Entertainment

Noise Annoys: Louder Than You Think director Jed I Rosenberg on documenting legendary Pavement drummer Gary Young’s extraordinary life story

This week, we chat to the director of the excellent new documentary about Gary Young, original drummer with 1990s indie rock godheads Pavement...

Gary Young in a scene from Louder Than You Think
Gary Young Louder Than You Think is a new documentary about the life of original Pavement drummer Gary Young

LOUDER Than You Think: A Lo-fi History of Gary Young & Pavement is a must-watch film for any Pavement fan, especially those wanting to know more about the indie rockers’ formative days.

Stockton CA duo Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg founded the band, but it was once they recruited the home studio-owning music veteran Gary Young as their drummer and de facto producer that Pavement coalesced into a force to be reckoned with.

New York State-refugee Gary’s extra years of experience helped the trio craft the ‘lo-fi’ sound of their first two EPs, generating an initial buzz that built steadily to the release of Pavement’s classic 1992 debut LP, Slanted and Enchanted.

Gary was also an extroverted live performer: his impromptu, mid-set handstands and trips to the bar became a fixture of Pavement shows, making him a fan-favourite – though such antics created tension within the band itself.

The film, which premiered at SXSW last year, features extensive contributions from all Pavement members bar Steve West, who eventually replaced Gary when his booze-fuelled behaviour finally became too much (and he started demanding the band sign a major label contract), plus brilliantly realised sequences in which puppets are deployed to help tell this unique character’s remarkable story.

A black and white photo of Pavement playing live at at Maxwell's in New Jersey with Gary Young on drums
Pavement Gary performing with Pavement at Maxwell's in New Jersey. Photo by David Corio/Redferns (Redferns)

Sadly, Louder Than You Think (named for Gary’s studio) has become something of a epitaph for the drummer, who passed away at the age of 70 in August 2023 having struggled with health issues for many years.

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This compelling and artfully constructed documentary will screen at The Black Box in Belfast on January 18 during the Out To Lunch festival.

Noise Annoys quizzed director, Jed I Rosenberg, about making the film...

A photo of the indie rock band Pavement in their early years when Gary Young was their drummer
Pavement Gary Young (centre, orange shirt) on tour with Pavement in the early 1990s

How did you come to direct this documentary?

One day, I got a call from my friend (and talented cinematographer), David Nicholson. He asked if I knew of the band Pavement. I said, “Of course!”

Then he asked: “Are you familiar with their original drummer?”

I was not.

David explained that a good friend of his, Jeffrey Clark, was looking to make a short documentary about the original Pavement drummer - this wacky character living in Stockton, CA named Gary Young.

David ran through some of the details of Gary’s story and asked if I would like to be considered for the director position.

Who in the world would say no to that?!

After a few phone calls with Jeffrey and his producing partner, Brian Thalken [a former bandmate of Gary’s in 1980s Stockton punk rock outfit The Fall of Christianity], we got to work on what was supposed to be a simple, short documentary…

The poster for the Gary Young documentary Louder Than You Think
Louder Than You Think (2023) The poster for the Gary Young documentary Louder Than You Think

Were you a Pavement fan prior to entering ‘Gary Land’?

I was definitely a fan of Pavement prior to the doc. In college I used to think of Pavement as a type of litmus test. If you were up on them, you probably cared a lot about music, particularly indie rock. If not, you probably weren’t interested in exploring independent or underground music.

So in my mind, Pavement always represented an entire subculture, not just another band with cool songs.

How much time did you spend filming Gary, and what was he like to work with as a documentary subject?

I think we spent about 10 days filming with Gary. He was a wonderful subject because he was always performing for the camera. He randomly sang songs and made silly noises at the camera. He had no filter and when the subject turned serious, he pulled no punches.

I showed some raw footage to a filmmaker friend of mine and he told me how jealous he was because the subject of his current doc was stiff as a board when they turned on the cameras. Suffice it to say that with Gary we didn’t have that problem.

That being said, Gary was an alcoholic, and we certainly had difficulties navigating that at times. Occasionally he was too drunk to take direction or give cohesive answers to questions. In those instances, all we could do was keep rolling and wait until things turned a corner.

Gary always rebounded, eventually.

A photo of Gary Young showing off his drumming skills in a scene from the documentary Louder Than You Think
Gary Young Gary behind the drums in a scene from Louder Than You Think

Was there a particularly memorable moment/day during filming which stands out in your mind?

I really enjoyed all my time with Gary and his wife Geri. One night I slept over and, despite the smell of dogs and cigarettes which became forever burnt into my clothes, I had a blast.

Geri made spaghetti and she and Gary told stories about long defunct waterbed companies, upstate New York, and all kinds of wackiness that didn’t make it in the doc.

A photo of Puppet Gary in a scene from Louder Than You Think
Puppet Gary Young Some scenes in the documentary utilise puppets to recreate key moments in Gary's life story

The puppets in the film are an ingenious way to recreate some of the key moments in Gary’s story. Whose idea was that and how challenging were those sequences from a film-making perspective?

The puppets are certainly one of the big highlights of the film. All credit for the idea goes to our producer, Jeffrey Clark. It was a clever way to re-imagine some of the stories in the film that had no accompanying archival material.

