Nobody thinks of Utah as a hotbed for beats, but Late Night Alumni's John Hancock says that preconception is dead wrong. "Utah has a lot of music," he says from his Salt Lake City home. "A lot of DJs come through on the way to California. It has a great indie-rock scene too, with Neon Trees and Imagine Dragons getting their start here." His Late Night Alumni, which straddles electronic and indie rock, is a good ambassador for the state of Utah music.
Listening to its sultry electronic dance music, you'd never think Late Night Alumni began with a Christmas song. "Kaskade, Finn Bjarnson, and I were working on some dance music, some chill tracks, when they heard Becky singing a Christmas song recorded here in Utah," the producer says of Late Night Alumni singer Becky Jean Williams.
"It was an indie-bluegrass version of 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing'" Williams explains. "They wanted to put my indie-girl voice over dance music tracks. At the time, I wasn't familiar with the dance music scene. Since then, I've been indoctrinated."
Since that yuletide discovery, Late Night Alumni has released five albums, starting with a bang with the group's most recognizable single, "Empty Streets," in 2005. They quickly gained an audience as a studio project, but years passed before they decided they wanted to be a live act as well. "We had done three albums before we did a live show. Becky's voice was too soft and pretty for a show, we thought," Hancock says.
"I had to learn to project my voice," Williams adds.
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That first live show became the subject of an hourlong documentary released by Ultra Records. "We loved the live experience," Hancock says. "We were like, let's keep doing this — I play keyboards and guitar; Becky sings. We'll change it up depending on the venue. Sometimes we have guests; we'll bring in string players. It's not just us DJ'ing behind a booth. We come from the DJ world, where live-playing and anything longer than a 60-minute set is a strange anomaly. We feel like we're pioneering something when playing instruments, and singing live should be the norm."
Late Night Alumni will take its live show to Gramps Sunday, November 11, for its first performance in Miami in four years. Even if this show will be just the two of them onstage, Williams says this won't be a laid-back affair. "We have a vintage look. I gravitate toward the dressy side. We're not just going to wear flip-flops onstage the way Kaskade would. That would be a lot more comfortable," she says.
Even if the members of Late Night Alumni have found their sea legs on the stage, they haven't given up work in the studio. In September, they released the single "Hearts and Silence," a collaboration with Myon. On November 23, expect "Tidal Wave," a collaboration with Mr. Tape, which the duo will play live for the first time ever at the Miami show. The pair believes "Tidal Wave" will appeal to longtime fans and first-time listeners. "That's my favorite of our songs right now," Hancock says. And perhaps as a tribute to Late Night Alumni's origin, the track is coming out just in time for Christmas.