With a pop-punk sound and choppy, mournful lyrics unlike much music out there today, Mikaiah Lei, singer and guitarist of The Bots, finds inspiration from places beyond his blithe age of 20. “Depression, loneliness, longing, diseases, life experiences, traveling, photos, magazines, sleep, documentaries…the list goes on,” said Lei. And broadening The Bots’ already underage status is Mikaiah’s 18-year-old brother, Anaiah, who mans the drums. The two-man brother band, with depth and talent beyond their years, have been playing together since pre-pubescence, releasing mixtapes and an eponymous full-length in 2009. Their newest, Pink Palms, was released late last year, topping numerous lists of “artists to watch” and garnering industry-wide attention.
“We try to be versatile,” said Anaiah, describing he and his brother’s music. “We play pretty much anything from experimental to doom, classic rock and roll to indie to hardcore. We play everything under the sun, [but] we're just a rock band, really.”
From The Bots’ early days of unsympathetic punk to their new incarnation as a blues-infused indie rock outfit, the brothers have dabbled in a laundry list of influence. And since their 2006 inception, The Bots have gone from jamming in their parents’ garage to playing some of the biggest festivals in the world including Coachella, Glastonbury, the Warped Tour and SXSW. Currently, they’re touring the US for Pink Palms. In between shows and recording for their next album, we caught up with Anaiah and Mikaiah to talk skateboarding, music and something called “Vagcore.”
Campus Circle: Most kids your age are in school or getting their first jobs…what’s it like travelling the world and pursuing your passion instead?
Mikaiah Lei: It’s very strange because my job is unlike other kids I know. I enjoy traveling, I love making music, I love playing it for people and I am extremely grateful for where we are now.
CC: Are your parents supportive? You guys are so young and already following a sort of unorthodox career path.
Anaiah Lei: Yeah they are very supportive. And I could honestly say they never doubted us for choosing something like this. It actually is amazing to know that we have parents that want us to thrive in a band.
ML: They’re way too supportive. They want what’s best for their babies and we couldn't do it without their help.
CC: What’re the best and worst parts of your newfound fame?
ML: I haven’t noticed any changes but I barely leave the house, except when I’m on tour. People are very nice to me when I play but that’s if they notice me offstage. Anaiah always gets noticed on the other hand.
CC: Sometimes brothers don’t always get along. Are you two any different? Do you have any disagreements when it comes to writing songs or plans for the band?
AL: Of course we're different, we have similarities but we're different people.
ML: We usually have the same ideas as to what we want to make for the band but at the same time having different opinions makes things interesting. We can’t both be “yes men” to each other. We have to collaborate and that’s how things usually come together.
CC: How would you describe your sound?
ML: I joke and say “Vagcore” because it’s music that penetrates your ear holes.
CC: Where do you find inspiration for your music? Other musicians? Other art forms? Daily life?
AL: Inspiration comes from everything and everywhere. So of course, other musicians and our daily lives. Things we see in passing on a street, as well as watching films too. Skateboarding definitely plays a part in inspiration.
ML: In a way I like to write about sad stuff and wrap it in a cute little pop song. Also, I have been waking up lately and just writing the first thing that comes to my head and that in itself is inspiring to me so things work full circle in a way.
CC: Anaiah, I recently saw your video part featured on Transworld Skate. You rip! Have you ever thought of pursuing professional skateboarding as a side gig? Or is skateboarding a secondary, or more recreational thing?
AL: Thank you so much! And I love skateboarding, but I would never wanna be a professional skater. There is so much work you have to put in as a skater and physically too. Not that you aren't physical as a musician, but I love doing music and playing live. It is a secondary thing though, but very, very important to me.
CC: You guys started out with a very heavy punk influence. With Pink Palms, it’s still there but it’s slightly muted in favor of a more pop-infused rock. Can you chart the transformation?
AL: Well this album was a next step, really experimenting with the overall sound. But we still keep that hardcore influence no matter what. Especially in the new music we're working on, that punk influence is definitely there.
ML: We realized that the live shows always have some sort of punk attitude, even when playing the new songs we wrote in studio. It’s more raw, even our slow or more vibe songs. We were trying to make Pink Palms a cuter, catchier pop album with our rock element; something for mass appeal, like you have to get the attention from everyone before you show them what you really can do. Then next album I’ve been working on will be something very different in a very good way. Same rock elements with a different approach to pop music, more analog.
Pink Palms is available now via Fader.