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Mike Park – This Punk is Going Solo Acoustic

It’s tempting to dust off the annals of underground music when the topic turns to Mike Park. At roughly the same time The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were bringing it from the east, Park’s Skankin’ Pickle was leading the charge from the west, taking Operation Ivy’s ska-core blend to an entirely new level. Indeed, as much as The Toasters did to usher in the third wave of ska, both The Bosstones and Skankin’ Pickle attacked the states from opposite coasts to popularize the ska-punk subgenre.


The style’s appeal was fleeting, and the masses soon forgot what they liked about the sound in the first place. You can blame the glut of half-baked bands that found themselves as the poster children for a scene they never fully understood, but don’t point fingers at Less Than Jake, The Bosstones or Skankin’ Pickle. All three bands worked their asses off, touring year after year, with only their memories and experience to show for it when all was said and done (okay, so LTJ and The Bosstones aren’t done yet).

But to rehash the entire history of the Bay Area outfit only serves to diminish everything Park has accomplished since Skankin’ Pickle disbanded in the mid ‘90s. For despite Park’s appeal as Pickle’s former frontman, vocalist and saxophonist, he has achieved a great deal more since those days, seemingly living three lives at once for close to decade.

Let’s start with Mike Park, the owner of independent punk label Asian Man Records. Established nearly eight years ago, the label now boasts 50 bands, including Alkaline Trio and The Lawrence Arms, and more than 100 releases in its catalog. Not bad at all for a label with a global reputation, especially considering Park still runs it from his garage with no more than three employees helping him out.

Then there’s Mike Park, the socially conscious philanthropist. In 1999, he established the Plea For Peace Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the ideas of peace through the power of music. Anyone who recalls songs like “Ice Cube, Korea Wants a Word With You” knows that Park has always been focused on leveraging music’s ability to highlight issues surrounding race in America. His Plea For Peace Foundation takes a more direct aim at these issues, and with America at war and preparing for an election year, Park’s April 2004 Plea For Peace tour couldn’t be timed better.

Finally there’s Mike Park, the musician. Since Pickle’s final days, Park has been anything but idle in this area of his life. First came the Bruce Lee Band (quickly changed to the B. Lee Band for obvious trademark reasons), which released its one and only album in 1996. Park then formed an all-Asian American band known as The Chinkees, issuing several releases over the course of four years. But most recently, Park has embarked on a decidedly different direction by releasing a solo acoustic album titled, For the Love of Music.

And it is here where we encounter the culmination of Park’s entire life’s work to date. Mike Park – entrepreneur, activist and artist. He is all of the above and ironically more focused than ever. In a recent discussion, Park talked about the four-year journey behind his new acoustic release, his plan for the coming year and the changing face of music.

“This record has been in the making for about four years,” said Park. “I had planned to release it a long time ago, but it just never happened. I got caught up in so many other things. It’s funny, because there’s an old catalog that says, ‘Coming Soon! Mike Park solo.’ That was in 1999.”

The delay meant Park had to scrap what had become old songs and essentially start from scratch once he set aside the time to finally make the record last year. As it turned out, his decision to revisit the project was the result of an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“What happened was someone emailed me and said, ‘Hey, I’m a student at this recording studio in Emeryville, and I can record you for free.’ And there’s nothing I like more than free. So I went out there, and I really liked working with this guy. It was the first time I had been able to not worry about the studio costs and just record. And it really helped me develop a sound that I liked, and I was able to work on harmonies and rich textures. The finished product is something I’m really happy with. Amongst all the music I’ve done, this is the first record where I can really say I’m pretty happy.”

Lyrics aside, it’s impossible to compare For the Love of Music to anything Park has done in the past. Relying primarily on his voice and acoustic guitar, Park mixes in strings, occasional drums and bass and pop harmonies to give the album’s organic sensibilities a plush, insulated layer that yields a vibe akin to Goo Goo Dolls or Elvis Costello’s more somber moments.

Despite the stark departure from the wailing horns and hyperactive guitars of his past, it’s clear that longtime fans understand Park’s latest effort was recorded for one specific purpose – for the love of music.

“I haven’t read a bad review yet. Colleagues and friends that I’ve played it for have left positive feedback. So, I have nothing but good feelings about it.”

With the album in the bag, Park is gearing up for a Plea For Peace tour in April 2004. In the meantime, he’ll warm up by playing a few dates in Colorado this weekend, including an appearance at the Larimer Lounge on Friday, Dec. 5.

“I’m going to go on a full U.S. tour starting in April, and in the meantime I’m just going to do weekends where I just fly in and out of cities and just play on the weekends and still work during the week. We’ll see if my body holds up.”

This shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, since Park’s shows no longer rely on flying leaps, a frenetic pace of countless stage props. So what exactly can audiences expect from Park’s solo set?

“Sincerity (laughs). That’s pretty much it. There’s no crazy stage show; it’s just me and my guitar. I’ll do some other songs (not from the album). It’s hard, because the past history of my career is all ska based, and you can’t translate that to acoustic music.”

It’s not as though Park feels he needs to separate his past from his present work. In fact, he’s keen to mention that he’s been able to work out a few vintage tunes for those who are looking to hear those classics.

At the risk of sounding like a fixture from an aging generation, Park wasn’t shy to call the current music industry to the carpet. In his mind, the landscape has changed drastically over the last 10 years.

“I think the aesthetic of punk rock has been totally washed by corporate music. They found profit in punk rock, and now it has become a targeted genre within white America. There’s still underground music and there always will be, but the aesthetic of punk has changed so much because it’s accessible.”

Whether you believe icons like Lint, Mr. Brett or even Park can save punk from itself and salvage what appears to be a dying breed of dedicated DIY entrepreneurs is a debate that rages harder each day. In Park’s mind, the outlook isn’t so rosy, as he’s quick to point out that he sees no near-term change. While he believes there will always be underground labels founded on true punk ethic, he hasn’t seen any fresh blood make a move to carry the torch into the next decade.

But for those who truly love music – and those few who do it for the love of music – there’s hope that the purveyors of mass-market trash will implode and give way to a new wave of artists and ideas. Until then, expect Park to remain true to his personal charter. Let’s hope it’s contagious.

Mike Park gigs:

Friday, December 5 – Mike Park, Dudes on Ludes(members of Love Me Destroyer) – Yellow Second, and Andy Tanner (from Laymen Terms) – Larimer Lounge – Denver – 9pm

Saturday, December 6 – Mike Park, Andrew Tanner (Laymen Terms), Dudes on Ludes (LMD doing Decendents), Action Shot – Asian Man Label Head going acoustic, local rockers doing the same – Club 156 – Boulder – 8pm, all ages

Sunday, December 7 – The Right Aways & Mike Park, Drag the River, Andrew Tanner (of Laymen Terms) – Alt Country, Rock – 32 Bleu – Colorado Springs – 9pm


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