After 7 years of silence Finnish rockers Fireal finally released the new single “The Smoke”. Band members were so kind to answer to our questions about past time, new music and future plans. Read an interview with Fireal below.
EM: First of all, I want to congratulate you on coming back. We have been waiting for this for so long. The new single “The Smoke” is very good work. But as we know it’s not really something new. The song is very old, however. Why did you decided to re-record and finally release it?
Thank you, it´s nice to release music for a change. “The Smoke” is one of our very first songs ever written, already as a kid in 1993. The first band demo was recorded only 10 years later and had a different intro and chord progression; it was our first song that introduced our more straightforward style. But it was otherwise unfinished. We always felt a new version, one more loyal to the original, should be recorded, so we kept the song with us. However, it was not included on the debut album. Probably because of its different arrangement back then. The same happened in 2011 with the second album The Dark Side, the mood of the song was just too different.
Finally, in 2012, we had a small hiatus and during that time a new version of “The Smoke” was re-arranged, similar to the final version we released now. We entered the studio to record two songs and “The Smoke” was one of them. So, if things had gone according to plan then, 2013 would have seen an album release, featuring that version of “The Smoke”. However, life happened and due to several factors, a long silence in our band began before we could release anything; a silence we now ended 7 years later, fittingly with the same song.
Ironically, “The Smoke” was not intended as our first release; this version of the song was created only recently. Yet, when it was finished, we knew this was the one. The history alone deserved it, but the song also presented our cultivated style nicely: what’s new in Fireal now is the addition of 80s synth pop elements and the beats are also more prominent, slightly going back to the 90s era. Time did wonders to the song and it feels like it has been traveling all this time, now finally finding its home and becoming complete. It also represents closing old chapters, opening new ones and moving forward in life.
EM: Could you tell more about this song? What is it about? And is there any story behind the lyrics of this song? I’ve tried to go into its lyrics, and it feels there is some sense to them.
One part of the song´s magic is the metaphorical lyrics that have never been really explained. The very original lyrics were quite different, these final lyrics are revised one from the recorded band demo but written already in 1996. We don´t want to break the magic, at least not yet, so let´s just say once you find the “key”, you can understand the words better. They are not just random sentences put together, there is a message. In hindsight, you could see it as a time travel song — having had information from this far future back then.
EM: “The Smoke” sounds like typical Fireal song. I mean it’s easy to recognize your style. Once you called this mixture of styles as Imperial. What do you mean by this word? It sounds like you and your music are going to dominate the world.
We weren´t trying to change much because we were happy with our general sound. But we have come a long way: in 2012 the sound of the whole album was going towards a more pop sound. We were experimenting, trying to create something much more light as opposed to the darker sound we had. We were also experimenting with sound that had no organic drums or bass. But the more we experimented, the more time passed, the more we started to come back to the darker sound. There was nothing wrong with it, we just needed to cultivate it and part of that was crossing to “The Light Side”. Of course, that time was in no way wasted. We couldn’t know then what we know now and there are some new nuances in our music as a result of all this time and experimenting, while keeping the same overall sound.
As for the word “imperial”, it has been with us since the beginning. Influenced by the Empire of Star Wars, it very much describes our sound. Dominating the world, hah! Seriously, the music business goes so much beyond music; money, looks and contacts are such key factors in this industry that there is no point in thinking “we are going to be big” unless you have real access to all of them. No matter how much you worked, that might never happen, even in a smaller scale such as Finland. So, the best thing to do is just focus on the music, on the art and listen to your gut feeling, see where it takes you.
Looking at the bigger celebrities that have “dominated the world”, there is so much bad stuff involved with being huge that at times it seems like being a smaller band is in many ways better. Famous and successful musicians who have had healthy lifestyles and families, have still committed suicide, still so unhappy on the inside for some reason.
Either way, there isn’t much we can do to affect how things turn out or where the industry or the whole world is going. It’s best for us to do what we’ve been doing so far: focus on what we love and do our best with it. If it amounts to something bigger and better, that’s great. If not, at least we didn’t waste time doing something we really didn’t want to do or make immoral or life-altering negative sacrifices. At least we left some mark in other people´s and our own lives. That´s not life wasted.
