TuffGnarl.com is one of the newest South Florida entries into the oft congested world of the internet. With a range of coverage including music, cinema, MMA, soccer, politics, and fashion, to name a few, Tuff Gnarl's strength derives from the symbiotic diversity of its founders, editors, and staff. Founded in 2013 by Livid Records' Chuck Livid and Pocket of Lollipops' Tony Kapel, Tuff Gnarl also includes New Times' contributing writer Jesse Scheckner in an editorial capacity.
Taking the friendly know-how of his now defunct label, Chuck's managed to haul together an interesting and knowledgeable alternative that sets them apart from similar websites. We had a chance to catch up with Chuck and Jesse recently to discuss their backgrounds in publishing and the goals they've set themselves for the site.
New Times: Let's talk first about Livid Records and what went wrong there. For a while, you were releasing some pretty cool discs and gained the recognition of being Florida's "friendliest label." And then it all went away.
Chuck Livid: Livid Records was a label that ran with the ambition of being a musician's label first. We did things that other labels wouldn't touch because frankly we released bands based on their merits, hard work, and DIY ethic.
Unfortunately the state of the music industry, indie and major, made paying for studio time and pressing records very difficult without deep pockets. Bands that I released would not be considered "hit-makers" or "chart-toppers" by any means. For me, it was always about helping friends, making friends along the way, and pushing their music into the world.
The label ended because after spending easily somewhere in the ballpark of twenty-five thousand dollars trying to keep things afloat over the course of its five year run, nothing was selling. The economic recession was a very real thing for me around this time.
I learned two important lessons from running Livid Records: Take care of yourself first, because without ones' ambition your whole goal will crumble, and two, don't be afraid to ask for help. If you try to do everything yourself, you'll drown. No matter what qualifications you think you have, they mean nothing when you've lost sight of what you were trying to do to begin with.
The label lasted almost five years, and I really did have some of the best times in my life doing it. But at the end of the day, I have no ambition whatsoever to revisit the business of music.
Now you have re-envisioned yourself with Tuff Gnarl. Where did the idea to clog the internet with more content come from, and what sets Tuff Gnarl apart from like-minded websites? How important is Sonic Youth to you?
Chuck Livid: I made a music zine while attending Southwest Miami High School back in 1997-99 called Muddy Chaos. When I went to college I really wanted to major in English Literature, but I dropped out and have been working in music and IT since 1999. So it's really not so far-fetched.
I was motivated to start Tuff Gnarl because of the lack of local alternative news outlets. I mean I've picked up issues of the New Times since I was 14 years old but so many magazines and news rags have gone under since those days. I owe a lot to the New Times and sites like Jordan Melnick's BeachedMiami.com.
In response to your Sonic Youth question, look man, I love them. They inspired me at a very difficult time in my life. My favorite bands of all time are Sonic Youth, Ramones, and Mudhoney. In that order.
You cover a pretty large palette of subject matters, from comics to books, music, sports and even opinion pieces. How much of it are you responsible for editing and what kind of contributors are you working with?
Chuck Livid: Almost a year ago when I started Tuff Gnarl, I approached Tony Kapel (of Pocket of Lollipops) to help me with it since he has a publishing background. I did most of the editing and music reviews and Tony did a lot of interviews. Around October of last year, Tony took more of a backseat in regard to the site to book shows and playing with Pocket of Lollipops, which is totally understandable. Tony and I split shortly thereafter. I still consider him a co-founder because it really was him and me in the beginning.
I am now happy and honored to have Jesse Scheckner as our editor. Scheckner is relentless. He doesn't put up with excuses and he holds people's feet to the fire. He's also one of the best writers Miami has going for it. In the content driven world in which we live, you need all of his traits to even try to swim above all the bullshit on the web.
Jesse, how did you get involved with Tuff Gnarl?
Jesse Scheckner: Chuck sent out an APB of sorts along social media wires, explaining his intentions for the site and what kind of work he was looking for. Although I already was working for a few other outlets - as I still am - I was interested in collaborating with Chuck specifically, as I'd been a longtime admirer of his work ethic and ingenuity.
You've had an interesting career in self-publishing; tell us about your forays in printing and the early days of self-publishing online.
Jesse Scheckner: I put together my first book of poetry when I was six-years-old, and for as long as I can remember, I always had wanted to be a writer and/or write and draw comic books. When I was about 13, I was at a Less Than Jake show at Cheers, and afterwards, Chris DeMakes was being interviewed in the back porch area by some kid with a tape recorder and a backpack full of zines. The kid? Fucking Chuck Livid! His zine, Muddy Chaos, was an awesome mishmash of columns, album reviews, interviews and comics. I thought it was very cool, but I also thought, "Hey, I could do this."
So I did. I recruited one of my best friends, Will Foster, and together we wrote and drew six issues of this half comic/half zine amalgamation called The Adventures of Will and Jesse. The comic consisted of some unbelievably juvenile subject matter, the least of which being its masturbatory superhero protagonists, Whackerman and Crackerman.
