DIY Indie legends Bis are back with their oddball and hugely enjoyable new album Slight Disconnects, which, as we seem to be saying a lot recently, is out soon on the fantastic and innovative Last Night From Glasgow Records. It’s their first proper studio album since 2001’s Return to Central and it shows in the best possible way. It’s jam packed with ideas, earworms and hooks amassed over the years, and the end result is as unique and full of energy as you could ever hope. We were delighted to chat to singer and keyboard player, Manda Rin (Amanda MacKinnon) about how the album came together, playing live and working the band around the day to day.
The new album has a number of tracks like Dracula and There Is No Point that hark back to older material, while others feel like you’ve moved on and there’s different influences in there. Was this a different type of album for you to make?
It has been a long time in the making and there were a lot of good ideas that came up over that time. We want people to see that we can still do what we are good at, the classic Bis sound, but trying to do something a bit different at the same time. An album of 10 of the same songs isn’t going to be interesting to anybody. Some of the songs have been around for a good few years, but nothing had happened with them. They were just tiny wee basic ideas. So we were just expanding on those really and kept coming back to them thinking “Oh this could actually go somewhere”. Then over time they become Bis songs.
Is it still the same collective process between the three of you or do you feel that with people being grown-ups and having lives and stuff that sometimes you just have to schedule it a bit?
It’s definitely been the most different writing that we’ve done. We’ve moved on from the days of just having 4 track machines at home and getting studio time to just muck about and write a song. We don’t have that much time. But what we have now is technology and email, which I didn’t even have in the early days. John lives up in Inverness so that makes writing and recording a bit more difficult as well. However with technology you set up internet accounts for various things and it goes back and forth. It’s exciting when you’ve a wee chat group with things to share. I love it when you wake up and see what they’ve been chatting about and think “Oh right, I’m going to get on this now”. It’s funny cause I don’t think anyone would have thought this, but we were the most talkative, the three of us, at 9 o’clock in the morning once we’d all done the school run and could take a breath.
You recently did some matinee all-age shows did that suit the body clocks better at all?
It was actually quite mental. There’s a place called The Lexington in London and the promoter, he gets some amazing deals with the venue. He said if we set up and want to play two gigs in the same day, he’d get us a good deal and basically make quite a lot of money from it. It went down an absolute treat last time. People just loved it. It’s not just the kids, it’s also the adults who want to get the train home and get to their beds early. I would do the same, I would go to a during the day gig for sure. However, we had Shine festival the night before so it was a bit of nightmare for Steven who was doing all the driving. We had to get to London early to do a soundcheck for the matinee and we were on stage at 11 o’clock the night before. That was quite different, but we still managed it.
You have three consecutive shows with different set lists coming up in February. Do you think that’s going to be more difficult to rehearse for? Are you looking forward to having something that’s different every night?
It’s definitely going to be challenging, February’s not that far away. A set is usually an hour in total so it won’t be the whole of the new album, it will just be a good chunk of it. We’ll then dedicate the rest of the set to songs from each album and era. I’m the one that gets the most nervous about doing gigs and stuff. I maybe don’t remember things as well as John and Steven. But doing these gigs recently, I’ve been thinking I’m not as bad as I always think I am When I go to rehearse, which is sometimes just the night before an important gig, it all does just come together. I do shock myself that I actually do ok. The only difference now is that we’re playing songs from the new album and people will actually know them after they hear it, I can’t just sing anything if I don’t know the words. I was getting away with it before, I’ll need to up my game with that.
Like a Dunning-Kruger effect for musicians?
We’ve been doing this for 24 years now, it’s more than half of our lives. With some songs, even if we’ve not rehearsed them for a year, we still don’t have to rehearse them. We don’t have to rehearse Kandy Pop, we don’t have to rehearse Kill Yr Boyfriend. Our kids even know them.
I was playing the album in the house this morning, and We Dream of Canada got a really good response from my 8 year old. Do you find that from the matinee shows and playing stuff to your own kids that there are certain songs that connect with kids because they perhaps connect on a purely rhythmic level?
Possibly, Steven’s children are very musical actually and they give the album a big thumbs up. My oldest is 5 years old, he heard Dracula for the first time and said ‘It sounds like Kandypop doesn’t it?’ I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing [laughing].
You’ve been together for over 20 years, with quite a lot of side projects also in that time. Is it comforting after working with other people to come back to working with John and Steven?
It’s always comforting to go back to what you know and what you’re used to.
It’s a nice thing as sound-wise we grow when the three of us are together. But it’s also nice when you’re not doing anything and you’re offered something. I think, “Yeah, I would like to do guest vocals on that song!”. When I’m offered to do something with a punky band like Hard Skin, yeah of course I’ll do that cause that’s the kind of thing I like musically. Saying that, we’re one of the few Glasgow bands that haven’t been in lots of other bands. Everyone knows us primarily as being from Bis.
Apart from your musical side projects you’ve also got your badge company.
The badge business is my day job, I’ve been doing it since 2000. That’s what I left working as a radio presenter to do. It was just taking off so much that I didn’t have time to do other work. I love having my own business, I like being my own boss. It’s demanding especially when you’ve got two children and a band on the go. I like not having to ask permission if I want to do band things or go to a hospital appointment or something like that.
Do you think your audiences have changed over the years?
We’re all a wee bit hesitant to do things like Shine, that kind of reunion type thing. Saying that, the best thing is that you get a mix of people who know you people that don’t. That’s why Steven says “We’re Bis from Glasgow, Scotland” on stage so much, because some people don’t know. Just like I got into listening to the likes of The B52’s or The Slits very late, it’s an exciting thing for people to still be discovering us.
Slight Disconnects will be released February 15th 2019 on Last Night From Glasgow Records. To Celebrate the launch, Bis will play 3 venues over the weekend 15th-17th February.
You can get your copy of the album and buy gig tickets (All Glasgow Dates Now Sold Out) at lastnightfromglasgow.com
Interview by Stephen McColgan
Images by Brian Sweeney