An Oral History

Joey Cavella

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Today, Nerve associate editor talks with Nerve’s original creative director, Joey Cavella, who worked with Nerve from 1997 to 2002.

How did you get involved with Nerve?

I was dating Rufus’s sister Amanda. And I was working freelance in New York. Rufus asked me to design the site, basically. I first did a little bit of work for him for his other job at Cader Books.

I like to think so, yeah. We had these different sections, and we thought it would be nice to use physical objects to you know, to stand for those sections, rather than just a menu. This was back when there weren’t tons of websites back then to look at. I was coming off of designing Timothy Leary’s website. We’d built a house with rooms you could click and move through. And I was very much into that sort of three-dimensional navigation. The vibe was a comfy living room with a velvet couch and stuff like that.

What was Nerve like in those days? My sense is that it was a much crazier place than it is now.

It was fewer people, so everybody knew each other a little more, and we hung out together more. There was definitely a sense that this was an experimental project. I’m sure Rufus didn’t think that way, he thought of it as a business. “We’re having fun” was the overriding vibe at the time. It was the internet heyday in New York. There was a lot of money flying around, and we would go to three parties a week for various internet companies. Free drinks, free everything, tons of people. There was definitely a party atmosphere to what they called Silicon Alley.

What’s your favorite memory of that time?

Balloon ball. We had an office down at 311 Broadway. I forget how this started. It was probably the night of some party, like birthday party for someone. And we had balloons, so we started knocking the balloons around. Rufus went out and got a mini volleyball net and set it up in the office. The office was a loft. So we set up this volleyball net, and basically we would play volleyball with the balloon as the ball. And it was hilarious, because, you know, it doesn’t move very fast, and it’s really not going to hurt anything. So you can really spike it. We would just jump all over the place and really get winded. We would have real games, usually after hours, and sort of making up rules. Like, once you’re done with your three hits in volleyball that’s it, you can’t get it over the net. But if you wanted to, you could try to blow it over the net instead of a hit, you know. We really had good times with the balloon ball.

Of all the Silicon Alley startups, Nerve is one of the only ones that survived. I wondered if you had any particular theory on that.

It’s really incredible. There were some others that I really thought would survive, like Word. I have to say the reason is the captain. Rufus really steered it right. I mean, a lot of the other companies just landed on the rocks and went aground. And he somehow avoided those. I don’t know how he did it exactly.

Not as much excess, maybe.

Yeah, that’s true. I had a friend who ran a company, he got $7 million in venture-capital money. And they said “Spend it all this year.” So he had to spend it. In doing that, when things didn’t come back the other way, the company had to close. Probably not getting early venture capital probably had something to do with Nerve staying around.


What have you been up to since then?

A lot of people read Nerve and knew about it, so that helped me get a lot of freelance work. I designed various sites.I’m doing stuff with Ogilvy and Arnold, the two advertising companies in New York.

You were dating Rufus’ sister at the time, and you’re now married to Lorelei. Was that as awkward as it sounds?

No. I’ll explain how it worked, and then you’ll see it wasn’t weird at all. Amanda and I were dating, and Lorelei was a coworker. It was sort of the standard thing where you’re not supposed to date people in the office, you know? So we were coworkers for, I guess a year or two. Then Amanda and I broke up, and not long after that, it was sort of inevitable, a little flirtation around the office. Then at some party, we just found ourselves making out and stuff. And it was kind of great. By that time, Amanda and I had been broken up for probably six months to a year. So it wasn’t awkward at all.

So, no scandal.

No scandal at all. And the only thing I thought was funny was, Lorelei would stay at my apartment and we’d take a cab to Nerve. She’d go up, and I’d go get a sandwich and come in five minutes later. We had that whole thing worked out. For some reason, we thought we had to keep it secret. It was kind of fun.

Yeah, actually, I was dating the photo editor who left a year ago, and still am. And that was the exact same story.

Well, tell me if this was the same. After about six months of that–maybe not quite six months, maybe three months–we were at a Nerve drinking event. And we were talking to the guy who ran the office, this guy Eric, and we were all drinking, it was late. And he was like, “You know, you guys aren’t fooling anyone. Everyone knows your five-minute-delay thing.”

Yeah, it was exactly the same thing. Everybody knew. So do you have any good anecdotes about being married to a sex columnist?

I love it when they’re researching a book. They wrote The Big Bang with Nerve, you know? And when they were writing the handjob chapter, Lorelei was like, “Hey, hold on for a second. Come into the bedroom, I’ve got to try something.” And it’s like, well, no problem.