Date: March 16, 2014
Lisa Marie Presley seems like someone who’d be good to sit down with and have a cuppa. Or even a glass of wine.
And not because she’s the daughter of one pop culture icon (Elvis) or the one-time wife of another (Michael Jackson), two facts that will be forever linked to her name and whatever profile is ever written about her and, fairly or not, give her some otherworldly quality.
No, it’s precisely because, even in a quick chat over the phone from one hemisphere to the other, she comes across as so down-to-earth, so grounded despite her remarkable life. Funny. Self-deprecating. A musician who knows she will always be judged because of who her father is, but does it anyway because that’s her passion. A mother with a fierce love for her four children. A woman who likes to cook and garden in her down time. Really.
When Lisa Marie Presley's not touring, recording or performing, she leads a bucolic life on an estate in East Sussex, in south east England.
When she’s not touring, recording or performing, Presley and her fourth husband, musician and record producer Michael Lockwood, lead a bucolic life on an estate in East Sussex, in south-east England, about as far away from the craziness of Hollywood as she could get.
It was a deliberate move to separate herself from that former world and create a sane, even-keel retreat. ‘‘I wanted to be normal. I’d been through a lot,’’ she says.
‘‘I’d experienced a lot of betrayal. Things around me which I thought were one thing, and they were another. It was too much. So we kind of went from ground zero. I just wanted to start over somewhere. I needed to get as far away as possible and get my head together. And I wrote the record and fell in love with it and we bought a house.’’
It’s a little intimidating interviewing rock royalty. The publicist has said the subjects of Michael Jackson and ‘‘religion’’, aka Scientology, are off-limits. Added to that, an earlier interview with Presley had been cancelled, because she was suffering from ‘‘food poisoning’’. But Presley, 46, thaws as soon as she’s asked how she’s feeling and happily puts the record straight on a break from rehearsals in LA.
‘‘Ha, I actually have this affliction that’s not serious, it’s not deadly or anything, Epstein-Barr virus, chronic fatigue syndrome. So I battle with that a bit, so I was kind of down and out for a couple of days but anyway, whatever. We’re manning up. I have a world tour! The doctor said, ‘You’re crazy’ and I said, ‘Yes I am but I’m doing it anyway’,’’ she says.
Storm & Grace, Presley’s third album, has been critically acclaimed as a ‘‘moody masterpiece’’ by Spinner.com and described by industry bible Rolling Stone as a ‘‘raw, powerful country, folk and blues collection that finds her embracing her Southern roots and family name’’. The Storm & Grace tour will see her perform in Australia, including Canberra, for the first time since 2006. She is playing small, mostly regional venues, starting at the Hornsby RSL on March 19. She doesn’t seem to have any pretensions about where she plays and has been grateful for the support for the album, including from the critics.
‘‘I’m always happy about that because I have so much against me. I’m always sort of, if you will, spitting against the tidal wave. That’s just purely my work and my art and my heart and it’s pure for me and it’s just music. It’s nothing ‘tabloidy’, it’s nothing sensational, it’s just what it is. And I always appreciate being acknowledged for my own work,’’ she says.
The inevitable question is how difficult was it following in her father’s footsteps? Her website recounts the story of Elvis catching her singing into a hairbrush in front of the mirror when she was three. Music was in her. She couldn’t resist its pull. It happened organically.
‘‘Yeah, naturally, since I was teeny- tiny. I always loved poetry, music, so I kind of just put them all together and that was that. It’s like therapy, a little bit for me, writing,’’ she says.
What music did she listen to growing up? ’’Oh my God, so much. My dad, obviously, he was the inspiration. Neil Diamond, Linda Ronstadt, Heart, Pat Benatar. I loved strong females. Joni Mitchell. Joan Baez. And then I got into heavy metal,’’ she says, with a laugh. ‘‘And then I got into country and I loved country music, as well.’’
But there’s no use asking her which song of her father’s is her favourite. ‘‘Oh there’s too many. There’s so many of them that I couldn’t say,’’ she says. Presley was nine when her father died in 1977. Her parents had separated five years earlier and she had relished any time she could get with Elvis, the dad, not the icon.
‘‘I remember everything. I spent a lot of time upstairs with him alone at Graceland, just being alone with him and spending every minute I could spend with him. I was the happiest I’ve ever been,’’ she says.
Presley has four children – Riley Keough and Benjamin Keough, now in their 20s, with her first husband, musician Danny Keough, and five-year-old twins Harper and Finley, with Lockwood, who she married in Japan in 2006. In between, she was married for two years to Michael Jackson in the mid-1990s and actor Nicolas Cage from 2002 to 2004.
