INKAKAI - "We question the rock ‘n roll lifestyle that’s destroying lives with falsely idolized decadence, creating life-threatening substance use & mental health problems." - Stereo Stickman

INKAKAI “We question the rock ‘n roll lifestyle that’s destroying lives with falsely idolized decadence, creating life-threatening substance use & mental health problems.”


Fiercely devoted, melodic and distorted, with a mighty edge of purpose and presence – creative metal outfit INKAKAI brings together musicians from LA, Osaka and Helsinki, for an unrivaled rock sound of equal parts precision and passion.

We were blessed with the opportunity to interview the band, to find out more about their unique journey. We touch on their decision to keep things private or masked, their songwriting process, their somewhat tumultuous history, their thoughts on the future of rock, and plenty more. Here’s the conversation in full.

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Hi guys – what a pleasure to chat, and huge congrats for the rising success of the new single! For those new to your work, how would you describe the sound of INKAKAI?

Hello, fellow lifeforms. The pleasure’s ours and thank you, great to hear people are digging the song. We’re really happy with Drown, big thanks to Tim Palmer for the great mix, and to everyone else involved. Took a long time to get it out. COVID really messed things up for us, so finally releasing it is a big relief.

Back in 2009 we called our genre “Imperial Rock”. Since 2015 we’ve simply called it “Imperial” or “Imperial Core”. The longer description would be dynamic alternative rock mixed with 80-90s synths, grunge/nu-metal guitars and at times some retro computer sounds.

How did you all come to play together, and what’s your songwriting process like as a band?

Our singer-songwriter formed the band originally in 1997 as Bleak. The line-up disbanded in 2000, regrouping in 2002 with a new bass player and went through a few new drummers. The singer wrote the debut album Burns Inside (2006) mainly alone and with producer Tomi Malm. Due to long-time issues with the rhythm guitarist, the singer ended the line-up in 2009.

He continued with the band, keeping the music and visuals, and instantly recruited new band members. Both our current drummer and bass player were the first ones to join in. This trio became the Inkakai core line-up who recorded, mainly alone, the band’s second album The Dark Side (2011).

After years of working, the singer took Fireal on a break to explore new ideas and pursue other careers. We, the core line-up, came back together in 2019 and have since recruited new members from the US and Japan.

The songwriting process starts with the singer writing, recording, and producing the songs. Then we record the drums, bass, and more guitars with the rest of the band. Then some re-arranging, sometimes co-producing. Sometimes the changes are small, sometimes bigger. The final version takes shape in the mixing, sometimes with some additional production.

Tell us about Drown – a fantastic single, heartfelt and both melodic and powerful. What does the song mean to you, and what do you hope fans take away from it?

Thank you! Drown means a lot to us. While sound-wise a bit different from our previous single The Smoke, this too has a longer history. Drown was written in 2010, first recorded in 2012 – right before we went on a seven-year break. The release was originally planned for 2013, so it’s been a long time coming.

We partly re-recorded the song in 2020 when COVID hit and messed things up. We planned a release in Spring 2021 with a music business company involved, but we decided to back down from it. Spring 2022 looked like a sure thing, but when the opportunity to mix with Tim Palmer came along, we postponed the release until Autumn to make that happen.

Other failed schedules postponed the release until Halloween, so getting the song finally out has been a relief for us in the end. That’s something fans can take from it. Some older fans already know the song is a prequel to Ariel (2011). It’s been great to hear they love the new vibes but also the memories the song has brought to them.

Your arrangement is huge, from live drums to soaring vocals, guitars, keys, bass – where do you start, and how do you know when a song is ready to unleash upon the world?

We all have our own recording studios so it’s easy to experiment with ideas. We’ve really seen eye to eye on the music, it just clicks when the song is done. We usually go through several iterations, no matter how ready the song appears to be in the beginning. It’s best not to rush things when preparing a “final image” of the song.

How important is live performance for you, and what would be your dream venue or event to play?

It might seem odd to some that we’re a rock band who’s releasing music but haven’t performed live since 2011. This has been a conscious choice, as some of us are family men and some dislike being on the road. It’s also about logistics, since we’re divided between Finland, Japan, and the United States.

In the past, we toured exclusively in Finland – apart from a few shows in Berlin and Moscow. Some of us have played with the biggest names on the biggest stadiums and arenas in Finland, so as a whole we feel we’ve pretty much seen it all here.