Furthermore, it allowed us to heighten some of the story’s reality and push the tone into a more surreal, and at times, comical direction.

None of us had any experience with puppetry, which is why we brought in Adrian Rose Leonard to direct all of our puppet sequences. Adrian warned me in the beginning that puppets are even less cooperative than humans. She was right.

At one point early on, we were filming with Puppet Gary and I asked if he could look up toward the camera. Adrian explained that doing so would take about 30 minutes because to look up, Gary would need to be completely re-rigged.

It was super fun nonetheless.

A photo of Pavement from their early years with drummer Gary Young
Pavement Gary Young (centre, in green cap) quit Pavement prior to them making their second LP Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Were the other members of Pavement all happy to share their experiences of Gary with you, and did you ever expect to be featuring a new Pavement tune from the original trio of Gary, Steve and Scott in the doc?

All of the Pavement members were super generous with their time and contributions. It was clear that these guys had so much love and admiration for Gary, despite how things ended with him and the band.

The song has an origin story. I view Gary’s life as a triumph, but given a different telling, it could certainly be seen as a tragedy. At one point during the final day of filming with Gary, I wanted him to speak candidly about this. I threw him a prompt: “Gary, do you want this doc to have a sad ending or a happy ending?”

After a short beat, he began singing an impromptu, silly song about how he wants everyone to be happy. I knew right then that we had to end the film with him singing his song.

Later, while editing I thought it would be a cool idea to have Stephen and Scott play music along with Gary singing and we could make a new song out of it. I added a text underneath the video in the edit that said “New Pavement Song under here??”.

I was blown away that it actually happened.

What was Gary’s reaction to the finished film and what was it like to be able to premiere it at SXSW with him in attendance, not long before he passed away?

Gary loved the film. Geri did too. I don’t think either of them expected the film to turn into anything beyond an amateur home movie of sorts. What started out as a 15 minute short film idea blew up into a 90 minute feature that took us about three or four years.

I don’t think Gary and Geri had any expectations, so when we finally showed them the finished film, they were blown away.

Being with Gary at SXSW was one of the best experiences of the entire documentary process. Before the screenings, he passed out bananas to everyone entering the theater. Later, he sat next to me and shouted at the screen like he was watching TV at home.

“Bullshit!” he yelled, when one of the Pavement members said that Gary was the only one in the band who cared about being a rock star. I could hear the Pavement fans in attendance crack up.

What a way to premiere a film…

A lot of Pavement fans are desperate to see this doc - will it be available to buy/stream any time soon?

I wish I had a great answer to this question, but our team is working hard on this and we hope to have some answers in the near future.

Finally, what are you working on next?

I have a few ideas for the next doc, but I’m only in the development stage. Hopefully things will progress in the next few months!

Louder Than You Think screens on January 18 at The Black Box in Belfast. Tickets £8 via cqaf.com. Follow @LTYTdoc on Twitter for details of future screenings and home release plans.

Independent Venue Week hits Belfast with Ash, Problem Patterns and New Pagans - and Steve Lamacq

Downpatrick indie rock trio Ash model the latest in glow-in-the-dark eyewear
Ash The Downpatrick trio will play in Belfast later this month as part of Independent Venue Week. Picture: Steve Gullick (Steve Gullick)

IT’S almost time for the annual celebration of grassroots live music that is Independent Venue Week, and this year Belfast is in for a treat courtesy of its ‘official broadcast partner’ BBC Radio 6 Music: indie-lovin’ BBC radio veteran Steve Lamacq will be presenting his new 6 Music show, Steve Lamacq’s Teatime Session, live from the Oh Yeah Centre on Monday January 29 from 4pm to 7pm with special musical guests Ash.

The Downpatrick trio will be performing a special live set on his show, which should whet appetites for their gig proper later that evening at the same venue with support from the mighty Problem Patterns.

Lammo says: “Independent Venue Week is always a great opportunity to spotlight the importance of our smaller venues. But this year, with hundreds of grassroots venues facing up to rent increases, rising energy costs and other cost of living pressures, I think it’s even more crucial to celebrate the role they play, not just in nurturing new talent but bringing local musical communities together.

Problem Patterns. Picture by Carrie Davenport
Problem Patterns. Picture by Carrie Davenport Problem Patterns. Picture by Carrie Davenport

“There’ll be hundreds of gigs all over the country [sic], from some established and soon to be well-known names, as well as a terrific range of newcomers who are well worth a look.

“I really hope it encourages fans to get out and see a gig and support their local promoters.”

Hard to argue with that: and, if you want to be there in person on the night rather than sat beside your wireless at home, make sure you apply for free tickets right now here.

Applications close at 11.59pm on Monday January 15, with successful applicants to be selected at random thereafter.

New Pagans play CS Lewis Square in Belfast tonight. Picture by Aaron Cunningham
New Pagans. Picture by Aaron Cunningham New Pagans will be performing in Belfast during Independent Venue Week

Be advised that tickets for the Ash and Problem Patterns gig that night at Oh Yeah are currently on sale here, priced £19.80.

Also, New Pagans will also be playing a show at Oh Yeah on February 2 as part of Independent Venue Week, with support from Virgins and Klyda: tickets for that one cost £10 and can be had via eventbrite.com.