Get to the Marcus Amphitheater punctually Thursday night.
Before '80s rock'n'roll icons Bon Jovi kick-off Summerfest in Milwaukee, Philly hard rockers Soraia will be warming up the stage with a half-hour of blistering songs that harken back to an earlier era.
Named after the lead singer, Soraia "Sue" Mansour, the four-piece band is the protege of Bon Jovi producer Obie O'Brian. They're currently in the studio working on a follow up to last year's debut, "Shed the Skin," which Chicago blog The Screen Door called "nine all-killer no-filler transporting blissful meditations filled with golden harmonies, funkadelic riffs and spiritual soul bearing lyrics."
Sue Mansour spoke with 77 Square recently about preparing for the show with Bon Jovi, learning to train her deep, raspy voice, and the healing power of music.
Is the show with Bon Jovi at Summerfest your biggest show yet?
Oh, yeah. We've played some festivals that were pretty big. But I don't think we've ever played to more than 2000 people. I imagine there's probably going to be more than 2000 when we go up (at Summerfest). I'm thinkin'. (Laughs.) I just want that to be a really great show and I want to enjoy it. I'm very excited, very excited.
How do you emotionally charge yourself up for a show?
The band huddle is before every show. An hour before we go up, we sit together and we talk about whatever -- I usually lead and I just say, this is what came to me today and this is what I realized. And a lot of it's about gratitude: "Man, do you get that this is happening to us, that we're growing?"
For me, personally, I'll listen to something or watch something. I'm very inspired by the "Woodstock Live" DVD. I've had this one for about five or six years. I can watch Joe Cocker do "A Little Help From My Friends," or Janis, or Jimi Hendrix once in a while. The difference then to now, you know -- you can even tell socially. They were just more laid back in their approach to singing, their ease. It comforts you, 'cause it's very easy to get amped as soon as you get on stage.
Are you going to be changing up the show at Summerfest at all to suit a larger audience and venue?
I think about it and I think about it. We have a half-hour set, and what I'm going to do is just make a great set. I've watched Jon. I went to all their shows that were pretty local -- like Connecticut, New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey -- on the last tour. I remember one of the best shows I saw him at was when he was sick, they were all sick, and he came out and he's like, "I'm gonna need your help tonight. Get up out of your seats!" He just said it over and over, right from the beginning. He doesn't come out like that all the time. Sometimes he's very relaxed. There are very different approaches I saw him bring to the table, and very different audiences, too. I learned from him how to make a good set list that flows. It's not all up up up up up, it's a peak and valley kind of thing.
How did you learn to sing?
Well, I've always wanted to sing, since I was seven or eight years old. In high school -- obviously I have a really low, raspier voice -- and I'm thinkin', all the girls who got the parts were the ones who sang really high and really pretty, so I came to the conclusion on my own that I couldn't sing. So I was a drummer in high school. I started singing in this band, and nobody could hear me. I remember talking to Obie (O'Brian) -- this is before he ever produced us -- and he's like, "You really should go to somebody, 'cause you're learning to sing wrong." I started going to Katie Augresta in New York, who was also Jon Bon Jovi's teacher for a while there. She was great. I went to her since 2002 and then I stopped going to her and I started going to this lady in Cherry Hill, New Jersey 'cause I got nodules from touring. She has a different method of teaching, but it builds on what Katie did. She's more healing and more operatic, where Katie was more strengthening. So, I've had plenty of training. I'm not ashamed of it at all either. I was no singer. (Laughs.) I was a feeler, but I couldn't really hit a note. I could give you a lot of emotion, didn't necessary go into any melody.
Do you have any favorite interactions with Soraia fans?
Yes. We wrote this song, "Not the Woman." It's pretty anthem-y for me -- not stylistically, but for my life. The chorus is, "I'm not the woman you thought you knew. I'm not the weak one...I'm not the woman you thought you knew." This girl came up to me in Muncie, Ind. She pulled me aside, and she's like, "I just want you to know, that song has changed my life." When she spoke to me like that and she teared up, I felt it in every nerve ending of my body, you know? I was like, "This is what music is for. It's to heal. It's to free people up." That's so much about what music has done for me since I was a kid. Man, if I went through everything I went through, and it wasn't to help somebody, you know, I don't know what it was for. I have quite a history of drug abuse. And I don't want to advertise that, but I want people to know about hope and triumph. Music is very much about that.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Well, I'm really grateful -- and they didn't tell us to say this -- we had our send-off show last night in Philly, and the guys in Bon Jovi want to take care of us so much. They're giving us a longer sound check just so we're comfortable up there. They've been doing it for, what, 25 years? They're at a much different level than us, but it doesn't change the fact that they're still human and they still took that into consideration. They've just been going out of their way to be supportive of us, and I think that's awesome. I think that's really cool. I don't know that every band at that level does that.