LISA MARIE PRESLEY
By Ken Sharp
Throw out all your pre-conceptions and dispose of the unyielding weight of those unfair comparisons to her father, Lisa Marie Presley is the real deal. Her new CD, Now What is a strong collection of immaculately crafted, emotionally charged songs that showcase Lisa’s distinctive smoky voice and display her uncompromising artistic vision.
Opening with the infectious “I’ll Figure It Out,” the album explores a myriad of naked emotions and intoxicating moods with standouts tracks including her incendiary cover of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry”, the naughty punk rave up, “Idiot” (featuring Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols on guitar) and the stunning elegiac ballad, “Now What.”
On her new album, Lisa Marie Presley is extending a giant middle finger to her detractors. Make no mistake, she’s doing it her way. Raw and real, Now What represents an impassioned and confident artist not afraid of letting you into her own dark world.
What was the first music that affected you on a personal level?
I grew up in the Seventies so that music is my favorite. A lot of singer/songwriters were having success back then and being played on the radio. That’s the time period of music that really had an influence on me. The music that had the most profound affect on me was Pink Floyd’s The Wall. From age thirteen until now, that never dies.
Did the alienation espoused in the lyrics of that record connect with you as a teen?
Yeah, completely, I was completely there. That album spoke for me like nothing else. The whole entirety of it too. I loved it. I loved “Hey You,” “Mother,” “Comfortably Numb,” all those songs. I loved that. It was recorded back then but it still stands the test of time. It’s still so powerful. It’s one of those albums that never dies.
The lyrics on your new album are very strong and expressive. What lyricists had an impact on you?
I’m a huge fan of Roger Waters lyric writing. Definitely the lyrics on The Wall, definitely Dark Side (Of The Moon).
Roger Waters wasn’t afraid to go to a dark place and you’re not either…
He was both literal and metaphorical. That was a huge influence on me when I think about it. Roger Waters’ writing really got to me. “Brain Damage,” all those kinds of songs. (recites Pink Floyd lyrics) “And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.” Things like that just got me. That’s the only kind of music that really affected me, impacted me. I like honest, dark music that‘s saying something. That’s your job as a writer. Music is some sort of communication. I think that’s the only kind of music that had a real impact on me. That’s the music I respond to and that’s the music that I write. The only subject that I was good at in school was writing. I used to be a serious writer growing up. I wrote poems, short stories. That’s when I’d be the happiest, when I could write. That was obvious at a young age.
Do you have to be unhappy to write?
No I don’t, I think that’s a misconception. I think you can go to the necessary place to purge something that’s on your mind. I don’t think that an artist has to live a dark life in order to paint a dark picture, in order to write a dark song. That’s a misconception that people fall into that you’re angry or dark or this or that. I say, no, this is what I felt about the subject at the time. I’m trying to capsulize it and make it universal for other people. I think people thought I was dark and moody for the first record. The irony of the whole thing is when I write all of these songs, then I really tackle it and look at it dead on and put it in a song and give it life in a song it resolves the whole thing for me. “Shine” from the new album is a really good example of that. I’m saying a lot without saying a lot. A lot of these songs on the album are about me tackling of the subject of, I’m kind of an outsider, and I’m not really part of anything. I’m not part of a clique, I’m not part of a pop culture. I’m not part of what people thought I should be before I was born or during or whatever. You name it. I’m not really part of any of that nor do I wanna be. There’s been times when I’ve been angry at that or when I’ve tried really hard. “Now What” is a vulnerable take on having tried and feeling like I failed.
At being something that I wasn’t or trying to do something that I was told I should do and it didn’t work out for me.
“Now What” resonates with a skeletal, Pink Floyd feel.
That song was about me having an anchor in my life and trying to be what everyone else was being. Then I tried it and I didn’t cut it. I disagreed with it. Then I felt like the outcast.
People wanting you to conform?
Yeah. To something, to an idea, to some thing. It’s very general, the subject matter could apply to anything. But for me personally I’m giving you an overview about trying to be apart of something that I really thought was the right thing for me to do and I didn’t do good at it. Maybe I compromised a little bit and did something under pressure or tried to do something that everyone was doing and were looked up to doing. But I couldn’t do it. It’s like, now you were there and now you’re not and what am I gonna do now? “Shine” is kind of the same thing on that subject but it’s kind of a more uplifting take on it, like, ‘Look, it’s fine. I’m okay at being what I am. I’m not beating myself up anymore for not following what everybody is doing or what I’m supposed to be doing.”
“Turbulence” has very pointed lyrics. Was it cathartic to write that song?
A lot of people around me like that song because they know who I wrote it about. It was one of those songs where I really nailed somebody. I really needed to get that out of my system. While I was on the road I kept writing lyrics because there was this particular person who had really raked me over the coals. I’m pretty good with having a bullshit detector and spotting where people are coming from. But this one slipped through the cracks a bit. I needed to get that out (laughs).
I saw one of your performances done to promote your first record where you were part of the Wango Tango Festival show at the Rose Bowl in front of over 90,000 people.
It was terrifying. That’s not my format playing with a lot of pop acts. I came out there with some really dark songs (laughs) and it wasn’t the deal there. I shouldn’t have been there.
From being a very private person to putting yourself in the spotlight in front of all those people must have been difficult.
I don’t think I really realized what I was getting into on that front. It was backwards for me. I had no real experience performing live so I had to find my way by doing things like that over and over again. It was a bit messy and thankfully I have different management now and that’s not gonna happen. I won’t compromise and throw myself into a situation that I can’t handle anymore. I did take them on because I figured if I have to prove myself I’ve gotta get used to it. That was kind of my attitude, you’re gonna have to just do it and deal with it.
That braveness, that strong sense of self, where do you think that comes from?
I think that Scientology has a lot to do with that. The fact that it’s a self-discovery. I’ve been doing it since I was nineteen. I was introduced to it when I was ten. That’s what I was doing in my twenties, and a lot of my thirties was making progress there in that religion.
Taking control of your life?
Yeah. Getting rid of things that aren’t so great and becoming more myself in doing that.
Knowing the pressure, unfair comparisons and high expectations that would be placed on you pursue a musical career, did that make your entry into music a tougher choice?
I think I naively went about writing. My main focus was I’m gonna try to break through this regardless and try to get my own fans and hopefully allow my music to affect others like it’s done for me in my life. I’ve got a strong fan base and I’ve gotten really great responses. I think I was really naïve at the beginning and didn’t know what mountain I was climbing because it is unfair and people do want to actually see you fail. And they’re overly critical. This album has been basically well received but there were a couple of personal shots taken at me by critics. That’s the thing. It has nothing to do with the music. You can tell that they have this preconceived idea of me. Even if there’s a compliment they’d had to make some personal jab. It wasn’t even about the music, it was about something else they already had in mind about me from my other career in the tabloids.
How do you get beyond it?
It’s one of those things where I like to say the term ‘spitting against the tidal wave’ because that really explains what it feels like. Honestly I think it’s the fans writing me and the letters that I get and when I meet them. I was doing an autograph signing in Canada the other day and this girl burst into tears when she met me and she said, “My father was murdered when your first record came out and your record got me through it.” And I completely lost it. I was like, this is why I do music. I think making that kind of difference with my music on a positive level is my ultimate goal. It scares me if my records are gonna well. I noticed that some people didn’t like it when the first record did well and they started coming after me. Campaigns were out on me later, completely trying to shoot me down because they didn’t like the fact that the record did good. That side of things is a sort of nature of the beast. Prior to that I think I dealt with it pretty well. That wasn’t happening so much. I think when there’s success they start to target you. (Laughs) I’m almost afraid for this record to do well because now what’s gonna happen?
What was the first rock show you saw?
Probably Queen. I think I saw them in 1978 or 1979 at The Forum. I remember bringing Freddie Mercury a scarf of my Dad’s and I gave it to him after the show. I loved it. I loved the theatrics. I loved Freddie. I thought Queen were awesome. I’m a big fan of theatrics. Like Marilyn Manson’s live show. I’ve seen him like eight times now.
