The Brand New Heavies, Earth, Wind & Fire, Sade, and Maze are some of our millenium’s best known bands who continue to groove us after decades on the scene. The band The Seshen is determined to make sure that their name is placed on that list. Rarely do we get a full-interview inclusive of all band members, so this opportunity was a treat. The band’s vocalists are Lalin St. Juste and Akasha Orr, who also lends talent on percussion with Mirza Kopelman. There is Aki Ehara, who plays bass and also produces for the band, and Mahesh Rao is on keys while Chris Thalmann is on drums. Kumar Butler brings it full circle as the band’s DJ on samples.
As they break-out on the scene with a fusion sound inspired by some of the greats, members of The Seshen share with SoulTrain.com some backstory on what inspires them, who they are often compared to and what advice they would give to fellow artists just starting out. Be amazed to learn how this California-based band found one of their members on Craigslist and how one member is able to balance a rising career as a member of The Seshen with a long-time career as an engineer. With a strong musicality and vivid presence led by the two lead vocalists Lalin and Akasha, we predict that The Seshen will be around for quite a while.
SoulTrain.com: Hello all. Thank you so much for talking with us today. This is one of our rare interviews with different group members of a band. Thank you for joining us. Tell us how you all met.
Aki: Well, I’d say me and Kumar have known each other the longest. We met while attending the same preschool and have been friends ever since. Mahesh was a good friend of my older brother’s from elementary school and we went to both elementary and high school together and reconnected while playing music at some house parties that me and Lalin had thrown. Lalin and I met on a study abroad trip to Ghana in 2005 through the University of California system. We both noticed each other at the airport because we were the only folks who had brought instruments and we became really good friends on the trip, hanging out and sharing music.
Lalin and Akasha had known each other through a mutual friend and when Akasha moved to the Bay Area from LA, we were just beginning to form the band and we invited her to play with us at a benefit party for Haiti that we put together at our house. After a few jam sessions we started to take the idea of having a band more seriously and it was shortly after that that I met Mirza at a mutual friend’s house party where I heard him playing percussion. Chris is the most recent member to join the band. We initially connected with him through Craigslist but he is also connected to us in that he attended the same middle school and college (UCSC) as Lalin.
SoulTrain.com: It’s amazing how small our world is and how some of us become reconnected by the slightest chance. What kind of music did you want to put together when you got together? Do you think that’s what you bring, or has that changed?
Lalin: We initially started out with soul, reggae, and funk-influenced music. We worked on some of my own songs and songs that Aki and I had worked on together. But the music evolved when we began to work on our debut album, The Seshen. There was a paradigm shift that occurred and we wanted to be current and standout. We embraced bringing in electronic elements and began to sculpt a sound that is particularly our own.
SoulTrain.com: You have been compared to some great acts. Who are some acts that you take pride in being influenced by?
Kumar: Erykah Badu is the biggest compliment. She’s an amazing artist and person and when people tell me they can hear her sound in our music I’m honored. Little Dragon is the biggest influence on the majority of people in the band. We’ve seen them grow and really appreciate what they are doing so people open their ears to bands like us. My personal favorite is J Dilla.
SoulTrain.com: As a band, where do you want to see yourselves five years from now musically?
Lalin: We will always explore our musicality in relation to our past influences and what the current landscape of music and songwriting is in present time. We want to continue to push our sound by taking risks and challenging ourselves and our listeners so that we can get stronger in our innovation and so that we can reach further down into who we are in a genuine, vulnerable, bold, and unique way.
SoulTrain.com: What has been different working as a band as opposed to your work you’ve all done individually or with other groups? What are the highlights?
Mahesh: Working with The Seshen has been incredible. It’s very motivating to be playing with such a large group in which music is each person’s main passion. Each person has a distinct set of musical influences that inform their contributions. We have a great group dynamic and work well both in the studio and in live situations together. I’ve played in groups where coming to practice was a chore, and groups where everyone didn’t take the music seriously. Definitely not the case here.
SoulTrain.com: One question I like to ask those I interview is, “As an artist, what do you think is your responsibility when you create music for your listening public?”
Akasha: I believe a songwriter’s greatest responsibility is to be authentic; to write what I feel and express my truth. I am writing from my own experience, being moved by inspiration. The expression of it to a listening and viewing audience is a choice. What you hear on the record is over a year’s worth of honesty and fine tuning so that every note, every lyric is authentic to our best abilities. The performance summons an extension of that reach, to share even more of what is in our souls, being transported during each show to where that experience–written in another moment– is valid and applicable to what is happening in our lives right now.
SoulTrain.com: What is next on the horizon for you all?
Mirza: We are going to take the next couple of months to work on some new material for our next album so we’ll be toning down our gig schedule during that time. We have some new uptempo songs that we are really excited about so look for some leaked tracks on our webpage and Facebook. We will also be releasing at least one new music video in early 2013!
SoulTrain.com: As you look at your career from when it first started to now, what has changed and what are you most proud of?
Mahesh: I must admit that I’m not a full-time musician. I’m an engineer in real life, but I couldn’t be happier with the way my musical life is progressing and growing through The Seshen. As my tastes grow and develop, it’s great to have a musical vehicle that allows me to document my journey in collaboration with an awesome group of friends. When I moved back to the Bay Area several years ago, one of my major life goals was to join a band, and The Seshen just happened to be forming around then. I’m proud to be gigging now more than I ever have, and to have put this much work into a project that I really think is worth it.
SoulTrain.com: As a creative, what advice would you give to someone first starting out to aspire to be a recording and performing artist?
Chris: Practice! I think developing a desire to learn is one of the most important things for anyone starting out playing an instrument. It’s easy to get discouraged when something doesn’t come right away, but instead of getting frustrated, view it as an opportunity to learn something new and get better. Also, not limiting yourself to only one certain genre is crucial. Keeping an open mind when listening to new styles of music opens up your playing to entirely new possibilities and helps you develop your own voice as a musician and as a person.
SoulTrain.com: So, as we come to the end of the interview, and since you are on SoulTrain.com, tell us what episode of Soul Train you enjoyed most and who was on it…we’d love to hear it!
Lalin: A month ago I was watching Rufus and Chaka Khan on Soul Train and was completely mesmerized by Chaka Khan. I have fond memories of Soul Train growing up and always wanted to be there with a fly outfit on.
Akasha: I believe it was the late 70s or early 80s…not sure…but the Jackson 5 were the guests and they performed “Dancing Machine”. That’s my favorite J5 song so seeing that episode as a kid ignited a fire for music and flashy clothes! I just love the 70s fashion and dancing and who didn’t love the Jackson 5?!
SoulTrain.com: I have to say that those are the two appearances I’ve gotten the most feedback on! Finally, is there anything that you’d like to tell our readers about yourself that you haven’t shared yet?
The Seshen: We just want to share who we are as our musical selves. We truly appreciate all the love and support we are receiving.
SoulTrain.com: Thanks again!
-Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman
Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a writer from Maryland who is a big fan of soul music in its many incarnations. You can visit her digital space at KhadijahOnline.com.