Posted by Scott Kearnan
January 10, 2014
If he was trying to make his mark in the music world today, would Elvis Presley have needed American Idol?
"I would hope not! But it does kind of seem like we're heading that way in the world today," answers the legend's only daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, when I ask her about the current state of the music industry — where success increasingly seems reserved for stars with the biggest media blitz and strongest PR team, not the most talent.
Four years ago Presley relocated to rural England, and says that country's curiosity and respect for history — including musical heritage — was part of its appeal. "I don't know if people really know where anything started anymore, or how it began, unless it's on American Idol," she says. "Which is not to discredit American Idol. It is what it is. But it's funny to me that sometimes other countries really appreciate what we've exported more than we do."
And in fact, though she's direct descendant of the King of Rock and American music royalty, it took that move to England to inspire 2012's Storm and Grace, the Memphis-born crooner's most Southern, roots-y, downright swampy album yet. She kicks off this year's supporting tour tonight at 9 p.m. at the Verve Crowne Plaza in Natick. (tickets are $20 or $150 for a meet-and-greet, available here.)
"I just wanted the freedom to get away from everything and do what I want to do, be who I want to be. It led me back to this," says Lisa Marie Presley of the eight-month trip during which she wrote the album, her third and most lauded. "I just allowed what I was feeling to happen, and it came naturally. It wasn't manipulated to be roots-y in some contrived way."
Eschewing the post-millennium power pop-rock of her two previous records, Storm and Grace is a slow burn: an organic, haunting stomp through a bayou thick with rumination on love, loss, (cautious) hope and disenchantment. Her evocative, textured voice spins out self-written songs that are autobiographical or about those closest to her. "Close to the Edge" is about someone in self-destruction mode, "How Do You Fly This Plane?" offers solace to a friend who lost a child, and though she won't discuss her history with Scientology or her rumored split from it, she will offer that the lyrics to the song "So Long" are "pretty self-explanatory":
This here is a city without lights
Those are all the people without eyes
Churches, they don’t have a soul
Soup for sale without a bowl
Religion so corrupt and running lives
Farewell, fair weathered friends
I can’t say I’ll miss you in the end
On the other hand, writing the album in England did make Presley miss the country-tinged music that is at her core, and that she was surrounded by as a little girl growing up at Graceland. "For some strange reason I started to appreciate it even more being far away from it," says Presley, who recalls listening to her first 45s on a small blue record player in her bedroom. (When she wasn't having late night chats with dad.) "The English are very traditional and love their history. But they love our history too and sometimes I think they even know a little more about it than we do. They appreciate what we've exported. Look at a band like Led Zeppelin: they were hugely influenced by country music and the blues."
Though she delved deep into Americana sounds for Storm and Grace, there's one thing Presley didn't consider: what her dad would think of her music. "I can't think about it. I go into songwriter mode, and I have to stop thinking about every other thing in the world," says Presley. "I can't go there, or anywhere else. There are too many ways my thoughts could go."
One place she does still go is her former childhood home. She says she visits Graceland three or four times a year, turning the country's other famous white house back into home, sweet home. "In a world where everything gets knocked down or changed, I'm very lucky to be able to have this place that is always the same that I can go to. Most people don't have that."
And though history and roots are important to Presley, she's also welcoming change. I find that out as I ask her about New Year's resolutions; she has too many to pick.
"I'm a little overwhelmed, I have so many changes I want to make," she laughs. "I need to map it out and get back to you. Or maybe just hit Control-Alt-Delete."