Friday, April 29, 2011


Pack Up Your Troubles:

An EXCLUSIVE Interview with


By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     First things first: Eliza Doolittle’s self-titled debut album is about as enchanting as an album can get. Filled with charm, wit, intelligence and hooks galore, it’s no surprise that this platter has taken the UK by storm. It’s the most uplifting album you’ll hear all year, but it’s not lightweight. And if things go as they should, by the end of 2011, Eliza should have many other countries under her spell.
     This young British singer/songwriter has been one of the hottest musical properties in the UK since her single “Skinny Genes” was released in April of 2010. By July of that year, the album was making it’s way up the charts and by the end of the year, she had her biggest hit single (so far) with the magical “Pack Up”.
     Now, after a long wait, Eliza has just released that very same self-titled album here in the States and it’s already causing quite the stir. It’s nearly impossible to ignore the album’s confidence and charm. There’s enough great tunes on this album to attract Pop fans’ interest, yet she also has enough street cred to keep the Alt-Rock/Pop crowd satisfied. She’s nothing like the artists she’s commonly compared to (Lily Allen, Kate Nash, Amy Winehouse, Duffy), yet if you enjoy those artists, you’ll love Eliza. Even if you don’t care for those artists, you’ll love Eliza.
     A day before her 23rd birthday and her debut appearance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Eliza dropped by the office to play a couple of tunes and, most importantly, to have a chat with our very own Stephen SPAZ Schnee, the man who knows too much yet so very little…

SPAZ: Now that the album is ready to drop in the U.S., how are you feeling about your musical journey up to this point?
ELIZA DOOLITTLE: Amazing! I mean, obviously, I know I’ve got a lot of hard work to do and I’ve got to try and spread the word… I know it’s a difficult one (the U.S. market) because of how big it is, but so far, things have been going amazing. I can’t believe we’re doing Jay Leno, we’ve just done Austin and South By Southwest, and we’re going to do Coachella… I’m really happy to be getting the opportunity. It’s been really nice so far but I know that there’s a lot more work to do.

SPAZ: The album is filled with intelligently written and arranged pop songs that show a lot of depth and soul. Are you happy that they’ve connected with so many people? You’ve already got a few hits under your belt and there’s plenty more to come…
ELIZA: Obviously I’m happy. I’m not complaining (laughs). I’m loving it! I didn’t know for sure whether it would connect… obviously, you have NO way of telling. But the minute that the album came out, it did so well in the chart… I didn’t even know that people knew who I was, to be honest. It’s such a nice surprise. It was definitely a bit of a shocker. I didn’t really think it would do as well as it’s done in the UK and a couple of other countries.

SPAZ: It’s been a year since the album’s first single, “Skinny Genes”, was released. Have things changed much for you since then?
ELIZA: Things obviously got much busier. I think around that time is when it started getting really busy and it’s been non-stop since then. I had some time off at Christmas, but it’s been busy every day, basically. I had a day off the other day, which is nice, but that’s really rare. At the same time, I like working and while I’ve got this opportunity to get my music heard, I’m going to do everything I can to get it out there.

SPAZ: With such a great selection of tunes, how difficult has it been to pick and choose the singles? When I first heard “Pack Up”, I knew it was magic, but the whole album sounds like wall to wall hit singles…. And usually, an album has the big hit as the first cut, but “Pack Up” is buried deep in the album!
ELIZA: (laughing): The only reason why it’s so far back is that I didn’t even think it was a single! I was so close to the songs, I have no idea which ones are the best, so I just thought I’m going to pass this one over to the label. I don’t know what is the best or the most “radio friendly” or the “big hit”. I just love them all and, to me, it’s just an album. I’ve never been about the singles. I’ve always been about making a great record, a whole album. I thought it doesn’t matter which one comes out. I’m gonna let them do what they do best and pick which one. And by that time, it was already track 11 on the album. I’ve got no perspective on what the big hit would be at all.

SPAZ: You’ve got an amazing selection of collaborators on the album including Greg Kurstin, Craigie Dodds, Jonny $ and many others. With these collaborations, where do the songs usually start? Do you bring the initial ideas and they flesh them out…. Or is it different with each song and collaborator?
ELIZA: It’s always different. I wrote with Craigie first… and Johnny $, who passed away, unfortunately, while we were still making the record. Craigie and Johnny, we wrote “Rollerblades” together, the first song where I really felt like I’d found my sound. And then there’s a song called “So High” on the record, too, that I wrote with Jimmy Napes, who I’ve written with since I was 12 and I’m still writing with him, that one was written before “Rollerblades”, but that just managed to fit in because it fits into the album quite well. But “Rollerblades” was the one that I really thought was something new and I hadn’t heard it before and this is ME. I’d been experimenting with music for years and I was so happy to find that with Craigie and Johnny. So I carried on working with Craigie a lot, and Johnny, sometimes, when he was feeling good enough to work, and, basically, we’d written a few songs, probably about 6 or 7 songs we really loved. So when I would work with anyone else, it was easy because I would just tell them what kind of thing I wanted to do. They had their songs; they could see the project as a whole and see the vision with me. After that, it was really easy. Sometimes, they’d make a little beat or track and I’d write to it, or sometimes, I’d come with an idea and we’d build from scratch. Something could start with a guitar or piano… we’d build it from anything, really.

