I had the pleasure of interviewing ZouZou Mansour, lead singer and main songwriter of Soraia.
Soraia is a Philadelphia-based rock band, with four core members (also songwriters): Travis Smith (bass, vocals), Mike Reisman (lead guitar, vocals), and Brianna Signorovitch (drums, vocals).
This rendition of the band has been playing and touring together, writing songs, and making records for the past two years. Soraia is currently signed with Stevie Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool Records and The Orchard, and their latest album release, Dead Reckoning, has garnered them international attention, including being named among Rolling Stone Magazine ‘s best live shows of 2017 and in David Fricke’s ‘Year in Rock 2017’, January 2018.
Thank you so much for joining us! Let’s show everyone you’re a normal human being. What are your hobbies, favorite places to visit, pet peeves? Tell us about YOU when you’re not at the office.
“It is my pleasure! I recently discovered I love walking. It turns my brain off and helps me gain perspective and appreciate nature a lot more. Shopping for vinyl is another one– nothing beats that!
“But mainly, I love spending time with friends and traveling. And I absolutely do love playing music and songwriting (even though that’s what I do for work).
“My favorite places to visit are as simple as a trip to an art museum, to the mountains or beach, or just a scenic drive through parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey when not touring. I also love being a ‘gypsy.’ France is absolutely one of my favorite places to go. I love touring Europe with Soraia — then I get time with my friends AND to play AND to try new things and experience new cultures. It’s the best!
“Pet peeves are when someone doesn’t follow through with what they say they are going to do or doesn’t fulfill a promise they’ve made to me or the band. I don’t like when people act selfishly or are inconsiderate of others. Another pet peeve is sweating — I hate it. Yet I do it almost every day.
It takes all three to get me really upset, though.
“I’m pretty human after all.”
Can you tell us something about you that few people know?
“I love alone time. I thrive on it.
“I love reading books. I also get invigorated watching preachers, which not many people know about me. Really, I love watching spiritual figures of any faith because I’m someone who pursues inspiration and motivation. It affects me when they get really loud and preachy — I LOVE THAT.
I get inspired listening to people of all types of religions and philosophies. Whenever I get to hear people speak their truth or help me see things in a different way, it opens my mind and keeps it fertile. That’s vital for me.
“I also love reading old literature. Mostly I love Edgar Allan Poe stories and all the romantics, really. I’m a book nerd, for sure. I also love reading poetry; I obsess over words and meanings to things. There’s a real power and truth in certain words and how they’re strung together.
“At my core, I want to know why things happen. I’m naturally curious about everything that crosses my path. For instance, I just came from a walk along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia where I stopped to look at the water for a few minutes. I ended up spending about 45 minutes watching a catfish swim back and forth, just trying to figure out why it stayed swimming in that one spot for so long; then watching another fish hover near the catfish. I still don’t know what they were doing, but they had me for that time. That’s the kind of stuff I don’t tell a lot of people, but it makes me feel like I’m a kid all over again. It keeps me intrigued in simple things.”
Do you have any exciting projects going on right now?
“My band and I are writing new songs, and planning tours, which is always exciting. We’ve gone to a few new places and received great response, which is always very encouraging. Getting to watch the band grow individually and collectively is a pretty magic experience. I think we always see things through rose-colored glasses when we look back, but we aren’t much in the moments as they’re happening.
“This band keeps me wanting to be and do better in my craft and have a commitment to something bigger than just myself. It’s an exciting, ongoing project.
“We just launched a subscription club, too, with the intention of it being an interactive experience with us and our most ardent fans. I’m looking forward to all the surprises that will come along with it! The plan is, hopefully, the band and our friends/fans will all get to know each other better and interact over more creative things. It’s only in the beginning stages, so it’s very much a ‘let’s see what happens’ thing.”
Many people say success correlates with the people you meet in your life. Can you describe two that most impacted your success and why.
“There’s a woman I often go see who has been tremendous in helping me grow and develop both personally and professionally. She just says things that hit me right in the soul. She’s a truly good friend to me, and a real ‘root’ in my life. Her name is Allyn. I met her about five years ago now, and she’s changed how I see everything. Our conversations reach me at a different level than most and help me perceive people and situations way differently. I’m able to be fearlessly honest when talking with her.
