Interview: Eliza Doolittle

Eliza Doolittle has injected the UK pop scene with a sense of fun. Nick Ahad spoke to her ahead of the Yorkshire date on her UK tour.

Adrian Mole, erm... nope, that seems to be about the only person whose teenage angst-ridden writing is worth a mention. And we have Sue Townsend to thank for him.

Mole, and now, Eliza Doolittle. The singer, who had a major hit last year with Pack Up, started her writing career at the ridiculously early age of 12.

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“Whenever people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I was older I would always say that I wanted to be a singer. When I was 12 I decided I would do something about it so I started writing songs,” says Doolittle.

She was 13 when she secured a manager and was 15 when she signed to Sony as an artist and even now, with a hit album behind her, she is still only 22.

“I think that if I hadn’t started when I was so young then it would have taken me a lot longer to get good at it,” says Doolittle. The London born and raised singer has certainly got pretty good at it, if her self-titled upbeat, unabashed pop album of last year is anything to go by.

While Doolittle stormed the charts with her album and the break out single Pack Up, she also won plaudits for a piece of work that celebrates the fact that it is what it is – a fun piece of pop.

“I was always into pop music, Destiny’s Child, songs with catchy music. Even when I was writing when I was younger it wasn’t all about expressing myself, it was just about making fun music,” she says. “I don’t mean that in the sense of it being bubblegum, I mean, I’m not mad about the music of bands like S Club 7, but I do like a great song that becomes popular. If people like a song, then I don’t see that as a bad thing.”

For the Londoner, with Lily Allen having exited the music scene, there appears to be a ready-made gap in the market which Doolittle might perfectly fill. She doesn’t think so.

Asked if she can compare to either Allen or other female acts breaking through the UK scene, Doolittle says that part of her appeal, she believes, is that she is different and has her own strong identity.

“Maybe it’s because I don’t fit in. My music doesn’t sound like other stuff that’s out there or being played on the radio,” she says.“I think that’s why people might take notice of me.”

People have been taking notice of the sweet voice of Doolittle since she was young. She can’t remember a time when she wasn’t singing: “It’s just something I’ve always done, all the time,” she says.

When she was 13 a friend’s older brother recorded one of her songs for Doolittle and the result became popular first among her friends, then her friends’ parents and the song found its way into the hands of a music manager who took her on. Being signed to Sony when she was 15 gave her a purpose and a reason to keep working on her songwriting.

“They hooked me up with lots of different people who I worked with and just tried to figure out what my sound was,” she says.

“As far as overnight success, I just don’t think that ever happens. I think that if you want to make it in this business, you have to work really hard. It never really happens overnight,” she says.

Having been around for a long time, Doolittle has clearly been well prepared for dealing with the pressures that fame and success bring. Today she is running late, the car and publicist sent by her record company to ferry her to a series of interviews has been stuck in traffic. When the car does arrive, Doolittle is anything but flustered, seeming to take everything in her stride.

It helps, she says, that she is surrounded by the same people she has always been with, from her management to her band.

It is with the band that she stops off in Yorkshire tonight, when she plays Leeds University, the only Yorkshire date in a tour that spans the UK to America and back for the summer festivals here.

“I did a few gigs last year, but they were much smaller and more intimate,” says Doolittle.

“It’s great to be out on a bigger tour like this – it’s exciting.

“Even though I wouldn’t say I’m sweet and innocent, I’m not exactly rock and roll. I leave the bad behaviour to the boys when we’re out on tour.”

Eliza Doolittle, Leeds University Union, April 1. www.leedstickets.com

The critics deliver their verdict on Eliza Doolittle...

Eliza Doolittle channels the bawdy confidence of Bette Midler, the innocence of Lily Allen and the down-to-earth tones of Dusty Springfield. – Crawdaddy Magazine

The hooks of Skinny Genes and Pack Up... feel as light as air, melting on your tongue. Admittedly, that also means that as soon as it is over it has disappeared without a trace. – Michael Hann, The Guardian.

Let’s start with the voice. It’s a beautiful, expressive thing: as if Eliza’s vocals were recorded just after waking and stretching from a dream-filled sleep. – Fraser McAlpine, the BBC.