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 two 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. Didn’t read Part I yet? Click here.
“I went to jail once. I was arrested on my 21st birthday. I remember that the woman that was checking my hair was checking my hair for drugs. She said, “Honey look I”m really going to have to mess up your hair, mess up your clothes, I am really sorry,”. She was apologizing to me and I’ll never forget that because I got this sense that I didn’t belong in the life I was living. I didn’t think I was better than or worse than, I knew I didn’t belong there. That wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing with my life, and I had that feeling the whole time. I didn’t understand with all the suicide attempts…I’d be like why don’t you just take me? Just take me. I think there was a point where I was living with a dealer and his girlfriend. She’s dead now, most of the people I used with are dead. Where I was shooting and I had one day away from them but they’re so paranoid that they thought I went to the cops or something and they started beating me up and I knew I was going to get killed and I jumped out of a window and ran.”
“I didn’t want to, I wanted to stay there and keep using and keep- you know, I lived to use. I didn’t live for any other reason, but something in me pulled me out of it that was bigger than me and got me out the window and I didn’t stop running. That moment I knew that there was something. I had to stop at some point but I couldn’t imagine not doing it. I continued for a while after that but it was never the same. Finally, I did go to rehab. I did relapse after that and then I got sober. I’m clean and sober a while now but it took a few tries for me. But that moment when my body did what my mind didn’t want to do I knew there was something- that all those thoughts of I don;t belong here I shouldn’t be doing this, there’s something more for me kind of came to fruition slowly but there wasn’t one epiphany, there was just a bunch of small ones. My drinking and drugging career didn’t last long, it didn’t last long at all. It didn’t have to. But it was enough. As soon as I got sober I went back to school and it took two and a half years to finish college because I was an overachiever in everything…I was an addict in everything. I went right to teaching and I taught for a few years. In the second year I knew I wanted to be a singer because I started singing. I knew I wanted to do that full time. A friend of mine said to me you can be an old teacher but you can’t be an old rocknroller, so if you want it go after it. Which is not true, but I needed to hear it at the time. So I quit my job and put a band together and eighteen drummers later,” she laughs manically, “I’m still in the same band. With everyone different except one guy. Basically the songwriters stayed, I stayed. It’s built around that energy. People come and go but it’s a good group that I have now.”
“The last record Soraia Lives was a reaction to the record before, called In the Valley of Love and Guns. That record took about three years to make. Not because anyone in the band wanted it to take that long. But at that point we were getting the help of really big people like Jon Bon Jovi helped us. This guy Billy Falcon, I co-wrote with them great songs, great songs. We were in the studio all the time, but I was just looking at something today we had like 20 or 30 vocal takes on each track, it was crazy. More than that, but it was a really long process. At the end of it there were a lot of promises. Just not from anybody in particular but a lot of promise for that record. The promise that we thought it was going to have didn’t come through. So we kind of sarcastically called the next record Soraia Lives because we should have been dead a long time ago,” She laughs. “Same thing in my life. We thought b-movie kind of thing because we loved that stuff. We did a live show in November of 2013 in New York City at The Bitter End. Little Steven Van Zandt and his wife came to our show because they loved “Voodoo” off the last record.”
“They loved the show and Steven said, “Let me work with the band on your live show”. So we went into his studio just for three sessions and changed some things we didn’t like about the songs, added some parts, took some songs out, and ended with a live set of really great songs that were really Soraia. They weren’t trying to sound like anything but us. It fit our live show, everything we did. So we decided last summer to record them, with the new songs we were coming up with. We started following what we decided to do without this thought of writing a song for an audience, we just did what came to us. Very poetic kind of stuff and some stuff very song oriented and we went in and we already had the songs down. So we went into the studio and recorded them. Didn’t take long, maybe two or three days to do ten songs. We recorded in Philly, we consciously decided to go to a studio that was- we just wanted to get the songs banged out. We didn’t need a big drum room, we didn’t care what kind of mics it had it was like the first time we just didn’t care.”
“We just went in, we were like, ‘We are just going to record us as we are’, overdubs minimal, mostly just us. One vocal take, one everything. We didn’t know what would come of it and I didn’t have any pressure on us to be anything in particular. I just wanted to have fun. It was really important to us to have fun this time and we did. Out of it I knew there were two songs that really floated to the top one was the cover of The Kinks “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” because it’s such a statement of who we are. The second song was “What Imagination?” both of those songs I wanted to spend more time with in the final mix and mastering and we did. The one song, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” is the one that got picked by Little Steven [Van Zandt] as the “Coolest Song In The World” and I knew it! I knew as soon as I heard it I got goosebumps listening to my own band, and just being like ‘That’s us!’ finally we captured us. Raw, non-apologetic, not perfect, not polished, but just who we are. And if people can’t hear the magic in that, shame on them. But also shame on us if we don’t put it out or we’re scared to. Because the record before that was so well done and so polished that I was afraid to put out something that was too raw. But I really loved this record. Everything that it says is really us. People responded so much to that song, and so much to that version of it that was just us being us, [and it] is so joyful. I am so grateful for that because that’s who we really are. And they loved us for who we really are more so than they loved this polished, pretty made up version of who we are- which is also is who we are. But this time we took off all the makeup and were just like, ‘here’s what I look like, do you still love me?’ and we got a good response!”
Stay tuned for part three of my interview with Soraia tomorrow and listen to a two new tracks from their upcoming record Less Than Zero “Beggar” and “Paper Man” 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.