“Through our many conversations, I’ve learned a lot about how to treat myself and others. For instance, I very much give people the benefit of the doubt a lot more than I would have in the past. I learned that not every setback is a bad thing — that some of my biggest (perceived) catastrophes have been my greatest blessings. The longest travel is from your head to your heart with a lot of conversations in life, but the talks I have with Allyn always go right to my heart. That’s the truth. Because of her, I trust my own gut way more, and trust how people act instead of what they say. Our conversations have helped me get better in touch with myself, which ultimately has made me a much more intuitive and honest artist and human being. She’s been huge in my success.
“Another ‘person’ is my whole band. That may seem a strange answer, but it’s the first time I’ve wanted to be better for a group. They make me want to work hard, and believe it or not, they help me face a lot of personal things without ever saying a word. We get to make music together, which isn’t a light thing. It’s very important, and there are no real words that can describe what that means on any given day. It’s a feeling and an act, and you have to show up for and trust that. It feels very scary, and very freeing at the same time.”
Can you discuss one of the lowest points in your life personally or professionally and how you dealt with it?
“One of the lowest points in my life was in August of 2013. At that time, I broke with most of the people who, at the time, seemed my only path to a higher level of success in the music business.
I had been working with this group of people for about three years: making a record, working on our image, being granted opportunities, etc. We’d really been working with the one guy for a total of seven years.
“By the end, my soul was pretty crushed. I had lost not only my musical desire but myself. It was a horrible place to be. I was functioning seemingly fantastic on the outside, and greater musical success seemed imminent. But on the inside — I was gone.
“I’ve been told there’s this little piece of white velvet inside each of us, and that’s what I really believe changed everything. I met with some key people in my life and shared the truth of my situation, and they helped me come to some healthy, but hard conclusions.
“I broke with almost everyone I knew in the music business at that time and started fresh. It was a painful and scary thing. It took me over a year to write a song and share it with anyone again. I had to re-build belief in myself, and to be patient with myself, and I could not have done that alone.
It became even more painful when I realized how vital the part I was playing in that dynamic was the unhealthy choices I had made, and the absolute danger when you disconnect from the people you absolutely rely on for strength and truth in your life. I had done that. I had cut ties with anyone and everything that rooted me. It was a great lesson in the end, and I’m thankful I survived it.
“At this point, I realize that my talent and my desire are a gift, and they deserve care, respect, and honor. They are meant to be used in an inspiring way, and to help others, not for selfish and power-hungry reasons.
“I surround myself with very different types of people today, and I check in with people who feel good to my spirit, although they may not always tell me what I want to hear. Sometimes the right thing and the hard thing are the same, and in August of 2013, I did something hard, and I’m so glad I did. I have found a lot of joy in re-finding my voice, and it’s a never-ending journey. It’s funny how the right people come along when you most need them.”
Leaders always seem to find ways to overcome their weaknesses. Can you share one or two examples of how you work outside of your comfort zone to achieve success?
“I have found it is best for me to take a break from my day-to-day work routine to get fresh perspective. I almost never want to do that. It’s really easy to confuse strong desire and discipline with competition and workaholism, so I have to be self-aware where that’s concerned.
“Sometimes I can work a lot and get almost nothing accomplished. I try to remember that I’m responsible for the effort, not the outcome, and that keeps me in a place where I’m not working tirelessly and getting frustrated by it. My feelings and friends usually let me know where I am with that.
“Also, I always get out of my comfort zone when I write songs. It takes a lot for me to sit and focus like that and really get in touch with what I think and feel about life. I almost always am terrified I’ll have nothing to say. But I always hear it when I take the time to listen for it, and it absolutely gives me the greatest reward of everything I do.”
The concept of mind over matter has been around for years. A contemporary description of this is having mental toughness. Can you give us an example (or two) of obstacles you’ve overcome by getting your mind in the right place (some might call this reframing the situation)?
“I’ve had a few experiences where I didn’t get what I thought I wanted. It’s always been a blessing. It often takes time to see it, though. So, I try not to react, and give myself time to see things as they are. I have a very reactionary personality and temper, so I’ve had to really work on not being that way — both personally and in my business.