We’re all interested in the idea of playing shows in Europe, let’s see what happens in the near future.

“There are those who are like fish in the water with all the spotlight, all the volume, being the center of attention. It takes a certain type of person for that kind of life. Then there are the quiet professionals like us.”

What’s the reason for your elusive image as a band, and does it make things easier for you in terms of committing entirely without worrying about any personal ramifications?

Brace yourselves, this will be a longer answer.

Firstly, there are those who are like fish in the water with all the spotlight, all the volume, being at the center of attention – Hollywood actors, rockstars, reality TV celebrities, etc. It takes a certain type of person for that kind of life.

Then there are the quiet professionals like us. Individuals who actually prefer the silence and being in the background. Not craving the spotlight but enjoying the privacy – yet, honing our craft and always aiming higher with our skills. Like some ghost-writers, producers, songwriters etc. No wonder really, considering we mostly consist of professional songwriters, producers, and touring musicians.

Seeing that, some might be uncomfortable using the word “band” to describe us. Some might see “project” more fitting. It’s true we’re not currently playing shows; we don’t list our members or show our faces, we don’t release music actively and we don’t share things actively in social media. But then again, we have a long history together and we did do all those things in our past. So, it’s a matter of perspective.

Secondly – and this is the heavier answer – the masks, the anonymity and privacy are about rebelling against the modern world’s superficiality; its cloned “make-up beauty” and obsession with unfiltered sharing of everything to everyone. Especially in social media. It seems people have forgotten privacy and peace, becoming gullible about every crazy rumour or falsification out there.

We’re living in a golden age of misinformation where individuals’ personal (and flawed) interpretations of the world too easily turn into “facts”; as if the truth could be voted on by a mob. If you get enough people behind a lie and spread it around, looks like it will be embraced by many. Too many; growing up absorbing from the unmoderated junkyards of the internet, “medicating” their issues with substance abuse, which further distorts their view of reality.

Everything seems to be about the individual experience and branding with individuals’ lives the center of it all. Attempts at publicity by engaging people with provocative trash to get their attention and make money with it. Morals, truth, and intelligence have been replaced by ruthless commerce and the modern-day equivalent of medieval witch hunts.

The only difference is that they’re virtual. Cancel culture and woke extremism are not helping equality, diversity, or justice, but creating a countereffect.

Now, when you remove the easy access to individuals and their lives, you put the focus back on what artists were always about: the music, the art, the words. Not their looks, not a tasty second-hand fabricated rumour about who he or she was with or what they said or did. Not sharing and not being active, also removes obsession.

Perhaps the artist needs to ask themselves whether it’s about balance, happiness, and health – or just about money? For us the answer is obvious and it’s the first one.

People should examine whether their obsession with worshipping and voyeurism is healthy or not. Forcing oneself into strangers’ lives certainly isn’t. Maybe one should instead focus on developing and enriching their own life with something productive. Not destructive like what any unmoderated corner of the internet has to offer.

Thirdly, there’s a lot of masked and anonymous fictional characters, especially from the sci-fi genre, that have been influencing us since our childhoods. The Sith of Star Wars, the Thief game series, Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe, Warhammer 40k, etc. Looking back at the decision to don the masks, we really feel it was the right one. It’s perfect for us that it showcases something we’ve loved since childhood. Inkakai is a “lifetime project”. Or band, if you will.

“Morals, truth, and intelligence have been replaced by ruthless commerce & the modern-day equivalent of medieval witch hunts.”

You’ve built an impressive following on streaming and social platforms – what’s the secret, and in what way has a bigger audience impacted your creativity or plans?

We’re all aiming for a bigger audience in general, but at the end of the day, loyalty and quality of fans is always more important than their quantity. Any honest support we receive from them is always heartfelt and appreciated by all of us.

We don’t have a big company funding big marketing campaigns so we’ve done what little we can by ourselves. We’re not sacrificing it all on the altar of music business, but rather invest in a more peaceful and stable life.

Of course, we hope to stay more active now and aim to release music more frequently. But as we all know, there are some crazy and scary things happening in the world right now, so everything really depends on what the future brings for all of us.

What’s something about you that most people don’t realise?

