How The Bots Became L.A.’s Most Celebrated Rock Duo
Photo by Rebecca Smeyne
Unless you’re the scion of an oil-rich sultan, your 18th birthday probably wasn’t as memorable as Anaiah Lei’s.
Last month, the drummer of The Bots celebrated adulthood at his album-release party at the Bootleg in Silver Lake. He shared the stage with members of Redd Kross, Fishbone, Fidlar and Odd Future. His 21-year-old brother, Mikaiah, handled lead guitars and vocals.
The most extraordinary thing about the party was, for The Bots, how ordinary it was. Before the younger Lei brother became eligible to vote, the duo had toured with Blur, dynamited Coachella and Bonnaroo, and collaborated with Justin Warfield of She Wants Revenge and Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs — who co-produced The Bots’ debut album, Pink Palms.
“I just found out that our music could be Torrented. It feels official now,” Anaiah quips, black beanie masking a tremendous afro.
Despite a veteran’s resume, the younger Lei hasn’t lost his adolescent rambunctiousness. He shows up at his mom’s place in Glendale, skateboard in tow, and mentions that he’s going to play a game of midnight tag later at a nearby park.
“My friend has some baby cousins in town who are 9 and 10. He asked me if I was down for tag,” Anaiah says, surrounded by reggae collectibles, Chinese art and Bots posters. “I was like, heck yeah, we’ll do it.”
This alchemy of childlike playfulness and atomic energy partially explains why the brothers have become the favorites of rock stars twice their age. Watching The Bots’ kinetic jams can remind anyone over 30 of the joyous exuberance and purity that music once brought.
If they’d emerged a dozen years ago, their conflagration of blues, garage rock and post-punk would’ve saddled The Bots with “bringing rock & roll back” hype. Thankfully, these days they’re merely allowed to be very gifted young musicians, evolving rapidly.
“We lay pretty low,” Mikaiah says. The quieter of the two wears a black beanie and red flannel, interjecting ad-libs into his brother’s high-velocity recollections. He notes that the group didn’t incubate in any one scene. Neither Glendale nor Temple City — where Mikaiah lives with their dad — is a musical hub.
“I just watch a lot of TV,” Mikaiah says. “I go to Gameland and watch documentaries.”
His lyrics combine personal reflection with stories inspired by visual cues; his melancholic photo of a San Gabriel Valley bridal shop supplies Pink Palms’ cover art.
“A lot of the lyrics are sad, but I’m not necessarily tripping on being sad all the time,” Mikaiah says.
He mentions The Bots’ song “All of Them,” which taps into the universal fear that enveloped anyone who watched scary movies as a child.
“If you weren’t scared of Jason or Freddy Krueger as a young kid, then you’re pretty cool,” Anaiah laughs.
For all their immediate success, neither Bot reveals any discernible ego. They talk about music without careerist calculation. Whether onstage or off-, it’s obvious that they’re having fun.
The progeny of a Taiwanese, reggae DJ father and a Caribbean mother, the brothers got an early start thanks to exposure to their parents’ record collection: everything from Led Zeppelin and David Bowie to Lee “Scratch” Perry dubs. They picked up instruments in elementary school, started writing their own songs six years ago, and haven’t looked back.
Local shows spurred an invite to New York’s Afropunk Festival. From there, they earned a spot on the 2010 Warped Tour and everything fell into place — leading up to now, when they bask in a blinding future, kicking over bucket-list goals before most of their peers have graduated college.
“I just hope older folks dance and enjoy it, and younger people too,” Mikaiah says. “We want to connect with both.”
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