Synthesizers, drum machines, and live percussion blend with the cool, soulful voice of the Seshen’s Lalin St. Juste to create a harmonious combination of synth-pop and electronic R&B.
On their newest album, CYAN (February 28), we hear influences the band didn’t previously engage with. There’s a little bit of indie rock, touches of folk, neo-soul, and hip-hop. We sat down with the band to talk about the release of their third album, their award-winning music video and upcoming short film, and the excitement around playing as part of Noise Pop.
In the creation of their third album, St. Juste strove to let an inner force guide the story, emotion, and message. She is open about her struggles with depression and strives to bring messages of connectivity and resilience into her songwriting. “Some of this record is dealing with a lot of sadness and figuring one’s self out,” says St. Juste. “In those times, I turn to the ocean and to water and all of these symbolic things to kind of figure some of that out.” Named for the deep green-blue color of the ocean, CYAN takes a new direction for the band.
St. Juste has said that she takes inspiration from Erykah Badu because she really puts herself out there. “I think for me it’s always a work in progress, in always trying to reveal more of yourself. To reveal that vulnerability and what it means to be human; I think that’s what we all really connect with,” she says. “I also think it can be really hard to do so, especially when you get caught up in your mind and you’re not totally in the present of the emotion. So I think with this record it was another step in the direction of: ‘How can I break out of myself?’
“In the song “Can’t Pretend” I’m singing about how I don’t want to pretend to be OK or have these pretenses, you know? I shriek in
[the song] — and part of that is me trying to really let go of all the constructs and all the things that can get in the way of really sharing who you are.”
“With this record, it was another step in the direction of: ‘How can I break out of myself?’
They’ve also said in the past that this record “gives no fucks.” When asked about it, everyone laughs. Producer and bassist Akiyoshi Ehara jokes that they probably do give a few fucks. “Well, I think both of us were kind of latching onto anything that was inspiring; not necessarily focusing on a specific spot stylistically or genre-wise but really trying to follow emotions,” he says. “And I think that in any form of creative medium, at least for me, it’s often the emotion and feeling that resonates first, more than a set of stylistic choices. There’s definitely movement through multiple genres, but I think there’s a lot of ways in which this record can get grittier but it also exposes a lot more breadth in where we can go musically and the types of things we’ve been taking in. And Lalin does things vocally on this album that I don’t think we’ve really explored in the past.”
A good example of a sonic exploration is the distorted, Lynchian, upside-down vocals halfway into “Dive.” Especially when paired with the mind-bending visuals on the accompanying music video, it’s a real experience. “Dive” won Best Choreography and Best Set Design at the 2020 California Music Video and Film Awards, and it’s no wonder. Director Dominic Mercurio is a well decorated artist. When the band was awarded a WeWork Creator Award, they were given the opportunity to explore a new vision: creating four music videos that, when combined, created a short film. They wanted to create a thorough narrative — a collection of imagery and songs that would really tell a cohesive story.
“We really love Dominic,” says St. Juste. “When we were awarded the prize we decided that we could make a vision as something like this…Through talking with Dominic we decided what songs would be fitting for the film. We had to consider certain things, like what songs might be a single and what will tell the story that we want to tell.
“‘Wander,’ ‘Dive,’ ‘Don’t Answer,’ and ‘Faster Than Before’ tell the story of myself starting out on the beach but then going into an internal conflict, an internal world, and underworld within myself and that’s the dark figure you see in ‘Dive.’ That wrangling. But the flashes of women and laughter and hope — the people who have lifted me: They appear in all these flashes. Which is why they show up throughout the video. So it’s really a story, I think, of confronting oneself and letting a lot of things go and finding ways to be OK.”
The Seshen at Outside Lands 2019. (photo: Daniel Kielman
The film in its entirety will be premiering at the Seshen’s album release show at Rickshaw Stop as part of the 2020 Noise Pop lineup. The band is thrilled. “I really like the Noise Pop lineup this year,” says percussionist Mirza Kopelman.
“Definitely going to see Meerna with Helado Negro at Great American Music Hall,” St. Juste chimes in. The room gets excited and a lot of heads nod in agreement. “…Madlib DJ set. Raphael Saadiq. Sandu Ndu.”
“We’ve been playing in the Bay for a long time now so it’s really exciting to be a part of Noise Pop,” adds Kopelman. “It’s a respected music festival and it’s pretty cool to be a part of it. This album has been done for a little while now so we’re excited to get it out into the world and share it, perform it.”
This album feels new and different and exciting to the band. “This album just has so much variety,” says Kopelman. “There are a lot of different feelings, vibes, and influences.”
“We’ve been hearing feedback already that people can hear the change in sound,” adds St. Juste. “That’s something people can look forward to in our live performances and the album — that diversity of sound and emotions in a way that very much differs from our last record, Flames and Figures. There’s a grittier thing, rock influences — things that weren’t as present before.” St. Juste enjoys rocking out a little more. She’s a natural dancer who feels the music in her bones. “I enjoy thrashing my hair a little more,” she says with a happy laugh.
“And it’s fun getting to a more personal, mellow place, too,” says Ehara. Songs like “Don’t Answer” or “Wander” channel some of the Nick Drake and Tim Buckley influences that Ehara pulled in during the creation process. “Don’t Answer” starts off with lovely guitar plucking and a nourishing surround sound of percussion and a symphony of synths.
“‘Don’t Answer’ is about sadness and depression, but also on resilience,” says St. Juste. “From darkness, must come light. That’s how light is born. So when darkness calls, you don’t answer, you don’t run. That’s what that opening line means: When darkness calls, you don’t answer. It means that sometimes you accept it and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you surrender, sometimes you don’t. So for me, that song is about really rising through that [darkness] and finding the beauty that is always there. No matter what.”
Michelle Kicherer is a fiction writer and music journalist living in Oakland. She writes for several local and national outlets, enjoys long walks and her second novel is in the works. Instagram @michellekicherer