Gary Young, the madcap original drummer for the pivotal indie-rock band Pavement, died Thursday, the band has confirmed. No cause of death was announced; he was 70.
Singer-guitarist Stephen Malkmus wrote on social media in a brief message, “Gary Young passed on today. Gary’s Pavement drums were ‘one take and hit record’…. Nailed it so well.”
While not an accomplished musician, Young’s ramshackle playing and on-stage antics played a key role in the Pavement’s original sound and persona. He connected with founders Malkmus and guitarist Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg in 1989 in their hometown of Stockton, California, where he owned a studio. The duo recorded their first EP, “Slay Tracks,” at his Louder Than You Think Studio, as well as their galvanizing 1992 debut album, “Slanted and Enchanted.” Young played on both recordings.
Percussionist Bob Nastanovich, who’d joined the group by that point, told Rolling Stone in 2015, “Gary deserves a lot of credit when it comes to that album. The whole thing was really brought together by him. Pavement was really fortunate to stumble upon this guy.”
While the studio technically was a professional 16-track operation, characteristically, “one of the tracks didn’t work, so [‘Slanted’] is probably one of the greatest albums ever made on a 15-track machine,” Nastanovich added.
Young brought an entertaining element to the group’s early concerts, which were musically focused on Malkmus and Kannberg’s more studied approach — standing on his head and handing out food were two favorites.
“This guy was from another planet,” Nastanovich said. “He could drink some of the largest quantities of some of the worst vodka ever made.”
However, it quickly became clear that Pavement would need a more technically proficient drummer if it were going to advance to venues more suited to its quickly growing popularity in the early 1990s. Young left the group in 1992 and was soon replaced by Steve West, who has remained with them ever since. Pavement split in 2000 but have reformed twice for tours over the years, including a ongoing global concert run that launched in 2022 and has lasted well over a year.
Young launched a brief solo career as Gary Young’s Hospital in the mid-1990s, and reunited with Pavement to produce two songs on the group’s last EP, “Major Leagues,” in 1999. He also guested with them for a pair of shows during their 2010 reunion stint.
Earlier this year, a documentary on his life called “Louder Than You Think” premiered at SXSW.