Anomie Belle first realized she had the power to move people with her music at the age of 12, when she brought a crowd of 400 Unitarian summer campers to tears with a performance of a song she’d written about the loss of a loved one.
“At the time, I felt guilty for making them cry,” she said. “At first I felt like I’d done something wrong, but that experience is what inspired me to write music about issues that are more personal to me.”
In those days, the Portland, Ore., native was known by her given name, Toby Campbell, an angsty teenage girl whose poetic songwriting was inspired by musician Ani DiFranco and Christopher Pike suspense novels.
Today, Anomie Belle, a name that represents “beautiful isolation,” is known for her sultry Joss Stone-like voice and profound lyrics about the issues that exist in American culture.
She is also a multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer and programmer, which sets her far apart from many other female artists.
“I’m motivated to talk about social issues that really matter,” she said. “Americans have become so wrapped up in creating identities through materialism, that we’re not focused on who we really are, or on the community as a whole — we are fragmented and it’s really sad.”
“I’ve studied these [societal] issues and planned to be a Ph.D. in media and culture, but ultimately decided music was a better way for me to reach people than through academia.”
Her latest album, “Sleeping Patterns,” released Nov. 2, reflects the culture shock she experienced upon her return to the States after living in Europe for three years.
“I came back and everything — the cars and houses — seemed so big. What I hope to accomplish through this album is that people will step back and ponder the way we live in our culture, and whether or not it is necessary or fair, and what we can do to have more societal justice.”
Campbell’s interest in music and songwriting existed for as long as she can remember. She began playing the violin at age 8 and taught herself piano soon after. The young musician who once belted the lyrics of other pop stars into a toy karaoke machine, released two of her own albums in 1998 and 2001, before moving abroad to work with various artists.
“I didn’t release anything during that time because I was undergoing a big stylistic shift,” she said. “I had to learn a lot around technology to get proficient in the type of music I am doing now.”
She said her biggest influences are music producers, as well as artists like Radiohead and Beck.
“I am inspired by artists who have the whole picture in mind and create it themselves,” she said.
When she’s not performing solo, Anomie Belle is an electronic, trip-hop trio with Anna-Lynn Williams (who’s recorded a track with the Chemical Brothers, among other artists) and Aileen Paron. They are occasionally joined by saxophonist Bryan Smith.
Anomie Belle will play at Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa during her West Coast album tour Tuesday, with Little Dragon and United by Sound.
“This is my first time performing at Detroit Bar, and I’m really excited to play with Little Dragon. It’s always fun to play with bands you respect and admire,” she said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Anomie Belle
WHEN: 9 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa.