Bay area-based band The Seshen has always been hard to pin down. Falling somewhere between dub, R&B, electronica, and synth-pop, their music lies outside of all genre expectations. Groovy without a doubt, the band shifts through odd time signatures on some of their catchiest songs like “Already Gone” and chills out for some of their most heartfelt like title track of their latest album Flames and Figures. The result is captivating on record and entirely transcendent live, with lead singer Lalin St. Juste dancing all around the stage and taking the audience with her.
In fact, band leaders Lalin St. Juste and Akiyoshi Ehara met while studying abroad in Ghana, forging The Seshen together in the Bay Area. The matured group now includes drummer Chris Thalmann, keyboard/synth player Mayesh Rao, percussionist Mirza Kopelman, and sampler Kumar Butler. Their latest album Flames and Figures is all at once introspective and extending in energy, percussively driving forward throughout. Previously they had released Unravel EP with True Thoughts, a less existential predecessor that still adds to their larger than life sonic soundscape.
Over the phone and in person both Aki and Lalin are incredibly approachable, giggling at the awkwardness of a facetime phone call and openly thoughtful in response to my questions. Having met Lalin at their Cornerstone show last Friday, the interview started still clinging to the high of the performance. We chatted making music in the Bay Area, travelling, witchiness, and what’s next for The Seshen.
Aki, do you think being from the Bay Area has had any kind of influence on the music you create?
Akiyoshi: In my younger years when I first started playing music I was pretty involved in like the punk scene up here – so like going to shows at 924 Gilman and stuff like that – and then there’s obviously a lot of like great Bay Area Hip Hop as well that I grew up hearing. Then, in a more general sense, I think being surrounded by a lot of different people and different kinds of musicians definitely informs the way I do things.
And then Lalin when do you move up to the Bay Area?
Lalin: Like 11 years ago I moved to the Bay–2007 or 2008– I had always known that I wanted to live up here even before I had arrived.
How does the music scene up here compare to in Socal? And does that change the kind of music you’ve been putting out?
Lalin: I think at that time in particular I was searching for community and I left SoCal before I really found one. So when I came to the Bay and I had decided that I was going to dedicate my whole self to music, I found a community of musicians that I really resonated with and could really be inspired by and collaborate with. And that’s mostly because I was coming of age with my musical self in the Bay.
Since you two met studying abroad in Ghana–do either of you travel abroad a lot? And do you think your travels influenced your music at all? Or that experience?
Lalin: Yeah, definitely. I mean Ghana was the first place that I had ever traveled to and to meet Aki, you know, we really resonated, and we really connected over music. Ever since then we do tend to travel whenever we can. We’ve been to a few different countries and we’ve been touring more as a band as well and overall what it fosters is more adventure and exploration. I think we always explore our sound and create our own type of world and being able to go and see other places and experience other things, which is really such a privilege to be able to do, really allows you to just keep up that spirit and be inspired by the music that you come across and the people that you meet. So Ghana is definitely a powerful place in our story because it’s just a powerful place to begin with and then the music is powerful and then connecting with someone that had similar influences and aspirations, that was all just really powerful.
Akiyoshi: I think travelling and just getting out of the normal routine is really good for growth in a lot of ways, and it helps you maybe get out of patterns that you find yourself stuck in or just thinking patterns. I feel like that is always really helpful with creativity and finding new ways to think and create.
How did the rest of the band come into the picture?
Akiyoshi: The band kind of started out of jam sessions. We used to have like pretty big house parties here and we had like a drum kit and a PA and everything so people would just come over and jam. Then eventually we were having this fundraiser for Haiti after the earthquake and we kind of got the idea of putting together a little show around it. So after playing some songs that Lalin had showed me we workshopped a little together and then put a band together with some of the folks that we had been jamming with down here in the basements.
Lalin: I know for myself I realized that “huh, let’s really lets try to start something. We have these talented folks around us.” It started very differently with a totally different band and a lot of different members and we were just getting up on our feet and exploring what we wanted to do. Then by the time we put out our first album we had forged into the band that we are now which comprises of childhood friends and people we’ve met at house parties and now we’re just a really tight knit group of people.
Aki, I know that you really like to geek out over a lot of the production stuff, like reading a lot and really trying to become an expert in your craft. Are there any people that are producing that you really draw inspiration from when you’re making music for The Seshen?
Akiyoshi: Well it’s a mixture of I really like what artists do, and then there’s also some mix engineers I love. I’d say Lalin and I really bonded over Radiohead and D’Angelo and Erykah Badu and just like some of the engineering on those records is really impressive to me. Like Nigel Godrich, I like everything that he does. There’s a guy who’s worked with Little Dragon who’s one of our favorite bands, named Jaycen Joshua and he does a lot of top 40 stuff and I’ve been listening to interviews with him, but yeah I’m always kind of just trying to stay up on that end of things in terms of how to make my music sound better.
Lalin, It feels to me at least that the lyrics on Flames and Figures have gotten a lot more existential. What new is driving your writing?
Lalin: I think I’ve just kind of been on a path towards continued self realization and self observation and self growth and part of that is the breaking down of things and beginning again and that’s what Flames and Figures means to me. On there there’s songs about womanhood and then there’s things around trying to figure out how to be more vulnerable and also how to feel, for example on a song like “Other Spaces,” being exhausted by society and what it puts on you and being invisible and in so trying to find other spaces to exist in that you can yourself define. So I’m going through all these different ideas and themes on that album as a part of just a great journey of really settling into who I am and knowing that to do that means complete honesty it means vulnerability it means looking at things in a different way.
In the “Flames and Figures” video it seems as though there’s a certain witchiness or supernatural, ethereal kind of thing going on–especially in that scene where you’re levitating the ball. Where does the inspiration from that scene come? Are you a very spiritual person or is that symbolizing something else?
Lalin: Well I was talking to the director about the song and just thinking about closeness and wanting to truly see someone and truly feel close to that person. Again, a breaking down and beginning again and that resonated with him. So what the orb represents is this light. It’s lit in the beginning and I’m mourning the loss of its light, and by the end it’s drawing me back. And so it’s a metaphor to surround trying to become close to something again, and at the end it cuts right before I get to touch it. But yeah there’s definitely always celestial vibes somewhere or another.
What’s next for The Seshen?
Lalin: We’ve been writing new music so that’s definitely one of our priorities–getting more music out there and sharing all of that. And then we’re going to be getting on the road again. We have some tour announcements coming up and we’re just going to try to hit a bunch of cities as much as we can and finish this album.
Written by Veronica Irwin
Photo courtesy of The Seshen