Skanks for Everything

ae musicSkankin’ Pickle’s Mike Park is letting ska music take him around the globe with the Bruce Lee Band

Just last week, Los Gatos musician (and Asian Man Records label owner) Mike Park flew to Korea with a group of his musician buddies to play a free ska show. They were billed as the “Bruce Lee Band.” Afterward, they headed out to Japan to play a couple more shows. This week, they return to the Bay Area and play Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, and finally stop off in Santa Cruz to play the Crepe Place this Sunday. This is their entire tour for two recent Bruce Lee Band releases.

The EP Community Support Group was released earlier this year, while the full-length Everything Will Be Alright, My Friend is expected out later this month. But this small batch of shows actually came up simply because Park was randomly offered a gig in Korea, and who wouldn’t say yes to that? The Bruce Lee Band just happened to be his most recent project, so he booked them. The other shows were tacked on just because they sounded like fun.

It’s not like Park doesn’t know what it means to be an active touring musician and really promote a record. He lived that life all through the late ’80s and early ’90s with famed ska-punkers Skankin’ Pickle. Since they broke up, though, Park’s musical output has been sporadic. His energies have instead been focused on running indie label Asian Man Records, 18 years strong now.

“There is no comeback. It’s a side project. My career is Asian Man Records,” Park says. “This is strictly for fun. I don’t push the band. I don’t have a Facebook page for it. There is no Bruce Lee Band Twitter, no Bruce Lee Band Instagram.”

In fact, the Bruce Lee Band has technically been around for more than 20 years. They released their first record in 1995, with the members of Less Than Jake backing Park. The second was in 2005, with Park and members of the Rx Bandits. For these two new releases, Park has assembled a hodgepodge of musician friends for his band, including Jeff Rosenstock (Bomb the Music Industry), Mike Huguenor (Hard Girls, Shinobu), and Kevin Higuchi (Whiskey Avengers), along with guest appearances by Jesse Michaels (Operation Ivy) and Sean Bonnette (Andrew Jackson Jihad).

In-between Bruce Lee Band releases, he’s also put out solo records, as well as albums under the name “the Chinkees,” and even a kid’s album (with a second one in the can).

Ska may not be as popular now as when Skankin’ Pickle were going full-throttle, but Park loves the genre unapologetically—and these new songs encapsulate everything good about the genre—simple, catchy songs that are dancey and driving.

“My take on stuff is so different at age 45. For me, I could care less if someone thinks ‘oh, that’s not cool.’ I don’t care. We thought we could do it better than other bands, show them ‘this is how you do it,’” Park says. “Most people that don’t like ska don’t know anything about it. They know Less Than Jake and Reel Big Fish. They don’t know the Jamaican artists. They don’t know who Prince Buster is, or Desmond Decker, Laurel Aitken, Toots and the Maytals. Even if they’ve heard it, they’d probably go, ‘that’s reggae.’”

Almost all of the Bruce Lee Band record was written on the spot while they were recording it.

“We were just having a good time. Doing the record was no pressure. ‘We’ll just write a bunch of songs and see what sticks.’ It just kind of came out,” Parks says.

Park went to Korea unsure of what to expect in terms of draw. The last time he was there, it was to play to an audience of 10,000.

“I always get surprised when people know who I am. I think there’s an underground following of people who know who I am,” Park says.

“I’m optimistic though. Even if there’s 50, I’ll still be happy.”

The Bruce Lee Band performs at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 7. Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, $8.

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