Riley, 24, is an up-and-coming actor who will accompany her mother to Australia. She’s dating an Australian stuntman she met on the set of the latest Mad Max movie, Fury Road and is ‘‘completely smitten’’ with him, according to her mother. Benjamin will also meet up with her on another leg of the tour.
‘‘He does his own thing, he stays low-key. That’s kind of how he wants to be and I respect that. He’s my heart and he’s got me wrapped around his little finger. He can make me cry and laugh like nobody,’’ she says of her only son.
The children understand their roots, their famous grandfather, but don’t revel in the connection.
‘‘Riley is so independent, she wants to do her own thing, she stays low-key. Ben wants to stay low-key. They respect it, they love it, they admire it but they don’t go around gloating in it. They’re not like, ‘Hey, I’m Elvis Presley’s grandson’. They’re not like that at all. But they’re proud,’’ she says.
The twins will be with her on the tour too. That’s non-negotiable. ‘‘Absolutely. They are never far. The cubs are never far from the lion,’’ she says.
Presley has described herself before as a protective lioness of a mother and it’s clear the twins, born when she was 40, are adored.
‘‘Oh my God, they’re the cutest little things. They’re so full of energy. They just light up wherever they are, they just light up everyone. They’re just little beacons of light in everyone’s life,’’ Presley says.
‘‘In fact today, we were packing and I said, ‘OK, you can pick out two princess dresses because we’re going to be dragging them all over the world’. And Finley was like, ‘OK, but I need my crown and my earrings’. And she had to have her high heel shoes. She loves to run in high heel shoes. It’s so funny, she’s such a little girl. Harper is the same. They’re amazing.’’
She says it was difficult to fall pregnant.
‘‘We tried for two years. Two effing years,’’ she says. ‘‘And we had to go through all kinds of tests to find out what was going on. And then I found out my blood was too clotty and thick so I just had to inject myself with a blood thinner and it happened. It was a weird find. I had an amazing doctor, sadly she’s passed away, but she sent me in for the right tests and they found it and I just had to give myself a shot of blood thinner and it was all good. Both my grandparents had twins so it was on the cards.’’ (Elvis was a twin, whose brother was stillborn. Presley’s mother Priscilla has twin brothers.)
Presley’s girls are big fans of British cartoon Peppa Pig, which would be pretty hard to avoid in England.
‘‘Oh my God, Peppa Pig. And Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom. They love it. And In the Night Garden,’’ Presley says, with a laugh. ‘‘It’s kind of creepy [In the Night Garden], especially that little Upsy Daisy, she keeps kissing what’s-his-name, the little blue guy? Igglepiggle! She always has to kiss him, I don’t quite get that. Whatever.’’
Presley says Lockwood, also her musical director on the tour, is ‘‘the best dad’’.
‘‘He spoils them to death. He adores them. I knew he would be a good father, I knew the minute I met him. He doesn’t have a bad temper, he’s not intense, he’s so even-keeled and sensible and smart and caring and loving. They just adore him.’’
Despite being in England, she still travels often to the US where she can see her mother Priscilla, who was a frequent visitor to Australia and a favourite of the women’s magazines and inevitable guest on The Midday Show.
‘‘You know, I can’t keep up with her, she’s so busy, doing something or other,’’ Presley says. ‘‘I called her yesterday to invite her to rehearsals [in LA] and she was in Austin, [Texas]. I was in shock. I don’t know, she’s always busy, always out, always doing something.’’
It seems Presley has struck the right balance between fame and privacy, work and home life. She says it works by ‘‘coming in and out of it’’.
‘‘Not staying in the limelight. I don’t like to be in it. When I’m working, I don’t mind it or if I go somewhere. I like to do that and do my work and participate and I love engaging with the fans, but I also love to rest. That’s what my father did. That’s what Graceland was for him, his sanctuary.
England is where I go to get away and shut off. In England, I’m gardening and cooking. Things are normal. When I’m on the road, it’s a totally different story.’’
For that reason, among others, Graceland will always remain in the Presley family, a symbol not so much of the musical genius of Elvis but of the times the family, or at least father and daughter, were together alone, happy, not in the public glare. ‘‘Always. Never will that go away. Ever, ever, ever. Never has, never will,’’ Presley says, adamantly. ‘‘Rumours keep getting written about that all the time and I have to keep putting that fire out. But never. It’s always going to stay with us.’’