How about KISS?
I never saw them live but I loved them when I was younger. We played on the same bill (Wango Tango Festival) but I didn’t see them play later. I wanted to get out of there when I was done. I did what I had to do and I ran out of there (laughs).
In the new book, Elvis By the Presleys, you speak about one of your favorite records growing up being “Sweet Inspiration” by The Sweet Inspirations, the female singing group that used to perform with Elvis. What about the Sweet Inspirations music appealed to you?
I loved the song “Sweet Inspiration.” They were like The Supremes then but they weren’t as high profile. I think they were underrated because my father snagged them at some point. Soulful music always impacted me. Gospel music. I just loved their voices and I loved that song. I think I had a little 45 and I played that all the time.
Years ago I interviewed David Cassidy and he told me that you visited the set of The Partridge Family TV show. There’s a story he told me about how Elvis called the set and spoke to David who hung up on him a few times because he didn’t believe it was actually him.
I was a huge fan of The Partridge Family. I was also a huge fan of The Jeffersons and Good Times, Sanford & Son, all those TV shows from back then. But I did love The Partridge Family and I did go to the set. They were in the middle of taping. I was probably three or four years old. I was told and I kind of have a recollection enough with this that I was comfortable enough with the show and comfortable enough with them and felt connected enough with them that I was sitting in my Mom’s lap, and I got up out of her lap and ran onto the stage while they were taping and I jumped into Shirley Jones’ lap. They had to stop the taping. I didn’t think they knew who I was yet. They just knew this little girl had took running and (laughs) landed in Shirley Jones’ lap. I loved “I Think I Love You.” In fact this record has got me singing that on “Raven.” The intro on “Raven,” the three-year old voice is me singing “I Think I Love You.” You hear my mom saying, “Sing it right” and I just thought that was funny. And the ‘ba-ba-ba-ba’ in the beginning is the intro for “I Think I Love You.” My mom would always tape me singing and send it off to my dad when he was on tour. So she’d have me singing songs into a tape recorder and she had that. She was getting mad at me and I was sort of pouting and then the song plays. And at the end she’s telling me to sing a line that I know is wrong so I’m arguing with her and I keep repeating, “No, it’s not that. It’s ‘I’ve got so much to think about, I don’t know what I’m up against.” I kept doing that and then I sing, “I Think I Love You” at the end.
You’ve said, “All true artists are natural rebels.” That sense of rebellion starts with your father and works it way through the Rolling Stones to the punk rock scene to others that would go against the tide. You seem to connect with that rebel instinct.
Yeah, I’m carrying the torch but it’s in my own way. It’s like what I said in my liner notes to my parents. We’ve all pioneered different roads. He had a huge road in the 1950’s it was very conservative and he shook everything up. That was a cross to bear and pissed a lot of people off and made a lot of people happy all at the same time (laughs). And my mom (actress Priscilla Presley of Dallas and The Naked Gun fame) has her own thing where she was a very young girl and was presented an opportunity where I don’t think many women have crossed or walked. And me, I am who I am and I’m doing my own music in my own way and developing my own fan base and going against what people probably think I should do and what I should or shouldn’t be.
You’re taking the road less traveled.
Exactly. So that’s my thing. That’s the sort of burden and cross that I bear. Then there’s the crucifixion part where ‘you’re not this or you’re not that’. One of the critics was giving me a compliment but was upset that I did a Ramones cover on the new album and not an Elvis song. You know what I mean? You know that going on.
Why did punk rock connect with you so strongly?
The punk rock groups were the most committed with what they were doing. That was so attractive to me back then. I liked the Sex Pistols, The Clash. I actually wasn’t that familiar with The Ramones until I made friends with Johnny (Ramone), believe it or not. I got a lot of lecturing and he made me watch Rock And Roll High School and listen to The Ramones compilation CDs (laughs) after we met. I dug it a lot. It’s a shame. When the Ramones were out there they didn’t get played, they never got a gold record. Even when I got on the cover of Rolling Stone, Johnny said, “You got on the cover of what?” he starts bitching at me, “Twenty years I was in the Ramones and we never got on the cover of Rolling Stone.” That’s the part that I relate to even more now. I didn’t a record of pop music and I didn’t do a record of Elvis covers and I didn’t superimpose my voice in with his which is what a lot of people wanted me to do.
“Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” by the Ramones is a hidden bonus track on your new CD.
Johnny picked that song. He told me he wanted me to do that song for the Ramones covers album. It didn’t work out timing wise, that would have came out before my first record. All I did last summer was write, do the record and go the hospital or go to his house. That’s how I spent my time up until the day he died.
Was Johnny proud of you?
He was true punk but he was like a father figure to me. He got very paternal with me. And there were a couple of times like when I was married to Nic (Cage) that he would say, “You used to be so low profile and I used to think that was really cool (laughing, what the fuck are you doing being all over the place? At all the premieres and you’re getting photographed all the time, what are you doing? That’s not cool. What you were doing before was cool.” I was like, I can’t help it that I’m with this person who has to make appearances and I’m with him. He picked “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” because he thought it would be good for my voice. And I thought he was crazy. He always would scare me by saying “Ramones songs sound easy but they’re not easy.” He made me freak out. I remember sitting with him in his living room and I told him that I was gonna do this cover. His eyes lit up and got this little mischievous twinkle that he was getting quite often towards the end there, only I brought it out or his wife, which was really funny. He got that little twinkle turn on and he looked at me and I said, “Okay, I’m gonna do it. I’m promising you now that it’s gonna go on the record.” Then I called him and I told him that I really want him to play on it. He said, “I will if I can sit down.” But the day we did the track was the day he died. I was supposed to go see him that morning because they were laying down the track and I had to listen and then I got the call.
So you got Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols to play on it.
Right. I was petrified to ask him. You want to talk about serious punk musos. Johnny wasn’t so thrilled about my first record. He liked fifties and sixties music and that was it and my dad. It was too complicated and there was too much going on for him. He didn’t like it. I played him “I’ll Figure It Out” first and he lit up. And he said, “Wow, this a lot better, this is really good.” It was the first time he gave me a compliment and I was like, “Wow!” (laughs)
The intro reminds me of The Cure.
Yeah, I’m a big Cure fan too. So then I wanted Steve (Jones) to play on “Idiot.” I was trying to be all cool and write a song that didn’t have a chorus because I thought honoring “I Wanna Be The Sedated”, which kind of just starts off with what is the chorus. I had “Idiot” but it had no chorus. Linda (Perry) came and write the chords and she left and I wrote the lyrics. I played it for these two, Johnny and Steve. I told Steve that I wanted him to play on it. These punk divas are sitting there and they are no bullshit when it comes to music. Johnny liked it but he looks at me and goes, “Lisa, you don’t have a chorus. What the fuck are you doing not writing a chorus?” I’m thinking I’m being all cool and trying to make it all punk with no chorus. He rips into me and I go (laughs), “Okay, okay”. And I start laughing. Steve told me he would take it with him and see if he would come up with some ideas. The next day I called Linda Perry back and said, “We need to write a chorus.” So she came and we sat with an acoustic guitar and she just wrote the chords with me and then left again and then I wrote the lyrics.
What instruments do you play?
I don’t play any really. I kind of dabble around. I used to play drums. I can play a little guitar but I don’t know what I’m doing. I go off of feel, I don’t go off of actual chords, Anytime anyone tries to teach me I go brain dead. And I used to play piano so I can dilly-dally around but it’s nothing serious.
Back in 1997, you did a video shown for an Elvis Tribute concert in Memphis where you’re doing a duet with your father on “Don’t Cry Daddy.” How did that come about?
