Asian Man Record’s Mike Park

When faced with one of life’s more difficult quandaries, some people turn to religion. Mike Park turns to a savior of a different sort. “If I ever have any ethics questions, I ask myself, ‘What would Ian Mackaye do in this situation?’” Park says, only half joking. Following in the footsteps of the Fugazi frontman has long been an aspiration of Park’s. After the breakup of his late, lamented band Skankin’ Pickle, Park started his own record label. “Musically, it’s totally different, but it’s all about the philosophy,” Park says of Asian Man Records, a decade-old purveyor of fine punk rock records. Park also launched the charitable organization Plea for Peace, which sponsors an annual tour to promote peace, unity, and tolerance. To promote his new album, North Hangook Falling (a savage folk album in the Woody Guthrie tradition, mating heavy lyrics on racial intolerance and the divisive politics of Park’s ancestral Korean homeland), Park is hitting the road in a most unusual manner: on bike. Park and a group of like-minded musicians have planned a Plea for Peace ride from Olympia, Wash., to Park’s hometown of San Jose, raising awareness and money by playing a few scattered shows along the way. The end result of this tour is to fund a youth center in San Jose. Park gave us the skinny before taking the stage at Pop’s, opening for former Asian Man artists Alkaline Trio. Information on how to donate can be found at www.pleaforpeace.org.

Where does your unorthodox touring style come from? For example, you’re going out on three dates with Alkaline Trio, then you’re touring by bike—and you just got done with a living room tour, right?

With Alkaline Trio, it’s more like vacation. [Laughs] They’re such good friends; they just let me ride on the bus. If that wasn’t the situation, there’s no way I could tour like this.

But with the other tours, I’ve become really disillusioned with the way clubs work. Everything is driven on capitalism and money; I guess it’s a necessary evil, but I don’t give a shit about the way the music business is run. I felt like, “Why do I even need to deal with these channels? I play an acoustic; I could play anywhere.” I could play in a parking lot for free and don’t have to pay security, lights, house, sound, rental of this or that.

I had seen Ian Mackaye’s new band, The Evens, play, and he was playing very unorthodox venues. He played a movie theater lobby, he played an Indian restaurant, he played a middle school cafeteria. I asked him, “Why are you playing these venues?” and he said, “We brought our own PA. This way, we don’t have to play these clubs where you have to charge top dollar to make any money. This way we can still charge five bucks and do it right.” And I was like, “Fuck! He is the king!” [Laughs] Following the master! And I thought, “Shoot, let’s try living rooms!” so that’s what I did.

Back to the bike tour…it’s a fundraiser for Plea for Peace more than anything. We’re only doing a handful of shows. It’d be too physically and mentally draining if we’re gonna ride and then play shows.

I imagine the last thing you’d want to do after riding a bike for eight hours is stand on a stage.

Oh, exactly! Just training, riding like 30 miles a day, I’m so tired. And we’re going to be riding 70 miles a day! It’s like, ooooh…I can’t play these shows! So it’s more of a fundraising event.

On your new record, a lot of the songs specifically address the conflict between North and South Korea. That’s not the kind of thing that’s on a lot of people’s radar. Do you ever worry that people aren’t going to get it?

Well, I’m not worried. I just realized that the reason that I wrote this record was for myself, and to educate myself about my own past and learn about the Korean conflict, the U.S.’s involvement in that war, and see what my parents went through, and the fact that they lived through that war. I was just kind of oblivious, being in the safety of the United States.

The music I write is mostly done to satisfy my own musical needs. Those who listen to it, it’s just a bonus. It’s never a worry of, “Will they get it or not?” It’s just, “These are my songs, and I hope you like them, but if not, that’s OK, too.”

You’re still operating Asian Man Records as a three-person operation, right?

It was a two-person operation for the last three years, and then the label manager, the other person, just left last Tuesday after nine years. She went to grad school, which is very disappointing! [Laughs] Like I said before, I just don’t like the way the music business is run. I’m hoping that if a band is good, the word of mouth will pick up, and then they’ll do well.

Alkaline Trio is proof of that. It must feel good to have a band that was on your label, and here we are and there’s a hundred kids waiting outside to see them.

It’s crazy, like 1,600 tickets have sold for this show already. [The show eventually sold out.] It’s like, jeeeez! That’s pretty cool. Good for them! | Jason Green

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