes with me. I look at that as my job and I take it seriously, to take whatever I’ve gone through and try and translate it universally so anyone could hear it and be moved by it somehow. It’s also super naked and it’s really naked live to be honest. It’s really different from what we were doing before. It’s really quieter. My earlier stuff was very loud and we were all going full-throttle and you never could hear. It was good to hide behind. This is very different. The record is very different. A quieter stage, more intimate settings. A different experience now.
Are you more comfortable on stage with this then?
I am. I feel more comfortable with it in general and so, yes, I feel a little more vulnerable. I’m getting used to that still.
The older version of you – trying to take you to the top and what your audience might be – what do you see your audience is now? Do you get a sense for who’s coming to see you and who’s buying the record?
I haven’t yet, because I haven’t been out … It’s always been such a mixture. There are so many types of people that come it’s unbelievable. Like every type of walk of life. It’s always been that way.
I remember covering Sean Lennon’s band live. It was a great show, terrific progressive rock and the audience was mostly kids his age, people. In their 20s. But there were the lurking older Beatles fans in back of the club. You must get that too with older Elvis fans.
Definitely, but not as much as you think. I think I’ve weeded that out. Not that I don’t want them. When I say it, I don’t mean I don’t ever want those kind of fans. I mean they were coming with a very specific agenda to see some replication. They left very quickly. I probably wanted [them there} on the first one or two tours. I was in the deep, deep South and an elderly crowd that probably got a free ticket to see God knows what and they saw it … and it was not what they thought, and there we have it.
They said, “Dammit we’re going to stick with the Elvis impersonators!”
Those Elvi we have out there is part of our landscape. Is this weird to you, seeing these various incarnations of your dad or is it just what you accept as part of your life?
I’m so used to it I’m almost numbed to it. It doesn’t even faze me anymore. It’s so ingrained in my DNA and in my perception of life. It doesn’t faze me unless I come in the near vicinity of one accidentally and then I’ll quickly move away. Then, it involves taking a picture with me and that’s weird.
Some years ago, the Monkees Peter Tork did a heavy metal version of Monkees songs at bars. I saw him at the now-closed Bunrattys. I talked to him after a show and said, “What’s it like to be considered an ex-Monkee all your life?” and he answered, “Compared to what?” It was the perfect answer. He had no other reference point. It was normal to him.
I have read a few things about your kids and you’re very much into being a good mom. Are you able to balance the rockin’ you and the mom you?
As much as possible. I was a little late talking to you today because I was giving the babies a bath before I had the interview. I’m doing a show tonight. It is definitely challenging. There is that element of getting them ready so I can go off and not worry while I’m working. I didn’t have that before because my children were older. Definitely it’s a new challenge.
I saw this online. It may be wrong, but I know you’re a pretty prominent Scientologist and I saw something that said you had left Scientology. True?
Well, I don’t discuss religion or politics. It’s really personal. Much as I understand the question, I avoid …. It’s a no-win. There’s something out there every week.
Of course. You’ve lived an alternate life in the supermarket tabloids. Which I gather, that just runs off your shoulders …. But does any of it stick?
It does, because the Enquirer continues to ankle-bite no matter what I’m doing. If something’s happening, I know we’re gonna get a call every four to six weeks from some insane story they want to come out with. I always get an email from the Enquirer. Oh my god, here we go. It’s usually, here we’re about to run this incredible, insane thing they come up with and usually if it’s serious we’ll get a lawyer on it and if not, we’ll say are you joking? Here we go again. It’s like clockwork. Every four to six weeks. There’s gotta be a crazy cover story, usually something really awful especially if I’m doing well. They want to eff it up.
There’s probably someone who’s job is specifically that, you.
You know what, I have an enemy without question. There’s someone there that routinely watches every single thing and wants to take a really bad twist on it and run some horror story every four to six weeks. I tell people that and they’re like ha-ha and then literally it will happen. I’m expecting it in the next week or two. They did it a few weeks ago, so now it’s time.
What did they nail you on most recently?
Oh, I don’t know. They had four different topics. They said she’s either this or that or this or that. What is she? I don’t get it. Literally, there is definitely someone working on me there, particularly.
Any of these stories amuse you or do they all piss you off?
Most of it, I don’t really care, but that one, the Enquirer, is particularly vengeful. The rumors from my little enemy over there is consistent, ruthless and it’s not funny. That goes beyond entertaining. There’s a vendetta. Actually, I have sued the Enquirer and we’ve settled in my favor, as well. I have somebody watching me. They will step over the line. They love it. That’s really the only one I have trouble with to be honest.
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