I did that because I was tired of being some figure that just comes out, smiles and waves and leaves. I was asked to appear at the tribute concert. I said I’d come. I had this whole vision on this airplane. I think I was flying from New York to Florida and oddly enough I was in the bathroom (laughs) and I had this whole vision. I was gonna call David Foster and I knew the song. I was on the plane and I was thinking about it and I started getting emotional with of the idea. I definitely had that relationship with my fad where I felt a lot of pain and I knew that song would be very meaningful. I loved the song. I called David Foster and told him he needed to produce this thing for me, that it was only a one-time deal. I’m not selling it, I’m not selling out but I just wanted to do something for the fans that night that was something special. David said he’d do it. That was kind of the beginning of the whole deal. It was only done for the fans for that one night. Believe me, that could have been packaged and sold. It actually turned out pretty good I thought.
If I went through your record collection, what would I find?
It’s always playlists. It‘s everything from the Bee Gees to Marilyn Manson to Heart to Jim Croce to Gordon Lightfoot to John Denver to Pink Floyd (laughs) to Aretha Franklin to The O’Jays to Teddy Pendergrass. It’s all over the place. I always had diverse taste.
Unlike the Seventies music scene, music today is much more compartmentalized, there’s much less diversity on the airwaves.
It’s like Stepfordville right now. I think the big revolution is gonna be satellite because they play no commercials and they’re all over the place stylistically. That’s what I listen to, I listen to the Seventies station. It’s funny now ‘cause I was just thinking abut this big market now of people wearing old concert T-shirts, Cheap Trick, Pink Floyd, this one, that one, and everyone is sort of missing this time period where it was normal to hear a variety of music on the radio, this emotional music, this meaningful music. Music done by singer songwriters getting into the charts. I was shocked to be honest with you that I even landed in the top ten with my new CD. I couldn’t believe it. I immediately thought that this is a female rock record and (laughs) there’s no place for it right now. I really have no expectations and I was shocked that it landed in there. I was really happy about it but then I thought I landed at nine and I landed at five with my first album, and the critics are gonna think, “Oh it didn’t do as well.” But first of all, the charts and the music sales and all of that is different now than it was with the first record. And also the first record had a lot more radio support. We have no radio backup right now. They’re not really spinning the single. We mostly have done a TV campaign because we knew we weren’t gonna have radio. Radio is now slowly adding it. There was a lot of support with “Lights Out”, the first single on the first record but they kept playing it at pop radio, which is not my venue, which is not my place. It was shocking to me to make it into the top ten because this is an uncompromised record. Melissa Etheridge and I were bitching about it. She interviewed me for Interview magazine and she was like, “people keep asking me, when are you gonna put out another record?” because the last single that anybody played of hers was “Come To My Window.” And she’s put out five records since then. There’s just a lot of craziness going on and I really didn’t think I had a shot. I had like a couple of melt downs before thinking I was spitting against a tidal wave. I did know about the pressure of the sophomore jinx and the curiosity factor and it’s all never wracking. In the end I did hope that the music would stand out and speak for itself.
When did you realize you had a good voice?
I don’t know that I even have a good voice to be honest with you. What I can do is I can emote really well. My voice has got its own thing, it’s either gonna hit you right or it’s not gonna hit you right. I have an ability to emote and it’s not necessarily technically a good voice. I realized I could do that and be emotional and use my voice to deliver my emotions in whichever way I needed to. I probably just realized that when I did a cover of “Baby, I Love You” by Aretha Franklin when I was twenty-one years old. I was really into that. I was black on that one. It never came out. I was just seeing if I could sing. So I went in and covered that one, which is not easy and I thought, “Okay, some people thought it was black when they heard it ands that’s a really good sign.”
Were you the kind of person who sang in front of a mirror growing up?
Always. I always had a tennis racket, which I used as a guitar and I’d have some kind of crazy microphone whether it would be a bottle of lotion or whatever the hell I could grab. I was doing that since I was two or three years old. But I sort of suppressed my interest in singing. I would sort of dabble and go take voice lessons and just do scales, which I don’t think did anything for me. I feel more comfortable singing live now. I’m much better at singing in public than speaking in public, like at the Grammys. That flipped me right the fuck out (laughs). I thought why am I here? I can’t talk at the podium. I find singing more comforting.
Do you consider Now What a success in the fact that you created a record of no compromise or do you judge it on commercial terms or how it affects listeners?
