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 pleasantries. By 2008, AMR had become a household name, but also was facing the very harsh reality of the collapse of the (major label) music industry. Although AMR is still chugging along, the fallout did deliver a few hot coals onto AMR's roof. In this third and final installment of Park's Oral History of Asian Man Records, Park talks about his excitement at the labels newest projects, how the sudden shutdown of his main distributor was a sudden blow to the company, and what AMR is looking forward to in the future. If you're not up to speed, please check out Part One and/or Part Two.
In 2008, Classics of Love formed. The band features Jesse Michaels of Operation Ivy and Common Rider, as well as all of San Jose's The Hard Girls. The staff of Asian Man was part of the incidents that brought the band together.
I don't know if Jesse Michaels called me up. A discussion, I think with a former employee, Skylar, he suggested the band Hard Girls to Jesse. It started with Skylar telling Jesse about the Hard Girls. I'm not sure if I'm the one. I can't give myself credit.
AMR Also released Classics of Love debut release, Walking in Shadows, in 2009. Park is planning to release the new Classics of Love LP in late 2011 or 2012.
I love Jesse Michaels. I love Operation Ivy. They were a band that really changed it for me. The lyrics that Jesse writes, to this day, are unbelievable. The guy's a genius. He was in seclusion for so long. I just so badly wanted him to play music again, but I wanted it to be more aggressive music.
Classics of Love don't play that often. The stuff he is writing, the really aggressive hardcore, is amazing. The new stuff, that people haven't heard yet, he's back on a really political slant. I just never met or heard or encountered a better lyricist than Jesse Michaels. When you think about it, the Operation Ivy lyrics, he was nineteen, or even younger when he wrote them. When I was nineteen, it's just embarrassing the lyrics that were coming out of my mouth. He's a talent. I think after this Classics of Love full length comes out, people will once again recognize the genius of Jesse Michaels.
In 2009, independent music distributor Lumberjack-Mordam, AMR's largest distributor, suddenly shut down with little notice. Over 100 labels lost revenue for their albums that had already been distributed by the company. AMR was hit particularly hard.
Oh, yeah, it was serious blow. I lost $80,000. It was a huge blow. I think the only other label that lost more was Alternative Tentacles. You know, of course no one likes to lose money. Fortunately, I live a pretty frugal life style. Asian Man, at least in my ideas, has always been under the radar. I've always saved money and we had enough in our savings to keep going.
We had a couple guys that worked at Lumberjack that started a new label called independent label collective. That didn't work out either. They still owe us about $20,000. Right now we're being distributed by No Idea.
In 2010, Park had to delay the release of Matt Skiba's [of Alkaline Trio] solo record, so it would not compete with the release of the Alkaline Trio's 2010 lp, This Addiction. Park comments on the differences in dealing with larger labels versus smaller labels.
It's not much different. I think they know. I've been around so long. It's not like it's just some kid doing something. In this case it was Epitaph. They know who I am, so it's like, "Ok, can you work with us on this." It turned out not to be a big deal.
It's not difficult. It's a littleâ¦ the big difference is you do have to go through some extra steps because the band has management. The band has a booking agent. When booking a show, you can't just call them. You have to go through their management and booking agent, and that is a hard guy to get a hold of and thatâs the difficult part.
Even when dealing with larger labels, Park says they never try to bully him.
No, no. I've had offers from big labels to buy stuff from me, which I've always turned down. I know that with Alkaline Trio, Vagrant was interested in buying the back catalogue, and I said, "Even if you offered me a million dollars I wouldn't do it." The interest is not money; it's about the idea of being an independent label and enjoying puting out records.
It is a business, but I try not to treat it that way. I try to have more compassion in what I do. If I was out there to just make as much money as possible, I'd be just putting out cookie cutter bands. We can all think of the labels that are putting out these horrible bands that people love. More power to them, but it's not what I want to be a part of.
Even if the chance presented itself, Park says heâd never put out a potential "cash cow" he didnât believe in.
