Founded in the mid-90's by Mike Park, Asian Man Records was one of the first labels to make its mission to be "nice" and to treat everyone, from bands, to fans, to distributors, with respect and general pleasantness. This led to Park signing some of the most influential and most popular punk acts of the 90's and 2000's. Once AMR became a viable source for putting out records, Park began to sign bands. Either through skill, sheer luck, or destiny, Park happened to sign some of the biggest punk releases of the 90's. But with that boon, came the attendant pressure and conflict from (punk-scale) fame and notoriety. In this section of Park's Oral History of Asian Man Records, part two of three, Park talks about some of his most noteworthy signings during the label's initial rise, how he scouts out bands, and what Park thinks about file sharing. If you're not up to speed, please check out Part One.
One of the earliest, most critically acclaimed ska-punk acts on AMR was MU330. In 1997 AMR records released Chumps on Parade, which also was previously released on Dill records.
MU330, that was a contemporary of Skankin' Pickle. We played many shows together. When we would go to St. Louis, we would stay at the saxophone player's home. We just became friends. They started touring and would stay at our house on the West Coast. We spent a lot of time traveling together, so it just made sense. It was the obvious choice to put out their records.
Park on the first time he heard MU330.I didn't think it was a game changer, but I liked it. There were definitely some good songs on it, I think the album that was really a game changer, was Crab Rangoon their third full length. I think that if they had a big label behind them and recorded at a top notch studio, they could've been a big band. That's a good record.
But Park feels no guilt in not being able to offer some of the perks of larger labels.
I've always made it clear that I have no intention of being a big label. Asian Man will never be a big label, becauseâ¦ with a small label, you're in control of your own destiny. I've made it my choice that Asian Man will be a small label. I run it by myself. There are no employees. That's what I like. I let the bands know what they're getting into. I don't do ads, I don't do promotion, I put out records. Hopefully, within that community, people will support it and spread the word.
AMR does not operate under multi-album contracts, or even formal writings at all.
We do no record deals. We do no contracts. I write an e-mail out, explaining, "this is how we do it." I save it in my inbox so I can refer to it if there is ever any problem. Most likely there won't be. It's a good idea just to save those e-mails.
I feel like contracts don't do anything except cause friction. If someone doesn't want to work with me, why would I want to keep them tied up with Asian Man? It's a very simple method. If they want to leave, they don't have to jump though hoops or get lawyers involved. They're free to go.
On whether lack of formal contracts have ever caused Park regret later on:
No, because it's all worked for a reason. Even if I think itâs a problem, in the long run, it's often the best. I've never been like, "Wow, I really should have had a contract to protect myself." I don't think anything has been problematic by not having a contract.
Early in the lifespan of AMR, Park released Lookit! by Slapstick. Slapstick featured modern punk icons Brendan Kelly, now of the Lawrence Arms, and Dan Andriano of Alkaline Trio.
It's all because of Skankin' Pickle touring. We actuallyâ¦ earlier than that, Slapstick was originally on Dill. Lookit! was released in 1994 if I'm correct, but I could be wrong. We met them in Chicago. They opened up for Skankin' Pickle and that was it. Being in a band is a great way to be an A + R person. While the other band members were partying, I was watching bands. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I was really focused on the show. I like selling merch. I like interacting with kids. I like seeing bands. It was a great way to see what bands were good and to see what bands were cool people.
On whether Park is in "fan mode" or "businessman mode" when watching bands:
I think a little bit of both. Because I had a label, as Dlil records, I thought, "Wow, this could be a good band to put out." Especially near the end, 1995, 1996, we started getting more active, and becoming a real label and set up a real office. We were like, "Yeah, we can do this." I definitely think the last couple of years I was in A+R mode.
In 1998, AMR released the debut For Your Lungs by Alkaline Trio. Alkaline Trio would go on to release several releases on AMR before signing to larger labels.
