NFT: From Gaggers to Miscalculations
By now, you’ve all read about the history of No Front Teeth Records [if not, get over here and give yourself a crash course in all things NFT!], but let’s get back to the reason why these DIY record labels exist. These labels exist for the sake of punk rock music.
Marco may be known as the face of NFT, but he’s also a recognisable musician, fronting with huge international cult followings, such as the Gaggers, the Miscalculations, and the Disco Lepers, and many more.
Some of Marco’s biggest influences come from the Dischord Records’ model, which really reflects itself in the way Marco looks at records and running his own label.
“I was just like, wow, there’s two dudes that run this label, and I think Minor Threat is still in print, that record has sold millions of copies, obviously not all at once, but that record is just unbelievable,” he said. “It gets sold every time the kids figure it [punk] out again.”
Marco really believes in the longevity of vinyl. He doesn’t make albums specifically to promote tours or new and upcoming bands. His only goal is to release great records.
“People always say, ‘I wanna put a record out, but we split up.’ I don’t care. The record’s good? Of course I’m up for doing that,” he said. “That’s why I’m up for doing the Ten O Sevens record. It’s a fucking brilliant record. I don’t do things to be like ‘you’d better promote this on tour.’ If it’s a good record, I want it out there regardless of whether the band exists or not.”
Marco formed his first band, the DD Nymphos, when he was still in school. The melodic punk band swiped its name from a porn magazine. The band consisted of Marco on bass, his friends Daniel on vocals and Sam on drums. Originally, Marco was slated to be the singer, but unfortunately he’s never been able to play an instrument while singing, so he took up learning bass while Daniel took the lead.
“I’ve never been able to sing and play bass,” Marco said. “That’s why with the Gaggers and stuff live, I had to re-jig that. I can’t separate, or it’s just too much to learn, and in terms of being a showman, I think it’s better to not have an instrument.”
In more recent years, Marco has fronted bands with sizable cult followings across the globe, but he jokes that the best attended shows he ever played were the ones he played with the DD Nymphos. The young punks were even once supported by Ian Aspiry of the Cult’s band, the Holy Barbarians.
“We were still in school, everyone from school came and everyone from the girl’s school near us came, so we’d be playing shows to 250 people,” he said. “That’s big when you’re 15.”
When Marco was starting up as a musician it was difficult to crank out a CD, let alone an album. In comparison, it’s much simpler for bands to make music, and even record it themselves. Bedroom recordings may not always meet professional standards, but well, we’re talking about punk albums, not classical music.
“In my day it was hard. You’d go to a recording studio, it’d cost you a lot of money, and you’d leave with a cassette,” he said. “How shit is that? Now it’s like, you can chip in, buy a Mac, buy a couple of mics and in no time you have enough to record yourselves.”
“Okay, the drums are always the bit that pose a problem, but you can record. We’ve done it before.”
In the past Marco had a drumset set up in the same room he runs NFT out of, but since removing the drums they have had to find other ways to record drums. The Gaggers even recorded Blame You in the basement of the pub their bassist, Liam Rudy, works at.
With the Disco Lepers Girls of Cholera album, Marco needed both a drummer and a drum kit. He told his cousin about the Disco Lepers, but was having a hard time getting him interested.
“I wanted to make the sort of snottiest Killed By Death album, so I was like, I don’t even want to plan this shit,” he said. “So I got my cousin on board, who’s like a ridiculously talented musician, like a Gaggers drummer.”
“He plays like, math rock, and stuff like that. He likes punk, but he also couldn’t give a shit about it, at the same time, which is why he’s not interested in doing any Gaggers stuff.”
Eventually he convinced his cousin to jump on board, but then he was stuck with the question – how are we going to record the drums without a drum kit? So the two went to a digital music shop and got their hands on a set of electronic drums.
“We were looking at a digital drum kit and we pretended we were interested in buying it, so the guy said you can take it home if you want and bring it back tomorrow and we were like yeah, so while we borrowed it, we recorded the whole album and brought it back the next day,” Marco said.