Totally not, no way. Oh no! I get chills thinking of that. When I see promo shots of these almost hair bands, it's almost scary. Are you kidding me? And those bands are actually popular, it's very strange to me. I don't get it. I don't get the screamo stuff at all. It's huge or maybe itâs on the downside, but I scratch my head.
On whether he feels as though he might loose touch with the younger audience:
Of course. I definitely feel like I'm losing touch as I'm getting older. I still go to a lot of shows. I go to a lot of underground shows. A lot of house shows. I'm always the oldest guy there. It keeps me connected, just to talk to a lot of the kids and to ask them what they like.
On the purpose of a record label in the digital era:
I see it kind of being as part of a group. The only thing we have at Asian Man is bands are very supportive of each other. A band like Lemuria in upstate New York, and Andrew Jackson Jihad in Phoenix, and Bomb the Music Industry! in the Brooklyn area, Oâ Pioneers!!! in Houston, The Wild in Atlanta. All these bands are friends, and they help each other out when they go on tour. I think it's pretty much like being part of a family almost. I think that's the appeal a label has. A family in "power of numbers" vibe. You can help each other out if you need to. Other than that, bigger labels can offer their expertise if they've been doing it a long time. I've done a ton of stuff that might be helpful. Connections. I now a lot of people and can help bands touring in certain areas.
On AMR's long term viability:
I think it can stay around, definitely in a smaller capacity. Maybe I just have to be more careful. I always try to make sure that I'm one step ahead of the business. Following my heart, and seeing what makes sense. I think with the catalogue we have, it's pretty strong and I'm hoping we can last forever.
In the last few years, Park has become a father and toured less, but continued to put out new records and re-releases.
I'm always honored when someone wants to speak to me. That goes for a high school project as well. Punknews came to me, I didn't go to Punknewsâ¦ and I'm honored that they did. I've never sought out publicity. Maybe even more so now. I like to be in the back now. I never play shows. The last show I played was two years ago. Everything has just sort of changed. I like the anonymity of being part of the punk scene instead of being the performer on stageâ¦ but that could change too, because I have a couple new records coming out. We'll see what happens.
Even with declining sales, Park sees a viability in physical music
I think so. Especially vinyl. Vinyl is a pretty cool thing when you think about it. Watching the needle drop, seeing it hit the groove. Itâs really fun, especially if you're with friends. Say you have four friends, whether youâre drinking beer or drinking soda, just talking, and having fun. Analogue sound, if it's a well mastered record, it sounds really good. With digital, it's hard to get that sound.
On the AMR release that Park is looking forward to the most:
Classics of Love, seriously.
On the philosophy underlying AMR, and Park's own goals:
The philosophy I said prior to the interview, is that it's always about trying to be a good person, and letting that hope spread. The people that you encounter will react and try to emulate that. It's not just the label. Like when young kids call each other "fag" and use that as a derogatory term, as an older person, even if I don't know them, I'll say, "Hey, don't use that word to degrade somebody." It's not just the label, but all circles of life. If I'm at a punk show, and see something wrong, I try to educate the kids. A big part of Asian Man is community, trying to build something greater for the future. That's just a part of how I feel. It goes hand in hand with trying to what's smart, what's right. It's not about money, it's not about numbers. I don't care about soundscan. I don't care about touring revenue, this band or that band. Just try to help people. It's not about being on top and shitting on people.
With this whole 15 year anniversary, I've tried everything I can to not get it on Punknews. I don't want it to be this big, "look at me! I'm the best"! Let's keep this low key. The tickets have never even been announced and they sold out. I just wrote a newsletter. People wanted tickets and did it underground.I could have done it at a two thousand seat venue and done it over three nights and charged thirty dollars a ticket. I have no doubt we could have sold out every night and made over $100,000 but it doesn't make any sense. It's no fun. I don't go to shows in those venues. I wanted to do this in places that I go to. I don't even know where I'm going with this. I just wanted to voiceâ¦my philosophy. Just having fun and not trying to step on people's toes and be a part of something.