Though her father remains the reigning king of rock and roll, Lisa Marie Presley hasn’t forgotten her Southern folk roots.
“Nothing was planned or contrived in any way and out of it came a very organic record that was always inside of me,” Presley says of Storm and Grace, her first album in 7 years. “It’s this bluesy-folksy record I’m incredibly proud to have made.”
Produced by 12-time Grammy winner T-Bone Burnett, the Americana-tinged Storm and Grace marks a departure from the hard rock sound of Presley’s previous albums, To Whom it May Concern (2003) and Now What (2005).
Lisa Marie Presley wrapped up a ten date tour this past month with a show at Carnegie Hall in New York City, and performed to packed houses in Nashville, New Jersey, and Ontario, Canada.
And though certain topics were off limits — such as ex-husbands (Michael Jackson, Nicholas Cage) and religion (media reports suggest Presley is no longer a member of the Church of Scientology) — Presley was forthcoming about the price of fame and fortune.
Rock Cellar Magazine: The first single, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, from your new album is both ominous and beautiful — like you want to kick someone’s ass.
Lisa Marie Presley: It sounds maybe a little more confrontational than intended. But when I was writing that song, I had just found out what people — who I thought were my friends and well intended — actually thought about me and were saying behind my back.
It’s surprising, and it can really shake you when you wake up and realize the relationships you’ve built up over the years. And that the people you’ve come to trust are backstabbers and not at all who you thought.
RCM: So celebrities need to be especially careful about the company that they keep?
LMP: Absolutely. The people you surround yourself with can make or break you. I have seen it so many times and been around it. That’s kind of what I was going through when I was writing the whole record. So I completely got rid of everything, left the country, started from ground zero and then wrote this record throughout that process.
You don’t always realize it at the time, but certain people’s energy can be toxic and that toxicity can really mess with your life. And when someone is in your life and their intentions are not good, it can cause a lot of disturbance in your own life. For a while, you may think it’s just you, and sometimes it is, but sometimes it actually is the people around you.
RCM: Are you speaking of specific people in your own life?
LMP: I was just surrounded by too many people, the way celebrities often are. People who you put in charge of your life and are making decisions and representing you. What happens is everything can seem fine until you turn around one day and discover your world is this toxic mess, and these people you surrounded yourself with were the ones facilitating it.
You see all these celebrities and they’ve got their assistants and a whole crap-load of people surrounding them, but rarely do you get to see the real person or what their genuine intentions are.
When I see celebrities with their entourages, I sometimes want to warn them, “Be careful, those people could bury you alive one day!” That’s why I got rid of everyone, everything, and moved to England.
RCM: What’s it like living in the English countryside?
LMP: I’ve gotten to where I’m very comfortable. We moved there knowing nothing; it was ground zero for us as we moved into the middle of the country. I just fell in love with this house in this teeny, tiny village with a drug store, two pubs, a church, a little convenience store, and that’s it.
We’ve started meeting people slowly, making really great friends, really sweet people, and we know all the neighbors now. We’ve slowly built a life, but I can’t tell you how much balls it took to get on an airplane and go to another country, not knowing anybody.
RCM: How long did it take for the paparazzi to find you?
LMP: We were ratted out when we first moved in, even though we were trying to come in real quiet because I didn’t want to disrupt the neighborhood. I had already feared that everyone was going to hate me when we moved there, as I was thinking, “Oh god, I’m going to bring all this paparazzi with me.”
Then all of a sudden the tabloids hit and this huge storm happened that we didn’t want, despite our efforts to be really quiet. Oddly, I managed to live there for eight months while I was writing the record, and nobody knew I was there. But once we moved there, it was different, so you never know.
RCM: How did your English neighbors respond to the paparazzi?
LMP: They’re wonderfully genuine and loyal people.
The first few days after we moved, there were paparazzi parked outside our home and this farmer, who keeps his sheep on our land, rammed his truck into them and told them to leave. I thought, “Wow, this man who doesn’t even know me is standing up for me.” And that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with this little community.
I love the simplicity, and the countryside looks like a fairytale. I needed to discover life again as I was going through this deconstruction process. I happen to like the simpler life — cooking, walking, gardening. I also found the people weren’t jaded, and that they really love music, especially American roots music. They have this real deep appreciation for it, which is really refreshing.
There’s many acres, so the sheep also keep the grass down and it’s the most beautiful thing you could ever see. It’s been an incredible experience having these sheep on our property. Two springs ago there were like 200 baby sheep born on our property.
RCM: So what have you learned from having sheep on your land?