EM: During these 7 years the time passed, and the world changed. There are new trends and new artists on the stage. Does it affect your music?
It affects our band the same way it affects every other rock band — but not our music. We have traveled quite a journey to get here and a lot of things are different now: we don´t for example have a big record company releasing and promoting our music now. There are both good and bad sides to it. Then again, we have also reunited with the original core lineup and in some ways, it feels as no time has passed.
10 years ago, the situation in Finland was different; rock music no longer gets the same kind of support from big record companies as it might have gotten before. The main focus is probably pop, electronic music, preferably sang in Finnish. Appearances and social circles of individuals have become ever more important; some young people with little or no experience in music getting record deals because they have the right looks and following in social media. Obviously that´s not the right environment for us but you can’t fight the whole world: this has been happening everywhere.
So, we just accept it and move forward, doing our best in what we want to do. Taking part in that phenomenon was never our plan; we are moving to the complete opposite direction with going anonymous. But these things move in cycles so who knows what happens in 10 to 20 years. Maybe the world will change completely or maybe it will go more towards this direction. Time will tell.
Things like dubstep that happened with Skrillex were something interesting to us, we just never got to release any experiments with that sound. That didn´t affect our music but things like that have broadened our mind to be more open to electronic stuff.
EM: Back to demo versions, did you re-consider releasing more old stuff?
We will be releasing the material planned for this album, the songs are obviously quite different from the old demos as “The Smoke” demonstrated. However, this might have been a one-time thing: we currently have no plans to go back and re-release some really old stuff. Some of the songs from the distant past have moved to completely different bands and might be re-released by them, that´s not really for us to tell. We might however re-release some songs from the debut album. Let´s see what the future brings, that is not a priority at the moment.
EM: Have you ever thought about quitting all this music stuff and never come back? And how did you come to the point that it’s finally time to stop the silence?
Sure, there were times when the music industry and how people react towards some artists, looked like something we wanted nothing to do with. But life in general has been a lot healthier and more peaceful during all the years of silence without any of the spotlight that was before. But in the end, we decided it was best to come back because these songs and our band deserves more than just to die down in silence.
In our now distant past, some of the band members were living the rock ´n roll lifestyle with excessive alcohol use that created problems with the band and would eventually lead to fights and lineup changes. But those issues were resolved years ago and in general we are all living much more the quiet life now, the situation is much different than it was 10 years ago. All for the better: there is peace within the band that never existed before. To reach that peace, we needed to fix our lineup and while the core has stayed the same, the people we now work with are not causing anything destructive for the band. Now we focus on what´s important — the music, the art, the lyrics — and ignore the secondary, unimportant stuff that comes with being in a band with some exposure.
EM: The next single is going to be released next year, right? Can you tell about it?
That is the plan, yes, and currently there is nothing that would change that. But we need to be careful when announcing any releases. For example, the release of “The Smoke” was decided to be on Halloween and announced already in September and it seemed like we had all the time in the world. But things happened, and we faced unforeseen problems and missed quite a few deadlines. In the end we were really battling against time to make it by the Halloween weekend. Luckily, we did but it was an exhausting experience. So, with the next song, we are going to take our time and make sure everything is 100% done before announcing anything.
EM: Are you going to finally release an album or is it too early yet to talk about it?
Currently we are financing all this ourselves and since making an album would cost a lot of money, we won’t be making a self-financed album. But we might make one if we get other financing options — like a record deal for example. But before that happens, the album is not something we are running towards. Just like it was with our new lineup, the priority is to get the right people working with us and only then move forward.
EM: It feels like you are trying to make unique music. It’s not the same as we usually hear from radio stations, it’s not something popular now but it’s very touching. When you hear these songs, you always recognize the artist. You just feel all these songs and they are penetrating straight into your soul. What helps you find the right direction? Who inspires you?
