Raised by a piano-playing dad and singing mum, Eliza's been writing songs since she was 12. "Mr Mysterious" was one of the first – I was listening to Destiny's Child, and I thought I had to write about a boy. It actually put me off writing about boys forever," she laughs. Another early composition was 'Without Your Presence,' which she still likes and wants to give to Leona Lewis. "It's a bit of a diva song. It's really pretty."
Her precocious songwriting talent soon got her noticed, with Eliza signing a publishing deal at 16. As she matured, her songs began to flower into the magical blooms they are today – gorgeous pop songs which mine sounds from the 60's and 70's while managing to sound indisputably fresh. Little wonder: although a diehard fan of classic pop in all its guises – the likes of the Beach Boys, The Kinks, and Stevie Wonder slip in constantly while she gushes about music – she doesn't see herself belonging to the current cut and dried pop mould. "I'd like to be a pop musician in the proper old school vein of pop when there weren't any different genres like there are now, it was all just pop music," she says. Of current influences, she demurs that she can't really think of any. "There's lots of things I do like, like Vampire Weekend, Kid Harpoon, or Arctic Monkeys, but I don't sound like them at all", she insists.
As for the name – well, Eliza is her given first name. "I love my real surname but it isn't very pop-starry," says Eliza, explaining why she decided to use her childhood nickname as her recording alias. "And now I just am Eliza Doolittle, everyone calls me it."
On her debut album, to be released this June, Eliza marries breezily beautiful melodies and witty, erudite lyrics with a delightfully off-kilter twist and a knack for a killer hook. The opening one-two punch of 'Rollerblades' and 'Skinny Genes' (the debut single out March 29th) sets out the stall perfectly, summoning to mind lost songs from the Motown era by the Marvelettes or The Supremes, complete with infectious whistling.
Eliza's attitude, whether on-mic, in-studio or onstage, is not that of a high-maintenance diva "You pick up something, you just play it, busker vibe, whether it's a glockenspiel or ukulele. I love tiny instruments. I like the look and the sound of them. On 'Rollerblades' the drums are actually a child's drum-kit."
'Pack Up' boldly raids the chorus of the George Henry Powell marching song 'Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag' and repurposes it to startling effect, creating a gorgeous dance-hall ode to the joys of being the eternal optimist, and 'Money Box' is a beautifully orchestrated rant against senseless materialism, with Doolittle touchingly insisting she won't be "down with no pound,all I need's right here, right here with you my dear".
'Police Car' has a more night-time vibe, a downtempo lament swaddled in melancholy woodwind in which the teardrop in Eliza's remarkable voice is to the fore. "It's about me getting myself into a bit of trouble by being a bit blunt sometimes and saying the wrong thing," she explains. "I do regret my mouth sometimes,but then sometimes I think, well, that's what I think, it doesn't matter. But maybe I'm still learning!"
Ultimately, Eliza wants people who listen to her music to have fun. "I want to write songs people can sing along to. I can think of nothing more exciting than travelling the world and playing to audiences and having them sing your words along with you". To that end, she's been developing her live act, now surrounding herself with "the most incredible musicians – they're offbeat, really cool, and they're singing the songs with me too" and is bracing herself for her first ever tour in February. "When I first played live I would shake with fear, and my voice would tremble. But I do it for the love of it. There's nothing I love more than playing live".
"Compared to the greatest people I see, I'm just me", she muses aloud on 'Nobody', an outstanding track on the album. She needn't worry; if her first album is anything to go by, she's certainly got the outsize humour, intelligence, talent and the exceptional pop nous to go far. Eliza Doolittle is evidence that the potential for exceptional pop music still exists, and moreover, that you can break the rules and stereotypes while delivering it.