Mike Park is one of the most influential figures in American ska thanks to Skankin' Pickle, The Chinkees, and The Bruce Lee Band, and with his long-running label Asian Man Records, he's also one of the most influential (and committed) people in American DIY in general. He has classic albums dating back to the '90s, and he continues to make some of his most vital and urgent work today with the latest iteration of The Bruce Lee Band, which also includes Jeff Rosenstock, Dan Potthast (MU330), and Kevin Higuchi.

Last year, that quartet released the Division in the Heartland EP, which -- down to its title -- was a direct response to the state of American society and politics, and now they're expanding upon the messages of that EP with a new full-length, One Step Forward. Two Steps Back. The themes range from the frustration and disbelief that comes with watching people insist the pandemic is some kind of political ploy, to corrupt politicians, to the people who want celebrities to keep their mouth shut on political issues, to the wealth divide and the pursuit of greed, to the privilege of education, to more personal topics like mental health. Mike Park wrote most of the songs, though Dan Potthast wrote two and Jeff Rosenstock wrote one, and Mike tells us that singing other people's songs is something he resisted for most of his career but now enjoys.

Like the Division in the Heartland EP, there's one song sung entirely in Korean, and there's a nice amount of musical variety too. As it's been on the last couple Bruce Lee Band records, Mike Park's current approach to ska-punk is a little more mid-tempo and relaxed than the rowdier '90s stuff, but still full of energy, rich horn lines, and great melodies. They do embrace high-speed punk on the Rosenstock-penned "I Hate This!," but also channel traditional rocksteady on "So Nice For Me and You," snakey minor-key ska on "Did You Find the Money Farm?" (which features horns by Angelo Moore of Fishbone and Jeremy Hunter of Skatune Network), mariachi-style horns on "Don't Want To Go Back Again" (by Brian Lockrem of Monkey), and dub on album closer "BRUCE LEE vs. CHLLNGR." In true ska fashion, it's an album that makes you dance as much as it makes you think. It's out now via Asian Man, and you can stream it below.

Mike Park also made us a track-by-track breakdown of the LP, and you can read on for what he had to say...

MIKE PARK'S TRACK-BY-TRACK BREAKDOWN

I’m sitting here at my kitchen table listening back to the songs from the upcoming BRUCE LEE BAND album One Step Forward. Two Steps Back. The kind folks at BrooklynVegan have asked me to do a track-by-track breakdown, which is something I used to do in the liner notes of a lot of my older records. It brought back some good memories of sitting at a typewriter, making cut-and-paste lyrics sheets. Anywhoooo… Let’s get started.

1. "Beats Me Up"

We’re looking through the lens of how a lot of people are feeling. In this case, we have blasted through 2+ years of a pandemic and arguing with assholes who think this is some political ploy, even though more than six million people have died globally. It’s to the point where I’ve become sterile to a lot of the insanity. And thus the lyrics "muted emotions" come from that vantage point. Music-wise, it’s got a straight-ahead groove at the beginning that rages hard and goes into a bubbling ska groove.

2. "Lie Big And Do It Often"

The political atrophy that permeates through society continues to boggle my mind. How are our leaders given a free pass to do whatever the fuck they want to do? It’s not rocket science - I think it’s pretty easy to figure out whom I’m talking about. Are we seeing a common theme with these songs? Am I angry? Fuck yeah, I am. My favorite part of this song is when it pops to the minor chord with the lyrics "the least racist man in the world." I love that hook – I LOVE IT!!

3. "The Right Time"

"Shut up and dribble." That’s what Laura Ingraham said regarding the activism of LeBron James. She may as well have just straight up said "DANCE FOR ME, BOY" or "DANCE, MONKEY, DANCE." If you have a platform to speak the truth, then do it. As a sports fan, that was the only reason I didn’t like Michael Jordan who famously said Republicans buy shoes too. If that’s all we’re aiming for (money and power) then we’re fucked as a society. Without influencers influencing injustices, then we’ll lose the fight.