There’s quite a bit that people don’t know or realize about us, thanks to the privacy we’ve kept. For instance, what we do in our personal lives, in our everyday life. This is consciously kept private, but for example: some of us have background in different martial arts and military families. Some have teaching background and history in social sciences.

Although Inkakai is new to a lot of people, we have a long history in Finland; one that includes one turbulent de-grouping in the past. This – paired with our current anonymity, masks, and our private social media – has led to some misinformation about us. Especially since we’re pretty much offline ourselves and don’t go addressing everything that’s being written online.

How much of this should be addressed? Well, Jeremy Renner said it best:

“I don’t respond publicly or privately to nonsense. It only empowers it… If you respond to it, you give it gas. I don’t fuel shit fires. I just don’t do it. I refuse to.”

Hear, hear.

Well, maybe a few comments on a few things – like commenting. Why the social media privacy, why the no commenting, etc. Those who’ve been with us longer know we’ve always been more private. We chose security over engagement, because some of us aren’t on social media at all, and don’t have the time or energy to moderate trolling or bullying. Some incidents have encouraged this, but this has always been the way we’ve preferred.

Moderation is key when talking about the internet. One question for a modern-day artist could be: Will you choose free speech with open discussion, while giving trolling and bullying free reign? Or will you revert to a more private mode with direct messaging/emailing, but not much public engagement? For us the answer is obvious: privacy and security.

“We chose security over engagement, because some of us aren’t on social media at all, and don’t have the time or energy to moderate trolling or bullying.”

By the way, we were never “fired” from our previous label. Our deal with Warner Music Finland ended in 2012, right down to the letter of our contract. Us starting our break the same year wasn’t because of that, but there were several things that made it seem like the perfect moment to take some time to ourselves. Some of us had been working their asses off for years and felt like it was time for a well-deserved break.

The last but most common topic (at least in Finland) is the turbulence and eventual falling out with the Bleak line-up. This has led to all sorts of misinformation about the singer-songwriter and our band environment, some suggesting turbulence in general or, at the very least, “difficult” to work with.

Normally we wouldn’t discredit past band members for past problems. Even if someone was the instigator and doing or being “more wrong”, it doesn’t change the past. It is what is, and it always takes two to tango, in every relationship. Also, people tend to make more mistakes when bigger things, bigger emotions and bigger pressure is involved. It’s very understandable, especially when younger.

That being said, it’s a completely different matter if the past problems are still ongoing in the present. If we forget about the past and think about what people have been doing since, the question is: did they change their ways or are they still making the same mistakes? Have they, in fact, been doing something much worse that’s hurting your personal life and career? Were those ever really mistakes, or is that just who they always were?

Let’s clear this up, once and for all:

The one person the singer had long-time personal problems with was the rhythm guitarist of Bleak. His problems started with the singer getting most of the attention – evidenced by video recordings after one of their early shows. This evolved into a problem with the singer-songwriter (rightfully) getting the most royalty shares of the songs, and a problem with the singer being the lead of the band. This led to constant fighting between the two.

Eventually it was about money, and this is where the problems began with the solo guitarist as well. Their “money issue” led to an intervention in 2006 where, before the release of their debut album, the singer-songwriter was presented with an ultimatum: give up a substantial part of his own royalty shares or find new band members. This was witnessed by producer Tomi Malm who still works with Inkakai.

The record company offered the singer a chance to move on with new band members. Instead of doing the right thing and following their advice, the singer caved in under pressure and agreed to the terms. This may have seemed like the peaceful solution, but it permanently damaged the relationship between the singer and the guitarists, eventually leading him to ending the line-up in 2009.

Since then, a lot of misinformation and even online bullying against the singer has raised its ugly head in Finland. Several of these people have been found somehow connected to certain past band members. The coincidence is weird.

One of the false claims is that the singer fired everyone from the Bleak line-up. Untrue. He didn’t directly fire anyone. After a phone call where the rhythm guitarist was screaming into his ear, the singer announced to the others that he would not be continuing with the guitarist and a replacement must be found. He offered the others a chance to stay, but also informed that if they didn’t, he would continue on with new musicians.

By this point, the singer had already distanced himself, both physically and socially, from the rest of the band, because of the previous intervention. So, it wasn’t a surprise when the others, who lived down South and hung out with the guitarist, declined. The singer, living alone up North, was left to recruit new band members. Although not all new: the Inkakai drummer had already replaced their drummer in the studio on Crossword single, 2004.

