The Bots: Anaiah (l) and Mikaiah Lei
Photo credit: Walter Einenkel, courtesy of Vital Records
An edited version of this ran on Converse.com on January 15. Here’s the full version of my conversation with Mikaiah and Anaiah Lei, better known as The Bots.
Have you heard of The Bots? If not, then meet Mikaiah and Anaiah Lei–16 and 13 years old, respectively–two brothers from Glendale, California who are causing quite a buzz with their debut album, “Self-Titled Album”. Their sound reflects influences as diverse as Punk, Ska, Rock and Reggae.
How did you two get your start with music?
Mikaiah: It's always present in our family. We have a musical family, you know, my parents are Rastafari so reggae was always playing. They loved music, and we've always loved music .
Anaiah: And our dad always showed us music on the computer too. We always did that too.
M: Yeah that's something we always did together, us and him, since we were like 5 years old. He'd show us System of A Down, like hardcore stuff, and rock today. And yeah, and you know our dad used to take us to the studio a lot. His friends are engineers.
A: We went there a lot, and we got to hang with H.R. from Bad Brains. He was buddies with our dad.
M: I remember eating their food! Aaaalways eating their food.
Talk about some of the music that inspires you. Who are some of your musical heroes?
M: We like a lot of the same people: Bad Brains, The Arctic Monkeys, The White Stripes. But heavy rotation? That would be Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend… The Yeah. Yeah Yeahs.
A: But Arcade Fire the most.
What songs do like the best?
A: "No Cars Go"…. "Headlights Look Like Diamond"s….. What else? "In The Back Seat"…. that's all Arcade Fire.
M: I am picky about the music I listen to. Like Arcade Fire, before it became really big with the Wild Things movie I listened to "Wake Up" all the time, played it a lot myself, too. But really listen to it…. It's an emotional song. The way he sings it, some lyrics might not make sense but you can get it. I also like how they play with all kinds of different sounds…Celtic…the violins… I love the violins. It's a beautiful sound. Yeah, its that they have a current sound and touch on something classical. Yeah, it's just different. Maybe that's why it's so important to me and Anaiah that our music is our own.
What's it like having to balance touring and school?
M: I actually haven’t noticed the change. We don’t participate in any activities at school. We just do our music. We go to school, we do a show, we practice.
How are other teenagers reacting to you?
A: They’re really inspired. We get comments on our MySpace page that some kids are now picking up instruments because of us.
M: My friends are really happy for me. They’ve been supportive. I’m still that kid in school. My friends still treat me the same. I play music, and my friends know about it. That’s all. They let me know I’m still a normal kid.
What has been your favorite out of all the shows you’ve played so far?
A: The best was opening was for Saul Williams for [The] Afro-Punk [Tour]. Yea. That was so fun, that was definitely my favorite show, crowd surfing and everything. That was epic.
M: Best show though… my favorite? I would have to say the Rastafarai Music Festival, when we were younger. It was our first real show, I think I was 12 and I played [Bob Marley’s] “Redemption Song” on my guitar. Yeah, it was crazy … I guess people didn’t know what to expect. But I think I felt then, like this was something I could really do.
To what extent have you thought about careers in music?
M: We really want to continue to be musicians. When I was younger, I wanted to be a chef, but my teacher makes it seems so complicated. I’d rather just do my music. But being in music is a big choice to make. Most kids—I don’t want to sound like we’re bragging—aren’t like us and don’t want to be as seriously involved in music as we are. When we first started off, it was just for fun. Over time, I had to make the decision whether to get serious and I did, so my life has kind of changed from what it was. It’s just what my life is now.
When you're not touring and making your own music, what do you do to chill out?
A: Lots of videogames. Guitar Hero or Rock Band.
M: He’s super good. He’s an expert on all the instruments. I’m terrible at the game. I can’t do the guitar. I can play it in real life, but not on the videogames.
Any plans to add any other instrumentation?
A: We don’t plan on adding new members. But we plan on collaborations with other artists.
M: I’d like to add bass. Myself, that is. I don’t want to add anybody else to the band, I just want to play additional instruments.
“Old Days” towards the end of the album is really nice.
A: Our Auntie Emily recorded the piano for us.
M: I wrote the piano piece.
A: But she recorded it for us.
M: I was too lazy to just play the guitar part and go back and re-record the piano, so we had her do it at the same time I was playing.