For me, it’s the letters I got and the response that I got from fans inspired me to do a second record. I thought if I was affecting these people’s lives then I would continue, and it’s worth of month of having my ass out in the press when the record comes out and all the critics. For me to be able to do that in the end is sort of what I focus on and my other thing was as long as this record is better and as long as I’m growing I’ll continue do music. A long time ago when Robert Hilburn was interviewing me I asked him, “Do you think they’re gonna rip me apart?” He said, “Not long ago people used to have a career. They out a few records and then one breaks.” You don’t really have that one now. The attention span of the industry is that of a lizard. It’s like box office. It depends on how much it makes and then it’s out of everybody’s mind. It’s like with U2. They had records before they broke huge. It’s not like that anymore. All I can hope for in the writing and recording of these records is that I’m building a fan base. Each time I’m getting better, I’m not getting worse. I want to feel like I’m growing and getting better all the time. I’d rather have a career like Radiohead. They have a strong fan base and they occasionally get played on the radio but mostly they have a lot of fans and they kind of quietly go about their business and do their thing.
Your first single is a cover of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry.” Do you think the tabloid mentality is worse now than when Henley’s song came out in the eighties.
Yeah, It’s a bloodbath now. It’s a fucking bloodbath. It’s so bad like for instance my record comes out and it lands in the top ten, it’s all good everything is good. I went to the in-store CD signing for the record and showed up in a gas station attendant outfit for the signing. All that was covered by magazines like US Weekly was rip on the fact that I wore a gas station attendant outfit to this thing. That’s all they paid attention to. That’s just a stupid minor little example of where we’re at. The record comes out, it’s a good record, it lands in the top ten. No, none of that. It’s a good thing that female rock record got into the top ten. Again, none of that. I chose to record “Dirty Laundry” because that’s the nature of way things are right now. It’s not just even my own personal life, it’s just anybody’s and the irony is doing all this press in the U.S. It was really refreshing to go to Canada because they’re so into the music. They’re not as sensationalistic and I was shocked. When I was here doing all the interviews and I was explaining “Dirty Laundry” and they agreed with what I was talking about. It’s the shows we watch, it’s what we focus on, people being celebrities for no good reason right now. We’re focusing on these pretty Barbies and whether they’re fat or thin or tan or who they’re with. It’s kind of the way things are and then the irony is they use something I said that’s more on the sensationalistic side and use that as the story.
Choose a few songs you wish you wrote.
I’d say “Lover You Should Have Come Over” by Jeff Buckley. I’m a huge Buckley fan. I never saw him live but I saw the DVD. I love that song. Oddly enough, “Shadowboxer” by Fiona Apple, that’s one I fuckin’ love. The Bee Gees were amazing, God those boys are talented. Still to this day if anyone breaks out any of their songs I go crazy. Everyone goes crazy. I also love Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” or there’s one John Denver song that just kills me.
Lastly, you and your mom picked the songs that comprise the new Elvis By the Presleys CD. How about selecting a few songs by your father that resound strongly on a personal level?
I love “How Great Thou Art” ‘cause that’s what I was around for. I love the earlier stuff, too. I was around and watched him record it and went to all the shows in the seventies. There’s a song called “It’s Over” that killed me. There’s a song called “Mary In the Morning” that I just love. There’s some obscure ones that were never singles. “Separate Ways” wasn’t paid nearly enough attention to as it should have been. It’s really beautiful. I love “Just Pretend,” that killed me. I also love “You Gave Me A Mountain” too.
|#1 © 2005. Courtesy of Capitol Records. All rights reserved.|
|#2 © 2005. Courtesy of Capitol Records. All rights reserved.|
|#3 © 2005. Courtesy of Capitol Records. All rights reserved.|
|#4 © 2005. Courtesy of Capitol Records. All rights reserved.|
|#5 © 2005. Courtesy of Capitol Records. All rights reserved.|
|#6 © 2005. Courtesy of Capitol Records. All rights reserved.|
|#7 © 2005. Courtesy of Capitol Records. All rights reserved.|
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 18, 2005.