Most if not all aspects of Lalin St. Juste’s life empower her to communicate, and the singer-songwriter takes advantage of her opportunities. When she’s not leading Oakland electro-soul band The Seshen, St. Juste has two jobs that not only help her pay the bills but help other people reach their potential. For a few hours each week, she spends time helping women in need in Berkeley find housing. She refers to that as her “side hustle.”
Her main job is to oversee behavioral therapists who work with children on the autism spectrum, as well as the children themselves.
“I’m passionate about children,” St. Juste said in a recent interview at her home in the Longfellow neighborhood in Oakland. “I love it. I love the little ones. I love kids on the spectrum. It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of rough days. You can get bitten. You can get all kinds of things. I get chills when a child learns to communicate.
“Today I was with a child, and we were working on her to learn the ‘want’ sign, and now she’s doing this,” St. Juste said, mimicking the sign language word for ‘want’ and squealing with excitement.
St. Juste has been a behavioral therapist even longer than she’s lived in the Bay Area. She and The Seshen cofounder bassist-producer Akiyoshi Ehara met while both were studying abroad in Ghana. He was a Bay Area native and she an Angeleno whose parents were immigrants from Haiti. The two connected at first because she travelled with a guitar and he with a bass.
After graduating with an undergrad degree in literature and master’s in social work—both of which helped emphasize communication and helped her as a songwriter, she moved to the East Bay around 2007. She performed at BART stations and enjoyed the sense of freedom the opportunity provided. While the Bay Area music scene was smaller than what she had known in Los Angeles, she felt more supported in the Bay Area where it was easier to get on her feet musically.
She, Ehara and several friends started The Seshen as a benefit for the victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which hit home for her.
“I had family that were killed in the earthquake as well, and so I wanted to one: help out some of my family members and also help out some of the community,” she said.
It began as a house party where friends performed some of the songs she had written. Afterward, the two decided to keep the band going and were soon were pursuing a more electronic sound led by Ehara’s sonic inspirations. He has since become an integral part to the Oakland R&B, soul, jazz and electronica scene, producing other Bay Area acts such as Ghost in the City and Trails and Ways.
The band’s lineup has seen some turnover and now includes drummer Chris Thalmann, keyboardist Mahesh Rao, percussionist Mirza Kopelman and sampler Kumar Butler. A 2012 debut album was followed by several singles and 2016’s highly political Flames & Figures. That album addressed issues of global and national inequality, power and the presidential election.
In fall 2018, the sextet followed with a one-off single called “Eidolon,” about the need for persistence to stand up to corruption and bigotry.
The Seshen’s material since then has been more personal. An album is completed and awaiting a release in early 2020 on Tru Thoughts, the band’s indie label.
“I think everything I do has a political piece to it because the personal is political, [but] I think this album does deal a little bit with depression and sadness that is on a personal level and that’s also politically how society creates these conditions,” St. Juste said. “At the beginning of writing this album I was very inspired. I was very angry about a lot of things going on and trying to figure out, ‘How do I really express and expand these emotions that society is stirring up inside?’”
What hasn’t changed is the band’s blend of sound, which is largely determined by Ehara. It will again include elements of synth-pop, R&B, electronica, neo-soul and indie pop. The band members have cited influences varying from Erykah Badu to James Blake, Radiohead and Broadcast.
There will also be some new elements included on the new album, which St. Juste didn’t want to discuss in detail or name.
“I think the songs have a different kind of grit to them,” she said. “There are songs inspired by Talking Heads; there’s songs inspired by the genre of krautrock. … We’re stretching sonically and including a little bit more rock influences.”
The new songs are as old as two years, though some have been written more recently. The week of the interview, she worked on filming parts of four videos in north Oakland with San Francisco director Dominic Mercurio (the drummer in Foxtails Brigade), with plans to record more in Belmont and Half Moon Bay.
She didn’t discuss the songs or videos in detail but promised some elements of surprise in the videos, which when combined will tell one narrative arc.
One of the videos will be released as a single later this year; the first song from the forthcoming album. The Seshen is also planning to release a 7-inch later this fall and go on a short West Coast tour. A longer tour will follow the album’s release. But up first is the band’s first appearance at Outside Lands Music Festival. For St. Juste, it will be her first time even setting foot inside Golden Gate Park during the festival.
But no matter what she’s doing, St. Juste will have something to say with the intention of helping others.
“It goes back to the political thing; there’s so much against everyone in this society,” she said. “What role can I play to lend a hand?”