Working up a Storm
CRITICS are calling Lisa Marie Presley's latest album, Storm & Grace, a rootsy affair. The kind of album with the Southern flavour of Americana that recalls her father's early efforts. Ironically, the 44-year-old singer-songwriter, the only child of the late Elvis Presley, found herself travelling, not south, but eastwards, across the Atlantic, to write the album.
"I went to England a couple of years ago to write," she said over the phone. "It was going to be just a month or two but it ended up being eight or nine months. I wrote 30-plus songs, fell in love with England, came back to Los Angeles, sold everything, then moved to England. Then I heard that (renowned producer) T-Bone Burnett wanted to produce it, so I came back and recorded the album three months later."
According to Burnett, he was curious about "what the daughter of an American revolutionary music artiste had to say", he told Artist Direct. "What I heard was honest, raw, unaffected and soulful. I thought her father would be proud of her. The more I listened to the songs, the deeper an artiste I found her to be. Listening beyond the media static, Lisa Marie Presley is a Southern American folk music artiste of great value."
And all the music rags and sites seem to agree with Burnett. Rolling Stone complimented Storm & Grace, saying that it was "the album she was born to make - a raw, powerful country, folk and blues collection that finds her embracing her Southern roots and family name".
Allmusic said that "on Storm & Grace, she clearly would rather be an artiste, and if she's still working her musical shortcomings out of her system, this is a stronger, more mature, and more effective work than one might have expected ... Presley is finally developing a musical personality that truly suits her".
Meanwhile, Spinner.com said: "Presley has made the strongest album of her career ... It's a moody masterpiece, exploring the demons and angels of her life to the tune of country-spiced downbeat pop."
While Lisa Marie said she was flattered by the accolades, she did acknowledge the irony - that in order to write a roots-based album, she had to travel to England to do so.
"That's what was funny for me," she said. "In the past, people tried to lead me down that road to do more of a, you know, rootsy, country kind of record. And it never felt natural. It just naturally happened in England, because I think I was given the space and the freedom to do whatever I wanted.
"And the writers I wrote with were very appreciative of Americana music. It was a nice union that happened naturally."
The writers she referred to weren't even American but the creme of the crop of British pop writers, including veteran singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt, Travis frontman Fran Healey and Richard Hawley (of Pulp fame).
"They were so different (from the previous ones I worked with)," she said. "They weren't just songwriters but also artistes, and that's what made it so intriguing writing with Richard and Fran and Ed. Because it was such an unusual connection - I thought something really nice came out of it. I didn't have any plan or influence. I just wrote, and this was what came of it. It wasn't a contrived thing."
So which are your favourite songs from Storm & Grace?
Lisa Marie Presley: I'm a little bit prone to Soften The Blow, Weary and So Long. Sometimes I skip the tracks - if I'm being honest! (Laughs) And the ones that I like to listen to... well, I like Forgiving. Okay, I'm more partial to some but that doesn't mean I don't like them all.
What was it like working with T-Bone Burnett, who's produced everyone from Roy Orbison to John Mellencamp to Elton John?
He was telling me that the record had already had its sound, that its flavour was there. But then he pulls in his musicians, taps his wand of genius, and it was very inspiring to work with him.
Your songs seem very personal. But do you like being this wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve type of songwriter?
It's all very autobiographical and very personal. I've always likened my songs to be like a canvas that's open to interpretation for the listener to paint whatever they wish.
What would you say is the biggest life lesson you've learnt?
To know that you don't always know. To be open to the fact that you might not know. Embrace that fact and you'll be open to more possibilities. If you think you know everything, you're not being enlightened in any way.
What's the best thing about being Lisa Marie Presley?
I'm a simple person. I love my children and my family. I cherish a good person when I find them. I don't ask for a lot. I'm very happy with this record and with my life.
Would you like your children to pursue a music career too, like you or your father?
I want them to do whatever their hearts leads them. I won't push them to do something. I would want them to do what they feel they want to do.
What are your expectations for Storm & Grace then?
I try not to have any expectations. I don't want to have any because then I might get disappointed. I just hope for the best and ride the wave and keep focussed and hope that all goes well. I think we'll be going on tour, nothing is confirmed yet, though.
You have fans in Asia too - would you include Singapore on your tour?
I'm very humbled and flattered! I would love to, I've never been there, and I've always heard incredible things about it. I really hope that I do come there.
From music to working with foundations helping the underprivileged, you seem to have done everything. Is there something you haven't done that you'd like to do?
No, there's nothing in particular. There are places that I love to see. One day, I would like to become a hippie and go off the grid and never be seen or heard from again. Just become a big pothead, you know?
Your father's legacy is obviously huge, but what would you like your legacy to be?
That I was a good mother and songwriter and I made good music. But mostly, a good mother.