It is almost impossible not to smile when talking to Eliza Doolittle. Her voice has that open and inviting quality that makes her feel like an instant friend. The pretty English songbird was born Eliza Sophie Caird in Camden, London. Her father is a stage director and playwright, and her mother is an actress who specializes in musical theater (she won a Tony award for her part in Les Misérables). If that is not enough bohemian creativity for you, her grandmother is Sylvia Young, the founder of a London-based theater school of the same name (famous alumni include Amy Winehouse and Emma Bunton). With a pedigree like that, it is hard to imagine Eliza doing anything other than performing on a stage. As a child she had a strong interest in theater and following in her parents’ footsteps but she realized that her heart was with music and decided to pursue it wholeheartedly instead.
It has been three years since Eliza’s debut album, Eliza Doolittle, and it is safe to say the hiatus has only been good for her. Her first album was pop driven and helped Eliza surge onto the British music scene where she was quickly labeled as “the new Lilly Allen.” However, this time around, the London native has three more years of life experience under her belt and it seems like she has found her true sound. Her voice is smooth and powerful as it glides over the emotional ballads that carry In Your Hands. She was relaxed as we talked about her new album, her influences and even her past relationships— a topic that not many people are willing to discuss. Pigeons & Planes spoke Eliza on the phone a few weeks before her album was released.
Are you excited about your new album coming out?
It is very exciting. We just got the master in a continuous web file recently. It is really cool listening to the whole thing all finished like that. It is really getting my blood bubbling! It’s exciting.
How is In Your Hands going to be different from your debut album Eliza Doolittle?
It is really different actually. I think that when I was younger— I mean, I wrote the first album when I was younger and I had not really experienced anything at that time. I like to think that I have learned something since then and that I have been through some real life and that I have written about it. I think that it really shows lyrically and also musically. I am really trying to step my game up and I think you always try with each album to grow as an artist and I really hope that I have this time.
What have you learned about yourself since making this album?
A lot of things! I think I’m a bit of an anal perfectionist and someone recently told me to just let go a little bit. I am a huge control freak and it has definitely got the best of me sometimes so that piece of advice has been truly helpful. Now I am just trying to go with the flow a little bit more and try not to be so crazy about every tiny detail. You just have to let things be. I’m trying to listen to that a little more.
Is it working?
I think so! I mean, I’m sure lots of people would relate to me and are like me in that way. That when you put your all into something you want it to be perfect.
Are there any special features or guests on this album?
It is just me on this whole album. I decided to keep the collaborations outside of my own record for now and it has been really fun.
We just started vibing to all our favorite old school garage records and then sat and wrote “You & Me” in one day.
Speaking of collaborations how did your song with Disclosure come about?
They work with a guy called Jimmy— I call him James because I have known him since I was a little girl. I have worked with him since I first started writing songs when I was much younger. He lived a few doors from me and had a bedroom studio so I would knock on his door and make him record my songs for me [laughs]. He was the first person to produce my writing and we have worked together ever since. When he started working with Disclosure they asked him if we could do a track together since they knew that [James] and I knew each other. So James asked if I was up for it and we went into the studio together. We just started vibing to all our favorite old school garage records and then sat and wrote “You & Me” in one day. They already had the backing track done, I think it was pretty much almost finished by the time they presented it to me that day actually. So I just wrote my part and recorded it the same day and that was it really.
Where do you get your music inspiration and influence from?
Well, I think my last album has more of a retro sound and feel. My new record is on a different vibe. I definitely have a lot of older styles that influence my music like Stevie Wonder or Carol King… I just like good music! If you named anyone that was good I would probably be into their music.
I read that you went through a difficult breakup as you were starting to write this album. How will it be reflected on the album?
Well, I think the break up definitely spurred on some stuff inside myself that I think would have been otherwise left alone. The album goes on a journey from when I was with someone else and then also to when I was on my own and then when I met this new person and was in love. There is a love song on the album called “Walking On Water” and it goes from that end of the spectrum to the end of the relationship which definitely triggered some things in me. The songs definitely, obviously, have to do with how my heart felt at that time and then there are also some songs that tell more about the outcome of things that I learned from it all. When you have a connection with someone and then lose it, it is going to be painful. It is fair to say that it is not a breakup record [laughs] because it has a mixture of elements from a whole journey, do you know what I mean? But there are definitely prominent songs on the record that were triggered by the breakup.
