INTERVIEW: Mike Park
Asian Man Records Founder/Chinkees/Bruce Lee Band (vocals)
By: Alex Steininger
Alex: Why did you feel the need to put together the SKA AGAINST RACISM tour?
Mike: I feel that's important. Something I believe in, so why not do it with the music I like? And have a good time!
Alex: What do you think is the biggest contributing factor to intolerance in our society today?
Mike: IGNORANCE! No education, the media...a lot of different factors. But I think it is mainly ignorance, what do you think?
Alex: Definitely ignorance. But I also think a lot of it has to do with peoples fears of others who are not like them. It's the whole idea of being different that scares people.
Mike: Just being different is something people need to get used to. Not just color of the skin, but people are scared of everything. Just because you look different, because you have different hair, or you're crazy or something.
Alex: Do you think that works like "bitch," "fag," and "homo" and their mass acceptance and use in society is hindering the fight against hate?
Mike: Yes, and I hate it! When I hear people use those words, it's just as bad as saying "nigger" or "chink." Or any other derogatory slang towards someone's race. I don't know...you're probably on the same wave-length as me. When you hear people use those words and speak ignorantly you just go "ARG!"
Alex: And for stupid reasons like they didn't do something they wanted to do, or they didn't hang out with them that night, or even for fun. People use it just for leisure and it's sick.
Mike: Yeah, I hear it all the time. All the time! You'll be at a show and you'll hear someone say, "get away fag!" Ah, but what can you do?
Alex: How do you think people can recognize hate in themselves and change it?
Mike: I don't know. For some people it's something that will never go away. I really don't know how it will change, but for myself, if I just be an example and be the best person I can be, hopefully that will rub off on people.
Alex: What are some things everyone can do to help improve, and eventually eliminate, hate in our society?
Mike: The first step is to be more educated on what is really the problem, instead of going by stereotypical problems with certain people. Just be more open and talk to the people, and find out what they are like, instead of what you hear. I think that's the first step.
Alex: I think another step would be to actually educate the people that are supposed to educate our youth today. There are a lot of homophobic teachers out there, and this does rub off onto the minds they are supposed to be teaching. I think better training is in order, and I think the result would definitely help our fight against hate.
Mike: Sure, that's true. People teaching need to be taught properly before they teach others. If they have the mind set like that, that's going to be a problem.
Alex: If people leave this show, just this one show, with one idea in their heads, what idea would you like that to be?
Mike: I think that this one show, or any show on the tour, isn't going to end with the crowd running out like gang busters saying, "we're going to solve the problem!" I hope they do come out and say, "that was such a great show with a positive feel." And if they have that positive feeling, maybe they'll come out and who knows, remember it and take it home with them. I'm just going to be at the merchandise area and try and talk to as many people as I can. I'll be friendly, and hopefully they'll remember that. "Oh yeah, Mike was a nice guy!"
Alex: So, how did you select the bands for this tour?
Mike: Most of them were just my friends. Actually, every band on this tour...I know every band on this tour. I just wanted to get a group of friends together, so I knew I would have fun and get along with them on the tour.
Alex: Was there any bands that wanted to get on this tour but couldn't, or for some reason, got turned away?
Mike: There was hundreds of bands, but that was all the small bands. Every small band wanted to get on, but no big band was rushing to join the tour. I didn't get the Bosstones calling me and going, "hey, let's do it!" All the young bands were eager and willing, so we tried to get them on and have some fun. Like the Varicoasters tonight. That's going to be cool.
Alex: Is it fun to be away from the business side of things and playing live again?
Mike: It is, yeah, but I've only done one show (laughs). Yeah, but it was fun. Oh it was fun! But the thing is, I get really nervous. I'm very stressful, and I'm stressed right now. I haven't perfected the live show with MU330, who's doing the music. We haven't had time to practice. So we just play, and make a lot of mistakes, but it was a lot of fun. Right Chris?
Chris (MU330): Oh yeah!
Mike: So, I think with more time and more confidence it will become a lot easier.
Alex: Why did Less Than Jake, who is also playing this tour, decide not to back you up?
Mike: I don't know. It's just their choice, and they didn't want to do two sets. That's fine, there is nothing wrong with it.
Alex: So what made you want to get into the music business?
Mike: I think just growing up in high school and going to shows. It was so fun, so I wanted to be in a band. And once I got into a band, I learned the business through trial and error. It's part of my life now, and I love it.
Alex: What do you enjoy and hate about the music industry?
Mike: I enjoy the music and the bands, but I hate the business. The actual business, dealing with egos, and all the other people you have to deal with. I hate corporate labels, l hate lawyers. Just dealing with them, for me, I can't do it. What I want and what they want are two different things, and I just can't deal with it. Asian Man Records, I don't want to be a big label. I want to be a small label and put out bands I like. I don't want to have to deal with lawyers and managers. That's what I really hate.
Alex: Is that why you walked away from Dill when they were getting big?
Mike: Well, the reason I walked away from Dill was because I knew my ideas were different from their ideas. I knew there would be conflicts. I saw where I wanted to take the label, and knew there would be lots of problems later on down the line. So I said, "why don't I leave before there becomes a lot of problems?" And I think the rest speaks for itself.
Alex: What are your label goals and your music goals for 1998?
Mike: Label goals are to keep putting out music that is good and affordable. And musically...I have so much that I write. I write music like crazy, so I'd like to put out a solo album. Mike Park, like the Mike Park band...album. I just finished the Chinkees album which is out now, or it should be out in a week or so, and now I would like to work on some more rock stuff. You know, more emo stuff.
