For most artists, a side project is an avenue to get away from their usual musical identity and try something new. But for Kaskade’s group Late Night Alumni, it’s something of a return to the deep house sounds for which the DJ was known earlier in his career. The band has only played together a few times (Kaskade’s busy schedule might have something to do with it), but we’ve got an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at their 2012 performance at the Masonic Temple in Salt Lake City.
Alumni’s fourth album, “The Beat Becomes A Sound” (Ultra), showcases the lush, melodic grooves that have been almost left behind in today’s EDM landscape. The album came together over a few months in early 2012 during sessions in Lake Tahoe — home to singer Becky Jean Williams, Utah — home to members Finn Bjarnson and John Hancock, and a few sessions in Kaskade’s Santa Monica studios.
“It’s a collaboration of beats and melodies and thoughts and emotions from all of us put together,” Williams says. “The name references that moment when all of these unspoken things that are inside each of us become actual soundwaves and put together as tangible ideas that other people can experience.”
In the performance video below, it’s evident that Light Night Alumni isn’t just a studio project. They’re a proper band, capable of integrating their electronica sounds with a string section and acoustic guitars. Haley, known for her vocals on Kaskade and Deadmau5’s “I Remember,” is even seen singing backup). Playing for a hometown crowd in Salt Lake, the love of the band’s extended family is palpable in the behind-the-scenes clip. One can sense the comfort of the musicians onstage, who are not only well-practiced at their craft but happy to be playing together. Even if their sound isn’t club-ready (these are the alumni of late nights, after all), it works perfectly in a theater and, for that matter, on home stereo.
Often, an Alumni track starts with Bjarnson and Hancock, who will send Williams what they’re working on. She then adds vocals, sends it back, and at some point all four member get together to put on the final touches. If it sounds like a true Kaskade track here and there, that’s no coincidence. Williams can be heard on almost all of his albums.
“The Beat” was the first record Williams made as a new parent, “which you think would make it less good, but it’s my favorite,” she jokes. “Somehow we pulled that off.”
“It was more intense,” she says of the recording process. “But I think that actually helped. There was so much more emotion involved in my life.” Still, the album’s lyrics should not be interpreted as a status update on Williams’ current life. “Sometimes they’ll send me a song and it’ll have a mood to it already that I can’t deny,” she says. “I’ll end up writing something influenced by the track and not necessarily something I wanted to write about out of the blue.”
Tracks like “Every Breath Is Like A Heartbeat” weave complex melodies. Others like “Days” and “Summer Lies” are total chill-out dreamscapes. Meanwhile, “My Awake” and lead single “Shine” drive some solid, intoxicating beats, complementing lyrics that suggest a little sadness.
“A lot was inspired by past experiences,” Williams says. “People look at me and they’re like, ‘Are you ok?’ But yeah, I’m fine. Everything’s good.”
Late Night Alumni’s limited touring is a function of two things at the moment: one being their most famous member’s DJ commitments, the other being that Williams is expecting her second child later this spring. She’s planning to move back to the Salt Lake City area, to be able to work more closely with the two Utah-based band members on a follow-up to album.