Happy Birthday Mike!!! Today is his birthday and I’m celebrating by pulling an interview I did with him over a decade ago out of my archives to share with you. Mike is also featured in my, Conversations With Punx project (more info here). I’m a big fan of his music – solo stuff, Skankin’ Pickle, The Bruce Lee Band, The Chinkees – and label Asian Man Records, as well as being inspired by his activism. He’s one of the nicest people I know in punk rock.
BIANCA: You’ve been involved in the punk community for a long time; what was it that first brought you to the punk scene?
MIKE PARK: I got into it in high school in the early ‘80s. I’m not really sure what drew me to it. The first band that really caught my attention was 7 Seconds. I just loved the energy of the music but then I also liked reading the lyrics and getting to know what the songs were about. 7 Seconds paved the way for me to come up with a lot of ideas I have today—positive ideas through music!
B: When did you decide you wanted to be involved?
MP: It started in high school, I think probably every kid once in a lifetime wants to be in a band; that same situation was there for me. I went another step further by actually starting a band and continuing in bands after high school and still to this day being in bands – I haven’t stopped for the last twenty years.
B: What’s one of the biggest changes for better or worse that you’ve seen in punk since you first became a part of it?
MP: The big difference now is the commercialisation of punk rock because of the mainstream success of “punk” bands, it’s going to obviously sway a lot of young people’s minds. They see a band that they like that has some kind of punk beat and punk fashion and it’s something that they want to have too. What has happened is that it’s become watered down to some degree. A lot of the energy, the fire and rage of what I remember punk as being in the early days – it’s just changed, it’s become a lot more safe. That’s not to dis any band, that’s their prerogative of what they want to do but, that’s the big difference of what I do see.
B: Do you see punk and activism as going hand-in-hand?
MP: I do, but I also think it also goes hand-in-hand with any genre whether it be country or hip-hop, metal – it shouldn’t be just any one genre. I do think punk has some historical value to activism from the bands of the late ‘70s and ‘80s. Lyrically, predominantly those bands were overtly political, stemming from Crass, Rudimentary Peni up to The Dead Kennedys in the ‘80s. A lot of the songs of rebellion came from punk bands.
B: Two of the main objectives of starting Asian Man Records was unity and to erase racist hate…
MP: That’s just my common sense for anyone to want to do. In particular, I think the goal through music is to always provide a positive outlook on things, to use it to the best of our ability to make social change.
B: Have you experienced racism firsthand in the punk community?
MP: Sure. I have a long history of being in bands. I’ve been on stage in a room where we’ve been the main band and there are Nazis at the show and it’s just a terrifying experience. They don’t back down, even if there are five of them and five hundred kids… I don’t want to say skinheads because that’s a stereotype that they’re all racist, but most of the time we have run into Nazis they’ve had skinheads. They’ll intimidate a crowd of five hundred by themselves and it’s scary. I can’t come up with the right words, scary, frightening and memorising at the same time that they hold this kind of fear over people. I remember being at Gilman Street, not at my own show but a MDC one, and probably eight skinheads showed up and the singer from MDC got everyone rallied up and the next thing you know there were two hundred punkers chasing these skinheads down the street. It’s calmed quite a bit, that’s one of the things for the better going back to your other question of how the punk scenes changed—it’s a lot safer. Kids can go to shows without the fear of getting a beat down from Nazi skinheads. They’ll still be there though if you go and see a show like when, The Business come or any streetpunk band.
B: As far as the Asian Man benefit compilations go; how do you choose what to do it for?
MP: I try not to run the label strictly on capitalist gain, of course we need money to survive. I kind of find a median where, okay we’ve made enough to do this, next let’s make the next release pro-active and try to raise money for someone who needs it. We get so many requests now I can’t help with everything. We helped out one young boys family who we didn’t even know but his story was so compelling that we decided to donate the money to his family. I think it’s just something that just feels like the right thing to do. We just mix it up doing regular releases and then trying to do other things too.
B: Tell me about the Plea For Peace Foundation.
MP: It’s just an extension of wanting to do more. It’s hard because I don’t have a lot of time, I feel guilty because I feel the organisation suffers. Really all I can offer for the last few years is being able to help organise a tour and pick a different charity and work towards sharing their message and also raising money for their organisation. The long term goal is to open up a teen centre in Northern California. We want to focus it on the arts for kids who are into music, theatre, drawing – whatever, maybe kids who aren’t into sports or aren’t into other activities that people see as normal. We want to try and give them an outlet. It’s a lot of work, there’s a lot of red tape, and you need a lot of money. We’re still trying to raise money for other people but I have to start raising it for our foundation if we’re ever going to build the teen centre.
B: Why do you involve yourself in youth projects?
MP: I think that the youth are just so misunderstood, people blame them for so much but they’re just kids. I feel as adults we have a responsibility to pay attention to them and to try to guide them in the right direction and make a lasting impression so that when they become adults that maybe they’ll do the same thing.
B: You also work at a blind centre, helping people with vision impairment, right?
MP: I do that on Wednesdays and just go in and be there as a helper for conversation and things like that. Working in the community is something I enjoy doing, I have an open ended invitation for people wanting to join me. When I do volunteer work, I always put it up on my website and try and get kids to join me. I just want to try and encourage people through example.
B: What’s one of the best direct results you’ve seen from what you’re doing?
MP: Letters that I receive from kids and it’s also from personal encounters with kids who tell me that what I’m doing has helped them, helped shaped them, or helped them in times of crisis. That’s the only way I can really measure up what I’m doing has any worth.
B: Do you think that your ideals and ethics and desire to make a difference has stemmed from what you’ve learnt from punk?
MP: Punk has completely shaped my personality. What I’ve been doing and what I continue to do, I owe it all to the ideas of punk, not the fashion of punk but the ideas—stemming from the Dischord ideology and the all age ethics of Fugazi. It’s hard, you can’t explain the philosophy of punk to someone who doesn’t know it but, when you meet someone who’s likeminded you know right away that they understand. To try and explain that to the kind of person you meet on the street it’s impossible. It’s a philosophy that you’ve grown up with that you understand and you can share it with likeminded punks…I don’t know where I’m going with that though [laughs]. I know people in their 40s and 50s and to look at them you wouldn’t think they’re punk but they are punk and they get it and then you might meet a kid that wears bondage pants but he might not get it. It’s funny that the perception of punk is fashion. It’s never been about fashion it’s always been about philosophy.
B: Have you ever had to compromise your ideals or beliefs in relation to Asian Man, Plea For Peace or bands you’ve been involved in?
MP: Sure. Music-wise I’m very proud of the direction I’ve taken the label and with my decisions. I think I’ve prevented my label getting bigger just to keep my ideas grounded. It’s so easy to get caught up in sales and that this band’s cool and that band’s cool. I really couldn’t care less. The fact that I’m able to make a living and pay my staff, even though I’m down to one person, the fact that I can pay her and give here health benefits, that’s success to me.
For more MIKE PARK.