The lo-fi movement in alternative rock did not start with Pavement, but the band quickly earned a spot at the top of the industry. Their breakthrough album, Slanted and Enchanted, became one of the most influential records of the decade. While Pavement would go on to bigger things in the future, the three-piece band featured Stephan Malkmus, Scott Kannberg, and an unusual drummer – Gary Young. Documentarian Jed L. Rosenberg examines the story of Pavement through the story of Young. With some unique visual choices and very funny interviews, Louder Than You Think becomes an intriguing look at the early days of rock pioneers.
Gary Young led an unusual life before meeting Kannberg and Malkmus. He worked a series of odd jobs, even getting in trouble with the law. He’d been a hippie earlier in his life, done acid upwards of 350 times, and joined more than 125 bands. As a drummer, he used his brother as a resource to set up a recording space for bands. When Malkmus and Kannberg heard about his studio and equipment, they asked to record with Young on drums. The resulting sound and record became Slanted and Enchanted and launched the trio into the mainstream.
Louder Than You Think establishes itself as an unusual documentary early in its runtime. Young make for a spectacularly entertaining yet unreliable narrator. Rosenberg juxtaposes Young’s interviews against Kannberg and Malkmus’ recollection of events. Rarely do the stories match up, but Young’s raconteur abilities draw us into his version. As the eldest member of the group, with Young nearly twice their age. With that experience also came impatience.
Unfortunately, Young’s antics also became a source of distraction. He abused alcohol on the road and began to keep his ambition in check. Their overnight celebrity status caused Young to fantasize about rock superstardom, drawing rifts with the band. This was not limited to Kannberg and Malkmus, but new members Mark Ibold & Bob Nastanovich. Young made himself the de facto frontman of the band and started handing out “gifts” to those attending shows. He even tried to help the band sign with a major label early in their run. This ended up being one of the final straws in Young’s relationship with the band.
Wisely, Louder Than You Think dives into the post-Pavement career of Young as well. His post-Pavement album, Hospital became something of a cult object in the 1990s. In particular, his song “Plant Man” gained attention after the comedic music video aired on Beavis and Butthead. The eccentricity of Young and his lo-fi sound become impossibly catchy.
Young’s wife, Geri Bernstein Young, further establishes this is not a battle between former bandmates. She knows her husband’s eccentricities and provides a more intimate discussion of their relationship. While Gary often finds himself burning through relationships quickly, Geri continues to stand by his side. Louder Than You Think needed extra heart. These stories help us understand that Young is far from a fame-seeking drug abuser, which some had argued in the years past.
Rosenberg’s choice to integrate archival footage and modern interviews helps establish the tone of the film. Yet nothing shows the light and fun attitude quite like the use of marionette puppets for reenactments. The puppets are not only adorable, but they help make up for any missing footage.
While most of the documentary plays like a typical biographical documentary, this element alone helps elevate Louder Than You Think. For Pavement fans, this will be an illuminating and nostalgic documentary. For everyone else, it film curiously examines life as a musician.