The regrouping of 2009 has led to misinformation that Bleak was a “real band”, separate from Fireal, and anything that came after that has been “only the singer’s band”. This is also untrue.

The first Bleak line-up (1997-2000) was built very differently from the second one (2002-2009). It’s true that in the beginning the guitarists participated in the songwriting, but even then, they never brought even nearly full songs with lyrics or vocal melodies.

The one thing that has remained through all these line-ups, is the singer being the sole main songwriter. Not just a songwriter who plays some chords on the guitar and lets the guitarists do the rest. Here the singer wrote the songs, did arrangements, came up with guitar riffs, melodies, lyrics, and in the beginning, those were often accompanied by tablatures and notes.

By the time of the debut album Burns Inside, there were only two co-writes (and one band arrangement) with the guitarists on the album. Even in those, the singer’s participation was the vast majority, making it possible for him to actually later on rearrange those songs for future use – leaving in no participation from said guitarists.

It’s also worth mentioning that the guitarists didn’t participate in the writing process of Fate in any way. This was all Tomi Malm, Ana Johnsson and the singer. The song won the Best Nordic Song award in 2007 and is probably the best-known song from any of our line-ups. Weirdly enough, the song was never officially released on any of our albums.

Luckily that is going to change.

The question that usually follows is: why didn’t the singer then continue on keeping the name Bleak? Short answer: because he didn’t want to.

He could’ve easily done that and in fact, for many years Fireal had the “(ex-Bleak)” on its name to guide people to it. The guitarists tried to get the singer to sign a contract that would prevent him from using the name “Bleak” in any of his future endeavours. That act alone says a lot, considering what amount of the band was the singer’s creation. Obviously, he didn’t sign. After that, it was made difficult for him to share any news about the band.

The name choice was a conscious one, not forgetting the number of bands named Bleak in the world – whereas Fireal (or later Inkakai), there was only one. The fire-related name was more in line with the flame logo and also gave the feeling of a new, fresh beginning – even if it was still Bleak they were working with. Looking back, the name decision was also the right move.

Fast forward to 2022: we’re still here with the same core line-up of professional musicians that joined in 2009. No arguing, no drama, nothing but good vibes. We’ve since parted ways with few touring guitarists and others who were never official band members. One such person was listed on The Dark Side in the line-up, but he didn’t participate in any of our songs or feature on our live gigs either. It was weird he was listed there in the first place.

Is there anything else we should know?

This isn’t something we advertise but it becomes pretty clear from this interview: our band is against the abuse of drugs and have always been drug-free. We question the “rock ‘n roll lifestyle” that’s destroying young people’s lives with falsely idolized decadence, creating life-threatening substance use and mental health problems. Perhaps there are other, healthier ways of being a “street credible” rocker.

Don’t be too stuck reading from the traditional rulebooks, hating on things that don’t follow the typical route. Keep an open mind and a lot of things might surprise you in a positive way.

As time passes and we grow older, those who’ve found peace often want to make peace with the good people they had drama with in the past. No matter how much one would like to avoid the fact, we’re all in this together. On this tiny pea, pretty and blue. We’re already facing climate crisis, and the threat of nuclear war looms over. It’s prudent to pursue harmony whenever possible, make peace with your enemies when possible.

“We sincerely hope that those who haven’t yet found it, will find peace & basic human goodness within themselves.”

Not everyone thinks like that. There are some damaged individuals who feel they need to utterly eradicate you if you once did something that wounded their pride; pointed out something nasty about them and showed others you’d do fine without them. Some see the world in black and white; good or bad, enemy or friend. Medicating issues with online hate speech and substance abuse, and making things worse, especially for themselves.

We sincerely hope that those who haven’t yet found it, will find peace and basic human goodness within themselves. The state of the world is a strong reminder of this. People should start building instead of destroying. Reconnecting instead of disconnecting. Striving towards peace, not war. Because, unless we do so, all that’s left is destruction and a dead world.

Peace! But: Slava Ukraini!

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Check out INKAKAI on Facebook, TikTok & Instagram.

Rebecca Cullen

Founder & Editor

Founder, Editor, Musician & MA Songwriter

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