By Nicholas Jason Lopez
With a Muslim/Egyptian father and a Belgian/Catholic mother, ZouZou Mansour fought hard to conceal her background out of fear of rejection, but with the latest batch of tunes on her band Soraia’s latest release, she invites listeners in to who she really is and that makes her proud.
The Philadelphia-based rock quartet unveiled their newest album ‘Dig Your Roots’ on March 13, 2020, via Steven Van Zandt’s label Wicked Cool Records. It was produced by Geoff Sanoff (Bruce Springsteen, Fountains Of Wayne, Dashboard Confessional) and follows up their 2017 LP ‘Dead Reckoning,’ which was also on the same label. Mansour declared ‘Dig Your Roots’ as a “coming to terms with the light and dark inside myself and in the world.”
Soraia is lead vocalist/tambourinist Mansour, bassist/backing vocalist Travis Smith, drummer/percussionist/backing vocalist Brianna Sig, guitarist Nick Seditious. Former guitarist Mike Reisman also co-wrote four songs on ‘Dig Your Roots,’ but couldn’t commit to tours any longer and parted ways.
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with the band about the new album and more.
Music Bugle – How do you feel about the way your latest album ‘Dig Your Roots’ has been received? What was it like putting it together?
ZouZou Mansour – I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re pretty thrilled. We knew when recording the songs and how they were coming out — as well as how the studio sessions went feeling-wise — that we’d grown since ‘Dead Reckoning.’ That’s all you’re really aiming for, I think. Progress, not perfection. At the end of the day, we’re very proud of the work we did together with Geoff Sanoff on this one. Putting it together was a very collaborative experience at the end. We picked the sequence together while we were in Nashville touring. We each gave our individual mix notes in; we all cared about the music. There were hard moments and moments of disagreement in studio, but for the most part, we just tried everything and we were way more comfortable being honest with Geoff since we had already worked with him a few times at that point.
Music Bugle – Obviously, the COVID-19 outbreak has put a halt on the music industry as far as tours and shows. How has it affected the band directly?
Nick Seditious – It’s made us start rethinking how we can communicate with the fans and keep them entertained and engaged through these strange times. Doing things like the “One And Done” series and streamed shows and Q-n-A’s are really good for that and we get to keep the creativity flowing.
Music Bugle – How would you describe the “scene” in Philadelphia for your particular genre?
Brianna Sig – There are tons of bands at all different levels of success in our particular genre in the Philly scene. You see bands that are and want to be completely underground and they do it just because they love it. DIY shows in basements, etc. and then they’re back at their day job as an accountant or something. Then, you see bands like Hop Along, who are still very much in the scene, but have some major success. It’s very versatile and it’s so unique and also very supportive. Philly bands know the struggles and they’re always going out to support other bands. I hope it stays that way.
Music Bugle – Did you have any material that didn’t make the cut for ‘Dig Your Roots’?
ZouZou Mansour – I think we always start with a bunch of ideas for songs and they get to the point they get to — so we had more material, but we don’t write a ton of songs, honestly. Mostly because we spend a lot of time DIY-ing it, on the road, and rehearsing/producing new material together before we even demo. We’ve already started writing our next album, so I think this go-around, we will have some more material, for sure. There’s never a shortage of ideas; just feels like a shortage of time on my part… but we love spending time in collaboration. The best music comes out that way. We have our own process.
Music Bugle – Did you listen to any particular artists while putting together ‘Dig Your Roots’?
Travis Smith – I always listen to a pretty wide variety of different artists and different types of music, so I don’t think that particularly influenced me so much. Usually when I write, whatever comes out, comes out.
Music Bugle – What are your future plans, as far as the rest of 2020?
ZouZou Mansour – Since our spring tour was canceled after COVID-19 really took hold and quarantine began, we ended up postponing our tour of the Midwest and South, so we have already begun re-booking those shows for the fall starting in September, including rescheduling our Swedish dates and hopefully extending that part of tour further into Europe. The plan is to get back to touring as much and as soon as we can, starting in the fall — we have a few summer dates still, too. Also, we will be recording our next single for a winter release, hopefully. We’ve been taking this time at home to write, but also to engage with our fans through Facebook Lives and a “One And Done” series of acoustic covers of songs we’d typically love to do, but don’t necessarily fit in a full set of what we do live. It’s been fun — mostly, there’s joy in bonding with our fans and friends.
Music Bugle – In your opinion, what’s the group’s most meaningful song or set of lyrics that you like to quote the most?
Brianna Sig – Oh man, this is a tough one. I can always relate to ZouZou’s lyrics. I think a lot of people can because her words are straight from the heart. There’s no sugar coating and they are usually derived from her own life experiences. Both “Come Down Angel” and “Superman Is Gone” have lyrics that come from really dark moments in her life. The honesty in them is what I believe most people find incredibly brave. Not a lot of people will lay out their lives like that on a piece of paper or in a recording. People want and need to touch base with their own darkness in order to heal. Their past experiences may be completely different than hers, but the emotions are the same. The vulnerability, the shame, the fear. They’re all things people have a hard time dealing with on their own, but music can absolutely help and resonate with them.
Music Bugle – In what ways have you felt the band mature as the years go on?
Travis Smith – I think the communication has changed over time. We get more comfortable with being more honest, with each other and ourselves, especially in a writing or studio situation. I think we’ve learned to gently push each other to expand on each of our personal limits and go a little more outside of our typical comfort zones.
Music Bugle – Do you feel social media makes it easier or harder for a band to stand out these days?
ZouZou Mansour – I feel social media is a great help in connecting and as an outlet to get music and videos — your art — out there. There’s so much to know, though, at times — it becomes overwhelming. Plus, I think if you don’t monitor your time on there, it can get to be all you do. There has to be time for the actual creating part, too. That should be the primary purpose. It probably is easier to get confused with that at times, but I think how you use social media has a lot to do with whether or not you’re able to stand out and the truth is that hopefully, the music plays a much bigger role in that than the visual or amount of things you post. I’d like to think art is at the heart of it all – and the real attractive force in the whole thing.
Music Bugle – What’s something you feel people should know about the band?
Brianna Sig – Everyone in this band is an artist. Meaning, they were all born with the need to create. None of them do this for any sort of glorification. Maybe a little, but that’s human. Some people do this for some kind of outside validation. It’s hard to spot the true artist at first, but you see it when all of a sudden, there wasn’t a great turnout at a particular show, but you see everyone in your band still having the greatest time of their lives. It’s what we do! We all have something to say.