This article was published in Huck Magazine.
They’re not old enough to buy a beer in their home country, but Californian brothers Anaiah and Mikaiah Lei are making a markedly mature racket as The Bots.
“Who here thinks I’m a girl?” yells afro-wielding Anaiah Lei into the microphone hovering above his drumkit.
The crowd gathered at the Camden Barfly chuckle at the 15-year-old’s jibe before erupting into laughter when his brother Mikaiah, 19, retorts: “Yeah, you look like Beyonce in Austin Powers.”
Despite informing me of their nerves in their dressing room only a short while ago, the brothers are showing no signs of anxiety. They quip back and forth and showcase their brand of youthful, punk-inspired rock ’n’ roll as if they've been doing it for decades.
The venue is packed wall-to-wall and despite their relatively small stature, The Bots are putting on a fully-grown show. Mikaiah and his guitar tear around the stage, still managing to come together on every riff, lick and chug. Meanwhile, Anaiah is a whirlwind behind the drumkit – dressed in a dinosaur costume for Halloween, no less – precisely pounding his snare and toms like a miniature, punk-rock Questlove. The Bots, it would seem, have arrived.
From Glendale, California, the duo have been hailed as the ‘future of punk’, which oxymoronic as it is, isn’t a bad appraisal for a couple of kids that started out playing music for visiting relatives. “It would be like: ‘Boys, bust out the instruments, it’s time for the show!’” laughs Mikaiah, perched next to his brother on a raggedy sofa before the show in their Barfly dressing room. “Then it became less of that and more of us actually becoming truly fascinated and passionate about composition and whatnot, so we took it upon ourselves to make music we wanna play.”
The Bots recorded their first LP, Self-Titled Album, in 2009, when they were just 12 and 15-years-young respectively. Since then, they’ve released three EPs and are currently working on their sophomore album. Their style is hard to pinpoint – garage punk on some tracks, melodic folksie or balls-to-the-wall blues on others. In any case, The Bots don’t seem to concerned at how their music is interpreted. “It’s experimental, it’s indie, it’s just rock music,” explains Mikaiah. “We just take influence from great bands, and whatever we can do with our two-person capabilities, however big we can make that sound, or how small at times, we just want dynamic, that’s what it’s about.”
Mikaiah, who played tambourine for his old school’s jazz band for an entire year because he couldn’t read sheet music (“it was awesome,” says his brother), speaks with an eloquence and self-assuredness beyond his years. There’s talk of waking up at 8am and practicing yoga, drinking lots of tea and generally looking after himself – not your typical 19-year-old routine. “It kind of sounds like I’m quite lazy, I don’t do much,” he says, offering a stark contrast to his hyperactive stage presence. “I’m quite homebound. I just try and find inspiration for music. I paint, I draw and I create… I kind of miss that a lot actually, talking about it now. It’s been really nice touring, I’m doing what I love out here, but I kind of can’t wait to get back home and just keep to myself.”
Despite their parents having separated, family has played a large part in The Bots’ swelling success story. Their mother, Akosua Lei, travels with them and acts as management, and they credit their father, Alex Lei, for introducing them to music, buying them their first instruments and supporting them since day one. “He’s very intense about our passion,” says Mikaiah. “He understands music, he gets it just like us.” Anaiah pipes up, adding: “He understands how hard it is and helps us with behind the scenes things. He’s our all around go-to guy, and he was the jumpstart for everything.”
My interview with The Bots was actually supposed to take place some days ago, but we had to reschedule due a fall out that resulted the boys not talking to each other (a semi-regular occurrence, I’m told). But there’s a lot of love between the two.
As the topic of conversation turns towards their first gig, Anaiah, tired from a day of doing the press rounds, rests his head on his brother’s shoulder. “If this was on video it would be really awkward,” he says. Mikaiah laughs, then talks about the minor disaster that was their first show – in a church, playing to 10 people, repeating the same three songs over and over. “From then to this point on we’ve become somewhat better,” grins the guitarist. “I do the best I can within my capabilities, and Anaiah is a fantastic drummer.”
“Ah, thank you”, replies Anaiah. “I give my brother credit for everything. We just try and do what we do. This band is just our feelings, our awkward feelings on a record.”
Having already toured with the likes of Refused, Bad Brains, the Warped Tour, Damon Albarn’s Africa Express and Tenacious D, The Bots have a hell of a lot to boast about, but they don’t. With the world seemingly at their feet, they’re humble and appreciative.
An old family friend, Bad Brains’ frontman H.R, once told them to keep calm and stay level headed, a piece of advice they took to heart. “He was quite sagacious,” says Mikaiah. “A lot of people lose their heads in this situation, get carried away and become someone else. But it’s good to stay the way we are...and to have fun doing it.”