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Thanks to the popularity of electronic dance music, the time is right for Utah's Late Night Alumni

Published February 8, 2013 9:32 am

Local sounds • Red-hot DJ Kaskade is joined by two producers and singer Becky Jean Williams to create electronica.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In the past year, it seems as if electronic dance music has exploded in popularity. Onetime Utah resident Ryan Raddon — better known as Kaskade — became the first electronic dance music artist to headline and sell out Los Angeles' Staples Center in July.

Musicians ranging from Taylor Swift to Imagine Dragons and fun. have incorporated electronic dance sounds into their country, rock and pop music.

The time is right for Utah's Late Night Alumni, fronted by singer/lyricist Becky Jean Williams and led by producers John Hancock (who has produced David Archuleta, among other artists), Finn Bjarnson (the Pleasant Grove producer who is Kaskade's musical partner) and Kaskade himself.

It didn't happen overnight, Williams said: The group released its debut album in 2005.

"I think EDM has been growing slowly over the last four decades," she said. "It's just gaining more attention because it's gradually been able to reach more people than it used to. DJs like Kaskade have been hitting up dance clubs for years, slowly building a following. It's not so much of an explosion as it is the result of years of hard work."

Late Night Alumni released its fourth album, "The Beat Becomes a Sound," last month, and it features the quartet's signature down-tempo blend of ethereal vocals, strings, jazzy drum breaks and organic instrumentation, all blissed out with electronic elements.

In addition to "The Beat Becomes a Sound," record label Ultra is releasing a six-week video series featuring Late Night Alumni's performance at the Masonic Temple in Salt Lake City, including unreleased material from the new album and past hits.

The group performed in Kaskade's new homebase of San Francisco on Jan. 19, Chicago on Jan. 23 and Washington, D.C., on Jan. 25.

Williams answered questions about the group, its inspirations and success:

Describe your musical partners.

I work with three of the most talented producers out there, all of whom have played various instruments over the course of our four-album career. To name them all would take a few paragraphs. Suffice it to say that John Hancock, Finn Bjarnson and Ryan Raddon are each individually amazing, and I'm pretty sure there's nothing they can't do.

Where did you get the name for the group?

Finn and Ryan came up with the name before bringing John and [me] on. I think Ryan liked the name "Alumni" and Finn wanted something that referenced the nightlife scene.

What inspires the band?

We are inspired by a melting pot of genres. Finn and Ryan have been in the EDM scene much longer than John and I. I grew up on folk music and British pop. As the years have gone by, I've found something to love in almost every genre, from Santigold to The Strokes to Kaskade. We're all over the place. I think that's part of what makes our collective sound so unique and memorable.

Does being a Utah-based group help or hinder a music career?

I don't feel that it has hindered us, really. There isn't as big of an EDM scene in Salt Lake City as in other states, but with today's technology, we've been able to reach the people that want to hear it. I think we could be based anywhere, as long as we could get together often enough to make the music happen.

How did you get involved with Kaskade?

I think Ryan is always on the lookout for vocalists. Late Night Alumni had already been formed before John and I came on. They'd even tried recording with another vocalist, which didn't end up working out. They heard my voice on a local Christmas compilation and asked me to come into the studio to try my voice over a song. That song was "Empty Streets." That ended up being the first Late Night Alumni song, and things just took off from there.

What does your latest album say about the group and its aspirations?

I think this last album took more of a concentrated effort to put together since we were all geographically farther apart than we had been for the other albums. Because of that, we all put a little more into it, knowing we really wanted to make it work. We'd also decided when we started working on "The Beat Becomes a Sound" that we wanted to start doing live shows. … The album happened over the span of a few months in various locations and came together in pieces as a collaboration of beats, melodies, thoughts and emotions. The name of the album references that moment when these previously unspoken things become actual sound waves and enter our lives as tangible ideas to be experienced by others.

Why shoot a live video series?

We originally planned on filming the live Salt Lake show and putting it out on DVD, but because of business logistics, that got put on hold and the label thought a YouTube series would be the best way to get it out to fans.

What does the future hold?

We are taking a few months off from live shows because I'll be having a baby in May. We should be up and performing again by the end of summer, if all goes well.

dburger@sltrib.com

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Late Night Alumni

The band's new album, "The Beat Becomes a Sound," is available on iTunes.