In the Studio: The Bots with Justin Warfield

Recording The Bots with Justin Warfield

When musician/producer Justin Warfield first heard The Bots six years ago, he was so excited about their music, he brought them to the attention of his management, and reached out to the closest thing The Bots had to a manager at that point: their mom. The Bots, Warfield learned, were brothers Anaiah and Mikaiah Lei—then aged just 15 and 12.

Before even meeting the brothers, Warfield found out they are Rancid fans, so he kindly mentioned them to Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong. “Tim said, ‘They sound great, but to really be a band, they need to go on the road—get out there and play,’” recalls Warfield, a former member of the Geffen act She Wants Revenge.

Mikaiah Lei plays an assortment of what Warfield calls “thrift-shop guitars.” Warfield miked up his reissue 1965 Fender Twin amp with a Shure SM57, and put an SM7 on his ’65 Fender Super reissue. Guitars always went through Warfield’s Calrec pre’s and were panned hard left and right.” Five years later, The Bots had a deal with FaderLabel, and Warfield’s management had taken them on. They were ready to record a full-length.

Warfield recorded four songs with them; the Bots then tracked a few songs with Nick Zimmer of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, brought them back for Warfield to work on, and for the next several months they began to shape their punk-meets-electronica album Pink Palms in Perfect Kiss, the studio that Warfield and his SWR collaborator Adam Bravin then operated in L.A.

There were numerous avenues into the arrangements and recordings— from live performance in a rehearsal space, to Warfield programming beats first and the Bots playing on top, to the three of them passing instruments and ideas around in the control room until they found a groove.

“I played some bass. I did all the programming, and played a couple of guitar parts as well, but 90 percent of what you hear on the album is the brothers,” Warfield says.

Just before beginning The Bots’ sessions, Warfield had sold his Pro Tools HD3 rig and installed Apogee Ensemble and a new Mac running Pro Tools 10. Sessions took place, on and off, over the course of seven months; they would break when The Bots left to play Coachella, SXSW, etc., and then reconvene.

“Mikaiah plays guitar through a bass amp and a guitar amp, and he has two massive pedalboards. I had all the cabinets and drums miked, and we had a Roland SPD-SX pad set up in the live room in case Anaiah wanted to trigger 808s or samples.

The go-to vocal chain was a Neumann U87 to an API 512c, into a UA 1176. “Another go-to for me is the [Waves] L1 Ultramaximizer plug-in. It’s great on vocals and incredible on snare drums—any time you want to keep something that’s just a little peaky under control,” Warfield says. “The first song I co-wrote with them, ‘Blinded,’ started with something I programmed. I do some programming in Pro Tools, but mostly I use Native Instruments Maschine. The feel and timing and quantization and even the filters do a good job of emulating the old stuff without being decidedly retro. My sample libraries are on my hard drive and I either program them straight on the grid or through Maschine. But most of the samples and sounds I use get manipulated either with plug-ins or outboard gear, or both.”

Warfield used a few different reverbs: a Roland Chorus Echo, as well as Avid D-Verb and R-Verb. “Any songs that sound sort of reggae dub-style were done by hand with a tape echo. On vocals I used R-Verb, SoundToys’ Decapitator, the H-Delay. And there was a lot of SoundToys EchoBoy for ambience where I wanted something between slapback delay and reverb.

“It was an interesting blend, because it’s not necessarily an electronic album, but the way I process audio, there’s a very electronic base and background,” Warfield continues. “My manager said, I want you to capture that Southern California punk energy like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone, and Rage Against the Machine— not sonically, but in the energy of this band. That was a touchstone for me.”