He's the founder of Plea For Peace, the man behind Asian Man Records, the former frontman for Skankin' Pickle and a dad. Meet Mike Park, the longtime punk rock social activist who has taken on parenthood and set his sights on children's music with his new children's album Smile.
We connected with Mike to find out a little about his views on parenthood, children's music and what it means to be a father and an activist.
RC: You have built your career around tackling social issues, whether that be racism or everything that Plea For Peace stands for. What made you set your sights on children's music?
MP: The only reason I started writing kids is because I became a father 5 years ago. Now I have a daughter and a son. Being a musician it was only natural to play music with my children and thus the genesis of kids songs began.
RC: Do you think there is a problem with some of the children's music out there today?
MP: To be honest, I'm not knowledgeable enough to make an opinion on the genre as a whole. I know what I like and what I don't like. I've heard some amazing kids music and I've heard some complete crap. But like any scene, there's definitely a lot to be learned in terms of how to break into this market. I'm just trying to let as many parents hear my songs and hopefully their kids will be the true judges of my music.
RC: What goes into writing a kids' song? Do you say "I think I need a song about apples," and write one? Or does the inspiration come from somewhere else?
MP: It's all improv. I sit around with a guitar with my kids and make up songs on the spot. And then later I can refine the lyrics, but everything starts with some good ol' improvisation.
RC: The thing I like most about the music on Smile - especially the ska tunes - is that the music itself isn't dumbed down, nor really are the lyrics. "Wiggly Wiggly Worm" and "Everybody Loves to Jump" really aren't that different than when Mustad Plug had us "Skankin' By Numbers," so it's not much different from music you'd hear at a ska show. Was this intentional, or is it just the music you know?
MP: Definitely not intentional. I purposely wrote lyrics that I felt were kid friendly. I realize there is a lot of ska out there with silly lyrics and I'm sure I've written many in my early years, but it was something I was hoping kids would like. Lyrics they could remember and participate with in song and dance.
RC: Any plans on taking the songs from Smile on the road, for kids or otherwise?
MP: I would like to do some live stuff, but my time is extremely limited. I'm probably going to do a handful of festivals that have a kids stage for next year, but that will be the extent of it.
RC: How did your own kids respond to your music? Are they harsh critics?
MP: They were actually very instrumental throughout this entire ride. I felt like I had the best critics to try these songs on and picked the songs that they responded best to.
RC: Your own music aside, what are your kids listening to?
RC: Is there anything they're listening to that you just can't stand?
MP: Ugghhhh... Just the really bubble gum stuff, but I wouldn't know who it is? But I can hear it being played on the computer from time to time.
RC: How did becoming a father change your views as an activist? Did it?
MP: It did. Completely. I've mellowed dramatically and have tried to simplify. My philosophy is simply to be a good person - not to judge on religion or race or political allegiance to the right or left.
RC: Do you have any advice for fellow punk rock parents, whether it be related to finding good music, raising a socially aware child, or anything else?
MP: This is advice to myself, too. Spend time with your kids. I know sometimes you're tired and you just want to chill out in front of the TV, but once you start playing with your kids it's always rewarding.
RC: What's next for Mike Park as a person, and everything like the record label in general?
MP: To keep doing what I love. Running the record label and being involved in music.
Mike's Parks latest album, Smile, is out now.
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