The story of Death Party Playground is really about the creative evolution of singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Kyle Taylor. Based in the thriving university town of Waterloo, Ontario, just west of Toronto, Kyle has been a fixture on the local music scene for over a decade, and began sharing his insanely catchy power pop anthems under the Death Party Playground banner in 2013.
Many of these, as well as a cache of new material, have been collected on the band’s first full-length album, Little Joy, to be released in January 2020. On one hand it showcases Kyle’s undeniable lyrical and melodic skills, but at the same time it displays how Death Party Playground has evolved into a true band, with bassist Dylan Bravener and drummer Sam Kargus providing the rhythmic backbone. The results are a combination of late-‘70s New York energy and early-‘90s Britpop drama, but most of all it’s the sound of a group of young musicians discovering their distinctive chemistry.
Songs like “Love & Fidelity” and “Rubber Man” literally leap out of the speakers, a far cry from earlier versions of these songs that made the rounds on the 2017 Death Party Playground EP, Bruce Willis’ Jog Playlist #3, which Taylor effectively put together on his own. For Kyle, it was a big change to finally bring in others to help execute his musical vision, and perhaps the biggest recruit for Little Joy’s supporting cast was engineer Joe Shugan who guided the band through initial sessions at a renovated church found on Air BnB, with overdubs done later at Shugan’s home studio.
“When I first spoke with Joe about making this record, I told him my priority was to make it sound as lively as possible,” Kyle says. “When I listen to the album now, it’s full of colour and life, and it sounds like us. It seems simple enough, but at times it can be hard to do; so many factors can cause a recording to fall flat. Joe paid great attention to detail and helped keep the project moving along. He did a great job.”
The finishing touches came after Taylor spent a couple of months in Los Angeles after recording was completed, where the distance provided a fresh perspective on what they’d laid down, as well as the album’s final title. “Joe would send me mixes when I was in Santa Monica, and I would listen to them while I ran at a nearby track,” Kyle says. “It turned out to be a great way to gauge our progress! By the time I’d heard nine of the ten songs, it really started to feel like an album and Joe felt the same way.”
Kyle adds, “One night after I’d played a set at the Silverlake Lounge, a friend took us to a bar in Echo Park that was called Little Joy. I just thought that was perfect. Each song on this album squeezes a little joy out of a dark time. So that became the title, Little Joy.”
In many ways, Little Joy is the perfect example of the old adage that an artist has their entire life to make their debut album. Taylor’s experimentation to this point has certainly paid off, mostly in the lessons he’s learned about how to make a message more powerful by saying less. The nuances of language have also extended to his approach to singing, as well as the importance of grabbing the listener straight out of the gate with a killer opening line. If this all sounds like Songwriting 101, it’s because Kyle has always looked to the masters such as Dylan, Prince and Springsteen for inspiration, even if their work might not have a direct correlation with his own.
Death Party Playground makes serious rock and roll imbued with the wonder we all experienced when we first dropped the needle on a spinning black disc. Little Joy will bring those memories back, and then some.