Tell me about how you got your stage name Eliza Doolittle. Does the name come from being a big My Fair Lady fan by any chance?
Kind of actually. The drama teacher at my first school used to call me Eliza Doolittle, her name was Mrs. Harper, and my mum used to call me Eliza Doolittle as well a little bit. I was named after a character from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the book, but my mum always loved My Fair Lady and she said that my name was inspired partly from that as well. It was just a childhood nickname at first. It just kind of rings on people’s ears, when they hear my name they remember it. But I think I will just be Eliza eventually, I think I have to find my own thing and I don’t want to steal someone elses forever. I like it though and I like that people recognize it.
You come from a family that is heavily involved in the theater, did you ever want to be an actress?
I loved drama classes and acting when I was younger. I used to go to Saturday acting classes as well, I really loved it. But I remember sitting down and making a decision when I was about twelve and I said to myself that I have to do one or the other because I didn’t think I could be a jack of all trades. Not that I really knew what a jack of all trades was at age twelve but I just knew that I had to focus in on one of them and I just could not imagine giving up singing. I loved it so much. Even now though a lot of singers go into film and acting and I definitely would do that I reckon, it would be really fun. I wouldn’t rule it all out but I think that music is definitely my priority.
I think that if you have that type of creative energy whether it is acting or singing— I reckon that there is something in you that can do the other types of performance because you are used to putting yourself out there and you are already a performer. You put yourself in touch with feelings that are within yourself and maybe you want to put them out there and maybe you don’t but I think that actors, singers and other creative people all have something in common. When you sing a song that you wrote you relive those moments that you felt when you first wrote the song. I think actors feel the same when they are acting out something emotional, they feel the same feelings as when the piece was written. Some actors might have to act out a position in a film that they have never been in but I’m sure they can dig somewhere inside of them to find those feelings. I don’t know, but I think that is why some people feel that they can do both because those feelings are already in their system and they want to express them.
I think that if you have that type of creative energy whether it is acting or singing— I reckon that there is something in you that can do the other types of performance because you are used to putting yourself out there and you are already a performer. You put yourself in touch with feelings that are within yourself.
Changing gears a bit— are you planning on going on tour soon to follow up the album?
Well, I haven’t got anything planned yet because I think we are just going to release the album and work it. I mean, I am doing some promo stuff of course. Wherever calls me I will head to I guess. I just want to perform and try and get my music heard.
How do you like to spend your time when you are not making music?
Well, I have a big family and I like to catch up with them and my friends. I am a huge box set DVD lover. I don’t really watch TV but I like to get all of the box sets in one go and completely just watch a whole show hour after hour until I have gone through the whole series. I like football—soccer! I like English football a lot, I support a team called Arsenal.
I’m the same way with TV. Are you watching anything good right now?
I am watching Arrested Development right now, it is so hilarious! I hate that there is only one season though!
Just a couple more things before we go. I notice that a lot of British singers tend to hide their accent or tend to sound more American when they sing but you embrace your accent. What do you think about singers that hide it?
I have noticed that as well. I don’t really mind it but I do think some people from different parts of the country have picked up more “Americanisms” with your movies and music being popular over here. For me it is so important to just be yourself and I would never feel comfortable singing in an accent that wasn’t mine but I also listened to a lot of American music growing up so I bet I do have a few little inflections without realizing it. I say things like “’I gotta go and do this’ rather than ‘I got to go and do this’,” do you know what I mean? But then I will sing another word and it will sound so English.
Speaking of being yourself you have a pretty unique sense of style, what are some of your favorite pieces?
I’m going though a bit of a kimono phase at the moment! I have my kimono on right now actually. I just go through phases of liking things and then I am on to the next thing. For me it has always been whatever I feel comfortable in, I like having fun with my style and I like feeling like me!