Five days before our interview with Lisa Marie Presley, the only child of Elvis and Priscilla, Clash attended a lunchtime showcase in the dark, velvety surroundings of Soho’s legendary jazz club, Ronnie Scott’s, where a reserved, sober audience were treated to a handful of songs from her new album, ‘Storm And Grace’. Most of us had probably heard the album in advance, but none of us really knew what to expect. The name Presley conjures up so many pre-supposed images - it comes weighted with expectations, with an unparalleled heritage, and with a legacy that’s almost impossible to live up to. Was this to be an all-singing rhinestone fest, where the front row would be bestowed silk scarves; a metaphorical passing of the torch from father to daughter? In short, no. What we got - Lisa Marie in a devilish black dress with red belt, and a band of behatted wild west dandies playing stripped-back, slow, echoed and haunting tunes - was a mature, enigmatic assertion of individuality. This was a coming-of-age: Lisa Marie was stepping out of the shadows and laying her heart on the line.
Considering the pressures and assumptions she must have endured over the years, as Clash sat down with Presley in North London’s RAK Studios, the first and most obvious question was why had she pursued a life in music in the first place. “I’ve always loved writing - whether I was in school with English and poetry - and then I’ve always loved music,” she begins. “I’ve been listening to 45s since I can remember, before I even knew what my dad did. So they kinda met at some point. They just naturally happened in my love for both.”
Though it’s ironic that song writing should lead her to follow her father’s profession - Elvis never wrote any of his own songs - it’s clear that it was her own calling. “I started writing songs in my early twenties, and then after that I wrote to process things. I was really in no hurry to do anything with it - I was really quite intimidated by the idea, and then somewhere in my mid-thirties, I more than anything didn’t want to be pushed anywhere; didn’t want someone to push me into something that would just lock me up before I even had a chance. I just always felt music was so important in my life, and it’s such an important thing in the world, that I tried not to think about who I am and what it would mean for me, and just tried to be a singer-songwriter - naively or not.”
Listening to her intentions, you almost forget what struggles someone would face to succeed when you’re already famous. Anyone who wants to make music spends years toiling away in private at home, honing their skills. For Lisa Marie, her earliest efforts were rather more public. “It’s like trying a bunch of clothes on but it was so in front of everybody,” she sighs, revealing her second performance was on Good Morning America, the national TV breakfast show, and her third was to a live audience of sixty-five thousand. That exposure, and the glare of the mainstream, proved too much for the still-exploring young Presley. The result was 2003’s ‘To Whom It May Concern’ and 2005’s ‘Now What’, two albums that drowned Presley in overblown productions - a result of her reticence and apprehensions. “I went through that phase because I thought, ‘I just need to know that I can find my own way with this’,” she explains. “And not in a disrespectful way, but just in ‘I need my own identity’.”
Fast-forward seven years and it’s all change for Lisa Marie. At forty-four, she has survived three marriages (to musician Danny Keough, king of pop Michael Jackson, and actor Nicolas Cage), yet has found happiness and inspiration in her fourth, to her guitarist and musical director Michael Lockwood. It was his idea to decamp to England and work with English song writers to create the new album. Yet despite her contentment and settled personal life, ‘Storm And Grace’ is an album of troubled and bruised lyrics. “I think that I was unknowingly a part of things that I didn’t know weren’t good for me for a long time, and in that I was shadowboxing for a long time, because I was angry but I didn’t know where it was coming from,” she says. “And I identified where it was coming from finally, and then I just left the country and moved as far away as I could. I started from ground zero, and I said, ‘I need to go as far away as I can and just see what happens, because I’m completely uninspired’. And then we came here. It was supposed to be a month or two and it ended up nine months, just experimenting - Richard Hawley, Fran Healy, Sacha Skarbek - all kinda different other people that were great writers, just to see what would happen. It was an experiment and it ended up being a nine-month situation.”
Words: Simon Harper
Photography: Alice Hawkins
Fashion: Madeline Ostlie
This is an excerpt from the November 2012 issue of Clash magazine. Find out more about the issue.