The Bots look to go beyond skate punk

The Bots aren't old enough to drink, but they've already played some of the biggest festivals in the world, including the Warped Tour, Glastonbury, South by Southwest, CMJ and, most recently, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

Brothers Mikaiah, 20, and Anaiah, 17, Lei may still live with their parents, but that doesn't mean this Glendale skate punk outfit hasn't paid its dues.

Since forming in 2006 — Anaiah was in the fifth grade — the brothers have issued an album and three EPs, opened for Bad Brains, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Tenacious D, and had Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz namedrop them as one of his favorites.

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Currently in the studio finishing up their debut album on the Fader label — they hope to release it as early as May, but likely summer — the Leis will play Bonnaroo in June before a European trek.

We sat down with the Bots, who just wrapped a day of recording in Hollywood, for a conversation about rock ambitions, perceptions and touring.

How is the record coming along?

Mikaiah: It's been a long four months. We've taken our time. If we worked on things, like straight music.... We goof off and watch YouTube videos between songs.

Anaiah: [Laughs] Or we're eating a lot of food. And going to the corner store.

You guys started a band in grade school. What was the goal then?

A: There was no goal at the time; I liked the idea that I wanted to become a musician.

M: I wanted to be a musician too.

A: [Interrupts] Yeah, we thought it would happen someday … but it became a lot more serious. We weren't keeping up with it. I didn't realize we were doing what we were doing until we were on tour already doing shows.

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The attention must have been unnerving as the gigs got bigger. How did you deal?

M: It hit me a bit weird. But I say it's a natural flow to things. It happened within the time it should have. If things happened faster, I don't know, things would be different.

Ever feel overwhelmed by it all?

M: [Pauses] It's good to have a team of people to organize things. I'm very thankful for it. It's amazing to have a bunch of people to help make things easier. It's a lot different from when we first started. We never envisioned such a grand outcome, and we are only at the very bottom of things.

Have nerves ever gotten the best of you?

A: The only time we felt … not nervous, but weird, was playing that hip-hop show. We were on a complete hip-hop bill opening up for ASAP Mob, Casey Veggies and Schoolboy Q. We were like, "Wait a minute, what are we doing here?"

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Is that common, people making an assumption that you're rappers?

M: We'd show up to venues and people would ask, "Are you guys rappers? You do hip-hop?" And we'd say no, we're a band. [It's] racist. It's an issue of people judging your music off your color. We're half-Chinese, half-black. I don't think people should look at your color and say, "You're going to play this kind of music because you're a little bit browner than me and you wear a baseball cap or something."

What about when you play rock shows?

M: We've also showed up at a metal fest and been the only rock band. But even then, people have really great response. We were two brown kids and they probably thought we were gonna rap.

What does the new album mean for the Bots? Have you thought about that?

A: I hope it takes us to new ground. That it opens up new crowds and different doors to new places …

M: [Finishing his brother's thought] … and age groups. I'm very proud of the music on the new album. It's got so much more than we thought we could produce ourselves and that's a big jump from what we first cut. I feel like this is a good launch for us.

A: For a while people would just categorize us into a certain genre. They'd say we're just punk-blues or a punk-rock band. We may play punk, but we are a rock band. It's definitely going to change the way people assume.

M: It will be a proper rock 'n' roll album.


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