4. "Did You Find The Money Farm?"

This is my favorite track from the record. It’s one of the best songs I’ve ever written, to be honest. Add on the fact that my teen idol Angelo Moore from Fishbone plays the opening saxophone solo, and then tack on my present-day idol Jeremy Hunter from Skatune Network playing the outro solo on trombone. When we first got the rough mixes for this song, I probably listened to it on repeat for a good hour because I was so proud of the song. Lyrically we are talking about the wealth divide and the constant pursuit of POWER, LUST, GREED.

5. "사랑 키스 입니다"

For the past 30 years I’ve tried implementing my limited knowledge of the Korean language and putting those baby words into song. This is just another example of that. It’s a lot of gibberish for those who actually speak Korean. It’s also a blast getting my non-Korean friends to do group vocals. I should have videotaped that session. A lot of smiling faces.

6. "So Nice For Me and You"

The groove is influenced by the original Jamaican rocksteady. Equal parts Jackie Mittoo, Prince Buster, and more modern-day old school creators like the Slackers. I tried to squeeze as much soul as humanly possible out of my tired old body and I think I did okay. Went for notes that I didn’t think I could hit and maybe I didn’t hit those notes, but it sounds good to me. Lyrically it’s an attempt to be uplifting.

7. "Putting Up With All My Crazy"

I’ve always been an extremely high-stress/anxious individual. It’s something that I felt was needed for me to succeed or even function properly. If I wasn’t overworked and out of my mind, then I felt like I was doing something wrong. This was a little lead-in to give you a better understanding of my craziness. The crazy has caused many failed relationships. This song is about my wife. The idea that she can put up with my insanity is truly an unbelievable accomplishment. Hats off to you, Monica. I love you.

8. "I Hate This!"

This song was penned by Jeff Rosenstock. This was a throw-in song – we learned and recorded this in less than an hour. Kevin Higuchi had to drive eight hours south for a gig in San Diego and said "I got to go guys," but we said "one more quick one." Jeff told me he wrote this in his head on his drive to the studio. Well, damn!! This song also includes one of my better punk screams at the 0:55 mark. It’s a fast one at just north of 90 seconds.

9. "I'll Feel Better"

This is the second penned song by Dan Potthast, the other being, "The Right Time." If you aren’t familiar with Dan’s work as the primary songwriter for MU330 or his solo work, you should do a deep dive. His songs are incredible and span over three decades of tunes. It wasn’t until I started working with Rosenstock that I was open to singing other people’s songs. Now it’s something I quite enjoy. And I feel like it gives a unique and diverse sound to the Bruce Lee records.

10. "Dance Dance Revolution"

This song tackles the privilege of education for some whereas others are left with a hill sometimes too high to ascend. The work harder mantra is old and tired or “I did it and so should they” is equally whack AF. And for the powers at hand to hold this kind of stronghold over those who can and can’t afford a chance at a college education is just wrong. When I sing "Dance dance revolution, I can't afford tuition" I’m using the art of dance as a metaphor for slave dancers used on slave ships. They were forced to dance for entertainment and for their own health so slave masters could sell them for top dollar.

11. "Don't Want To Go Back Again"

Trumpet by Brian Lockrem from the band MONKEY leads as the sole horn through this percussive groove of a song. It is unlike anything I’ve written before. A lot of emotion vocally, screaming yet melodic. It’s about breaking away from the toxicity that we all seem to find ourselves going back to. Mike Huguenor does a great wailing guitar solo near the outro. Stylistically it doesn’t make a lot of sense on this record, but I really like the diversity of this track.

12. Bruce Lee Vs. Chllngr (Dub)

My initial idea was for all of us to get high AF and write a dub track. I wanted it to be King Tubby meets Lee “Scrath” Perry meets Aswad. Getting high didn’t happen, but we did create a killer dub. A friend named Steve Borth who used to play in Link 80 is now a dub producer in Copenhagen. I suggested that we ask him to dub out this track. We gave him full control of the canvas and I couldn’t be happier with how it came out.

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