After Will left for college, I had a few stop-and-starts with some other collaborators, during which time I put out another couple issues, but by then you could publish stuff out of your own website, which I did for a while over at Tripod. It featured comics, opinions columns, interviews, some further forays into juvenile humor... You know, the usual kind of stuff. I've also been involved with several indie publishing upstarts since, but nothing significant enough to mention.
Tuff Gnarl is still pretty young but it seems to be gaining momentum, what are your long-term plans for the site?
Chuck Livid: I want Tuff Gnarl to be bigger than the fucking Huffington Post. I want people in countries that you can't even pronounce to know who we are. We'll achieve market dominance by having the best writers on the planet contribute on topics they breathe, sleep and know about, giving readers unique, fresh, honest articles, interviews and opinion pieces.
How similar/dissimilar is Tuff Gnarl to your past experiences in publishing?
Jesse Scheckner: Every other outlet I currently contribute to has me nailed down in one particular role, whether it's music, film, politics, mixed martial arts, or the local print news work I do. With Tuff Gnarl, I can generally move in and out of different areas that interest me, which keeps me - and everyone else who works at the site - from getting bored with any one specific subject matter.
What sets Tuff Gnarl apart from those other publications?
Jesse Scheckner: Part of it is the unique mixture of those individually interesting and complex areas of interest: art, film, comics, music, fashion, politics, international sports, and the coverage of events related to those all of those fields.
Although the spectrum of the things that we cover varies in terms of widespread popularity, we without a doubt are true to our slogan, "A Community of Writers Uncovering Pop Culture's Hidden Gems." So even though we occasionally do write-ups on big blockbusters like Spiderman 2, we make a purposeful effort to shed a light on lesser-known and talked about though equally as noteworthy areas of interest such as the student protests in Venezuela back in February, disabled mouth artist Larime Taylor's fantastically dark indie comic A Voice in the Dark, research into how access to the internet can pull people out of poverty, rising MMA World Series of Fighting heavyweight Derrick Mehmen's quest for the title, a $50 blazer company called The Blazer Bros, and mind-bending self-published sci-fi like Gray Kane's insane novel, Psychic Steampunk Parade.
Chuck also does a regular podcast through the site, often co-hosted by Rob Zimmerman, in which he plays a lot of the crazy tunes he gets ahold of. Essentially, people who stop by the site will get something new every single day, and it'll always be interesting, well-written and different from what came out the day before.
Give us an idea of the current contributors staffing the content in the website.
Chuck Livid: We currently have seven staff writers at the moment. Everyone volunteers their talents to the site. As an atheist, I feel weird saying this, but it's the truth, I'm really blessed to have every single member of my staff believe enough in my vision that they take time away from their families, paying jobs, and whatever other life situations they might find themselves in. They not only produce thoughtful and insightful articles, but they're thorough and professional. Any startup would kill for a staff like Tuff Gnarl's. I never take them for granted, and I love every single one of them as if they were my own family.
Rob Zimmerman's had some pieces in which his active-duty service seems like an asset, as one of your first contributors, how did you two come across each other?
Chuck Livid: Zimmerman went to high school with my wife, Helena Garcia, in Boca Raton. I met him at some outing we went to a few years ago. Rob is a real American hero. He served two tours in Iraq in the Army. He's also one of the smartest, well-read, and to-the-point individuals I've ever met. His writing is bar none. He's basically Delray Beach's answer to Jesse Scheckner but with military training.
As editor, what short/long-term goals do you have for the publication and what kind of contributors/readers are you looking to attract?
Jesse Scheckner: In the short-term, I'd like to continue building up the brand of the site. Creating original content every single day is a key way in getting repeat, daily visits, so that's something our staff has placed a high priority on. Right now, we publish between one and three pieces a day, but I'd like to see us get to a point where four or five high-quality articles come out every day, each about something different than the other while still concentrating on lesser-known aspects of the pop culture landscape. For this, we'll need more capable writers.
In the long-term, I'd love to see the site become sort of an online indie alternative to Esquire magazine, with articles coming out every hour, 24-hours a day. Although our platform allows for instant publication - meaning we could become a news outlet if we so desired - I believe that to cater to the strength of our writing staff, we're better suited to adhere to a magazine format, featuring thoughtful pieces written about compelling and appealing subjects that cater to people who like to read about those sorts of things. Printed magazines may be going the way of the dodo, but that doesn't mean that the format that made them popular isn't still viable.
What would be a benefit/boon to local businesses if they advertised within your digital pages?
Chuck Livid: The local advertisers that have been with us since day one are Fort Lauderdale's craft beer hangout spot Laser Wolf and Sunrise's CD duplication masters, ATRDisc.com. Both are awesome mom and pop businesses that we have frequented or personally recommend. ATRDisc.com went as far as sponsoring my music podcast Hangin' Tuff with Chuck Livid because of all the attention we brought them. At the end of the day, we are committed local writers bringing in some of the most loyal readership that marketers would kill for. So if your business has a mission statement whose ethos are "local," "progressive," "organic" or the like, all clichéd terms I know, we're really the guys you want to advertise with.
I'd like to send the team at New Times (both Miami and Broward) a heartfelt thanks. Your respected papers have always been on point, and I've enthusiastically enjoyed them since the Rick Sanchez's hit-and-run killing days. Keep it up.
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