Bis is it
Amanda and Steven from cult indie-pop legends Bis tell us about their album and the secret of their success.
When Bis formed in Glasgow in 1994, two of them were still at school. A couple of years later they appeared on Top of the Pops and signed with the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label. 25 years on, they’re still here and still vital: a DIY pop force to be reckoned with.
Despite being influenced by the likes of Devo, the B-52’s and the Riot Grrrl movement, Amanda Mackinnon and brothers Steven and John Clark – aka Manda Rin, Sci-Fi Steven and John Disco – sound like no one but themselves.
Their latest album, Slight Disconnects, is a typically zest-fuelled explosion of hooky, Day-Glo punk pop. Age shall not wither them. “We’ve been doing this for more than half our lives,” says Amanda. “I can’t imagine life without the band, it’s been such a big part of it.”
Have you learned any major life lessons from being in a band for so long?
Amanda: There’s so much that I’m proud of. We’ve made good decisions – and some naïve or hasty ones – but things just moved so fast for us. When we started I was 16, John was 15 and Steven was 17, we still lived with our parents. Then we were going around the world, getting in the charts, it was so much to take in. When we think of what we’ve gone through and managed to achieve during that time, it’s crazy.
Steven: We always believed so much in what we were doing, despite sensible opposition. We never toed the line, we didn’t do what people told us. We probably should’ve listened to one or two folk, but we did it all the way we wanted to do it. Even though we’ve released a body of work that’s quite confusing, it was all our decision.
Amanda: We could’ve signed to a major label and become really big, but maybe that would’ve been a stupid decision? Maybe we wouldn’t be this still talked about band making music now. Who knows?
Do you have any plans for your 25th anniversary this year?
Steven: I’d like to think that we’ll be celebrating a modicum of success and credibility with our new material. Also, in February we’re playing three nights in a row in three of our favourite small venues – the Old Hairdressers, the Glad Café and the Hug and Pint – rather than one big launch gig, and we’re tying it in with First Bus doing some kind of complimentary First Bis travel tickets.
What can you tell us about Slight Disconnects?
Steven: We’ve gone back to the roots of what made us excited about making music. We recorded it very quickly, we didn’t overthink it: let’s just do what we’re good at, let’s not be scared of pop hooks. During our heyday people couldn’t deny our catchiness, but people who didn’t like us would describe the catchiness as irritation. That’s probably fair enough, but we went through a period of trying not to be a pop band and that was cutting off our nose to spite our face, really.
What’s it like juggling Bis business with real life?
Amanda: It’s quite hard. I also run my own business from home and I’ve got two kids, so my life is actually mental. If someone witnessed my normal day I think they’d be quite blown away by it! But I’m quite proud of myself that I’ve managed to do this.
Steven: We’ve managed to have normal lives since being in the band. It’s a strange one, we didn’t spend a long time being on the dole or getting grants or whatever. A lot of our contemporaries, the Franz Ferdinand guys or whoever, they scrambled about with bar jobs and being in various bands before finally hitting something that worked. We had this thing that worked immediately.
As sage veterans of the pop scene, do you have any advice for young bands starting out?
Steven: Don’t do it? Nah. My advice would be: never compromise, not even in the face of comfort and wealth!