Ex-Pavement drummer forgoes indie in favor of obscurity
“I like being an outsider,” says Gary Young exuberantly, responding to critics who compare his eclectic, meandering brand of psychedelia to historical oddballs Syd Barrett and Roky Erickson. One would imagine that being an outsider is much more fun anyway. No burdensome rules or useless decorum to govern one’s life.
Young, you might know, was the free-spirited, long-haired (hence suspect) ‘60s casualty of indie rock’s genre-defining band Pavement that came to prominence in the early ‘90s. Young had a good 15 years on Pavement’s core founders SM and Spiral Stairs and yet was the first one to lose himself to youthful impetuousness, often prone to mid-song handstands and, strangely enough, distributing vegetables ("…only ones difficult to throw") to random audience members.
Flash forward to 2004, Pavement long disbanded, its former members continuing to perform and deliver in predictable directions except for, of course, Mr. Young, who would be the first to admit he enjoys “throwing a wrench into the woodwork.”
Forget the wrench. Gary Young takes more joy in throwing an entire toolbox into the face of convention. Writing music with a revolving cast of collaborators, Young is set to release his second recording, The Grey Album (Omnibus), on May 4 under the moniker Gary Young’s Hospital. The new release is a disorienting, almost melancholy pastiche of acoustic strums, undulating keyboards and spiraling fuzzed-out guitar lines. Add Young’s curious lyrical delivery, and the result is as confounding as a maze of funhouse mirrors. Essentially, the album reflects the most puzzling aspects of early Pink Floyd coupled with the more current Flaming Lips at their most obtuse. And yet, amid the acid-drenched absurdity, the album does not lack beauty.
Young grew up in 1960s New York City, where his litening habits moved from Hendrix and Traffic to prog-rock. Like all great loves, it happened almost by accident—and with some chemical persuasion. Young recalls dropping acid with his friend “Smitty” in ‘68 and buying the first King Crimson album merely because the cover art featured a grotesquely drawn face, no doubt seeming more alien because of the LSD. The art made an initial impression, but the music left a lasting one.
The Grey Album was recorded at young’s own Louder Than You Think studios nestled in the orchards outside Stockton. The studio is where Young fell into the opportunity of a lifetime, filling in on drums for the Pavement guys when they recorded the Slay Tracks single there. More recordings followed, with singles, EPs, and eventually the album Slanted and Enchanted—universally acknowledged as a modern-rock touchstone.
Pavement was Young’s ticket to the world and numerous adventures that he merrily recounts, yet nothing tops the ultimate thrill for adrenaline junkies than having to break into one’s own show. The next time you watch U2’s impassioned video performance of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” imagine an agile, pony-tailed, self-described gymnast and 40-something-year-old man scaling the harsh rock outcroppings of Red Rocks—and eventually a 30-foot-tall chain-link storm fence—to rejoin his Pavement band mates after being denied entry by one in a long line of ill-informed bouncers, doormen, ticket-takers and promoters who refused to believe that the wild-eyed musician was anything but a Deadhead in search of his Jerry instead of the drummer of indie rock’s hottest band.
The Gary Young’s Hospital Web site decries indie rock as “premised on cultural snobbery.” Young’s not spouting negativity so much as he is an opponent of the cool aloofness that many performers project to keep their fans at arm’s length. Young explains, "There’s no interaction between audience and performer. That’s why Roger Waters built a wall." Young’s abhorrence of Waters’ notions and the badge of cool many underground rock dwellers adopt is best exemplified by his handing out of vegetables during shows. Simply put, Young’s too nice a guy to waste time on pretension, and a solid proponent of as least one food group.