Comprised of brothers Mikaiah and Anaiah Lei, The Bots are no strangers to disparaging labels. But they've overcome their share in more than half a decade as a rock band. "What was a big deal when we were younger? 'Look at the brown kids playing rock music.' That was a big deal for some reason," said Mikaiah.
The duo released their first album at 15 and 12, respectively, and after playing festivals from Coachella to Bonnaroo, shows across the world with bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Blur and a recent "Late Night" television performance, they've finally reached the typical ages of other buzzworthy rock bands.
When the group first started "it was kind of like a Jack Black 'School of Rock' moment," according to Mikaiah. Given their youth and rising success, The Bots offer an excellent case study for young upstarts searching for what it will mean to be a rock band.
BotsFeed, a fake website modeled off BuzzFeed and created for the band's "All I Really Want" music video, displays lyrics scrolled through a listicle made up of GIF images. Although the video didn't go particularly viral like a true BuzzFeed listicle (it garnered a meager 32,000 views), the use of the site's aesthetic to associate with their song certainly seems to place the band in a new generation.
The band Eternal Summers partnered more fully with BuzzFeed a few years ago, releasing a video called "Why Virginia Is The Weirdest (And Best) State" which was a straightforward viral video with shots interspersed of the band playing live. For indie bands, it still remains unclear if attempting to go viral is a new model to pursue -- does anybody actually want to be the next OK Go or one of those Vine stars who receive massive record deals? -- but instead is interesting in terms of subject matter.
More and more, "Snapchat Me Maybe" doesn't seem like such a ridiculous song title. The accepted subject matter of songs is certainly about to undergo a shift with our new forms of communication. The Bots seem to be one of the most equipped bands to handle this change and with their ambitions to be remembered along with the most popular bands from the generations before them, the ascent of these brothers is certainly worth closely watching.
The band has seemingly been on the cusp on ultra-stardom for the entirety of its existence, but lately The Bots have been especially close. In 2013, The New York Times used those exact words, The Bots are on "the cusp of stardom." Coming off their fall 2014 album, "Pink Palms," the band has gotten bigger and bigger shows, recently playing the aforementioned "Late Show" with Seth Meyers and Williamsburg Brooklyn's impressive Rough Trade Records Space. Just shy of 17,000 people Like them on Facebook, but they landed on the back of a Lunchables box with MTV's Rob Dyrdek. (No matter how you feel about the increasing nature of bands partnering with brands, in a traditional sense, that should be pretty big.)
But is it possible to become a "big" alternative-leaning rock band at the moment like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs from the last decade, or has the moment passed where indie bands have a support system to grow to that size? The Antlers recently stayed in a house sponsored by Sour Patch Kids while playing in New York. Mac DeMarco from the small label Captured Tracks enjoys a Facebook following of over 200,000, but that in part seems to be because he often guest stars on Adult Swim shows. Run The Jewels, which topped almost every critical album list in 2014, only has 71,000 Facebook Likes. Music criticism and hyping seems increasingly pointless in terms of taste-making, so how does a band break through?
Watching The Bots trying to figure all of this out has become a fascinating example of a young band triumphing over to notoriety. "This band is my job I would love to this for as long as I'm alive with the intent of making a successful career out of all this. We are able to get by with the help of everyone and family," Mikaiah told The Huffington Post; "It's our job, we take care of ourselves, our homes. Going into adulthood does suck (maybe on my behalf because I'm all about my youth), but that's how it is and that's what we have to do," Anaiah said, focusing on growing up.
The duo feels as if they've been over-labeled whether for their youth or race or gender and are afraid that there was a time they were considered a novelty act. The "brown kids" with the minimalistic indie rock-esque band name and the Death From Above 1979-ish sound. Talking about the name, they jokingly mention they sort of wish they had one of those ones that are hard to pronounce.
When they were just starting out as essentially pre-teens, the music was far less polished. In a culture where its hard to overcome first impressions, they seemingly have a fear their moniker will always be associated with how they started. In their minds, there is a struggle to escape what some labeled a gimmick.
Recently, the band posted a photo from Glendale High School's "battle of the bands" competition, when they were still at the beginnings of their career. "We were pretty surprised to win because we tried the year before and came in second place," said Mikaiah.
Nobody is counting on another indie rock band to become big at this moment in time. Growing up with The Bots, Mikaiah and Anaiah have had to figure out who they are as people and as a band at the same time. What works for them as people will work for the band and just maybe they'll be the alternative group that finally figures out how to musically get to stardom in a viral world.
Image Top: Getty. All other images from The Bots website.