Marco said the album was shit and he thinks it’s very obvious that the drumming was on an electronic kit, but he certainly achieved his snotty record goal. The album was snotty enough to score him some free extra copies from the pressing plant.
“The pressing plant in Germany pressed double the amount for free, because they said it was the best record they’d ever heard,” he said.
“It’s such a piece of shit, that record. They were like, ‘we’ve never heard anything like this. This is like the Sex Pistols’. It’s nothing like the Sex Pistols, but we had double the amount for free. I thought it was so cool.”
Marco said Disco Lepers albums have always done really well, but that they have gotten better over time. He thinks Club Stockholm was a decent record and that Sophisticated Shame was really good, but this may have been aided by the talented drumming of Gaggers/Miscalculations drummer, Shaun Clarke.
When it comes to the Gaggers, they’re a London band with a snotty sound and a strong American cult following. Many current bands in London’s punk scene are made up of members from all over Europe, so the Gaggers are a bit of a unicorn, with a line-up consisting almost entirely of native Londoners.
“The Gaggers is quite an interesting phenomenon, because we’ve got more fans in America than we’ve got here,” Marco said. “It’s not even to do with the fact that the record came out on an American label, because there was stuff out before that. People just seem to really dig us. I think we sort of represent that sort of Sex Pistolsy thing, that kind of also is a bit romantic for Americans.”
Marco jokes that the way the Gaggers look and sing makes them like comic book characters, and if you want to see the guys as comic book characters, well, you’re in luck, because California based artist, Jackie Sudden, has already made that a reality.
When the Gaggers started Marco didn’t know if the band would ever be a proper live band, or whether it would be just a bit of fun. Marco and Brandy really enjoyed each other’s music, but at the time Brandy was in London Guns and Marco was busy with other things.
“We were kinda like, yeah, this’ll never happen. Never. Until it did happen, then we were like, yeah, let’s just get this shit down,” he said.
Despite the fact that Marco runs a record label and has played in several popular bands, he has never been a big fan of heavy touring. Part of that is because he works in a school, another part is because he’s got three small children, and another is that he simply believes a record can travel farther and last longer.
“Even if the Gaggers got to California, which was the plan, I’m sure we would’ve done really well, but that record has gone so far,” he said. “They’re in Japan, America, Australia – We’re never gonna do that. Certainly not now.”
“The recorded product is what keeps a scene alive. How far can a live band go? If you’re only playing live and don’t have any recordings, you’ll just disappear. You can be fantastic. You can be the best live band in the world, but who’s gonna hear you? Your local scene? And?”
Marco hasn’t completely ruled out the prospect of touring, but says he wouldn’t go for more than two weeks. He said anything longer than two weeks is far too long to be away from his family.
“My oldest one is ten this year, and it’s like, where has that ten years gone? And I’ve been here,” he said. “Imagine if I’d been on tour in for a total of two of those years. That’s a lot of time to miss, and for what? I could’ve gone on tour two years in total of that time. It wouldn’t have gotten me anything more. Like, oh, I’m super famous now? I don’t care about anything like that.”
Marco thinks touring would have been a great experience, and that they may have made more money from selling merch, but he doesn’t think he or the band have really missed out too much from not touring.
“Obviously it would have been amazing, but I do think that how far you can get in your bedroom with a record is a phenomenon. Think about Sick Thoughts – he records that shit in his bedroom and he’s like a modern phenomenon of punk.”
While NFT is definitely known for its sound and aesthetic it doesn’t cater specifically to the nasty, snotty punk sounds you get from bands such as the Gaggers, the Botox Rats and the Disco Lepers. Marco loves all of those bands and their music, but he thinks there is only so much you can do with bands like these.
“It’s like Stiv Bators with the Dead Boys and Lords of the New Church, there’s only so many times you can write ‘Caught With the Meat in Your Mouth,’ and stuff like that,” he said. “You’ve gotta do something that opens up the lyrical scope, if you’ve got other stuff to say.”
For Marco, the project that offers him the most musical and lyrical freedom is the Miscalculations. The band started while the Gaggers were recording their second album, Blame You. Gaggers drummer, Shaun, approached Marco with instrumental recordings he’d been working on and asked him if he was interested in penning lyrics for them.
