ABOVE: MIKAIAH AND ANAIAH LEI IN LOS ANGELES, DECEMBER, 2014. PHOTOGRAPHY: BRIAN HIGBEE. STYLING: ERIN WALSH. GROOMING: KYLE KRIEGER/SOLO ARTISTS. STYLING ASSISTANTS: ADAM BALLHEIM AND ANASTASYA KOLOMYTSEVA.
The Bots video for “All I Want” takes you through a series of gifs on a mock Buzzfeed page, “Botsfeed.” Each lyric comes with its own pop-culture illustration: Kanye West for “I wanna see you smile but you’re acting tough,” Edward Norton in Fight Club for “It’s all boring,” John Lennon for “You never could imagine,” and scenes from Peanuts, The Simpsons, and SpongeBob SquarePants.
Two brothers from Glendale, California, only one of whom can legally drink, The Bots are 21st century kids who make unrelenting rock with lo-fi production and mumbled, angst-filled lyrics (another example from “All I Want” is “No one’s like me so they’ll never understand completely/the lights in the house are off but I’m not sleeping”). “It’s a lot of sadness and emotions that I generally put into music, but the music is usually upbeat, so you can’t always tell that the song is depressing,” says Mikaiah Lei, the elder of the two brothers and lead vocalist. “I try to keep it vague so you can apply it to your life—leave things open-ended.”
“We are a serious rock-‘n’-roll band,” he continues. “We’re doing a different kind of rock music that should be heard. I don’t want to push our own band, but when you watch award shows and they’re like, ‘Best New Rock Artist,’ they’re not real rock musicians and it bums me out a little.”
“We play everything we want to play,” adds Anaiah. “We play everything from hardcore stuff to experimental stuff to folk-y stuff, indie stuff. We play what we like and ultimately that turns out to be rock-‘n’-roll. It all derives from rock-‘n’-roll. It all derives from one place.”
The Bots began when Mikaiah was in high school and Anaiah was still in middle school. In October, they released their official debut album, Pink Palms, which they’d been working on for about two years. “We had some pretty bad songs,” Mikaiah recalls of the band’s early days. “We still play ‘Liar,’ a simple, two-chord song, which is fun, exactly how we wrote it when we first wrote it. We’ve looked back and touched base with our old material and made it what we would like to hear today.”
AGES: 18 (Anaiah), 21 (Mikaiah)
HOMETOWN: Glendale, California
CHILDHOOD AMBITIONS: Mikaiah: I probably wanted to be a helicopter—an inanimate object: “I want to be a ruler.”Anaiah: Maybe a lawyer.Mikaiah: That’s an intense job. Didn’t you used to want to be a superhero or a princess or…Anaiah: Those aren’t even actual jobs.Mikaiah: That’s my point. “I want to be a ballerina.” That’s a real job, but it’s almost less realistic than a music career—it’s so hard to be a legitimate ballerina and make a living out of that, but there are people that do.
THE BEGINNING: Anaiah: I think I was six when I became really interested in the drums. I got my first kit at eight years old—my dad got me a kit. He was really excited that I was doing something as artistic as music. My mom was pretty supportive, but our dad was especially supportive.
NOT JUST A HIGH SCHOOL BAND: Mikaiah: We didn’t treat The Bots like other kids [treated their high school bands]. For example, the talent show rolled around and kids that can play guitar would form a little group for that occasion and it wasn’t like they were a serious band afterwards. I don’t think any other kids pursued a music career. But we took it seriously then with the intention of the music growing and becoming our life now—our lifeblood I suppose. That’s the way I always like to think about it, and I think Anaiah thinks the same. I don’t see myself doing anything but play music and be involved in music.
A FAMILY OF ARTISTS: Mikaiah: Our dad played the guitar and drums growing up as a kid, but then he started DJing in dancehalls, and that was what he did. Our other siblings sing and dance and stuff but our older sisters prefer to perform R&B. Our older brother is a writer and a poet. We love our other siblings very much, but as a band it’s just Anaiah and I.
BROTHERLY LOVE: Mikaiah: Did we get on as children? As much as anyone does when they’re a kid. You love your siblings, you hate your siblings, you love your siblings. Your family is really all you’ve got when it comes down to it, the old thing that blood is thicker—it really does mean a lot. There’s no rejecting that ever. It’s weird how people don’t talk to their siblings. You’ve got to cherish your family and the life that you have because you’re only allowed this experience once. Never hold any anger. People are terrible sometimes—the things people can do. Some people that hate their siblings and their family so much that they murder them and how can you live with that? Life is crazy.
BAND DISAGREEMENTS: Mikaiah: We disagree in a creative way. We both give it shots and we have to work it out and see what we both like as a compromise.Anaiah: It’s normal to disagree about some things. If Mikaiah wanted to do polka hip-hop, speed-blues with a splash of techno, that’s fun if you do that outside but in this band…actually, that might be null and void. I might be down for that. But, that’s not the point. The point is that I might have some constructive criticism and vice-versa. If we agreed on everything, who knows what we’d make.Mikaiah: It would probably be terrible. It’s like the musical mayonnaise thing where you put it in and you can’t take it out. It’s just layers and layers of messiness at a certain point, so you have to find and think about what will both please you and make the best song and not go too far with the weirdness, though a touch of weirdness is always key to making fun music.
FAMOUS FANS: Mikaiah: Damon Albarn was a big shocker; Jack Black was a big shocker. When Yeah Yeah Yeahs were into it I was shocked as well. That was pretty cool that they liked us. I heard that Prince likes us, but I don’t know if that’s true.Anaiah: I just found out recently that Norman Reedus is a fan of our band. That’s pretty cool. He’s going to be in the new Silent Hill video game.Mikaiah: Does the Queen of England like us?Anaiah: No, the Queen does not like us.Mikaiah: That would be awesome.Anaiah: Imagine being able to say that the Queen of England is a fan of your band. She’s obviously a fan of the Arctic Monkeys.
THE FIVE-YEAR PLAN: Anaiah: Have you ever heard the David Bowie song “Five Years” off of the album [The Rise and Fall of] Ziggy Stardust [and the Spiders from Mars]? We’ve got five years left.