That´s great to hear, thank you. This is the music we want to make, simple as that. We had a vision of something like this already in 1999 and that idea evolved into something bigger in 2005; the rest is history. We were never concerned with what people are listening to or what plays on the radio, simply following that vision and doing our best with it. Creating things from your own genuine ideas and making them reality is a pure way of creating — instead of stealing or “lending” other people´s creations to forward your own career. We can always stand proudly by what we have created and call it ours while openly recognizing the things that have influenced us. All that we have achieved has been through the music we make and how we make it — there were never any shortcuts, we didn´t get any special treatment or chances, we didn´t “know the right people”, have money or anything like that. So, if people view our music as something unique, perhaps it is because of all the time and energy put into it by all the talented people we are all blessed to work with.
Our visual style — including our black and red color theme — has been influenced by the Sith and Empire of Star Wars; other influences being The Matrix and Warhammer 40k and the Thief game series. Our music has been inspired by several alternative rock and metal bands such as Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Helmet, Tool, Linkin Park, Deftones, Muse, Radiohead, Slipknot etc. Electronic acts such as The Prodigy have been our earliest influences along with other techno and rave artist of the 80-90s like KLF and Westbam; countless game soundtracks from Amiga 500 games such as Speed Ball, Chaos Engine and Turrican; synthpop from the 80s like Jan Hammer and Jean-Michel Jarre. The list is very long but bits and pieces of all that here and there are combined in our music. It´s mainly about taking what’s inside you, following that line of thought, instead of thinking how these elements could be used to create commercial success. That’s what makes it genuine.
Then again, listen to how Chris Cornell answers to that same question: “That’s easy. I think it’s one of the most boring questions. First of all if you can’t hear it in person’s music than it’s sort of wasting time”.
EM: I guess it was not easy to tell people that you are coming back after 7 years of silence. 7 years you always heard the same question on and on. 7 years people asked you when the new music will be released. But time after time nothing was happening. Some people still don’t believe that you are really coming back, and that the silence is over. What happened that made you disappear for all these years? How were these years for you?
Even though we didn´t release anything, we never stopped working or become completely inactive. The reason we took the break from releasing and touring was because we wanted to take a step back and look at how we were doing things and experiment with different ways of doing that. The years before and after our re-grouping in 2009 were extremely intense for some of us; part of the reason was to take a breather and work on a slower pace while exploring other careers. Of course, after we had been quiet for few years, suddenly there were some Finnish acts that weirdly happened to have a style almost identical to ours. People probably thought no one would ever hear from us again and that we wouldn´t be coming back. Obviously, they were wrong, about great many things.
But first let´s define what “coming back” means? If people expect us to start performing and releasing stuff at the same rate and intensity as back in 2010-2011, that might not happen — at least not right away. That would require a record deal and/or extra funding and marketing powers if we are to maintain the same quality. This isn’t something we can control directly but we can achieve this by finding the right associates. In an ideal situation that will happen soon but there´s no way of telling when exactly. Let´s also remember that things have changed already with the band: we have had the anonymous mask style for about 5 years and have already said in blogs that we don’t know if we want to tour at all. We might release only one song every 6 months. It depends on so many things. But it´s still better than complete silence.
Secondly, let’s think about who these people are that doubt us. If you read the comments of some “fans” in forums insulting bands for not releasing new stuff, would you count them as fans? We wouldn´t. It seems these people see artists like music services that are there to please them, to give them the kind of music they want, when they want it. And when that doesn´t happen, they feel they have the right to insult the artists. Of course forums are full of people anonymously trashing artists, trying to compensate their feelings of inferiority or simply spreading hate — for whatever reason. Sadly, there are a lot of people who are eager to instantly believe, without any real proof, everything negative about celebrities or other people in the spotlight: they might not see celebrities as human beings to be treated with respect, but as demonized monsters and targets for them to vent their negative feelings; often ignoring or skeptical towards the positive since that doesn´t cause commotion. There is an insane amount of false rumors about celebrities — and regular people through cyber bullying — circulating around. All it takes is a handful of bullies with an agenda and friends like them or naïve enough to spread their lies around. It doesn´t take long before it becomes a “thing”, at least for them and others like them. It’s like school yard bullying. This is why lies travel faster than the truth: people are more eager to believe and react to the negative, you get much more attention by presenting something shocking and negative than something positive and normal. It is really disturbing. So, the ultimately best way to handle that situation is to strip them of their “power” by ignoring them. In our case it really is energy wasted since it changes nothing: we will neither stop nor change for trash talkers. Wolves don´t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep.
