Our frequent contributor Fuzzy recently spoke with Asian Man Records owner, Chinkees frontman, Plea For Peace founder and all around nice guy Mike Park at his recent show at 924 Gilman. They talk about the label, Mike's current musical direction and his ongoing charities.
I got lucky enough to do an interview with one of my favorite musicians/activists, Mike Park. Here it is, I hope you guys enjoy (Travis pipes up at the end). Mike: My Name is Mike Park, and I'm a musician and an activist, and run a record label called Asian Man Records
Speaking of Asian Man, I asked the readers for questions, and many of them centered around the label How do you choose the bands that you sign?
It's usually like, referrals. Friends of friends. "You gotta check this band out," that's usually the one thing that gets me to listen. I do try to listen to every demo but I've gotten a lot worse at it, that's why I put on the website "we're not accepting demos" because I don't have time. I feel sorry for the bands, because I want them to be heard, and I feel guilty for not hearing the music. But yeah, it's usually just referrals, friends telling me to "check this band out".
Along the lines of the referral thing, you have a long history with bands in the Chicago area: Slapstick, The Lawrence Arms, Colossal, etc. How did that start?
That's exactly what happened! It all started with Slapstick, then the Blue Meanies and Alkaline Trio. Everyone's friends and we just kept going with it.
What CD that Asian Man has put out are you most proud of?
You know, it's the Underground Screams compilation, I don't know if you remember that.
Definitely, I love that disc.
It was the most work I've ever put into anything, we got literally hundreds of demos. I was like "what have I gotten myself into?" but I listened to everything, and I thought we put out a freaking amazing collection of music from every genre, and I was really proud of it. I just wanted to do something for the bands that were trying to work hard and get their name out. Interruption for merch sale #1
How have you grown Asian Man? Specific way?
The reason I did Asian Man in the first place was as a way to release my own music, and friends and friends of friends. The goal was really simple, I didn't ever want to make it a job, at least where it's tedious and I'm playing the "label games" (actually uses in air hand quotes). And the label games consist of numbers. You always see bands talking about numbers, "we sold this much", "we want this", and for this record label, I just don't care. We run this out of my mom's garage, have one employee and that's all we do. It's very simple and it's really something that's exciting.
You started this label for your own stuff, and now are easily one of the most respected label owners in independent music. How does it feel to have that respect now, and be such an inspiration to people who start up their own bands and record labels?
I'm very inspired by young people who take initiative to work hard for something. And so when I hear of a band who writes a letter and says "I'm a big fan, and you inspired me to start my own label in my town", that's the coolest thing I can hear. That stuff, that stuff is the most important to me. I could care less if Joe Schmoe Rockstar calls me and says "Hey, I like your label." I'm appreciative, but it's hearing the kids say it that I really appreciate.
Need a hand? (at this point Mike's jumping on the merch tables to take down the massive green Plea For Peace banner)
Naw, I've got it.
There's also questions about the bands that you're in.
So, the Chinkees. Are you still "together"?
Yeah, we definitely are, it just comes down to time. Trying to juggle the label, the solo album. I put a Bruce Lee Band album out for the first time in nearly ten years, it's coming out in April. The Chinkees, I'm kind of like "AHHH!" I feel bad, it's definitely something I'm going to keep doing.
Do you think you've been successful in getting the positive message of the Chinkees and your other bands out?
You know, I just think I'm trying my best. I mean, obviously if I was on every magazine cover, every radio station, every TV show, I could reach a broader audience, but all I can do is try my best.
For me, that's like the neatest thing. You inspire a lot of people with that message, and for myself, I'm working for Habitat for Humanity, and that attitude is what got me into it in the first place.
Hard working, tough organization!
You've been in all these bands, and worked with all these bands, with this hardworking ethic, and do you think that type of ethic is disappearing?
I do. I do. I definitely think it's different than it was 10 years ago. And twice so than 20 years ago. It's just that the idea that money is the goal for any band. It's their prerogative and their right to make a living, and I applaud them. But just the same, in terms of the philosophy of punk, punk has become more fashion-oriented, instead of being an ideology. So um, it's just kind of interesting from that standpoint.
Do you think moving to the folk-style stuff, are you trying to reach a broader audience?
It's just that as I grow older, it's harder and harder to jump around and do all that hyperactive stuff. It's hard to be in a band so I don't have time. This way I'm able to tour and play my songs, it's the best situation I could ask for, really.
When I first got here, I was kind of surprised that there were so many people here who were younger. I'm new to the Bay Area, but I didn't know if this is typical…
Well, this is Gilman and it's very famous and a huge club and is very famous for that.
Are you happier when you see older fans, or younger people who are new to the message?
Basically, music for me has always been about all ages. For me, seeing young people excited about music is great. Of course, for older people, I'd love them to come! For them it's harder to come to a club like this, it's…it's not as easy…they'd rather go to a bar. I play bars every once in a while, but it's something I really dislike.
It's just the idea that it's selective. It's something like….an -ism.
Yeah, like ageism! Like, why should these people be selected as the few who can go, and this sect of people be selected as the few who cannot go, it's the same thing.
I remember, speaking of bars and such, the first time I saw Less Than Jake, they said you were straight edge now, and that they wouldn't play liquor store because of it. Are you all edge?
I've never been "straight edge." (At this point Mike makes the arms crossed "X" sign, and I die laughing) I drink every once in a while, and I think that most people who know me very well have probably never seen me drunk, and if they do, it's like once or twice maybe. **A kid who lost his wallet comes up to buy a pin, but has lost his wallet. Mike gives the exceptionally nervous teenager a free pin and definitely makes his night.
And that's exactly what I'm talking about. The video was amazing, how'd you come up with it? The whole opening thing…it's so great.
Well, I thought that the attention span of young people is so short, I've gotta capture it. I thought that this way would be the best way to get the message across with some humor in there too. The resulting footage is..well, it speaks for itself.
Did you put that together yourself?
Miya did it. She's over there in the white jacket, she works at Asian Man.
The fabled one employee?
Yeah, she's the one. She really makes everything happen, she's the workhorse.
(We go around taking down banners and such from the stage, while he thanks every person who says hi to him. Travis, the other interviewer chimes in: How's the Plea for Peace Foundation going?
It's good. It's something I'd like to be more proactive in, again, there's just so little time. I'm just kind of stuck doing what I can do. The goal for me is to just get this youth center open. That's the most important thing on my agenda right now.
That's awesome. We grew up in West Virginia, and in terms of youth centers and activities for kids, there's just nothing there.
Yeah, San Jose's such a big city, I just wonder what they're thinking.
Is the city going to match funds or anything?
That's going to be a big process: dealing with the city and asking for help, getting the surrounding businesses to support this. The last thing businesses want is a bunch of kids mingling about.
We just moved to San Francisco so we don't know a whole lot about it, is there a website to find out more info? Pleaforpeace.com!
(back to the first interviewer) One last question, it's kind of a personal thing. I'm an Americorps member, and part of my service is to do a project to benefit my community. I've started working with the San Francisco Food Bank, and I'm wanting to do a benefit concert in the city. I know this is a common request, but is there a way you could play?
Yeah, just tell me when it is.
(After this, there's some hero worship that I won't print, but we also talk about the benefit concert. Look for it in the Bay Area, featuring Mike Park, the RX Bandits and Satori) Interview and photos by Justin August