People who work in magazines tend to have interesting career paths.
Learning by getting in over your head is not only tolerated but encouraged, and it’s true that nothing that kick-starts the cognitive learning system more than a ‘holy shit I have no idea how to do this’ moment. Marvin Scott Jarrett is many things: entrepreneur, muso, philanthropist, photographer, but he’s also founded two of the most iconic magazines of modern publishing, Ray Gun and Nylon. It turns out that Marvin’s very much from the school of biting off more than you can chew, and he was kind enough to open the vault and cooly walk me through his unorthodox, illustrious career.
Marvin grew up in Florida, of all places, in a time when magazines were the cultural documents of the day. “At that time, magazines would just really transport me to whatever I was interested in. I was into surfing so I’d buy Surfer and Surfing magazines, I was into motocross so I’d buy motocross magazines and then, of course, I was into music so I’d buy Rolling Stone and Creem,” Marvin tells me on the phone from LA. “Those things turned me onto music that inspired me and were definitely part of the formative parts of my life for sure.” Before heading down the publishing path, Marvin harboured musical dreams of his own, but when his father died and he fashioned himself as the family breadwinner, Marvin decided to combine his two passions—music, magazines—and forge himself a career.
Marvin got a job at Creem, which on paper sounded like a dream first gig. But Creem wasn’t what it once was by the time Marvin reached it, his boss having bought the title off the founder’s widow. “He was just like an accountant, really didn’t know anything about music or the culture,” Marvin tells me, rueing the demise of what was one of his favourite titles growing up. So what did Marvin do in light of this great anti-climax? He talked a friend of his, whose family happened to own a paper company, into helping him buy the magazine. “I kinda went from working at this magazine Creem to ending up buying it with my friend. His family owned a paper company and I thought ‘Oh well, they own a paper company, maybe they’ll fund a rock magazine.’”
Creem re-launched in an over-sized format and the title had a new life, with new blood at the helm. “I learned by doing,” Marvin says of the Creem years. Whilst attending a rock ‘n’ roll university of his own design, it was the visual component of the business that really captured Marvin’s attention, and it was a continuation of something that he developed in his early days of sniffing out magazines imported from overseas, particularly Europe. “From like 16 I remember buying graphic design magazines and print and communication arts,” Marvin tells me. “I’d see what layouts I liked and what designers I liked. The visuals were really important to me.” As well as being Editor in Chief of the new look Creem, Marvin also took care of the creative side too, overseeing the visual element.
As happens, Marvin’s interest in Creem 2.0 began to wane, and eventually he cut himself loose equity wise and started thinking about the next chapter. At the time, the only significant music offerings in the publishing world were Rolling Stone and Spin. Marvin felt like there was room to move in the area, as he sensed the magazines had outgrown themselves and lost touch with certain aspects of the music scene. In particular, the Seattle grunge movement. So he started Ray Gun, the first magazine that was totally his own and the one that would be, perhaps, the defining piece in his legacy, although that remains to be seen. Ray Gun would go onto influence the feel of the 90s, and the magazine is still lauded for its design now. Something that not many publications of the 90s could boast.
“I had found an amazing art director who I’d worked with at Creem, and we’d won a bunch of design awards,” Marvin explains of the coming together of the publication. “So design was obviously going to be super important for Ray Gun.” Marvin and David Carson, who would go on to become one of the most influential graphic designers of a generation, met at a publishing convention and the two quickly decided to work together. “I had seen this magazine called Beach Culture and I really liked the design of it, so I called up the designer David Carson,” Marvin explains. A media kit was conjured, and Marvin pre-sold advertising to the record labels to get the publication off the ground. “The idea was really like a fanzine with amazing production values, that’s how I saw it in the beginning,” he says. The rest really is history, and between 1992 and 2000, Ray Gun was at the pointy end of popular culture, at a particularly vibrant time. The fact that bands like Radiohead, Björk, NIN and countless others—bands that Ray Gun really got behind at the early stages—went on to become so influential, is the ultimate validation of what the magazine stood for.
The internet coincided with Ray Gun running its course; Marvin’s love for title dissipating as popular music transitioned into a period of fabrication. “The music industry at that time totally changed,” Marvin tells me. “It became all about boybands and guys that didn’t play instruments, things like that, and I was getting bored with it, and so I had this idea to start this cool girls magazine.” Enter Nylon. The internet was to play a pivotal role in the introduction of Nylon as a new voice in the publishing world, and digitally the magazine was ahead of the curve.
“We ended up giving away that first issue digitally for free before it was on the newsstand,” Marvin tells me. “It got written up in the New York Times business section, and I had my distributor ringing me telling me that it’s crazy that you’re giving away the magazine for free before it comes out. And that was really my first big taste of what digital could do in order to build a brand’s profile.” Marvin laughs as he recalls using contacts with friends at Myspace and YouTube to help promote the Nylon launch. “Now it’s different,” he says. “You can’t really call somebody at YouTube and get your video on the homepage,” laughing at the irony of using real-life human interactions to “digitally enhance” a publication.
Marvin’s Nylon tenure came to an end in 2014 when he sold out of the business, and post-having two major successes in the publishing world straddling the digital revolution where many have failed, you could forgive Marvin for taking things a little easy. But it’s not in his nature. When I ask him what takes up the majority of his time in 2018, he pauses briefly before listing a staggering amount of ventures including recently launching a non-profit to raise awareness for mental health, a streetwear brand called DRKN that he’s a partner in, Utopia, a music and tech company that he’s involved in, a music blockchain, as well as going full circle and working on music of his own. “I’m trying to do a number of things right now,” Marvin tells me in a characteristically nonchalant fashion. When it comes to his legacy however, things drift quickly back to Ray Gun. Mainly because Marvin’s recently been working on both a Ray Gun book which is due out in the fall, and later a documentary, forcing him to lift the lid on a chapter that he’d had little time to revisit up until that point.
“I think that Ray Gun influenced the look of the 90s, I mean it really did,” says Marvin. “Everything that came from that time period in pop culture was certainly inspired by it in some way. I’m proud of that heritage.”