Celtic-rockers Anita & the Yanks hold court at Novel Café every other Friday
Virtually all of us, at some point, dream of leaving home and pursuing adventures in parts unknown. In 1997, Irish-born musician Anita Mansfield followed that impulse to Boston, where she learned an extensive repertoire of traditional Irish tunes in a band named Saoirse (Gaelic for “freedom”). But when she realized she wanted to escape the “Irish box” and rock out more, she also recognized that she might as well still be in Ireland.
“In Boston everybody I knew was Irish,” she recalls with a laugh and thick melodic accent. “Everyone. There wasn’t even an American in the pub — they were all like paddies off the boat. It was almost like just moving to the capital of Ireland. …
“Five years had passed and I felt, what am I doing with my life? I was with somebody and he had lived in California before, a Boston guy, and we came out here [to Los Angeles] together. It wasn’t particularly just for music, but for the good weather, California, a change from Boston. It’s like holiday land.”
The move provided her first real culture shock. (“Everybody was either American or Mexican or from somewhere else.”) For two-and-a-half years she played keyboards in U2 tribute band Electrical Storm (now Hollywood U2) before once again realizing she needed to move on — to form Anita & the Yanks. She and mandolinist Bryan Dobbs played their first show three years ago. They soon chanced upon violinist Rachel Grace at a gig; the trio adjourned to Irish Times, where Mansfield bartends, and wound up jamming all night.
“I just had to do my own thing,” Mansfield says. “I had to start singing. It took me a long time to actually get the courage, I guess, to do it.”
Mansfield, Dobbs and Grace play Novel Café in Pasadena every other Friday. (They’re joined by drummer Ryan Dean and bassist Jimmy Murphy for full-band shows.) “Pasadena has been a huge thing for us,” Mansfield says.
They rock traditionals such as “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” but Mansfield writes most of their midtempo pop. The arrangements and instrumentation (mandolin, violin, percussion, harmonies) give the material a Celtic feel, while her bright soprano and vocal fillips sometimes recall Cranberries frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan, though Mansfield’s tone is fuller.
They’re currently finalizing mixes and artwork for an album they hope to release in early October. They’re also planning to play a charity benefit at Coffee Gallery Backstage on Sept. 26, and continuing their biweekly residency at Novel Café. Mansfield finally feels like she has a “family base” here.
“It’s family you choose, you know what I mean? So it’s good now.”
Anita & the Yanks return to Novel Café, 1713 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 27. Info: (626) 683-3309. anitaandtheyanks.com