LMP: They’re pretty quiet until the farmer comes around and they’ll really start baah-ing and making lots of noise, because they know him. Our daughters bottle-fed one poor little sickly one after the mother passed away. Her name is Redge and she’s still there. We can tell her apart from the other sheep because her neck is kind of funny.
RCM: You’ve found that you’ve become emotionally attached to the sheep…
LMP: I try not to get too attached because they eventually become local meat. I wouldn’t let them take the little one we took home and cared for (laughs). I don’t know how the farmer does it, to be honest, because they all get to know him and that’s something fascinating to watch. Then he puts labels on them and takes them to the slaughterhouse, and I just couldn’t do that. So, I leave it to him and admire their beauty and try not to get too involved, because I know it’s all part of the food chain.
RCM: Do you feel the English countryside influenced your writing as well?
LMP: Definitely, as what came out of this experimentation process and writing these songs in England is something really organic and natural, I think.
RCM: Your voice really soars on tracks like Heartless and Sticks and Stones. What do you think has influenced your style of singing?
LMP: It’s kind of strange, but the first thing I ever recorded in my life was an Aretha Franklin song. So the first recording I ever made was a lot more soulful and different sounding than this rock thing I explored. I think because I was born and raised around country, blues, rock, gospel and everything else under the sun, it’s all been inside me my whole life. But now I tend to be more soulful.
I think of myself as a singer-songwriter, so I really don’t listen to my voice that closely, and certainly not as much as I listen to the songs I’m writing. And because I’m a singer-songwriter, I really focus and put a lot of labor into writing the best songs I can and trying to make them universal. As for my voice, they just have to kind of work together. I certainly don’t think of myself as a brilliant singer by any standards, but I think my voice works well with my music and my songs.
RCM: Some of your new tracks, like So Long, Un-break and Soften the Blows, seem very honest and personal.
LMP: At that time I was looking at life and feeling very vulnerable, and I think those feelings were captured in those songs. My songwriting has always been about purging and wrestling with demons. These songs are kind of naked and raw compared to the other records I made, where I felt I was being pushed in a more mainstream direction…which didn’t feel right at all.
Everything that I’ve experienced in my life is covered in some way in my music. Everything has its place. I think as we get older, one of the biggest things we learn is to not to take things for granted, and to find better ways of handling stuff as it comes.
RCM: How do you handle your celebrity life in the public eye as the daughter of Elvis Presley?
LMP: There’s always opinions out there regarding how my life should have gone. Everything is very public as I navigate my way through this life. The mistakes I’ve made are public, and mistakes seem to be all that people want to know about. Being Elvis’ daughter is a blessing. And though it’s had its challenges, it’s not anything I would change or take back.
And I’m grateful for the really nice fan base I have, who I think know me pretty well. The response to this album has been incredible and the reviews have been really nice. I consider it a breakthrough, in being recognized as a songwriter. Because that’s all I ever wanted to do in my life.
RCM: How do feel about doing publicity?
LMP: When I’m promoting an album I understand that I have to be out there, and it requires a certain amount of attention and media. And that’s fine. But when I’m not doing this, it’s really important to me to have things completely different from being in the spotlight. And that’s how I was raised as my mom kept me away from the celebrity part of our life for long periods of time. That’s the way you keep your sanity, I think.
RCM: Was it challenging launching a music career back in 2003 with the last name Presley?
LMP: Some people are really quick to criticize and shoot you down and say, “Oh, look at this, you’ve got it so easy.” I know that’s how people have always looked at me. But I think I’ve shown them, and paved my way as a songwriter with this album, especially. I never wanted to go the easy route, and I found my way despite the fact there was always this push for me to do things in a certain way or be a certain way.
This is my creative outlet, and it’s the only creative outlet I have. Believe me, I wish I had others, but my love for music has been a part of me for as long as I can remember. My father was the first music I ever heard, and he’s been a huge influence on my life.
RCM: Graceland’s newest exhibit, Elvis…Through His Daughter’s Eyes, was launched earlier this year. Tell us about that.
LMP: It’s basically a room dedicated to showing the side of my father that is the “father side.” Because most of the time it’s all about him being this iconic figure and the incredible history of his music and his accomplishments. In this exhibit, you’ll see the side of him that we saw, and it’s dedicated to him as a father and his relationship with me. So it’s a room full of artifacts from when I was little, along with lots of footage from that time.
RCM: At the age of 25, you became the sole heir to your father’s estate, then worth more than 100 million dollars. Twenty years later, are you still running Graceland as a family business?
LMP: Yeah, in fact I can’t take credit for the new exhibit as it was my cousin who helps run the operations there and came to me with the idea. They had all this stuff in the archives and it was a really amazing experience for us to put all of it together and freshen things up a bit.
But it’s a constant job making sure Graceland is protected, making sure my father’s name and image are protected and always quality-controlled. My mother is still on the board and she’s very savvy and loves the business part of it. As for me, I was groomed into doing it since I was 16, helping to run Graceland. There’s an incredible team that runs it, but my mother is involved in the day-to-day.
RCM: Do you enjoy the business and operations aspect of running Graceland?
LMP: Not so much. (laughs) I’m more like my father that way.
RCM: Do your 4-year-old twins know much about who their grandpa was?
LMP: They definitely know who he is and they’re so proud. Even as babies, they’d hear Elvis on satellite radio. Earlier this year, I took them to see Viva Elvis (Cirque du Soleil) in Las Vegas and they were so excited. Anytime they hear him — whether we’re out somewhere or in the car — all they want to do is dance. They’re just thrilled to be Elvis’ granddaughters and it’s very cool.
RCM: What’s it been like raising twin girls?
LMP: It’s very interesting to see how they have this really sweet concern for one another and how they can be so protective of each other. If one gets something then they want the other one to have it too, so they’ve got this dueling thinking thing happening constantly. I’ve seen it where Finley will get very motherly towards Harper, and make sure everything’s fair and equal between them. It’s really sweet. Having said that, they’ll fight too, but that’s to be expected as they spend so much time together (laughs).
RCM: How did you balance making a new album with raising young children?
LMP: They were about seven or eight months at the time when we first set up shop in England. But it all worked together quite well. There were times when I’d feel a bit drained creatively but children always give you a good reason to wake up and make everyday good. Even when you’re tapped out sometimes, they make life so much better and give you this positive energy just when you need it. All my kids — they’re all very spirited.
RCM: You’ve made a conscious effort to keep them out of the public eye, right?
LMP: Yeah, even with my son who just turned 20 and my other daughter who just turned 23, I tried to keep them out of the spotlight until they were ready and decided what they wanted to do. I think it’s good to wait until their heads are in the right place.
I’m trying to do it the way I was raised. Like I said, my mother never paraded me around as we had a normal life away from the celebrity life. It was a good mix and that’s what I want for my children. I just want them to be the best that they can be, at whatever they’re doing, while keeping a normalcy in their lives.
RCM: You also find time and energy for charities like the Dream Factory in England. Tell us about that.
LMP: It’s a charity that a friend of mine started when his son passed away from an illness. It grants wishes to children who are ill and I go there and do their Christmas party every Christmas. So I try to get out and do as much as I can because it’s something I need to do, and feel like I should be doing.
RCM: Then there’s Presley Place — a transitional housing program for homeless families in Memphis…?
LMP: Yeah, it was really important to my father because he grew up in one of those. So we built one and it runs really well and we’re very proud of it.
RCM: How would you compare Memphis to L.A.?
LMP: There’s a heart and soul in the south that isn’t really there in L.A. I just feel that L.A. is this potpourri of people who have collected there who want to live the dream. So people come to L.A. from somewhere else looking to be something, and they always want to be in the sunshine. And for me, that’s not reality. But many people love that and they want it to be sunny 24/7.
And if that’s what you want, and you like the celebrity marriage environment, then L.A. is the place to be. I happen to like seasons. There’s good and bad about L.A., without question. At one point I felt like I was kind of saturated with the bad, which is why I left the country. But now when I come back, I actually really enjoy it because I know I can leave. Because I don’t think there’s a lot of loyalty there, unlike Memphis where people appreciate music on a much deeper level. L.A. is all about instant gratification. That’s how I would compare them.
RCM: Since moving to England, have you taken up any new hobbies or activities besides gardening?
LMP: Interesting you should ask, as I was just thinking about getting a horse because that’s definitely what my neighbors are into. So I thought, maybe if I got a horse I could ride all around because we’re in the middle of nowhere. Seriously, I was just thinking that I need to get a hobby, as my husband [musician/producer Michael Lockwood] has tons of hobbies like his guitar collection.
RCM: You don’t collect anything?
LMP: No, I really don’t. I don’t like a lot of stuff. I like to have things really clean. I’m a cat lover, but I wish I had a hobby because if I did, I would probably be a lot more occupied in my head (laughs). My kids are what I’m most involved in all the time.
I wasn’t born into a normal life, so the things that I’m interested in or attracted to aren’t always normal. This quiet and simple life that we have here in England, it’s an outstanding and beautiful place to be, and I’m sure it will have a real influence on our daughters. It’s like growing up in a fairytale.