by D. House
October 29, 2011
Classically trained on violin, Anomie Belle is a politically and socially conscientious, Seattle-based electronic trip-hop multi-instrumentalist/composer who taught herself piano and guitar at a young age. She produces her own music and does all of her drum and synthesizer programming. She has lived and worked in Madrid, Glasgow, Amsterdam, New York, Buenos Aires, and London, and has shared the stage with Tricky, Sea Wolf, Mr. Lif and Album Leaf (with whom she has also played as part of a string quartet). Not bad for somebody who is just barely in her 30s.
I read that you’ve lived internationally – Spain, London, New York City, Scotland, Amsterdam and Buenos Aires? What brought you to all those places and what started that journey?
When I was in high school in Portland (OR.), I had an unusual opportunity to participate in a bilingual program which allowed me to learn Spanish from people who were from other countries. There were a lot of Spanish speaking immigrants and it whet my appetite to live in other places. I was really fascinated by experiencing different cultures and refreshed by different points of views. I first moved to Spain and I enrolled in a University there, interned with a record company, and played in a local symphony. When I finished school, I got a fellowship to travel and I spend two years living in different countries and participated in different musical communities. In Argentina, I slept on the floor of a recording studio for a few months and got to engineer during the day. In Amsterdam I volunteered with an experimental record label and learned a lot about producing electronic music. In Glasgow I joined a band and did studio work. I made my way around and got to know the music industry from a really unique perspective all over the world. It was pretty amazing.
After living in all these places, what brought you back Seattle? Was it the familiarity of the Northwest?
The honest truth is that I came here to get my PhD, but eventually I left the program once I realized that I was studying the things that I write about with respect to keeping a critical perspective on culture and society as well as looking at the music industry from the perspective of their political economies. I realized after a couple of years that I wasn’t actually interested in studying these things as much as I was interested in being a part of them.
And music is a powerful medium for discussing these sorts of topics and it’s a great platform for making a personal statement on them…?
Yeah, definitely. Initially I was attracted to school because I felt that that was one place where people were very directly talking about issues that were important to me. I realized however – getting to know what life as a professor would look like –that not only is my true passion music, but it’s a better platform for me. It’s more accessible and it’s a way to express the emotional and spiritual things that don’t fit easily into rational/intellectual boxes. Also music lets me interact with a lot more people than an academic life would offer.
So…speaking to that, what are your thoughts about the whole Occupy movement going on right now?
I think it’s awesome. I think it’s really badass! A lot of the themes that I’m hearing in the Occupy movement mirror themes I’ve always spoken about in my music: issues like consumerism, corporate power, suburban alienation and societal inequality. Occupy helps to create a central frame of reference. It helps to shed some light on the systems of power and oppression and is being talked about in a way that’s exciting to me. People are talking about more systemic issues. These systems that we’re living with are essentially defunct, and they need to change. I’ve heard that three-quarters of the people involved in the movement have college degrees. It sounds like it’s a really educated group. I didn’t see this coming and think it’s really fabulous.
In think there’s also a certain amount of transparency in terms of corporations earning record profits against the backdrop of working families losing their homes and their jobs.
When the most powerful institutions in a society are beholden to only maximizing profits and don’t have any way to factor ethics into the way that they function –especially for publically held companies–it’s fucked up. When do we get top talk about quality of life or priorities of values when profit is always the bottom-line? It’s nice to see people begin to ask for more.
I agree. Let’s move back to your music and your new record. Reading the liner-notes on your new record, I get the impression that you play a lot of different instruments and do a lot of multi-tracking on the record; however it’s not really clear what exactly you do on this new release.
Well I play violin, piano, keyboard and synths, acoustic and electric guitar, some drums and all the drum programming…and I sing. I engineered and mixed the record myself. I have a cellist and drummer who play on the record. For the cello parts, I played them on my violin and pitched them down and then she played the parts. It was the same thing with the drummer: I programmed the parts and then he performed them because he’s a much stronger drummer than I am. Someday when I have the privilege, I would love to spend more time playing the drums. For now, it’s really nice to have people who are better than me in these areas to be a part of my music. Both of them are fantastic, they’ve become really great friends.
I saw that Jon Auer sang guest vocals on “Picture Perfect” on the record. How did the two of you get together for this recording?
I wrote the song and immediately thought it would be a beautiful duet between a male and female voice. I really liked his voice and so I thought of him right away. He’s a very talented singer and musician, so I reached out and he really liked the song. He came over and did the vocals and that was it.
You’ve toured with a pretty impressive list of other artists. I’m wondering how the tours with The Album Leaf and Tricky came to be.
With Tricky, it was just a stroke of luck. He was on a U.S. tour and the band that was supposed to be the opener for that tour was unable to get into the country, so at the very last minute, we jumped on those shows which was really amazing and fun for me. Maxinquaye was a really influential record for me in the late ‘90s. The first tour I ever did was with Manuok and Little Dragon in 2008. The Album Leaf tour came after that – I’ve actually toured with them twice. The first time I toured in support. The second time I formed a string quartet; I played violin and I have a cellist and another violinist and my bass player also plays upright bass already. Jimmy (LaValle) has written string arrangements for his new record, so the year that we recorded together, he had us come into Bear Creek to record those strings, so a year later when he toured on that record, he had us both play as his string quartet and also in support of The Album Leaf.
You mentioned that Maxinquaye was an influential record for you. In listening to your music, I can hear the influence – or nod to – various trip-hop, electronic textured artists, artists like Bjork and Tricky, and the band that really came to mind was Sneaker Pimps.
That’s funny you mention them. I am actually doing collaboration with Sneaker Pimps. We went and played a show at the Colours of Ostrava festival in the Czech Republic this last summer. Ian Pickering (one of the members of Sneaker Pimps) had gotten in touch a while before, and really liked the music, so after that festival appearance, I went to London and stayed with him for four or five days, and we wrote several songs together one of which will be released very soon on an EP. A couple of the other ones, I’ll be releasing at some point in the future.
So with the release of this new record, you’re embarking on a quick set of dates on this west coast tour. What are you plans after this? Are you going to go on a larger national tour or are you going to wait to see what falls into place?
Up to this point, my manager has been doing all of the booking, but ideally, I’d like to begin working with a booking agent to set up a more extensive touring schedule. I think that would make it a little bit easier. I have a good publicist in the U.K. and we’re talking about some people over there about the possibility of some dates. I have good people working with me. Finding really good people who you trust who you can build solid, long-lasting relationships with is – I think – the most important thing. It takes time, but those are such amazing relationships. Each step of the way I have more people on the team with me that I really like and respect. This process has allowed me the opportunity to get to know every part of the equation in regards to the [music] Industry. I can’t complain.