I remember buying Big D & The Kids Table’s “Good Luck” from a local record store at age 15 and finding inside the ten year anniversary Asian Man Records mail order catalog. In this catalog there was a letter from label founder Mike Park explaining that they were not a big label. He said he ran it out of his parents’ garage, had one phone line with no call waiting, one computer, and two employees (his mom being one of them). This blew my mind and was my simple little introduction to DIY ethics. So when I got the chance to interview the man behind the label himself, it was no small deal to me.
I got to sit on a couch and drink a beer while Mr. Park walked his dog around his neighborhood on a very windy day in San Jose, California. While there were several moments in our interview that I could barely hear him due to the weather, this was still the best interview I’ve ever done and a dream come true for me. Read it below.
DS: First Question: Is mail order still fun in 2016?
After 20 years or so – actually more, because before Asian Man I was doing it for Dill Records – some days it’s fun, some days you’re like “meh.” It’s pretty monotonous. Still, I’m pretty lucky to be able to go at my own pace and pack records. So no complaints, but some days it’s a little monotonous.
But you guys still do mail order though? Like I could buy an Asian Man Record…
Oh yeah, a lot of our business is all mail order. Without mail order we would fail. My stuff is not in stores. That’s our bread and butter – without mail order we’d be doomed. We don’t really have good distribution. Go to your local store, your Mom & Pop, and see if they have any Asian Man stuff. If they do, it’ll probably be a couple records by Alkaline Trio, maybe a Joyce Manor record and that’s it.
Yeah, I remember buying my first one in a local Mom & Pop, but over the years I’ve seldom found them there.
Yeah, I always look in stores and see if they have Alkaline Trio. If they don’t have it, then I know they have nothing else. I don’t even care (laughs), I’m like “whatever, that’s cool!”
Makes sense. Can you tell me a little bit about the Asian Man 20 Year Shows coming up and what you’re most excited for about that?
It’s a small celebration. People come in and say “you must be so stressed,” but I’m not! These are super small shows. We put shows on all the time for our bands, so it’s just an extension of that but it just happens to be five days long. I think it’s a time to just hang out with friends and listen to music and it’s going to be a reunion of sorts for people we haven’t seen in a long time. So that’s exciting! Some of the older bands – COLOSSAL, I haven’t seen those guys in a while, and MU330 I haven’t seen in awhile. I’m excited to see everybody.
That’s awesome. While I’m thinking of it, someone asked me to ask you if there’s ever going to be another Plea for Peace Center.
We had one for five years, I spent over $140,000 and lost everything. We just couldn’t sustain the place. We were hoping to get some help from the city, but the city was broke. It’s just impossible. Without a bar (it was a non profit youth center) and the cost of renting in California, it’s just impossible. It was a cool spot, but we couldn’t sustain the costs at the time. So to answer your question, nothing in the immediate, but never say never.
So, at least in the circles I run in, ska and emo are usually seen as polar opposites, and looking through your discography, I kind of feel like you had a hand in both. I.e. putting out bands like the Honor System as well as all of the ska bands you put out. Are you a fan of that kind of music?
It was accidental. I would say I’m not very well versed in emo music. I still don’t know exactly what it is. When I grew up, I thought emo music was emotional music through dynamics, ya know bands like Fugazi? So when emo exploded, music like The Get Up Kids, Saves The Day – all that stuff? Even Alkaline Trio? I didn’t understand… I still don’t understand why it’s considered emo! I’m putting out a record by this band Dowsing – they’re from Chicago. They’re an emo band – but I don’t know enough about emo, I don’t know why they’re emo! I would classify it as indie with a little punk influence. So, I don’t know. But with ska… I know ska super well! I know the history, etc. So ska I understand, emo I don’t know. It’s totally accidental that I’m involved with any bands that are considered “emo”.
You and ska music in general have been super active through history in promoting tolerance and acceptance of different races, cultures, and backgrounds. Do you think it’s important in general for punk to be socially or politically aware?
I mean, I would like it to be, but I also like other music that’s just fun. Bands like The Aquabats… there are so many goofy bands through the history of punk, like The Dickies… there’s so many that are about having fun and there’s no political agenda and that’s totally fine too. But I’m also influenced by bands that have a message with their music. That’s always been an influence on me. I like all music – as long as the people are cool, that’s all that matters! I’m just saying historically, if you look at punk in the 80’s, there’s so many bands that were not political, but again there were so many that were. Basically I don’t know what I’m talking about (laughs).
