Eliza Doolittle: A Pop Veteran At 22

Originally published on April 23, 2011 6:34 pm

Eliza Doolittle is already a big star in the U.K. The 22-year-old Londoner's self-titled debut has gone platinum there, and she's looking to take her soul-inflected pop music across the pond.

The daughter of Tony-winning actress Frances Ruffelle and playwright John Caird, Doolittle's stage name is a combination of her first name and a nickname that "just stuck."

"The first song I wrote was called 'Mr. Mysterious,' " Doolittle tells Weekend All Things Considered host Linda Wertheimer. "It was about an imaginary boy. It's quite silly, really. It's definitely a 12-year-old's song."

Doolittle was influenced by the R&B and pop stars she heard growing up, but she puts her own spin on things. She says "Rollerskate" was the first song for the album that she felt reflected what would become her own sound.

"I felt excited about it and felt like it was something different. It worked with my personality and really seemed to click," she says. "Everything I wrote after that was bearing that sound in mind. I knew exactly what I wanted to do after writing that song."

Doolittle isn't new at writing songs. She's been co-writing and producing since she was 13, flying between London and New York to write and record. She says the first few years were tough, but that starting young helped her become a better songwriter.

"I was still finding my feet, and I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do. But the more I experimented, the more knowledge I've gained," Doolittle says. "I'm really grateful that I started young, because if I started writing tomorrow, then I don't know where I'd be. It would take me years."

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(Soundbite of song, "Skinny Genes")

Ms. ELIZA DOOLITTLE (Singer): (Singing) I don't mind it when you brings out the best in me when you...


You're listening to Eliza Doolittle.

(Soundbite of song, "Skinny Genes")

Ms. DOOLITTLE: (Singing) ...when the night always ends with a fight I'm excited that you are the best in me...

WERTHEIMER: That's a track off her debut album, which came out this past week. Eliza Doolittle is already a big star in the U.K., which is where she's from. Her record is platinum there, which is not bad for a 22-year-old. She has a kind of girly pop sound with a few musical memories mixed in.

Eliza Doolittle, welcome.

Ms. DOOLITTLE: Hey. Thanks for having me.

WERTHEIMER: First of all, let me ask you about your name, Eliza Doolittle, the girlfriend of Henry Higgins. I know that it's a stage name, but why did you pick it?

Ms. DOOLITTLE: Well, Eliza's my name, and Doolittle was always a nickname. And I kind of held onto it for my music.

WERTHEIMER: Now, we want to play a track off your record, which is called "Missing," because it does one of the funny things that several of these tracks do. You mix in something that's familiar to me. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of song, "Missing")

Ms. DOOLITTLE: (Singing) Because I'm missing how you found me. I can't afford a bigger world but baby I'm reliable. I'll never go if you find me, find me, find me, find me because I'm missing how you found me. If anybody has a key to spare a little dream for me. I'll let it be that you find me, find me, finally found me. When I fall...

WERTHEIMER: Now, I actually remember that. I mean, I remember it. I remember dancing to it. You don't, being 22 years old.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DOOLITTLE: No. The first time I heard it was in the studio, so I didn't know the song originally.

WERTHEIMER: So what was the - why did you pick it?

Ms. DOOLITTLE: Well, I wrote the song with Craigie Dodds. And he'd already written the track already, and that sample was in it. And when I went to the studio, I heard the backing track of what he'd done, and I just started singing straightaway. And literally, the song was written in about 10 minutes and we just quickly popped it down on the microphone. And, you know, it just worked. It just felt right. And then afterwards, I was like, so, that's obviously a sample, right? And he was like, yeah, it's from the Fleetwoods. And we have to keep it on there. It has such a great sound to it.

WERTHEIMER: You did something similar in another track, which is called "Pack Up."

Ms. DOOLITTLE: Yeah. Well, there's no sample in "Pack Up," but the lyric is from an old war-time song from 1914.

(Soundbite of song, "Pack Up Your Troubles in your Old Kit Bag")

GROUP: (Singing) So pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile...

Ms. DOOLITTLE: And when we were writing the song, the lyric just came out and it seemed to work really well. We didn't actually clock onto the fact that it was that old song. And then when we realized, it just kind of didn't seem right to sing anything else. And then I got Lloyd, my friend Lloyd Wade, to sing on it, just to give it something different, I guess, and it worked really well. And everyone thinks it's a sample, but it's not.

WERTHEIMER: Well, let's listen to a little bit of it.


(Soundbite of song, "Pack Up")

Ms. DOOLITTLE: (Singing) ...open their mouth you gotta...

Mr. LLOYD WADE (Singer): (Singing) Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and bury them beneath the sea.

Ms. DOOLITTLE: (Singing) I don't care what the people may say, what the people may say 'bout me.

Mr. WADE: (Singing) Pack up your troubles get your old grin back don't worry about the cavalry.

Ms. DOOLITLE: (Singing) I don't care what the whisperers say 'cause they whisper too loud for me. Hot topic...

WERTHEIMER: You started writing songs when you were a little kid, is that right?

Ms. DOOLITTLE: I wrote my first song when I was 12 and just wrote and wrote and wrote after that, really, experimenting (unintelligible).

WERTHEIMER: What was your sort of early songwriting like, do you think?

Ms. DOOLITTLE: Well, I was - around that age, I was really into Destiny's Child and Usher and lots of pop, R and B music, and I was definitely influenced by that at that age. And I was writing songs just trying to be like Beyonce, basically. The first song I wrote was called "Mister Mysterious," and it was about a boy that I didn't even know. It was an imaginary boy, 'cause I was only 12. I didn't really know boys in that way at all.

WERTHEIMER: Can we hear a tiny sample of Eliza Doolittle does Beyonce?

Ms. DOOLITTLE: Yeah, okay. I'll give you a few bars.


Ms. DOOLITTLE: Okay. It goes...

(Singing) Mister Mysterious, that's what I call you. Your eyes, your lips, your face, so mysterious. You move, you dress, you smile, so mysterious, that's what I'll call you, Mister Mysterious.

WERTHEIMER: I see what you mean about Destiny's Child and the sort of general style like that. You had talent as a 12-year-old kid.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DOOLITTLE: Definitely a 12-year-old song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Now, I'm wondering, you know, you sound like somebody who's done this for a very long time. But obviously, you haven't been alive for a very long time, so that's not true. How do you - I mean, how do you account for that?

Ms. DOOLITTLE: Well, I know I haven't been alive for very long, but I have -like, I wrote my first song when I was 12, so I've been doing this for, like, 10 years now. And, I don't know. I think, you know, there is some experience there. And I'm really grateful that I started young because if I started writing tomorrow, then I don't know where I'd be. It would take me years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Well, thank you very much for talking to us.

Ms. DOOLITTLE: Thanks for having me.

WERTHEIMER: Singer Eliza Doolittle. Her debut album, which is also called "Eliza Doolittle," was released earlier this week.

(Soundbite of song, "Moneybox")

Ms. DOOLITTLE: (Singing) Don't need your moneybox 'cause I've got lots and lots of what I need right here, right here with you, my dear. Don't need the cash machine to make our days...

WERTHEIMER: And for Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. We're back on the radio tomorrow. Thanks for listening. Have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.