SPAZ: There’s a plethora of influences on this album, especially classic Soul music. Were you exposed to a lot of different kinds of genres growing up?
ELIZA: My mum and dad both didn’t have much influence on me musically, because my dad just listened to classical music. My mum kind of listens to whatever’s in the charts or musical theater… I wasn’t into what they were into as much. I kind of found my own music that I was into, whether it be friends talking about things in school… or whether it was my big brother, who used to play me UK Garage a lot, and I was really into that growing up. I loved Pop/R&B records like Destiny’s Child and Janet Jackson… that was when I was like 10 or 11, 12 years old. Before that, my mum said I was obsessed with Michael Jackson. I used to play this one video, I think it was a live video from his Bad album, over and over again. As I grew up, I got into loads of different music. I went to a new school and everyone was into Rock music there. I was hearing it all the time. I got into Radiohead, Ben Harper, Jeff Buckley… and I remember hearing Prince for the first time at that school as well, who I now love to bits. I used to listen to a lot of old songs as well: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Carole King... I love Joni Mitchell. Anything with ‘soul’ and great songs. People just being honest and spilling their heart out… I just love it.

SPAZ: Do you remember the exact moment when you realized that you wanted to make music for a living?
ELIZA: I don’t remember a specific day, but I remember it being on my mind a lot. I used to do a bit of drama: I love performing and entertaining people. I was singing all the time… and I remember it being on my mind, thinking that I could do acting because I liked acting but I LOVED singing. I kind of gave up the acting to properly focus on singing. My mum said “Start writing if you want to be a singer because that’s where the money is!” I obviously took her advice, but I’m glad I took it. I love to write and be involved in my music rather than just singing other people’s songs. As much as I love singing them, I just don’t feel the connection as much. I love the songs we can all relate to, but I love writing just as much as singing now.

SPAZ: At this stage, what’s the most rewarding part for you: writing, performing, recording…? I’ve heard making videos isn’t much fun…
ELIZA: I love making videos! I quite like performing that way and getting a great visual across. Nowadays, it’s so important with YouTube and everything… The visuals are just as important as the songs…. and sometimes even better the songs with some videos I watch! (laughs). But for me, it’s still not as good as performing live. That’s like the ultimate buzz. That’s what I live for, definitely. I also get an amazing feeling from finishing a song that I’m really excited about. That feeling is nothing like performing but its something else as well…

SPAZ: Because you are from the UK and you are female, do you think it’s lazy for journalists to just sort of lump you in with Amy Winehouse, Kate Nash, Amy McDonald, Lily Allen and the like?
ELIZA: It depends how they do it because, if someone goes, “if you like this, then you might like Eliza,” I think that’s an easy way of doing it. But this is why I like your interview so much, because I can tell that you’ve listened to my music and so you know exactly the influences and samples like the Fleetwoods and everything… and I love that because I think that’s really important. If someone’s gonna be critical of something, I think they need to know the ins and outs, ya know what I mean?

SPAZ: Are there any contemporary artists that either you enjoy or you might align yourself with?
ELIZA: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think I’m like anyone, definitely. Obviously, there will always be comparisons. I got this accent, so I do sound like some of the other British artists out there! (laughs). There are tons of artists I admire and love. I’m loving Adele. I love Plan B. They are artists that I really love, and I’ve been listening to a lot recently.

SPAZ: Now, your album is a year old. Does it feel strange that you’re still out there promoting it when, by this time, you should already be planning your second album?
ELIZA: Yeah, I’m always looking to write more and always thinking about what’s gonna come next. I am yearning to get back into the studio, but at the same time, I haven’t got that “I’m sick of my songs” feeling yet, which is great because I’ve got a lot more touring to do. Right now, I’m still content to keep touring and playing my songs, and we try to change it up a little bit for the live show and keep it fresh

SPAZ: Have you played any of the festivals in the UK yet? What are the festivals like over there?
ELIZA: You always think it’s gonna be scary big crowds, and you’re gonna be stuck and stuff… it’s actually not really like that. I kind of didn’t know what to expect the first time I went to a festival, but actually, you can always get into a space where nobody is.

SPAZ: This album has been attracting a wide array of listeners of all ages, from grade school kids to hardcore music fans in their 50s and 60s. What was your mindset going into the studio? Who were you recording the album for?
ELIZA: I think I must have done it for myself; because I didn’t think about who it was gonna get out to. I do what I like to do. (laughs) I hope it’s just good and then, if it’s good, people will like it, no matter what age group. But, it’s something I hadn’t really thought about.

SPAZ: What is next for Eliza?
ELIZA: Getting it heard out here, more. Getting heard in Asia: I’m gonna try to get to Japan and Singapore, and as many places as I can. Australia a bit more, I’m still kind of, I’ve only been there once, it would be good to get out there again. I think I’m gonna spend a lot this year kind of really reaching out to as many places as I can. And then, whilst I’m out and about, I’m gonna record. I’m really up for just jamming things out and you know, just having fun with it while I’m on the road. Otherwise, I’ll get to the end of my tour and my promotion and be like “oh my God, where’s my second record? I need my second record!” I want to keep the momentum rolling, and I don’t want it to kind of come to a halt

SPAZ: I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times: you’ve got a lifetime to write your first album, and you’ve got six months to write your second.
ELIZA: Yeah, well, that’s kinda what I’m gonna do. I’ve got some songs I wrote when I was younger that are definitely good songs for a record?

SPAZ: What’s currently spinning in your CD/DVD player?
ELIZA: I just bought Chet Baker, his greatest hits. Someone was playing “My Funny Valentine” and I was like “Whoa, who is that amazing voice?” Then I got his picture and I was like, “Wow! How could someone be that gorgeous and also sing like that? And play the trumpet too?” At the same time, as a complete coincidence, I also bought Anita Baker, because I heard her voice is amazing, but I haven’t heard it yet. It’s literally in my hotel room now, about to be uploaded onto my iTunes, but the Chet Baker one I left it to upload when I came here….. I’m gonna get into that this trip!

Thanks to Eliza Doolittle
Special thanks to Jacki Feldstein, John Bowen, Charlie Morton, George Roberts-Bascombe, and Dana House

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