Lisa Marie Presley hopes her new record will be the one to get her music taken seriously. She talks to Russell Baillie.
Talking to Lisa Marie Presley, there was always going to be an awkward moment.
After all, she's, well, Lisa Marie Presley, a woman who will always be defined by who her daddy was. And decreasingly by who some of her ex-husbands were.
So, if we were talking face to face, then there would be a small herd of elephants in the room.
But her deep voice is coming down the line from somewhere in California. By the sounds of it, somewhere near her four-year-old twin girls.
She's there on business, having lived in England with her daughters and fourth husband, guitarist-producer Michael Lockwood, for the past couple of years.
That awkward moment comes in the early minutes of the interview, which is part of her campaign for her new album Storm & Grace - it's her third album following 2003's To Whom it May Concern and 2005's Now What, and it just might be the one to get her taken seriously as a singer-songwriter.
It's about the second song on the album, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet. The track has already lit up parts of the American media, led by Village Voice editor-in-chief Tony Ortega, who has cited its lyrics as evidence that Presley has turned her back on the Church of Scientology, which she has long been a member of - she met first husband Danny Keough, the father of her first two children, in the mid-80s at the Los Angeles Celebrity Scientology Centre.
Ortega says Presley's lyrics ("You can think that I'm evil and I'm off the rails ... If I don't get with your system then I'm sure to fail ..I'm a bit transgressive and suppressive as well ... Am I a disruption to your corruption?") use the church's own terminology like "suppressive" in what he interprets as a kiss-off to the institution.
So is it?
"Right," she replies, gathering her thoughts. "Well sadly I am not discussing any kind of religion or politics while I am doing the promo."
Well, I am asking about the specific song on the record you are promoting ...
"I understand. But I don't typically discuss what I, personally, am writing about in my songs. I don't discuss what I write about and I don't discuss religion or politics. So there you have me backed in a corner ..."
Oh well, if the words aren't up for discussion, that still leaves the music and everything else surrounding the record. And, it must be said, Presley is otherwise an amiable interviewee with a self-deprecating sense of humour. Other than her PR minder laying down a time limit, no caveats come with what questions she will entertain.
Though she says she's already done her time - and had her fair share of Oprah specials - on her personal life, which was back in the spotlight following the death of Michael Jackson. She's tougher now.
"It's kind of easy to be honest. Just because I am out promoting a record doesn't mean I have to be assaulted with whatever in the process. In the past I've obliged and played along and answered silly questions but I feel that I have kind of paid my dues on that front so now for the first time with this music, I feel that it speaks louder than my life. Or it should. I hope it does."
Fortunately Storm & Grace, however you interpret the lyrics, is a fine album.
Whereas her previous albums had her sounding like a latter-day Melissa Etheridge, S&G is the sound of a 44-year-old woman with a spookily familiar voice singing bruised bluesy tunes of heartache over acoustic grooves and swampy guitars. Lisa Marie Presley was of course born in Memphis in 1968 (she still owns some property there at 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard. You may have heard of it ... ) and it sounds like this album was too.
Only it wasn't, really.
Much of the record was co-written during her time in Britain with a raft of British songwriters including former Pulp guitarist turned solo star Richard Hawley, Travis frontman Fran Healy and Ed Harcourt.
Did they find the Presley name intimidating?
"Not intimidating. I would say ... what is a good word? Intriguing maybe."
Those connections came via Lockwood, a musical anglophile, and her manager, Brit Idol impresario Simon Fuller. Once the demo songs were done, Fuller sent them to T-Bone Burnett, the American producer who has made Grammy-winning rustic gems out of albums by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Ryan Bingham and many more.
In some places, the record sounds close to the tumbleweed torch songs of k.d. lang; elsewhere it can remind of the albums of another Burnett regular, Sam Phillips - the singer-songwriter, not her early Elvis-producing namesake.
But even with Burnett and his supporting players on board, it seems it took Brits to bring out Presley's true American grit.
"Yes, but then again the English tend to understand American culture and music and history possibly even more than we Americans. I mean they respect it and they admire it and they have their own little take on it. So that is what they have to offer.
"That's great because people in the past have tried to get me to make a country record or a rootsy record and it was way too contrived and I just could never do it. It came naturally in England of all places."
Well, you might understand why a country record might have worked. Aside from that all-American trademark of a surname she has been divorced three times, after all, surely more than enough to inspire the songwriters-for-hire of Nashville's Music Row.
But Presley has the luxury of not having to make records for a living . Three albums in a decade isn't exactly prolific. Like her father, she's had her share of record company troubles.
"I was at another label before, that was really difficult getting off of, and I wasn't too enthusiastic about getting on to a new one after the previous experience. I was very weary and leery of anything. ... I really didn't have a plan, I was never in a hurry."
So why put yourself out there at all?
"Simple as it might sound I just consider myself a singer-songwriter. I enjoy doing that and I enjoy changing people's lives with music. And that might be too simple of an answer but that is the truth."
But do you think, with your music, that people will be ever get past the name and connections?
"I think so. You never know and I embrace where I come from and the legacy and what I am connected to. I am not trying to prove anything anymore. Maybe I was on the first two records, but not now."
What were you trying to prove on those? "Mostly probably protesting the expectation. Deliberately not doing anything that was southern or anything predictable or anything comparable because that would have been too much for me at the time.
"So I was just hiding behind a lot of production. I am not discrediting the songs because I wrote the songs but I was in a completely different place. I think perhaps I was addressing things more defensively and angrily out of feeling vulnerable and being way too hardcore about it."
With that, Presley's PR minder advises one more question. Best keep it simple.
"How's life? Really good. It's really, really, really good. I'm probably happier than I have ever been and it' s very good."
"Things have been pretty quiet. I've lived with the same person for nine years. I've got four children. I am putting a record out - otherwise it's quiet. For me especially. Because I have been unintentionally controversial for most of my life."
Who: Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis and Priscilla Presley; former wife of Michael Jackson (1994-96), Nicolas Cage 2002-2004); mother of four; singer-songwriter.
What and when: New album Storm & Grace out now.
-TimeOutBy Russell Baillie @RBaillieNZH Email Russell