Brothers slam as the Bots

“Check, check, check! — I’m checking,” says Anaiah Lei, 14-year-old drummer for the Bots, looking up from his microphone as a soundman adjusts the volume. He’s in a small Silver Lake practice studio with his big brother, 18-year-old singer-guitarist Mikaiah Lei, ready for another night of rehearsal.

The Bots are a couple of Glendale teenagers who play music rooted in the same punk and blues traditions as the White Stripes and the Black Keys, and have already gotten the attention of rock fans during live sets both locally and during more than a dozen shows on this year’s Vans Warped Tour. They’ve been mentioned in the New York Times, Spin and Rolling Stone, and this spring, the Bots will tour the U.K. for the first time.

“People are intrigued because we’re a young band,” says Mikaiah with a smile. “They always assume we’re much younger than we are. They think I look 12 and my brother looks 7: ‘These guys are so young, it’s awesome!’”

This isn’t Justin Bieber or Hanson. Anaiah hits the drums hard, has braces and wears a T-shirt that reads: “Punk never dies.” His brother stands tall at the microphone, slashing at an electric guitar, wearing a colorful shirt decorated with rainbow trout. The band’s self-released recordings are raw and hook-filled rock songs. (They are available for streaming or purchase at

During the rehearsal, Mikaiah begins strumming a ballad called “Old Days,” a slower, wistful song written when he was 13. “That’s one of my favorite songs,” says his mother, Akosua Lei, who watches from a nearby stool. She is also their manager. “And I asked him, when did he learn about the old days?”

The Bots will perform Nov. 12 at the Universal Bar & Grill in North Hollywood, and join Mos Def at Hollywood Park Race Track on Jan. 7.

“It doesn’t make sense to me why people enjoy live music,” Mikaiah says, joking. “It’s very nasty and loud and sweaty and weird. I guess people like it, and I like it. It’s interesting how people are gathered around — a bunch of strangers — for the same reason. I find it fascinating how this sound inspires movement and all this weird stuff.”

Before hitting the road with the Bots, the only time Mikaiah had ever left California was at age 13 on a visit to a grandmother in Texas. Last year, the Bots opened a show in New York City for the groundbreaking punk-rock act Bad Brains, whose enigmatic singer, H.R., is a longtime friend of their father, Alex Lei, formerly of the influential Goldenvoice Productions. “When we were growing up, H.R. was around the house a lot. They were very good friends. It’s awesome to have someone like him around and not really know who he was until we got older.”

On the road with Warped, Mikaiah says other bands were supportive and offered tips and lessons. One good friend he made was guitarist Joe Nelson of the hardcore band I Set My Friends On Fire: “He told me you don’t have to play as hard. He told me about wrist control. You don’t have to bash your strings. You can play firm and steady and keep the heavy sound at the same time. I use that in my playing.”

Both brothers work at rehearsals twice a week, and Mikaiah is constantly writing new material. He estimates he’s written about 70 songs. “I like to get up onstage and show another side of myself,” he says. “I’m much more exciting when I’m performing. You can’t spazz out and shake your body and talk about things that make no sense on a normal day without people thinking you’re insane. Music allows you to express a weird side of yourself, which is great.”

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