[Metroactive Music]

[ Music Index | Silicon Valley | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

Photograph by Miya Ozaki

The Adonal Foyle Of Indie Rock: At over 6-4, Mike Park is an imposing figure on the stage and basketball court.

Park's Place

Mike Park eases into singer/songwriter mode on his solo debut, 'For the Love of Music'

By Todd Inoue

THERE'S NOTHING that tickles Mike Park more than music, basketball and a good bargain. He experienced a magical triumvirate last month while in Chicago. One of the bands on his Asian Man Records label, Alkaline Trio, had a show in Minneapolis, so he hitched a ride on the band's tour bus. The show was near the Target Center on NBA's opening night. On the spur of the moment, Park skipped the gig and bought a cheap ticket for the Minnesota Timberwolves vs. the Milwaukee Bucks.

It gets better. While walking around the Target Center, Park was recognized by an usher. After some reminiscing, the usher upgraded Park's nosebleed seat to fourth row. He got back to the Alkaline Trio show in time for half of the last song.

"I felt guilty for hitching a ride with Alkaline and not seeing their show," says Park. "But I saw the Target Center marquee, got a ticket and that was it."

So when he plops down in a Mexico Lindo booth, fresh from his daily pickup game at the YMCA, he's gimpy from a deep thigh bruise but buzzing about his latest project: his solo record For the Love of Music.

"This is the most excited I've been for a record, ever," he says. "This is an album I feel like I can listen to without cringing."

That's saying a lot, considering that Mike has put out music for almost 13 years. His career has taken him from the barnstorming national tours of Skankin' Pickle to the Bruce Lee Band (Park performing with Less than Jake) to the Chinkees (an all-Asian punk band that will put out its fourth record in 2004).

The solo record, which came out on Tuesday on Sub City/Hopeless, shows Park's growth from manic, third-wave ska figurehead to maturing singer/songwriter. His focused vocal tone and lyrics are far beyond what he was singing just a couple of years ago. He checks Willie Nelson, Pedro the Lion, Elliott Smith, and Simon and Garfunkel as primary influences for this album.

"I think there's more personal reflection, and the tone is so different you can't help but sing different," he says. "I can't play soft chords and sing about missing the bus. I've grown."

The first two songs serve as an impressive, passionate introduction. "I'm Supposed to Be There, Too" is a sepia-toned reflection set to acoustic guitar and viola. Mike balances club violence, mod and skinhead subcultures with the confusion about growing older and fitting in. The second song, the brilliant, heart-to-heart shoutout "On That Stage," echoes a love-struck Billy Bragg.

And like Bragg, Park is a hopeless romantic but dedicated to progressive causes. Park founded the anti-violence organization Plea for Peace. For the Love of Music gives up two potent scud missiles. "From Korea" was born out of a run-in with a white basketball player who freely used "nigger" but told Park he was OK because he was Asian. "Hey, You!" asks people to re-examine their contributions to life.

Park gets extremely personal on "Counting Sheep," a musical soliloquy to his mother that gently cuts apron strings. The album's closer, "Present-Day Memories," covers some of life's most traumatic moments with a striking directness.

"It's a jumble of so many things," he says. "It's a documentation of different stories like trying to win your parents' acceptance, hearing from friends who are alive one day and dead the next. It jumbles so much. It's like the past is still the present."

Local artist David Choe has joined the table. They have never met before but after some introductions, they learn they have much in common. Over burritos and enchiladas, they talk about music, racism and living in a city that doesn't have the artistic clout or perks of San Francisco or L.A.

Much of For the Love of Music deals with identity and fitting in in unfamiliar surroundings. Park is grounded to the South Bay; he lives downtown and runs Asian Man out of his mom's Monte Sereno garage. On "Southbound 280," local landmarks offer comfort in an environment of violence and drama. The song paints a thought-provoking postcard and hints that, for all its flaws, San Jose will always be home.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

[ Silicon Valley | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

From the November 13-19, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.