Alex: On the Bruce Lee Band's debut CD you had two acoustic numbers, "Don't Sit Next To Me Just Because I'm Asian" and "I Am In Love With A Girl Named Spike." Any chance you'll record an all acoustic album in the future?
Mike: I'd love to do it. But I don't know, a lot of people loved the acoustic stuff, but I also got a lot of letters from kids who just didn't like it. They were like, "rad album, but the acoustic songs sucked." And I was just like, "ah.." The more grown up, adult people loved the acoustic stuff though.
Alex: I myself am a big fan of acoustic stuff. Just a voice and a guitar, so natural and intimate. It's very revealing. I just love it.
Mike: Cool. So I think I'm going to do an acoustic album eventually.
Alex: On the road, what do you do for fun?
Mike: What do I do for fun? I don't know. I think what is most fun is just hanging out. I love talking to kids, and just being out there and watching the bands. That's what I love. It's just so fun.
Alex: So with every show you're out in the audience?
Mike: Always. Always. I love selling merchandise, seriously. I just love being back there, because that's when you get to talk to people. Sit back, make jokes, and make them feel at ease. Make them go, "oh, he's very easy going."
Alex: Is there any road experience that stands out in your mind?
Mike: I toured from 1989 to 1996. There is just too many things to just narrow it down to just one thing. Let's just say I've done it all and seen it all. From the greatest experience to the worst experience, I've done it all.
Alex: If you could change anything in your musical career, what would you change and why?
Mike: Sure. There would be a lot. I would have a lot more control in Skankin' Pickle, and I would have cut out all those funk songs. Those funk songs would have never made it onto the albums. I would have just told the bass player NO FUNK! I just can't stand that funk. I think Skankin' Pickle was a great band, and I love funk, but we did it so badly. The bass player wrote those songs, and it was a democracy, so I couldn't say no. Looking back on it though, I should have just said no.
Alex: So you need to be in control, like with the Bruce Lee Band?
Mike: Yeah, that's my problem. I'm a control freak. Everyone who has worked with me, I apologize, because it is hard to work with me.
Alex: Is the next Bruce Lee Band album going to be released under the moniker "B Lee Band," due to legal problems?
Mike: Yeah. If there ever is one. Less Than Jake is so busy, I don't know if there will ever be another one. All the songs on the Chinkees album are basically the ones I wrote for the new Bruce Lee Band album, but since I couldn't release it there, I just had to get something out, so I had to release it with the Chinkees. There was just so much stuff that I was writing, and I'm very happy with it.
Alex: Do you have stacks of tapes at home of stuff you've recorded?
Mike: I do, but I was looking for these specific tapes and I can't find them. I don't remember how a few songs I wrote go, and I can't find the tapes they're on, so I'm very frustrated. I don't know what to do. I'm just going to keep writing stuff.
Alex: What are the highest and lowest points in your career, as both a label owner and a musician?
Mike: The highest point as a label is just getting mail from a kid that says, "thanks for keeping your prices low, because without your low prices I couldn't get music. I just couldn't afford it with my job at Taco Bell." And the lowest point is getting letters from kids who write in and complain. "You sent me the wrong stuff, you're purposely trying to rip me off," you know, when we screw up an order. And that really ruins my day. When you get letters like that, it's rare, but still. When you get them it really puts a cramp in your day.
Alex: What goes into good music making for you?
Mike: I think for myself, I don't know. Who's to say my music is good? That's all up to the listener. But if I like it, I hope the listener likes it too. It just is quite time to myself with an acoustic guitar, and that's how all the music is written.
Alex: So what inspires you to write songs? Life, tragedy, fun, or what?
Mike: Lyrically, it goes through many different directions. I'll see something that is funny, and write about it. Or I'll see something that is very memorable and write about it. Or a political topic that I see and I think I need to really address. I like to cover both those topics, and never lean towards one. I like to be in the middle. Funny and serious. Musically, it can be anything. I'll hear a band and go "WOW!" and they'll influence my style at the time. Every day is a new experience.
Alex: So do you jot down lyrics or notes while your walking around?
Mike: No, it's all in my head.
Alex: What do you want the listener to get out of your music?
Mike: I think, lately, I want them to get the lyrics. Let them get what I'm trying to say through the lyrics, and get to know me as a person. I think I did that really well on the Bruce Lee album. Because in addition to the music, I try to write good linear notes. Just help them get a feel of where I'm coming from and what I'm like.
Alex: So what are your thoughts on the current attention ska is receiving from the media?
Mike: I think it's fine for those bands, but sometimes I get...I start to question whether or not the bands are playing the music because they like or because it's popular right now. But who am I to say who's doing it for the right reasons and the wrong? I think it's great. I think it's great for the bands, but I know in five years we'll see who is in it because they like it and who has moved onto the next fad.
Alex: Do you think after this tour the media, who perceives ska as a happy-go-lucky type of music, will start to understand more about the unity side of things?
Mike: I think some people will. And I know the interviewers who have contacted me are on the same wave-length as me, and they share the same ideas as you. And they ask me if it'll change, and I think it will a little bit. It's not going to fully go away. This tour can't just solve the problem, but it will change a few peoples mind set.
Alex: Do you feel if you change one persons mind you've done your job and accomplished a lot?
Mike: Sure. Yes, that was my motto with music. If you play a show, and play for only one person, play like there is 10,000 people there. If you're going to do something, put 100% into it. Alex: That's all I've got, thanks for the interview.