"I used the record as a vehicle to purge myself,'' the 35-year-old daughter of Elvis and Priscilla Presley explains by telephone from Los Angeles, where she resides with daughter Danielle, 13; and son Ben, 10 -- her children with first husband, musician Danny Keough, who remains a "best friend" and collaborated on "To Whom it May Concern."
"Everything's been music for me; it saves me. The songs are things I wrote to sort of get myself through stuff, but I never had any intentions of doing anything with it. But I'd gone through enough in my life and I was ready to let it go and let people know who I was through that (music)," she said.
Presley certainly has plenty to purge. A media presence since birth, she was just 9 and at Graceland when her father died in 1977. Her teenage years were marked by drug addiction, though she says a subsequent embrace of Scientology "grounded her."
Presley's marriages, meanwhile, were prime gossip fodder as well -- particularly her surprising 1994 matrimony to Michael Jackson, which included a long lip-lock at that year's MTV Video Music Awards and a surreal, defensive TV interview in 1995 with Diane Sawyer.
"It just was what it was," Presley -- who ended a three-month marriage to actor Nicolas Cage last year -- said of her 18 months with Jackson. "I wouldn't use the word 'regret,' but I don't have any more connection with it. I don't recognize it anymore, I'm so removed from it."
But she acknowledges that the 12 surprisingly frank and introspective songs on "To Whom it May Concern" were fueled by her assorted relationships.
"I couldn't not do that," she said. "It's intimidating as all hell, but I couldn't not do something I felt like I needed to do because of fear.
"And that's my personality, anyway. There's pretty much no filter. The melodies are me. The words are me. It's all me. It's sort of cathartic."
Despite numerous offers to record from the time she was a teenager, Presley didn't get serious about it until just a few years ago, after she recorded a posthumous duet on her father's 1969 hit "Don't Cry Daddy" that was never released. The experience led her to work with producer Glen Ballard, a hitmaker with Alanis Morissette and Aerosmith; they ultimately parted ways, but Presley began working with Capitol Records chief Andy Slater -- who produced her first single, "Lights Out" -- and onetime Tori Amos producer Eric Rosse, who guided most of "To Whom it May Concern."
The album sounds like a cross between Amos and Sheryl Crow, though Presley -- who claims musical influences such as Amos, Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Pink Floyd, Mazzy Star, Tracy Chapman and Jeff Buckley -- says she had no real model for what she wanted to sound like.
"I obviously go for the ambience thing in a big way," she explains. "It needed to be real, but I wasn't going for anything in particular. That's why it's not that consistent, style-wise; all the songs are different."
Presley -- who flashes a vintage, Elvis-style sneer in the video for "Lights Out" -- says she hopes to tour to support the album and wants to record again. She knows the family name creates a certain expectation and pressure; at the same time, she's willing to fight to be recognized as a performer in her own right.
"There are a lot of people who get into (music) for attention -- but it's not like I needed attention my whole life," Presley said. "I've had plenty to go around. This is real to me. This is my artistry, and this is how I want people to know me now."