Bay Area band The Seshen releases a series of singles grappling with 2 years of upheaval
The Seshen has been a Bay Area fixture since the release of its self-titled album in 2012, a rapturous fusion of R&B, synth pop, soul and electronica.
Inspired by the likes of Little Dragon and Erykah Badu, the six-piece band owes its origin story to vocalist Lalin St. Juste and producer-bassist Akiyoshi “Aki” Ehara, who discovered their complementary passion for music while studying abroad in Ghana, now over a decade ago, and became romantic and creative partners.
When the pair joined ranks with drummer Chris Thalmann, keyboard/synth player Mahesh Rao, percussionist Mirza Kopelman and sequencer Kumar Butler, The Seshen emerged as a dynamic unit, called to share the stage with local favorites like Oakland music project Tune-Yards and Los Angeles singer-songwriter Thundercat.
The Seshen’s latest single, however, signals an indelible shift. On March 25, the band’s cover of Jessica Pratt’s “This Time Around” was released alongside a note penned by Ehara.
“Lalin and I had always loved the album, ‘Quiet Signs’ by Jessica Pratt,” Ehara wrote. “She and I worked on this song in the midst of her coming out [as a lesbian] and our separation as a married couple … I found that this song really captured the longing, loss and sadness we were both feeling at the time.”
The result is absolutely enveloping, steeped in the pain so sharply felt in a romantic parting.
The end of their marriage doesn’t mean the end of their music, however. I spoke to the pair about The Seshen’s ongoing series of monthly song releases previewing the band’s upcoming album, and how the two have been navigating interpersonal flux during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’m curious about your individual musical influences, and where those influences overlap.
Aki Ehara: They’re pretty all over the place for me. I love a lot of electronic music, singer-songwriter stuff, R&B, hip-hop, more artsy rock music. [Lalin and I] both love Erykah Badu, Radiohead, Broadcast, Little Dragon and D’Angelo.
Lalin St. Juste: Yeah, we definitely have a lot of overlap. Some of those names like Radiohead and Erykah Badu are musicians that I fell in love with at an early age. I think it was Aki who introduced me to Broadcast, and that was life-changing. I’m also definitely influenced by some jazz singers, at least in my formative years, that I still feel have impacted me as a musician, like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday. We [both] love James Blake.
How did the pandemic impact your creative practice?
St. Juste: It was such a difficult time. The shelter-in-place was very confusing and destabilizing. So, a way to keep getting myself together and keep healing was to meditate and lean into that on a more consistent basis. The band would get on Zoom weekly on the nights that we would rehearse, finding ways to keep the thread of who we are and what we had been doing somewhat engaged by meeting.
I think the way that I’ve been living my life is just being really grateful for the moments of music and connection that I do have. I think that really put a lot of things in perspective. I don’t want to take anything for granted. We can play shows now and I’m ecstatic about that, and I know that at any moment that could stop with a wave of something. I’m just trying to do as much music as possible and be in it as much as possible because everything is so impermanent.
Ehara: The beginning was very confusing. Not knowing how long it was gonna last, it kind of gave me license to really go in. For the first two weeks, I was staying up and working on music until 3 or 4 in the morning and sleeping until 11 a.m. or noon, feeling OK with that because there was nothing else to do. It definitely teetered into overindulgence and maybe not the healthiest behaviors, but it was also really fun. I think giving myself a certain amount of permission to be like, ‘F— it. I’m just gonna go in and do my art on whatever schedule. It doesn’t matter.’
[I was] having a bit of an identity crisis around what it means to be a musician if you can’t perform, and if you’re not engaging with the world in that way on a regular basis. That was definitely hard. Putting out an album (‘CYAN,’ released Feb. 28, 2020) and then two weeks later everything shutting down [meant] not having a tour around it. [We didn’t have] a familiar cycle of working really hard on something and then sharing it in the live realm, which was a challenge.
How has the nature of your collaborative relationship evolved over time?
St. Juste: I think we try to keep evolving. We try not to stick with the same sound. Aki and I work very closely with each other, and I think we just want to keep pushing ourselves and exploring the changes that have happened in our own lives, the changes happening in the world, and be able to push our own sense of musicality and try different things. We’ve all been working together for so long, and we’ve all been through so much together, so I think especially now we’re getting even more vulnerable and honest and it’s something that keeps changing over time.
Ehara: As of late, Lalin and I have talked about this, and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about. At least for me as a producer, in the past, I’ve tended to create lots of peaks and valleys, or expectation and payoff. [I had been] thinking more in that way sometimes consciously and sometimes not, but really trying to connect to a place that has a little bit more of a flow and a little more breathing room and flexibility, still having a songform but being a little less tied into a tight structure. I think we’ve both been interested in that and inspired by a lot of our friends who don’t fit into that mold, necessarily.
One project that was really inspiring to us was Empress Of’s “colorminutes.” It was just one-minute songs only released on YouTube. It felt more like someone just getting something off their chest and exploring, more than like, ‘I crafted this impeccable song.’ It’s more like you’re invited to a world that’s free-flowing.
I really appreciate your individual track releases. There’s an allowance for time to spend with each one.
St. Juste: Yeah, I think we wanted to try something a little different. We’ll continue to be releasing tracks every month, so I certainly hope that people can spend time with each song and go on the journey as more [tracks] come out. We wanted to shake it up a little bit for ourselves.
When is the next song release?
St. Juste: The next song comes out [Friday, titled] “The Noise.” That one’s really fun. I like dancing to that one, so I can’t wait to put that out there.
Is the release order formulaic? Is there a larger narrative at play?
St. Juste: All of the songs do have some relation, but there’s not a specific narrative with each one coming out when they do.
Ehara: No, there’s no sequencing. I think we just went with what felt like would follow each other nicely.
What have you two been working on lately? What’s next?
Ehara: A lot of it is going into The Seshen for me. Outside of that, I do mixing and production for different musicians I know.
St. Juste: I just released a solo EP called “behind my eyes” last November, and so I’m doing shows. My next show will be opening for L’Rain at Rickshaw Stop, and then I have another solo EP coming out in May.