It's all the Slapstick tree. After Slapstick broke up, they started two bands. Broadways and Tuesday. While Tuesday was still playing, it was becoming a little bit more part time. While they were still playing, Matt and Glenn from Alkaline Trio. their bassist at the time wasn't available, I think maybe he was going back to college, so they asked Dan Andriano [formerly of Slapstick] at the time, so they recorded a four song EP. Matt wrote me a big handwritten letter on 11"x17" pasteboard with a CD, and I almost didn't do it to be honest because at the time I was so busy. I was like, "Man, I shouldn't do this" because I was so busy. Thankfully, I did and the four song EP came out in 1998.
Despite having a formidable catalog Park knows thereâs always releases he wished he hadnât passed on.
Of course! There are lots of bands. Itâs hard to say which ones. I never sign bands, but if I pursued it, it would been a possibility. I'm trying to think if there any blatant mistakes of when it was super obviousâ¦ I can't think of a certain band, but I know there were chances of certain bands.
On being somewhat of a punk celebrity:
I consider myself an F-list celebrity and I use it to my advantage. I write newsletters and see if anyone can hook me up with this or that. Three months ago, my whole family, wife and kids went to Disney land for free.
I always try to use the little celebrity I have. It helps a lot.
In 2005, Park embarked on a living room tour where he would literally play the living rooms of fans instead of traditional venues.
I had been touring since 1990. I was like, "Why not try something different?" Because I was an acoustic artist, it was something that I was capable of. So I gave it a try. So I wrote a newsletter, got a lot of response, so why not?
But Park doesnât romanticize smaller shows.
[I donât prefer them] from a business stand point. If you're selling out a stadium you're making a lot of money.
But from a fan standpoint, itâs hard to beat that experience. It's kind of like being at someone's house watching one of your favorite bands play, its incredible. But, if I was able to fill stadiums like Bruce Springsteen, that would be amazing. Iâm not going to knock anyone for doing it. If I could do it I would do it.
This non-critical mantra is something Park carries with him, especially with Asian Man artists.
If an album sucks, I'll probably say, "Yeah, the album sucks." But, as long as the band is happy, I'll still do it. Actually, I probably wouldn't say it sucks even if I think it does. If the bands are nice guys, they can do what they want. You cross a line when you start affecting people in a negative way if that's by derogatory comments or just being an asshole. That's when I will step up and say, "That's really uncalled for. Things need to change."
In 2007, AMR released Bomb the Music Industry!'s Get Warmer. It was the first time BTMI! had a wide release of physical product. Previously, BTMI! had given their music away for free via online download, and sold a limited number of vinyl releases. Jeff Rosenstock, the lead writer of BTMI!, and Park agreed that while AMR would release the physical product, BTMI! would still give away its music for free online.
Asian Man does these parking lot shows at the Oakland Coliseum before an A's game. We'll pull a generator and play the parking lot. One year, Arrogant Sons of Bitches [Jeff Rosenstock's Pre-BTMI group], they just showed up. They were on tour and were crashing Warped tour shows. They showed up and wanted to play. But, we didn't have them play that year. We were having a barbecue that year. So I kept in touch with Jeff. I liked what he was doing with Quote Unquote records. I liked him as a person and his music. It was a good thing.
Park doesnât even mind BTMI! giving their music away for free via Quote/Unquote.
It's fine, especially in these times. Like, really to be honest, itâs so hard to sell records these days. So I was just about getting the music out. As long as I can break even and make a little bit of money I'll be cool with it. It's been a great situation.
I think definitely they lose sales because of that. But at the same time, I think what they are doing is very unique and creates a special bond between them and their fan base with bands that don't do that and sell more records.
Park on illegal file sharing:
Well, illegal file sharing, I think itâs detrimental and it hurts a lot of people. A lot of these musicians are trying to make a living and it's difficult. A lot of people in the music industry have lost their jobs, from the biggest label to the smallest label. We used to have myself and three other people working for us and now it's just me. That was as recently as August of 2010, so I had to change my ways just to support myself and my family.
Check back next week for the exciting conclusion to our series