In all honesty, since our first single in 2005 — much like other Finnish artists with eyeliners and similar commercial success — we received waves of hatred in Finland. Some probably hated us for appearing to the scene all of sudden out of nowhere, quickly getting bigger record deals, Top-10 chart hits, opening for HIM etc. There were hate reviews written by struggling and former musicians, a clear sign of bitterness and envy. Some even suspected us to be a creation of the record company and not a real band. We joked about this: surely the record company people would have chosen prettier boys than us. People had no idea we’d been around since the late 90s. It’s scary how accurate this quote is: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Luckily for us, we received a lot of positive feedback that overthrew all the negativity, and the reviews and reception outside Finland were also positive.
While our target audience is somewhere outside Finland, we came back for all our loyal supporters who trusted us all along to do the right thing — when we felt the time was right: people in our street teams and fans who were actively supporting the band, even when we were silent. And based on the feedback, they have been really happy with the new release. That’s the group of people whose opinions matter to us, even though we first and foremost do things in a way that feels right to us. Luckily that hasn´t been a problem with our loyal supporters.
EM: The life of a musician is full of ups and downs. When you keep silent for such a long time and there is no new stuff it’s looking like a depressing moment. But have you ever felt like you are really at the bottom? What does help you to keep positive when everything is going wrong?
There were moments when we were about to release new stuff with discussions of record deals on the way and it really seemed like it was going to happen. And then when it didn´t — and later other things prevented it — it became frustrating, somewhat depressing. But we never lost faith in what we were doing. Music industry is a tough one, and it takes a lot to make it there, especially if you are not actively promoting or touring or living inside the circles of important people. So, we always knew what we were facing. It was disappointing but also taught us a lot. Nothing beats experience and we´ve had a lot of that.
Knowing how tastes in music have changed and how much harder it is to really make it nowadays with rock music — especially without touring — we are now only focused on doing this at a pace that fits best with our lives, continue to make the music we want to make and hope to find the right associates to do this thing with, without sacrificing the way we are doing it. It´s best not to jinx these things, they will happen if they happen and we will certainly do our best. Time will tell.
Positive feedback is of course great to hear and keeps us positive. There really hasn´t been a desperate moment where everything was going wrong. Our lives — with their ups and downs — are filled with things and people that keep us positive. One crucial part for some of our band members was letting go of alcohol to reach their full potential and have a healthy life.
EM: Now Fireal is not a bunch of band members but a whole entity. You don’t want to focus on the line-up or musicians. Usually individual musicians who are playing in different project help all their bands to get common fan base. Like ‘Oh I know this guy and I have to check his other band. Aren’t you afraid that it would be harder to promote this new concept? Do you have a special plan?
Some of the Fireal band members aren’t active in social media in any way or as individuals anywhere in public. So, it has become a matter of privacy. If you are constantly advertising something with your face on it, it is impossible to have real privacy, people will recognize you. Now, hardly anyone recognizes us, we can live the average normal life. There´s no point in inviting publicity to your personal life if you are the quiet type who likes to keep to yourself and doesn´t enjoy attention from people they haven´t invited to their lives. And considering none of this has anything to do with the music we make — the reason people know us in the first place — then it shouldn´t matter. Focus should be on the main point: music.
This works in the opposite direction too: if someone is already known as a public figure in some other instance, this gives them freedom to work with us without being noticed and their participation becoming public because of their own fame.
We believe this thing will find the right people with the music and art we create, not by excessive promoting. We don´t want to force-feed ourselves to masses of people. If some suddenly discover us and love us, great. If they ignore us, such is life. That doesn´t change what we do, we will continue doing what we are doing — and how we are doing it.
Well, a special plan is a secret plan and it wouldn´t be much of a secret if we told it.
EM: Tell us about The Inkakai. How did you come up with this idea to hide musicians’ faces under the masks? You told that there is something in common with Lordi, right? But these monsters got their popularity by playing unforgettable shows. As far as we know you are not going to go on tour in the near future. So how are you going to get the fans attention?
