Based out of Northern California, Asian Man Records has been running since 1996 (with Mike putting out records as early as 1991) and has been one of the shining lights of DIY punk ever since, releasing records from diverse artists such as Alkaline Trio, Andrew Jackson Jihad, Lemuria, Joyce Manor and Laura Stevenson (I’ll stop or I could go on a while). Head of the label Mike Park continues to run Asian Man out of his parent’s garage and at the same time has been engaging in a multitude of music projects, these days including The Bruce Lee Band, The Kitty Kat Fan Club and Ogibuko Station. The latter, a musical collaboration between Mike and Maura Weaver (previously of Mixtapes), recently released a new 7” ‘Okinawan Love Songs’ (reviewed here: https://keeptrackofthetime.wordpress.com/2019/06/12/review-ogibuko-station-okinawan-love-songs-ep-asian-man/). I chatted with Mike about this, forming Ogibuko Station and running Asian Man records.
Dave Brown: Firstly, how do you feel about the release of ‘Okinawan Love Songs’ and how do you feel it built on the previous LP ‘We Pretend Like’?
Mike Park: I love it. I’ve always loved 7 inches growing up. It’s a quick listen—you flip side A to side B, nobody gets hurt; it’s a win win. But honestly, I love the 2 original songs. I like the way the band kept building from the “We Can Pretend Like” LP. I think the progression is nice and I’m looking forward to what we do next.
DB: What was the writing and recording process like for this EP? How does the collaborative process work and how do you manage living in a different state to Maura?
MP: We had started playing the “Would I Break My Heart Enough For You ” song live on the Alkaline Trio tour we did in August of last year, and then I started showing Maura the other new song on that tour, so we had the general chords and melodies down. Maura added a lot of depth with harmonies and counter melodies in the studio, and while it was definitely a collaborative process it’s hard to compare a 7inch with a full length record. With only 3 songs (2 originals and a cover song), it didn’t take much time, so Maura came to California and we were able to do this face to face vs Skyping in ideas.
DB: How did the band form?
MP: I had wanted to put out Maura’s solo album, but after 2 years of pestering her to finish, I finally said “We’re gonna start a band” and she came to California and we got to work. It was initially just going to be an acoustic project, but we’ve ended up using a full band the last 2 releases. We will probably do more acoustic stuff in the future.
DB: I understand you sometimes tour with a full band and sometimes as a duo. What do you prefer and how do you see things panning out in the future?
MP: I really like the full band dynamic. It’s also a lot less stressful. Playing acoustic always gives me nightmares in terms of stage fright, but I’d like to combat that lifelong fear more in the future. Mostly to make myself crazy haha.
DB: Dan Andriano plays bass on this EP and Jeff Rosenstock played synthesiser on the previous record. Do you have plans for further collaborations on Ogibuko Station records? And more broadly, to what extent do you seek and encourage collaboration among Asian Man records?
MP: Heck yes! I want to always include my friends on various projects that I’m involved with. I’d love for all the AM bands to do this too, but it’s nothing forced.
DB: You seem a busy guy what with running a record label and being involved in a number of active musical projects. How do you manage your time and prioritise with so much going on?
MP: Oh my. This has been a problem lately. I’m actually going to start slowing down, cause I can’t keep up any longer. My mind has turned to mush as I try to juggle everything. Music is always a priority, but I need to keep family at the top of the list.
DB: Honing in on Asian Man records specifically, what was your inspiration for starting the record label? Were there any other particular record labels that inspired you?
MP: I wanted to be able to dictate my own path and not rely on anybody else for my own success or failure. If I failed, at least I knew I tried. But in particular I’ve always been a fan of Ian Mackaye and his DIY ethics and outlook on life. I’ve often tried to emulate those ethics in my day to day.
DB: What’s the main difference between the label now and when you first started it? And more broadly, the DIY punk scene.
MP: I’ll go back even further. Before Asian Man, the band I was in (Skankin’ Pickle) released our first demo tape in 1989. We used the name DILL RECORDS. We printed up 100 tapes and sold them almost immediately. In that first year, we sold nearly 2,000 cassette tapes. I’ll stop there. Cause that’s the big difference. Physical sales were the only way to hear music in the early days. So obviously that’s the reason for the drop in music sales the past 20 years, but I’m not one to say “it was better back in my day”. I think that’s bullshit. I’m a fan of streaming. It’s good for the environment, it’s good for indie artists to do it themselves, and it’s progress. That’s life. Things change. As for DIY/PUNK, I’m trying to think of the big difference and I’d have to say the safety aspect of punk in the early days was not so safe. Lots of violence at shows in the 80’s. Skinheads vs punks vs mods vs anyone who had long hair. And while it was part of the excitement not knowing what the fuck was gonna happen at the shows, I’ll take the friendliness of today’s culture over the past anytime.
DB: You continue to run the label out of your parent’s garage and only have one employee; what have been the challenges in remaining truly DIY over the years? In particular, how have things changed in regards to record distribution and sales?
MP: I covered a bit of the physical sales aspect earlier, but everything depends on what you want out of your company. I want to stay small. I like doing things myself and seeing what I can accomplish without joining the elites. My biggest challenge or guilt rather is not being able to do more for my bands, but I am very open about the limits of Asian Man. Open dialogue and honesty is something I do have, so it’s never a matter of me breaking promises.
DB: Have you had any moral or ethical conflicts in running Asian Man records?
MP: Nothing that would put me in a position that I felt compromised. At the end of the day, I’m really proud of what I’ve done and continue to do.
DB: Are there are any bands that you wished you had signed?
MP: Of course, but that’s life. There are bands I wish I hadn’t signed, but I’m gonna keep names out and say again: you live with your decisions or you die bitter and old.
DB: Finally, what is your personal favorite record you have put out? Or favorites if it is hard to narrow it down to one!
MP: That is actually an easy one. Alkaline Trio “GODDMANIT” – by far my fav release of all time.
Check out Asian Man records here: http://asianmanrecords.com/
And check out the latest Ogibuko Station release here: https://asianmanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/okinawan-love-songs