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Mike Park Reflects on Running Asian Man Records and Music’s Power to Weather the Storm: Exclusive

Musician and label head writes about being an Asian American artist for AAPI Heritage Month

mike park aapi heritage month asian man records op-ed
Mike Park, photo courtesy of artist
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    In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, Consequence invited musician, DIY label-head, and activist Mike Park to share his thoughts on being an Asian artist in America, the enduring power of music, and more. Read his op-ed below.

    Park’s ska-punk project Bruce Lee Band is also set to release a new record, One Step Forward. Two Steps Back., on May 27th via his label Asian Man Records. Pre-save the album here. Vinyl pre-orders are sold out, but sign up to be notified when it’s back in stock. Additionally, from May 27th through June 30th, all Asian Man Records Bandcamp sales will be donated to Stop AAPI Hate with a 100% match from Mike Park. You can also follow Asian Man Records on Twitter and Instagram.


    I was born in Seoul, Korea and immigrated to the US in the early ’70s, growing up in a suburb of San Jose, California. My mother was a hairdresser and my father was a lab technician. We were the only Korean family in my neighborhood, and I was only one of five graduating AAPI boys at my high school.

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    Four of us started a band called YWCA (Yellows with Chink Attitude), which culminated with a school talent show, or maybe our drummer’s 16th birthday. We bonded hard and used humor to deflect the racism we felt growing up by penning songs like, “Why Are There No Asians in Pro Sports Except for Michael Chang,” or “Ching Pei the Magic Panda.” It was punk and it was terrible, but we loved being together making noise.

    After high school, I started a band with some friends called Skankin’ Pickle. My songwriting had matured to include more political overtones that dealt with my insecurities as an Asian American as I became more aware of my surroundings and how homogeneous the punk scene was. I dropped out of college to go on tour full-time; we played 46 of the 50 states, three provinces in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Mexico, and Spain. I would scour the crowd looking for anybody who looked like me. If there was another AAPI, I would pull them up on stage in a celebratory fashion as we broke into a song I wrote called “Asian Man” (a tongue-in-cheek look at the stereotypes of AAPI). We lasted seven years, going through four vans, two arrests, and three bass players.

    After constantly being on the road, I was burned out and reeling with anxiety. At age 26, I bowed out of full-time touring to focus on starting a record label. It was mostly an outlet to release my own music, but to also showcase the talents of some amazing bands and people that I had met during my time on the road. Choosing the “Asian Man” song title, I ran with Asian Man Records as a way to let people know that a person of color was behind the sounds that came from this label. I wanted AAPI kids in particular who were living in middle America to know that they weren’t alone in their love for underground music (at the time, I couldn’t name one other AAPI who ran an indie record label). Using elements of the South Korean flag and the Hangul alphabet, the Asian Man logo was created in May of 1996.

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    I’m not sure how I’ve been able to stay afloat for more than a quarter-century, but I attribute it to luck — and perhaps I do have a good ear for music. We were able to release the early records for bands like Alkaline Trio, Less Than Jake, The Lawrence Arms, Joyce Manor, AJJ, and a shit-ton more.

    On May 27th, I will be releasing the next Bruce Lee Band album, One Step Forward. Two Steps Back., Asian Man’s 373rd release. Bruce Lee Band is a band I do for fun with my friends Jeff Rosenstock, Dan Potthast, and Kevin Higuchi. I use music as therapy these days, attacking my own demons through song as I continue to work on my mental health. I can’t imagine life without music; it’s all I think of these days. Listening to music, writing music, collaborating with friends… It’s the best feeling in the world. I truly believe music is a healer that doesn’t get enough support in this country. Musicians are trivialized as a commodity instead of a necessity. I realize I’ve been given a gift; I’d even call it a blessing to be able to continue writing and putting out music. Without music, I don’t think I’d be alive, to be honest. It’s that important to me.

    As the world seems to aimlessly spin in the wrong direction, I can only be hopeful that music can again create healing. In the last year, there has been a 339% rise in attacks against the AAPI community. This pandemic-fueled racism has only divided us more. It deeply saddens me to see the violence toward our AAPI elders who have been victims for doing nothing more than going for a walk.

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    The human instinct is anger. It’s what I feel, but that’s reactionary and not sustainable. We must bring attention to the hate that affects us all. We need the support of our allies representing diverse communities of color, diverse communities of faith, and diverse communities of sexual orientation. These communities have all experienced hate and there is a tragic solidarity in that. But again, I think of music and how it’s been used historically to weather the storm. Think James Brown at the Boston Garden in 1968. Think John Lennon and a song like “Give Peace a Chance.” Think Alicia Keys and her nonprofit work using music and art to create change. Or think of underground movements happening all over the world pushing for change.

    I want to use art and music to be that binder, to see people of different color/faith dance together. People need to see folks from different socioeconomic communities create art together and fight for marginalized people without a voice. This is my story as an AAPI immigrant. I will continue this fight.

    Peace,

    Mike Park

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