In an age where artists sacrifice quality for quantity and opt for imitation over inspiration, San Francisco band The Seshen abstain from the culture of rapid-fire disposable music in favor of something that will etch itself into your brain. Bound to no particular genre, the tandem of bassist/producer Aki Ehara, drummer Chris Thalmann, keyboardist Mahesh Rao, percussionist Mirza Kopelman, synchronizer/sampler Kumar Butler and vocalists Lalin St. Juste and Akasha Orr is a fusion of J Dilla, Erykah Badu, Little Dragon and Beach House. With the release of their self-titled debut album this past February, blogs and music fans alike stumbled across music with a purpose–it was refreshing, accessible and emanated their powerful influences without outright Xerox-ing their respective styles. Life+Times sat down with the band to find out how something so incredible could remain a secret for so long.
Life+Times: What does The Seshen mean?
Lalin St. Juste: “Seshen” is the Eygptian word for “lotus flower.” The name jumped out to me because of its meaning of rebirth and recreation. This band was a new step, musically, for me and has allowed me to expand creatively in ways I hadn’t before.
L+T: I understand that Lalin and Aki met in Ghana to form the foundation of the group. How did this concept come to fruition from Ghana all the way to San Francisco?
Lalin: When we met studying abroad and became a couple, a friend said she couldn’t wait for our album because we were both musicians. We were together for a few years before we actually started to make music together. We collaborated on a few songs, pulled some musicians together for a benefit for Haiti, and that was the very beginnings of The Seshen
Aki: Ghana was an incredible time and place for us to meet. We initially met at JFK airport and I remember noticing that we were the only two people who had brought instruments on the trip, from there we got to know each other through our love of music and sharing it with one another. I initially helped Lalin with her acoustic recordings when we both returned to LA from Ghana. After about a year in LA together we decided to make the move up to the Bay Area and continued to collaborate and work on recordings.
L+T: Were there “tryouts” to figure out who was going to be in the band?
Aki: The band mostly started from loose jam sessions with various musicians and we eventually formed the band with longtime friends Julian, Kumar and Mahesh. Akasha joined once we had the intention of forming a band and Mirza, the percussionist, was asked to join after meeting at a mutual friend’s birthday party.
L+T: The debut sounds like what would happen if you trapped Erykah Badu, J Dilla and Little Dragon in the studio. How did this sound come to form?
Aki: As I’ve continued to make music, I’ve developed a keener sense of what I like in all genres. What’s exciting to me about music in the internet age is that artists have more control over their music and are less prone to be put into boxes by record companies. With the internet, the musical world seems to be getting smaller, listeners seem to have more diverse musical tastes and it has become more acceptable to reference genres you like and put it all together in your own way. I think we’re all open-minded musicians and tend to follow anything that’s inspiring to us, regardless of genre.
L+T: Lalin and Akasha, can you talk about the decision to have two vocalists in the band? There aren’t any “diva” moments between the two of you are there?
Lalin: I enjoyed Akasha’s smooth voice and I knew she wanted to pursue music so I asked her to sing with us and thankfully she accepted. We are very close and so no, no diva moments here! We’re both very laidback and are friends, housemates, and band mates.
Akasha: I felt an instant connection with Lalin that has only matured and expanded. For me, I have found a sister… I get to create, grow, share with and learn from my sister.
L+T: Explain to me the process of creation.
Aki: I usually start with a basic idea of a song – whether it’s a set of chords or a drum beat. The vocals are brought in and that helps to determine the trajectory of the song; new sections of the songs are added and new parts are written by various members of the band. All of us spend a good amount of time arranging and sequencing the songs.
L+T: In a time where artists are bearing their souls on their albums (i.e. Adele), The Seshen appears to go a different route lyrically. It’s more poetic doesn’t appear to be very personal. What is the inspiration for how each song is written?
Lalin: Both Akasha and I come from poetic backgrounds and our aesthetic reflects more abstract ways of writing that lends itself open to interpretation. For example, “From Light” was inspired by thinking of my heritage – the first verse opens with stating we come from a precious place and within our struggle, we still manage to move forward. The sea holds stories that continue to unfold and live within us. “Oblivion” was inspired by addiction and the path that it takes people on. Many of the songs are based on connection between people, our struggles, the relationship between ourselves and our past, present, and future…all through a good amount of metaphor.
Akasha: Broken Lines is deeply personal, just not in an obvious way. I wrote it as a reaction to the ending of a 3 year relationship and the resulting fracturing and compartmentalizing of aspects of my life that occurred. It felt as if my soul-self was narrating; watching the “sinew” of my old life “settle like confetti” around a new life I was not yet comfortable in. That song is actually quite confessional and each line evokes a specific memory that is still very much alive for me!
L+T: How long did this album take to come into fruition?
Aki: The album took about a year and a half. It was a major learning experience for us in terms of how we all work together. A lot of this album was a discovery of finding the kind of music that we wanted to make and through the process of writing and recording it, we’re beginning to chip away at a more refined aesthetic.
Lalin: The first song written for the album was “Canvas” and we describe it as a paradigm shift within our sound. We were initially doing standard fare R&B, reggae influenced music but then Canvas came and it led us to explore our more contemporary influences. “Oblivion” was the last song written for the album and it also represents a point of departure toward where we are going with our music.