We have three different stages of lineups in The Inkakai: our core lineup of three where we write and produce the music, make the big decisions etc. is The Inkakai Triad. The full lineup of six (how we would tour) is The Inkakai Collective and the experimental lineup of nine is The Inkakai United where we, well, experiment. All these have important roles in what we do.
On a different note, we live in a very shallow era of narrowminded beauty standards: masses seem to prefer this “clone beauty”, people who look very similar, their facial features, makeup, body, clothes, everything. People are being evaluated, accepted and discarded in a very shallow way — and this is wrong, as it always has been. It has always existed but seems it has gotten worse with the rise of social media with people advertising their bodies like sexual commodity for likes, comments and follows. Your body should be a private VIP club, not a local restroom. So, as this is the direction they have taken, we gladly put on the masks, become private and walk to the complete opposite direction. Where they might watch reality TV, we’d rather watch Star Wars; where they might see nerds, geeks and freaks, we might see friends and like-minded people; where they might search for the “perfect feed” with provocative photos, we search for the perfect sounds, plugins, brushes, inspiration — to create music and art with a purpose and meaning. We have no need to promote immoral values. Since our very first songs, we have criticized and opposed this kind of superficiality, and that has always been a crucial part of our lyrics. So, in a way, just by taking the masks and going anonymous we are actually making a statement to oppose this: your face, race, age and body should not be important. The only thing that matters is how good you are in what you’re doing and how you contribute to the whole. And that is part of bringing the focus back to what’s important.
Lordi is one of the people in the music industry that we have come to know. Seeing how they live their normal lives and the lives with masks, was really appealing to us. Something we thought we should´ve thought about years ago. That inspired us to create the early version of The Inkakai in 2012 called I.F.F. (Imperial Forces of Fire) that was basically what The Inkakai is: a masked, anonymous version of the Fireal lineup. Back then we felt it was too early for it, so we kept it only as a concept, almost like a side project. Later, it became more and more apparent that the masks were the right way to continue with this band.
However, it is important to point out that a lot of our influences — for example the Sith, the clones and mandalorians of Star Wars; the keeper enforcers of Thief — have characters with masks or helmets hiding their face. Those are our visual influences. But being friends with Lordi has shown us the life they live and how things are done in practice. That helped lock the decision to choose this path with the masks. And we haven’t regretted that decision.
As for touring, we haven´t said a definite “no”. It is just something we need to figure out after we have all the right people beside us. We have thought about playing big shows in good venues here and there and if that becomes a possibility then of course we will do that. But once again, we are not trying to get anyone´s attention actively, these things will move forward at their own pace. That being said, some of us are actually eager to get back on stage and we are more than ready for it.
But nothing good ever came easy and we all need to have patience. We hope that by releasing “The Smoke” after all the years, people will realize that we will reward patience.
EM: Talking about new style and masks I have to admit that it’s looking a bit scary. There is something dark in it. There is a feeling that your music is lighter than your new image. Can you tell us about the idea behind it?
Well, our last album was called The Dark Side and we have always had this hooded, dark style in our band so basically it´s nothing new. The masks are just one step forward to the same direction and their function is to represent anonymity, not associate our music with metal: we have never been metal and having a darker style has never had anything to do with our music. Of course, we have rough and heavy elements in our music but there’s no reason why you couldn´t wear dark masks, dress in black and still make music that is not metal. We are not trying to imitate Slipknot or Ghost but follow our own vision: as stated before, our visual style is influenced by the Sith and Empire of Star Wars, the Matrix, the Thief game series and other sci-fi/fantasy related stuff. Our musical and visual influences come from two completely different places, yet they have always lived in harmony together. Perhaps this is part of the uniqueness you mentioned before, perhaps people need to be introduced new associations with these concepts. This is how we roll nevertheless.
EM: How was the recording process of new stuff? You hide the members’ faces but is there chemistry between the musicians? Do you feel comfortable with this line-up or is it just a chance to not show any future changes in line-up?
