It’s a popular opinion that Mike Park is one of the nicest people in punk music. The softly-spoken musician and label owner has been active for over 25 years, putting out countless releases through Asian Man Records and playing solo and in various bands, including The Chinkees, Skankin’ Pickle and The Bruce Lee Band.
We spoke to the multi-talented man to find out about his highs and lows from managing the label, what he looks for when decided to work with a band and his recent foray into children’s music.
What made you start the label? Were there any early initial challenges?
It was out of necessity. I wanted an outlet for my own music and thought why not just put it out myself. The initial challenges are the same as they are today – I don’t really know what I’m doing. We rely so heavily on word of mouth, but most conventional label practices are not practiced by me. So, I guess learning that it doesn’t have to be done a certain way was my first big challenge.
The ‘Slapstick family tree’ has spawned numerous bands – The Broadways, Tuesday, The Lawrence Arms, Alkaline Trio and more – all of which you’ve been involved with. Do you see yourself as an integral part of the growth of the family, or even part of the family itself?
Hell yes I’m part of that family. I love everyone in Slapstick – I’ve gone to their weddings, toured with their different bands, slept over their house and they’re definitely kindred spirits.
How excited are you about releasing another Spraynard record and their upcoming reunion gig? Do you know if the band has any plans after that?
I’m so excited, but also very sad because I have a wedding the day of the show and will be missing the special reunion. More than anything I’m just happy that the three of them are friends again. They were so close and then had some tension and that really made me sad. So the fact that they are back to the point where they are talking, playing music together and just hanging out is pretty amazing. Not sure what their post reunion show plans are, but hopefully it spawns some new music.
I saw The Murderburgers play recently. What made you want to work with them? Do you have an eye on the UK scene for other bands to work with?
The singer for Joyce Manor told me about them and said I needed to check them out. At the same time my friend Danielle told me about them and so this coincidence led me to listening and then loving what I heard. I talked to Fraser from the Murderburgers to see if we were on the same page and then made the decision to do the record. Unfortunately I’m not too well versed on the UK scene. I need to tour there more often to see and hang out with different bands and artists.
What is one of the greatest moments you’ve had with Asian Man?
I think the 15-year celebration was a huge milestone. Just being able to survive that long in a very volatile industry was a proud moment. And now we’re just two years away from our 20-year celebration. It’s crazy to think that much time has gone by.
Are there any bands you’d like to work with in the future?
I mean, of course. I can name all my favourite bands, like Frank Turner, Hot Water Music, Against Me, but the reality is that’s not gonna happen. I’m more than happy working with up and coming bands. That’s always the way it’s been for me – building bands from scratch and hoping they move on to bigger and better things.
What are some of the toughest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
The toughest lesson is distribution – putting your trust in a company to handle getting your records in stores and then having them not pay you. I’ve had two distributors go bankrupt on me in the last five years. I lost over $80,000. A very crushing event to happen to a small label like ours.
What does the rest of year look like for Asian Man Records?
A constant release schedule that I keep telling myself I’ll slow down on, but can’t due to the fact there’s just too many good bands that need their music heard. So basically go to asianmanrecords.com and you can see the steady stream of upcoming releases. It’s pretty crazy.
What other labels do you respect?
Dischord is the label that I modelled Asian Man after. I’m a big fan of Ian Mackaye as both a musician and businessman. His ethics are what I’m most impressed with. I’m also a fan of No Idea Records from Florida. I now work with them as they’ve taken over my distribution.
You released an album of children’s songs in 2011. What made you want to do that? What has the reception been like?
Being a new father made me want to do that. I was just playing guitar and making up silly songs to put smiles on my kids’ faces. And then I thought I’d try writing some kids songs and then the record came then I was on tour doing kids shows and it was pretty awesome.
I got lucky to be thrown this opportunity to tour with a big production. It would be the equivalent of something like DISNEY on ICE, but in a theatre for around 2,000 people. That’s what I was doing on Yo Gabba Gabba [American children’s TV program and live show]. Unfortunately I don’t know how to do that on my own. Usually when I play kid-friendly shows, it’s like 50 kids in a library or a pre-school. And that’s pretty much once in a while when I get asked by somebody. I’m not actively searching to play these shows.
You are a Minister of the Universal Life Church. Why did you decide to add this to your repertoire? How important is it for you?
Well, it’s just an online form you sign so you can officiate weddings. I have no idea what religious denomination they are part of. Matt from Alkaline Trio asked me to officiate his wedding years ago, so I just signed up online and that was that.
What inspires you to both record music and release music?
Everything – from family, to the news, to other music, poems and books. It’s all part of the equation.
Do bands have to fit any kind of criteria before you decide to work with them?
They have to be good people. Even if you’re a great band, if you have a reputation for being
assholes, then I’m not dealing with that.
Have your music tastes changed or progressed at all over the years, which has led you to work with bands you originally wouldn’t have seen yourself working with?
I’d like to think so. I’ve tried extremely hard to stay active in the music community instead of being that old jaded punk who always says “Back in the day it was so much better”. I call bullshit on that. There’s always gonna be good stuff coming up. Bands these days I feel are doing great things. Communities are being built by bands helping each other instead of competing. But I feel I was pretty progressive from day one and so I it’s just an extension of what I started with.
– Andrew Cream
Keep up to date with what Mike’s up to here: http://www.mikeparkmusic.com/