“I’m super proud of the lyrics that I write for the Miscalculations, it’s sort of the most freedom I’ve ever had writing lyrics, because I can incorporate genuine interests, like art and architecture in there,” Marco said. “I always liken it to painting a painting, and the way I layer a painting, I sort of know what I want to paint before I do it, and that’s how I approach Miscalculations songs.”
The first instrumental song Shaun sent Marco became “Live With Myself” and would go on to be featured on the band’s first album. Marco and Shaun loved the way the track came out, and thanks to Shaun’s stockpile of work, they had the first album wrapped up in no time.
Shaun and Marco are the only two musicians on the first Miscalculations album, so when they decided to take the band live they found it to be an extremely challenging task. Shaun originally played guitar in the first incarnation of the band, but the original line-up only lasted for a few rehearsals.
While they weren’t able to find a second drummer that could bang out a tune to the Miscalculations high standards, they were able to scout out Mauro Venegas, an extremely talented guitarist. Shaun knew Mauro could play the songs the way he wanted them to sound, so Mauro took over the guitarist spot and Shaun moved to drums.
“Mauro is ridiculously good. I couldn’t believe he could play that stuff, Shaun didn’t even show him anything,” Marco said. “He just turned up and played from listening to the record.”
Marco has never been very fussy about band lyrics with any of his 77-esque bands, but when it comes to the Miscalculations he is very specific about how he wants the lyrics to turn out, and hopes that the songs provide a sort of challenge to the listeners.
“Every sort of song is a little mini sort of master piece for myself,” he said. “I do like to be quite cryptic with what I’m singing about, although I am super focused and I know exactly what I want to write, I don’t necessarily want the listener to know straight away what it is. All the clues are there, it can be deciphered, but I kinda hope it’s a little bit of a challenge.”
The band’s critical reception has been extremely positive, with Marco saying he has yet to see a bad Miscalculations review, but jokes that he’s read loads for other bands he’s been in.
“I think we sit on a really nice line, real sort of post punk, but a sort of punk side of post punk,” he said.
With four releases out already, the band has been releasing music almost as quickly as listeners can begin to seek out more. The fourth album will be out sometime this summer. Marco said the band tries to give fans a bit of space between releases in order to prevent oversaturation.
When comparing the Miscalculations to his other bands, Marco said they are completely different outlets that serve completely different purposes, and that’s something he really enjoys.
With the Miscalculations Marco really explores his personal vocal range, whereas with the Gaggers, he utilizes a snotty sound that masks his vocal capabilities.
“It’s really challenging playing live with the Miscalculations, especially hitting some of those notes,” he said. “Recording is not a problem, but when you’re doing that live it’s so hard to reach those notes, and I’m quite particular about doing that really well, whereas with the Gaggers it was sort of fun if you fell over on stage.”
Despite their differences, Marco loves both bands equally. Many first-generation punks have told Marco that the Gaggers remind them of 1977, which he considers to be a tremendous compliment. However, he wouldn’t want people to say that of the Miscalculations, or to compliment the Gaggers the same way they would the Miscalculations. He wants listeners to understand that one band is for one thing and the other is for something else.
“The Gaggers is probably more fun in terms of a live show, or even the way we dress, but the Miscalculations has got more longevity,” he said. “It’s more open. We’ve written like five albums with the Miscalculations, number four’s recorded and number five’s basically written as well. I feel like we haven’t even started.”
Marco feels like the Miscalculations could write 12 albums without repeating themselves, whereas bands like the Gaggers only really have a three-album lifespan. For
those of you left wondering whether or not the Gaggers will ever release that third album, the band posted on their Facebook earlier this month that their third album is being pressed now.
“It’s gotta kinda sound the same, you don’t want the band to be so experimental that it’s a different thing, but the Miscalculations have so much scope and you can really push all the boundaries and still stay within that unmistakable sound,” he said.
This summer Shaun, who moved to Los Angeles last year, will be visiting London, and the Miscalculations will be punching out a month’s worth of shows. The band will obviously be playing in London, but European fans should have a few shows to look forward to.