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Lisa Marie Presley on the Business of Elvis, Taking a ‘Breather’ at Graceland: ‘It’s a Special Place’

Lisa Marie Presley has ensured that the musical lineage in the family did not stop with her father, releasing three strong albums, the last of which to date was 2012’s T Bone Burnett-produced “Storm and Grace.” She’s been through a lot of both those qualities as his inheritor, literally as well as musically. Variety caught up with her on the eve of the 40th anniversary Elvis Week in Memphis, finding out how she maintains her own personal experience of Graceland amid the storm of tourists flooding her childhood home.

At the 35th anniversary concert during Elvis Week in Memphis, you did a duet with the video image of your father on “I Love You Because.” For the 40th anniversary this week, are you able to participate in Elvis Week at all, or have you got too much going on?
No, this time, I’ve had way too much going on. I sadly and unfortunately won’t get the chance to do anything upcoming. But that’s kind of going with the territory right now. I’m just sticking with what’s important on, and what I have to be focused on right now. (Presley is currently involved in divorce proceedings.) So I didn’t get a chance to do that, which I am really bummed out about, but it is what it is. I’m not part of it this week, but I will make an appearance again at some point.

Years ago you were reported to have sold off 85% of the estate, while keeping veto power on key things, and you kept Graceland, separate from that deal. Do you like to participate in the business of things, or are you happy relegating that?
I am not involved in the day-to-day stuff, but the important decisions I’m definitely a part of. Not that the day-to-day is operation is not important. But major decisions, I’m there… [And] the fact that Graceland is still mine is still a factor. The expansion is something that we’ve been planning for quite a while, so it’s good to see that it’s actually happening. The hotel is something that we’ve been hoping for for a very long time. You know, we have to move along with the times here and go with expanding as much as possible. We are able to do that now, which is exciting.

As much as the public gets nearly free rein to explore at Graceland, there is the legendarily off-limits upstairs. That was your domain as a child, and we’re always told it’s relatively unchanged since the ’70s. Is that a place you’re able to actually sneak into and be nostalgic about?
Oh, yeah, of course. [Before moving back to Los Angeles] I lived in Nashville before last year, and I would frequently… well, not frequently, but sometimes I’d just go there and go upstairs and stay there for like three days and not come down. (Laughs.) I would stay up there when I was needing a breather sometimes. So yeah, I uphold that, in my mind, as this place where he would rejuvenate and sort of get his bearings, and I kind of started to go there for the same thing, at some point. It’s a special place. I’d lock the door and I was completely safe. There’s a feeling like that there that I could never get anywhere else… Fortunately I can re-create as much as I want to kind of that feeling — I mean, the vibe where I’m left alone, and I can kind of just roam around. For my little ones and my oldest children, we go there and I’ve made sure that they still have that. It’s important.

Do you have a favorite record or favorite movie of your father’s?
I love the ’70s era of music, mostly because I was there for that. And as far as the movies go, I’m very partial to “Love Me Tender” and “Jailhouse Rock.” I love those. I enjoy them all, but those are the ones I sort of feel he was really able to show his acting the way he wanted to at that time. I know those were kind of his favorites, too, for the same reasons, so I kind of feel the same way.

On your first album, you had songs like “Lights Out” and “Nobody Noticed It,” material that referred back to your lineage and commented in pretty interesting ways on your experience with family and people around the family. By the time you made your third album with T Bone Burnett, you weren’t referencing that so much. Any thoughts about making a fourth album any time soon, and if so, anything you might gravitate toward writing about?
Well, yes, I’m champing at the bit to get writing again. And as soon as I’m able to do that, I’m going to. Always when I write, inevitably, it’s autobiographical and whatever is on my mind — which is a lot right now! So, it’ll be interesting, that’s for sure. It won’t be boring.

Around the time your first album came out, you were quoted as saying, “That’s what he was to me as a child: this huge, electrifying powerful, grand, beautiful presence.” It was a beautiful thing to say. But do you relate to him the same way as an adult as you did as a child, when you have a lot more time to reflect? Does what you focus on about him change from year to year? Or does that childhood adoration of a grand, beautiful presence get locked in forever, and nothing can change that?
I think it gets locked in forever and nothing can change it. And then, on the other side, I’m going through what I’ve dealt with, and I know what he’s gone through, and the older I get, the more I can relate to the obstacles that he had and the trepidations that he had. I can relate to them more, way more. I understand more as I get older. He was quite young [when he passed away]. So I can’t say I knew a whole lot at 42, or that I know a whole lot now. But what I know is that I don’t know everything. I know that he went through a lot, and… I always have that sort of in my head. It’s always there.

So that empathy with the obstacles he faced has grown for you as you’ve faced similar things in your life?
Yeah. And then wishing… (Pauses.) I know that, if he were alive, some people would have 150 bullets between their eyes. (Laughs.) You know? And that’s this luxury that I lost, in terms of him being very protective with me. When I was little… I was at a friend’s house one time, and a neighbor said something to me mean about him, and I was so upset that when I went home, I told him. And literally he asked the address and got in the car and he drove to that woman’s house. I don’t know what he said; I don’t know what happened. But I know that he always had my back. And that sort of ceased; I never had that again. So, there are times, I will say, that I really do wish that he were around, because… You’re never not sort of vulnerable. And in trying moments, there are times where I just feel like whoever I’m referring to would have been dead a long time if it were up to him and if he were around, you know?

Do you feel lie you’ve been able to return that kind of protectiveness that he had for you, by being one of the keepers of his estate and legacy, making sure his image is handled the right way?
Oh, of course, yes. But mostly I feel like: Don’t look at me. Just look over there at him.

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