Yeah, they’re just about having a “TV Party.” Even though Black Flag had political songs. If you grew up in the 80’s, especially the early 80’s, so many bands were just singing silly stuff.
(Laughs) that’s awesome, because I was born in ‘92 and feel that that’s totally misrepresented now when it’s talked about.
Yeah! I mean, as a kid growing up in the 80’s, I just remember a lot of punk bands sang funny songs. You have the one by the Suicidal Tendencies, “Institutionalized.” There’s kind of a political message in there but at the same time it’s funny! “All I wanted was a Pepsi, but you won’t give it to me.” The lyrics are genius when you really think about it.
Yeah, that’s cool to hear! Going off that question, what bands then encouraged you to be more political with your music?
7Seconds! The Crew was the album! That album changed everything. For early 80’s punk, that album The Crew was just like “man!” They were talking about feminist issues, they were talking about racism. It was like “wow!”
This might be kind of a dumb question, but how did you find punk?
Let me think about that… I started getting into New Wave I guess, at first. MTV was super big in the early 80’s. I remember seeing Billy Idol, and then Devo and Oingo Boingo. And then I just kind of started going to shows. Social Distortion was the first show I went to, which was in 1985. I remember, actually, I saw Repo Man the movie, I got an army jacket and put the anarchy symbol on the back – I didn’t even know what it stood for. I had no idea. I was like “oh, I saw the movie, so here we go!”
Actually I don’t think it is cool, looking back at it.
So when you started Asian Man were there certain bands that you wanted to put out or had in mind?
There was no agenda – Asian Man was an extension of Dill Records. Dill Records was a collective amongst the members of Skankin’ Pickle, even though I did all the work! When we toured we got to meet all of these great bands, and none of them had labels. That’s how I got to meet Less Than Jake and Slapstick. The other members would be like “Less Than Jake’s horrible” and I was like “nah, this is great! I’m going to put it out!” So that’s how it started, just being able to watch these bands and be there for their nurturing and their little scene. So other than that, I’ve never been a traditional label flat out. Asian Man came about by just going to shows and talking and meeting people and it just continues to this day to be like that. I don’t do contracts or any of that.
Over the years, did you have any high moments? Like, “this is the best thing I’ve ever done,” or “I’ve finally made it” to your idea of success, whatever that might be?
I don’t feel like there’s a moment where I was like “wow, I’ve hit the mountain top!” I think in 20 years, I still feel pretty blessed. I get excited, but I still feel like no one knows who we are. I still have these very awkward and insecure moments. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” which has also been kind of my motto. I don’t really care if I know what I’m doing, as long as I’m honest with bands and they know what to expect and we can keep that friendship, that’s all that matters.
Were there any records in particular that you put out that felt should have been huge records but that not enough people “got”?
SO MANY! I don’t know where to start! All MU330 records.
Should have been huge. Shed Some Skin by Slow Gherkin. That album is killer. It sold way under what it should have.
Do you have any advice for young label owners that would save them a lot of trouble and time?
If you’re a new label, it’s gotta be fun, and you gotta do it for the right reasons. If you’re specifically starting a label like “this is what I want to do for a living,” it’s not gonna happen. You have a better chance of winning the lottery. Honestly! How many labels out there are turning such a huge profit that they can make a living off of it? Besides the big ones like Epitaph and FAT.
They probably didn’t expect to make a living either though, like they probably started the same way.
Yeah, so it’s like if people want to start a label, do it for fun, ya know? Like do it for your community. Help out. It’s not about you, it’s about the artist. I think labels maybe kinda feel discredited. If a band gets popular and they leave the label, they get so mad at the bands. It’s like, you know, that’s bullshit. You were never in it for the right reasons from the start! You were only friends with that band because they were on your label. As soon as they left, it’s over.
Absolutely. Alright, cool! Any closing thoughts?
(laughs) nothing I can think of!
Mike is one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the luck to interview. If you have a chance to go see any of the Asian Man 20-year Anniversary shows, do it, because in a world and industry that tends to breed negativity, the Asian Man community is truly a place of positivity and refuge. Signing off in the way Mike signs all of his e-mails, letters, and online posts, and as a tribute to Asian Man Records,
Asian Man Records 20 Year Anniversary Shows:
SATURDAY JUNE 18th NOON MATINEE
THE HOT TODDIES
THE ATOM AGE
and many special surprise guests
$5 at the door. no advance tickets
12 NOON DOORS, MUSIC @ 12:30 PM
SATURDAY JUNE 18th MATINEE
BOTTOM OF THE HILL
12 NOON DOORS, MUSIC @ 12:30 PM