Credit all images: Andrew Zaeh / Soraia
The calendar date of February 29th, signifying we are within a Leap Year, graces us with its presence only once every four years. For those of you that celebrate your birthday on a Leap Year, today is your lucky day.
Soraia, the sonically hard charging yet lyrically nuanced rockers from Philadelphia, PA, are back in Columbus and playing at the Rumba Café tonight. Rounding out the bill are local favorites MethMatics, Betty Machete & The Angry Cougars and The Villaintinos. It’s the second of two shows at the venue this evening, with the music starting at 10 p.m.
Soraia, derived from the Arabic name for the Pleiades star cluster and meaning Beautiful, is comprised of Zou Zou Mansour (vocals), Travis Smith (bass guitar, vocals), Brianna Sig (drums, vocals) and Nick Seditious (guitar). Signed to Little Steven’s (Steven Van Zandt) label, Wicked Cool Records, they are gearing up for the release of their new album, Dig Your Roots, on March 13th.
I caught up with Zou Zou Mansour via phone as she was navigating the always challenging end of the day rush hour traffic that permeates the commuting vehicles between the cities of Philly and Trenton, NJ.
Dig Your Roots finds the band with a solid lineup and mature sound that introduces the listener to the transformative conceptualization of individual and collective growth, sonic renaissance, and flourishes of rebellion.
“I feel like, sonically, the record is just more… well, we’re just more sure of ourselves,” Mansour said. “With Dead Reckoning, we had been playing those songs for a while before we recorded that album. We never stopped writing and every other month we would have a song or two.
“And then the summer of 2016, me and Travis (Smith) wrote a bunch of songs in a row. We were excited and were getting signed to Wicked Cool (Records). So, we just wrote a ton of songs that summer.”
Mansour’s vocals conjure images of the lyrical poetry of Patti Smith, juxtaposed with “don’t screw with me” attitude of Joan Jett threatening to boil over with nary a warning. This sonic tapestry has been woven together by Zou Zou for over a decade, becoming more nuanced and developed with the passing of time.
“When we recorded Dead Reckoning,” continued Mansour, “I don’t think we were mature in terms of going from the live sound to recording. We weren’t as open to changes as we were when we went in to record this record.
“The songs (on Dig Your Roots) are more mature in that we didn’t go from playing them live to recording them right away in the studio. We had more time with them and were free to try more ideas. We were open to changes more so than on the (previous) record.”
Working with producer Geoff Sanoff (Bruce Springsteen, Dashboard Confessional, Fountains Of Wayne) once again, allowed them to accept suggested changes due to the trust developed in recording Dead Reckoning (2016).
“On the first record I was afraid that they were going to change our sound,” she said, “and I think in the back of my head I always felt that way. So, I had this real attachment to what we were doing. Somebody said to me along the way, ‘Well, you’re not married to it. Just try something and play with it.’ And it occurred to me that when I first started making music, that’s what I loved about music; it was so free, playful and easy. I was overthinking things and needed to just trust my feelings about it.”
We touched on the absurdity of referring to bands that have a female lead vocalist as “female-fronted” in 2020 and how she has dealt with that impolitic moniker.
“When I first started,” Mansour continued, “and I’m talking about open mic nights, it was announced as ‘Here’s a female-fronted act, and these are the other bands.’ I was so angry at that, but then I thought about it and I never wanted people to look at our band and say that ‘It’s because of her’ or ‘She’s this or that.’ Of course, there are opportunities to use that to our advantage.
“Here’s the thing that was said to me early on, ‘A lot of women in the audience don’t like female-fronted acts.’ I thought wow, that’s… WOW! And you’re a woman! Why don’t you just give us a chance? To me, that is so close-minded.”
Soraia, with local support from MethMatics, Betty Machete & The Angry Cougars and The Villaintinos starts at 10 p.m. tonight at the Rumba Café on Summit St.
In the interest of full-disclosure, I saw the band when they last played Columbus in October 2019 and was sonically tickled by their performance. I’m interested in hearing the new music, but also want to be reinvigorated by the band’s musicianship.
I will be at the show tonight, of course, for their show is not one to be missed. Plus, we want to hear some of the new songs with that “live vibe” that brings added nuance to their music.
Just don’t expect Soraia to rest on their laurels after the March 13th release of Dig Your Roots.
“We’ll be around a while,” concluded Mansour. “We’ve already started writing our next record.”
Soraia – Dangerous (from “Dig Your Roots” available March 13th)