Back in January, I heard a song on Little Steven’s Underground Garage that rocked so hard I stayed in the car until it was over even though I arrived at my destination. I took a picture of the band’s name to remember to look it up later, somewhat ashamed. How have I never heard of this badass babe from the 70s named Soraia covering The Kinks song “(I’m Not) Like Everybody Else”? To my surprise, when I googled the musician, it turned out to be a band, and a current one, from my hometown of Philadelphia. I immediately found out who was singing and reached out to ZouZou Mansour the powerful, earth-goddess vocal machine who sounds like she’s from another time. We soon met at a coffee shop for an interview. I wanted to know everything about her life and her band, and I was pleasantly surprised at how raw, honest, and open she was. ZouZou’s story not only moved me, but it ignited the fire and passion I have for music talking to such a strong, influential woman in the industry.
In honor of Soraia’s album release show and music video shoot at Milkboy in Philly this Friday, I am releasing our interview in three parts over the course of this week. Read part one below and buy your tickets to this Friday’s show and music video shoot now here! Tickets are only $10 and with The Good Excuses and The Droogettes opening, you do not want to miss this epic night of pure rock’n’roll.
“I grew up in an upper middle class family. My father was Egyptian and my mother was Belgian, so they were both from other countries. I remember very early having the idea that I couldn’t tell people about my family life because it was very secretive. There was a lot of domestic abuse, a lot of yelling, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of adjusting to people’s moods from an early age and sensing people’s moods. Which I think helps me- it’s a gift and a curse. You know, because in relationships- not so good, in music- great. It’s a good way to work with an audience and change their mood. But several suicide attempts as a young person, just feeling hopeless, and never really telling anyone about them. But I remember when I found music: it saved my life. It absolutely saved my life so many times. No matter what happened or what was going on at home, this all happened through high school into when my mother died. I was seventeen. Music was my way of detaching from the pain of watching people I love self destruct. I always had this feeling that I could control them in some way and fix them. Music was the one thing that I did for myself that I found joy and solace in and always gave me a sense of hope. So music to me is something I not only honor, but I always hear Joan Jett say, ‘it’s like a religion’. For not many people it is, but for me it’s absolutely a religion. It’s the one thing that made me feel safe, made me feel joy, made me feel every mood that I would squelch in every other way. You know, songs have done that for me.”
“I’ve always been attracted to female artists more so, even though I listened to a lot of male artists I was always a fan of songs more than bands. Though in high school I was very attracted to a certain type of band. I loved raw bands. I loved melody. It’s like what I liked hearing was the opposite of what I liked seeing musically. I loved melody. I loved melody (she emphasizes). I loved stories. I loved all genres. I just loved songs. There wasn’t many artists I didn’t like growing up. I did listen to popular radio I would say until…I remember Nirvana being so big at one point and all those bands of that ’92, ’93, ’94 period being such a big influence on me. Because it was so different than what had come before it and I remember just thinking, ‘I found something that spoke to me’. There were so many great female fronted acts like The Breeders at the time, the song “Cannonball” I’ll never forget that song. Just great music in the early to mid 90s and that’s kind of been my biggest influence on my writing and on me getting in touch with a lot of things that are darker inside and accepting those parts. I don’t have to be happy all the time. Its okay. But I never really thought of music as a career except I always was a drummer. In high school I started an all girl band and it was ‘we were going to be famous, we were going to be huge’ we just learned cover songs constantly. I played drums because I wanted to be a singer, but I had this belief which I thought you were either born to sing or you weren’t. My voice was so masculine was so low, that in my high school it was considered not a very good voice. I don’t know if that message was said to me or if I just thought that because all the girls who got the parts had those ‘high voices’, she sings out before joking, “I can’t even reach that note. So I thought well I’m never going to be a singer but I still want to be in music so I’ll play drums, I loved playing drums. That’s how I started out and it was until a birthday I had I remember I was playing drums for a band and that’s when I started singing because their singer didn’t show up. So I just jumped.”
“Growing up music always gave me comfort, but there was a period where I got really lost after my mother died. At 17, I made a conscience decision the day of her funeral that I was going to stop doing the right thing and doing anything good and if there was a god in the world it wanted nothing to do with me. So I was going to do everything to destroy my own life. It was a very conscience decision on my part to pick up drugs and alcohol. When I picked up I picked up hardcore. I didn’t pick up and dabble. I wasn’t there to experiment. I was there to get lost. Because I felt so much. Most artists feel very deeply and most humans do but especially artists. I think they tend to feel weird about their [sensitivity], because it’s not the common sensitivity. It’s hard to deal with life on life’s terms often, but at that point I didn’t want to feel anything because everything I felt was pain. So drugs and alcohol helped me to squelch that. But it also led me down a lot of bad roads. That part of wanting to die and everything, I felt bad and it kept following me around. The people I got involved with and the things that happened to me have made me into the singer I am today. It’s a blessing, first of all that I survived it, and second of all, I have a message, and it’s a strong one. I think it comes through when people hear my voice, they hear it and they’re either attracted to it or repelled by it,” she laughs. “Hopefully attracted to it and it’s just a deeper [meaning] when you go through stuff. That’s why I that lotus. It grows through mud and becomes beautiful. I feel like you can take anything that happened and make it into beauty.”
Stay tuned for part two of my interview with Soraia tomorrow and listen to a new track from their upcoming record Less Than Zero “Radio Sister” below.
Come out to Milkboy this Friday for Soraia’s Less Than Zero record release show with The Good Excuses and The Droogettes opening at 8:30 PM. Tickets are $10 and you can get them here.