The Seshen, a seven-member band from the East Bay, released its debut self-titled album last year, fusing elements of R&B, hip-hop, indie rock, and experimental music to create a sound reminiscent of Little Dragon — beat-driven, dreamy, and rhythmic. And while that album earned it significant attention from local press and blogs, instead of trying to capture the momentum and go on tour, the band opted to stay close to home, spending the last year and a half regularly playing shows in Northern California and driving toward a more up-tempo sound.
In its last local show before completing a new EP, The Seshen debuted new material at The Independent on Sunday. The band's patience seemed to have paid off — the entire set had the infectious energy of electronic music, but without sacrificing its eclectic influences.
"Dance music lends itself to a rawer and more visceral experience," explained Aki Ehara, the band's leader and bassist, in an interview before the show. "We want to round out our sound by balancing the raw energy of electronic and dance music while retaining the thought-provoking and emotional side of what we do. I think it's also a lot more fun to play the danceable stuff live because there is more of a give and take between the band and the audience members. As soon as we see that people are moving, we tend to give that energy back."
The packed crowd at The Independent was grooving throughout The Seshen's set, erupting in all-out dancing, claps, and cheers when the performance reached a climax during its last song, "Oblivion" — one of the band's most danceable tracks. The first half of "Oblivion" sounds a lot like Beach House, dominated by vocalist Lalin St. Juste's breathy vocals echoing over keyboardist Mahesh Rao's haunting chords, with clap-like percussion from Mirza Kopelman. But after a brief interlude, "Oblivion" concludes by collapsing into a reverb-heavy, dub-inspired outright synth assault.
The Seshen also debuted two new songs. The heavier use of synths and bass created an electronic haze that buzzed in the background, strengthening the otherworldly feel to the music. The result, which will be fully explored on the new EP, is a much bigger sound, more psychedelic even, than the debut album. The first album suffered a bit from the multitude of instruments on some of the songs, which drowned out St. Juste and fellow vocalist Akasha Orr's lush, husky voices. That issue seemed to be worked out during its live performance, and both new and old material sounded more cohesive. The vocals weren't dominating or being dominated by the musicians' playing, rather the two elements complemented one another, layering and meshing to create an unfamiliar, interesting, richly textured sound.
"Our first album has a more mellow, ethereal quality," said St. Juste. "The music from our upcoming EP has more of an edge — and there's a clearer direction."
Like many genre-bending bands, having a sound that escapes easy definition has been frustrating at times, because it's led to The Seshen being inaccurately categorized — or simply labeled "world music." And that may be because the band member's ethnicities are nearly as diverse as its sound. Rao recalled how after one performance, a fan approached him to say how much he'd enjoyed the show: "Man, you guys are awesome," the fan said. "But I've got to tell you, you look like the fucking UN."
"We've been labeled 'world music' before, perhaps because of the percussive elements of our sound and the mixtures of our ethnicities, but also because it's a catch-all term to describe something generally unfamiliar and non-Western," lamented St. Juste.
The band's also been described as "Afro-Caribbean" or "Afro pop," neither of which really accurately describes its sound.
"When you look at us, we don't necessarily fit into a box," St. Juste continued. "And you hear us and it's not only straight up soul or R&B."
Being in a band with seven members also presents its own challenges and rewards. When The Seshen sets out to create new music, they rarely jam together, working instead in small sub-groups before debuting new material to all seven members. Ehara said he thinks the creative process benefits from having more ears to pick up on something that might have been missed. Plus, the band can produce a fuller, richer sound in a live setting (as long as the stage is large enough to fit everyone).
But the size of The Seshen is a big reason why the band hasn't toured yet outside Northern California: Figuring out the logistics for seven people who have their own schedules and obligations has been "tricky," said St. Juste.
Rao agreed: "It's something we talk about every time we get together."
For the time being, the band is funneling all the money it earns from live shows back into funding the upcoming EP and a future tour.
"We all acknowledge it's the beginning of something, and in the beginning there's a lot of investment that takes place, whether it's time or money," St. Juste said emphatically. "Touring is a must — soon."