“My best example is a recent one. I wanted radio play for a song on a particular station, and I really thought, ‘This is the song, I know it. They’re going to LOVE this one’. That wasn’t the case. I was told the song was great, but the production didn’t fit. My initial feelings took over, as they’ve done in the past. So, initially, I felt leveled. Still, I knew this was a strong over-reaction to what was being said, and in the past, I wouldn’t be able to hear much after that feeling overtook me. Then, I’d usually find an out, and leave. It would typically knock me down for days with obsessive thoughts and negativity. But I’ve worked on this a while. So instead of reacting, I calmed my feelings with breathing, and really focused on what was being said. Unlike in the past, I didn’t need to make it mean anything.
“When I left, I allowed myself to feel the disappointment for a couple of minutes and talked to some people I knew and trusted about it. After that, I decided to forget about it for a few. I spent the car ride home listening to my favorite songs. Within that time, it occurred to me that my favorite bands and singers have heard ‘no’ so many times. Most trailblazers don’t follow a trend or try to sound like something just to fit into a format of some kind. They’re just themselves.
“By the time I arrived home, that ‘no’ was no big deal — even an asset. It freed me up to work on other places where I thought a song like that could be heard: stations with more varied formats, known for breaking new bands and music. It ended up being a great, honest experience when I focused on what I learned from the conversation instead of how I initially felt.
What are your “3 Lessons I Learned from My Most Memorable Failure”
“One, never, ever give up. Two, don’t let someone else’s opinion of you define you, and three, always, ALWAYS, trust your gut.”
What unfiltered advice can you give aspiring stars regarding how to avoid common mis-fires in starting their career?
“I really believe that putting anything ahead of artistic integrity is going to spell trouble and honor the gift you’ve been given — as in use it often and well, but don’t get ego about your talent. Develop, develop, develop.
“You’re a gigantic magnet for what you think, feel, and believe about yourself and the world. Develop personally and artistically together. It will give you an unshakeable foundation in everything you do, and a confidence and certainty where you no longer look for approval from others.
“Validation, yes — but approval, no.
“Look for people you admire and respect in your craft and stay connected to them as much as possible. You are the people you surround yourself with, so be very careful in choosing them.
What is the best lesson you learned from your worst boss?
“Treat all people as loving guests in your life. Everyone deserves respect, kindness, and human decency. If you can’t say something kind, don’t say anything at all. Don’t let the worst of humanity bring out the worst in you. No matter how you are treated, you can stay at the level of person you want to be — even if it means walking (or running) away from them. I’m still aspiring to all these things on a daily basis.
“My worst boss never knew how to treat people like people. I learned a lot from him as to who I don’t want to be. I definitely see anyone has the potential to be like him, if left unchecked.”
What is one “efficiency hack” you use consistently in your life to keep your time and mind free to focus on your strengths and passions?
“Taking a walk is the best way for me to get out of my head. Usually I’m overthinking or focusing on things that are counterproductive to me in some way, and I just need to disrupt it. Moving the muscles stops the brain babble.
“And, just giving myself breaks, so I’m not overconsumed with anything. My answers usually come when I’m not thinking about anything at all. Just like my favorite song ideas and lyrics come when driving or in the shower — when I’m not thinking about anything.
“Ultimately, giving yourself space to breathe can lead to better efficiency in your work than trying to muscle through it all the time.”
What’s on the drawing board for your next venture?
“Soraia, Soraia, and more Soraia. This band really needs to be heard, so I’m giving everything and using all my resources to make that happen. The live show is our forte, so the more exposure I can bring to that, the better off we will be!”
<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/Yx20aCkjVxk?rel=0&controls=0&showinfo=0” frameborder=”0″ allow=”autoplay; encrypted-media” allowfullscreen></iframe>
What did we miss? Feel free to share any other thoughts or advice on overcoming failure, initiatives you’re currently supporting, any other relevant information you would like to share with the readers.
“The one quote that always sets me straight and reminds me to not get too anxious about anything is this: “Everything will be OK in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are all @Soraiarocks
Also, all tour dates, band merch shop, etc. are on Soraia.com
This was really awesome! Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you. This was a really great interview — I loved answering the questions!
Originally published at medium.com