There is definitely great chemistry and synergy within the band and with this particular lineup. We are producing our music alone and still have the same triangle of vocals/guitars/keyboards, bass and drums as the core lineup. It works really well, as it always has. We have no amateur members who never played on our releases, but we’ll be using some former members, professional musicians, in certain instances in the future. However, “The Smoke” includes no former members, everyone else beyond the core lineup is new.
But lives and situations change and sometimes it´s impossible to be involved or something else comes up. The masked style prevents this being a stopping point for the band to move forward if such a situation presents itself. Sometimes someone might replace someone, some members could have some personal problems and leave, other times former members might come back. All this is now possible without having the need to separately announce these changes. All this takes the focus away from what´s important: the music. While the band members might change at some point, the masks remain: they do not represent people but rather roles in the band.
EM: Modern music business is cruel. It’s very hard to find new listeners and get attention. It might just be all about the money. At the same time we have internet as a free source of sharing everything. What is your opinion about that?
This is one of the sad parts about the current state of the world. But every artist must ask themselves: why are you doing this? Is it the money and success, and does it all come crumbling down if that doesn´t happen with your band?
While this is definitely not a hobby but a lifelong project for us, our lives are not depended on this becoming a hit. If you put everything on a band becoming a hit in an industry where trends change all the time and fandom has really changed with the internet and social media, you would basically have to sacrifice your entire life on the altar of your band. There is much more to life than the music industry and you would really miss out on a lot if you lived your life like that.
Having the freedom to enjoy other aspects of life and other careers is really a blessing, one that we could recommend to every musician. Not only are you happier and freer in your own personal life, but you don’t feel the drastic results when music does not become a hit, or the enormous pressure of making such music like you would if you had bet your whole life on it. As an artist, it gives you more freedom to create the kind of art and music you want, without being pressured by something to create something you really don’t want to. It makes you able to stay more loyal to your visions and what you wanted to create in the first place. Whatever happens, you can look at it and be proud of it and yourself.
There are several ugly sides to the freedom of speech in the internet that enables cyber bullying and other immoral things, hopefully they get addressed and the legislation gets changed enough to have some control over that. Nothing can last forever, at some point the change must come.
EM: Who do you admire? Who do you want to be like?
In general, we admire people who are genuine, dedicated and talented. We strive to be the best versions of ourselves, to grow from our mistakes and to contribute something good to us, to our close ones and to this world. As musicians, we all want to cultivate our skills, challenge ourselves and find new ways to work with them.
EM: As I know many venues in Helsinki are closing. Like Virgin Oil, The Circus, Nosturi. Tavastia is going to be the biggest club. It seems like Finnish people are not so interested in visiting concerts. In your opinion, why is it all happening? What future should we expect?
No idea why that is happening. This is pure speculation but perhaps alternative and rock venues no longer appeal to people as much as before while DJ, pop and hip hop venues have become more popular. Could be that the alternative or concert scene is dying a slow death; popular pop stars can easily fill stadiums, and there are some smaller venues left for smaller bands. Could be that there will be something else there, or there is simply no interest. Hard to say.
EM: And what future should we expect from Fireal? What’s your global goal? What would you like to reach?
2009 we answered this question a lot and how things turned out to be was completely different. So perhaps it´s best not to go into detail and just say: we hope that everything goes well with the future releases and that we are able to create and release new music without compromises that would negatively affect our lives. We hope to reach global audience that is loyal and supports us during the quiet times as well and trusts us to do the right thing. We already have some fanbase like that but to have a larger fanbase like that would be ideal.
It´s less about the numbers and more about the quality of people supporting us that matters. When you think about it, the same applies with friends and relationships: having several “ok” friends and relationships vs. having few good, true friends and relationships that make your life better.
EM: Do you want to add something more to our readers?
Imperial Greetings, fellow lifeforms. Hope you like the new song. “The Smoke” is now available in all the music services, go check it out. If you like what you hear, feel free to support the band by shopping some merch. To those who have been supporting us all this time: thank you, feels great to be back. We will soon reward you with more music. And thank you Eatmusic, this was nice — let´s do it again sometime.
— We Stay Unlit, The Inkakai Rises —