Lisa Marie Presley Weathers 'Storm' of Bullying Critics, With Help From T. Bone Burnett and Pulp's Richard Hawley
Lisa Marie Presley has a bit of an edge to her voice, a steeliness that puts a distance between herself and whoever she's speaking with -- especially a journalist. It's an understandable remove considering how much the media has been poring over her every move for, well, the entirety of her life. The last two decades have been especially brutal in that regard for the 44-year-old musician, with her marriages to Michael Jackson and Nicolas Cage coming under all manner of scrutiny.
Yet, Elvis' daughter has managed to fly below the radar for the past two years after she and her family (husband Michael Lockwood and their twin daughters) moved to England, and it was there that Presley started to edge herself back into the world of music. Encouraged by her husband and her manager, she started working with a wide range of songwriters, including Pulp member Richard Hawley, singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt and Travis leader Fran Healy.
The next step was coaxing her into the studio, which didn't take long considering the person that was most eager to get her recording was Grammy-winning producer T. Bone Burnett. With his guidance, Presley has made the strongest album of her career in the upcoming Storm & Grace. It's a moody masterpiece, exploring the demons and angels of her life to the tune of country-spiced downbeat pop. Presley spoke to Spinner about the new album, its long gestation period and the pain and pleasure of creating art in a headline-hungry world.
It has been a while since you have released any new music. When did you know it was time to start writing and recording again?
I think that it's been seven years. I was a little bit tapped out from previous situations and people from doing the first two albums. I just took a bit of a breather, had babies and went to England. I needed to go far away collect myself. I basically went away and was provided with many different scenarios to write in. I wrote with people from all different walks of life. There was no agenda. I was given the freedom and space to find myself again, to start again and get a fresh perspective. I didn't know what was going to come of it. I was half expecting nothing was going to happen. But music is just how I process my life and demons. Honestly, I was about to move to England for good when I got the call that T. Bone Burnett had heard some of the songs. Simon, my manager, sent them to T. Bone without telling me because he knew I would have been a nervous wreck if I had known. But he really liked them and we met at his house in L.A. and he said, "I don't want to do this big song and dance. I like the songs and the direction you're going in and I really want to work with you."
Were you familiar at all with the people that you ended up collaborating with?
My husband was more familiar with Richard Hawley, since he had worked and lived in Sheffield for a while. It was his idea to write with Richard. It's interesting that Richard had never written with anyone before, other than Jarvis [Cocker]. That was kind of the fun of it, to put me with people who were not what you would expect. Fran Healy never written with anyone but his band. So, very kind of obscure but cool artists. That was kind of the idea: To go with different things, nothing that was normal.
What inspired you musically or lyrically at the time?
Honestly, at the time, I was not listening to any music at all. What happened with these songs was I would sit with the co-writer and we'd lock in on a melody and a format, and then they'd basically leave me in a room five to six hours. Then they come back in and wonder what's come out of it out of all that!
Did you already have a sense of what you wanted them to sound like or did that come out in the studio?
Most of them already had their tone. Almost all of them were very similar to how I envisioned them. Only one was very different. Most of them though came to life through the collision of T. Bone and I. The vibe just flowed naturally from that. But the floor had already been laid. Again, there's one song that drastically changed in texture, "Over Me," the first song on the album. Originally it was a little more aggressive. It had more of an edgy rock feel when we wrote it. It completely took a turn into this swampy thing and took on it's own life when T. Bone's guys took a hold of it. But I think it came out really great. I'm really happy with it.
Was it easy or difficult to give your songs over to T. Bone and his crew?
It was easy. I know who he is and what he's done and would never ever question him. He has an orbit of musicians that he loves and rearranges them accordingly with what he's recording. I had the utmost respect with everything he wanted to do. He already had his ideas; I wasn't going to interject mine. I never would have gotten in his way. And they were all so incredible you couldn't argue.
What inspires your lyrics? Is it something from your life or someone that you know or are you just trying to tell a story or create a mood?
Usually I'm processing something. It can be metaphorical or literal, but usually processing something that I have witnessed, seen or heard.
The song "Sticks and Stones" seem like one of the most literal on the album where you are taking your critics to task. Am I reading that right?
It probably was just me processing something I heard. The thing is with critics, I've heard it and I've seen it all. It is never easy for someone to hear stuff like that, so I was likely processing things that I'd seen heard and it might have been bothering me that day. I don't remember. It was a year ago when I wrote that! But I mean, that song's mild compared than what's been said about me on the Internet.
How do you feel about the idea that people are likely going to be picking apart your lyrics looking for insights into your personal life?
It's one of those things I expect. When I write, I write universally. I don't like it when I learn what a writer wrote a song about. But I also understand that people want to know what I'm talking about. I completely understand it. At the same time I feel I want to hold strong. I don't want to confirm or deny anything. I want people to use the songs as a canvas to paint whatever picture they want to.
Does it bother you that almost all the attention you've received to date has been about your personal life rather than your creative endeavors?
I don't know anyone that it wouldn't bother. I don't know a time when that didn't happen. These days, you've got people hiding behind their computers and bullying people. I think that's gotten really, really bad. It's a vehicle that people use to hide and attack other people. It's generally an epidemic right now. Obviously the Internet is also a lovely and wonderful thing overall, but you have to deal with mean comments. You have to have a stronger skin than ever.
With all the talk about the Tupac hologram at Coachella, what do you think about the use of that technology when it comes to something like the image of your father and how folks like Céline Dion are using a hologram image of him for her Las Vegas show?
I thought that that was tastefully done at the time. I think they wouldn't have asked to do it if I didn't think it was appropriate, tasteful and fine. It depends on who and what the situation is. There are so many things going on with technology being used different and new crazy ways. It really depends how tasteful it is and what their meaning is and what the overall effect is.
What is next for you? Touring with these new songs?
Yes, that is what's next. I like the touring part. I love the immediate gratification from people that want to hear your music. It's a little bit hard to do, hard to put yourself out there. It's like putting a target on your head and saying, "Please shoot! Fire away!" It's a free-for-all out there and kind of scary. I understand too that my music has helped people and I hope that continues. I hope that it continues to reach people.
Will you be bringing your twins on the road with you or are they staying at home?
They'll definitely be with me. I've never done something like this with such little ones. But they're obviously the priority. I want to make sure what I'm doing is best for them.