Music

Dublin hopefuls Inhaler gas about debut album It Won't Always Be Like This

David Roy chats to up-and-coming Dublin band Inhaler – aka singer/guitarist Eli 'Son of Bono' Hewson, guitarist Josh Jenkinson, bassist Rob Keating and drummer Ryan McMahon – about their excellent debut album It Won't Always Be Like This and why they can't wait to get back on stage

Dublin's Inhaler are on their way up: pictured, left to right, are Ryan, Rob, Josh and Eli. Picture by Lewis Evans

DUBLIN quartet Inhaler, one of Ireland's most hotly-tipped new guitar bands, were on the cusp of making their hugely anticipated debut album in early 2020 just as pretty much everything essential to writing and recording music as a group shut down due to Covid-19.

"We basically had to figure out new ways to make music together," explains frontman Eli Hewson, Inhaler's singer/guitarist and chief lyricist, who has clearly inherited his powerful, emotive pipes (and gift of the gab) from dad Paul, AKA Bono out of U2.

"We weren't allowed to be in each other's houses – you couldn't even walk down the street without feeling like a criminal and we were finding it really hard to get inspired while trying to play guitar over Zoom."

However, despite such initial discouragement, it seems that Inhaler's world grinding to a halt may ultimately have had a positive, dynamic impact on the sound of their debut album.

It Won't Always Be Like This takes its title from the band's instantly anthemic 2019 single, a song and slogan that's become something of a rallying call for them and their fans alike over the past 18 months.

Released next week on Polydor, the album is a 50/50 mix of polished-up tried and trusted favourites like IWABLT, Cheer Up Baby and My Honest Face, which the quartet have road tested at venues across Ireland, Britain, Europe and the US over the past couple of years, plus brand new material penned during the first lockdown of last year.

Naturally, it's the latter songs – including Verve-esque dreampop moment Slide Out The Window, swaggering synth-swathed dub-tinged ballad A Night On The Floor and In My Sleep's gothy anthemics – which the band are most anxious for people to hear, as Eli explains.

"We really had to trust our own instincts on music," he says of these progressive sounding tracks, which were finally recorded last summer along with the rest of the album at London's Narcissus Studios with the long-time Inhaler producer/confidante Antony Genn (ex-The Hours).

"Usually we'll play a song live to people and get their reaction, see if they turn around – but we didn't have any of that interaction. So I guess we pushed ourselves musically to kind of go into territories that we may not have visited if the pandemic didn't exist.

"There are songs on there like In My Sleep, Totally and Slide Out The Window that we have never played to a live audience. They've been played to a maximum of two people which were our producer and sound engineer.

"So we're really eager for gigs to come back so we can get on stage and actually play them, as well as the album coming out. We just want people to hear them."

Inhaler's urgent synth-augmented, guitar-driven indiepop sound is informed by the kind of classic 'alternative' influences you might expect to be picked up by a group of keen-eared 20-somethings who grew up with an instant record collection available at the swipe of a finger: The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Cure, New Order and – whisper it – early U2 are all in their musical DNA to some extent.

However, the quartet, who are augmented live by synth player Louis Lambert, formed during a period when guitar music was very much out of fashion with Gen Z, to the extent that Eli claims "being in a band was one of the most uncool things you could do".

He, Rob and Ryan started the band back in 2012 while attending St Andrew's College in Blackrock, but they only got serious about making music a couple of years later when Rob's childhood friend, Josh – an accomplished guitarist – joined the line-up.

"Before Josh joined, we were kind of just three s***-kickers who were pretending to be in a band," chuckles Eli.

"But because he could actually play his instrument he made us all really want to step up our game."

"Poor Josh," recalls Ryan of Inhaler's chaotic early days.

"He was the only one of us who could play in time, but he couldn't play in time with people who weren't playing in time. So basically, none of us were playing in time."

What, then, made the already musically accomplished Josh commit himself to the Inhaler cause?

"They were just great fun, to be honest," says the lead guitarist.

"I'd had a taste of 'being in a band' before, but like it was just playing songs in a room with a few lads. With these guys, as soon as I joined the band they were like 'yeah, we're gonna do a gig' – I was like, 'oh my god'. That was more than I ever expected.

"Really, the difference between these guys and anyone else I've ever played with is just the drive to actually do something."

"I think in the beginning we maybe just had a little bit of a 'f***-you' mentality with the teachers and all our friends who didn't think we should be doing it," Eli explains of what kept the band going in their earliest days.

"But I honestly also think we all just really believed in the music we were making."

As for how their sound has evolved along the way, from the Stone Roses janglepop vibes of 2017's debut single I Want You through to the six-minutes-plus summery synthpop/shoegaze hybrid of most recent release, IWABLT highlight Who's Your Money On? (Plastic House), apparently the Inhaler way is to 'serve the song' rather than attempting to latch on to whatever is cool at the time.

Inhaler will play record shop shows towards the end of the summer prior to a full Britain and Ireland autumn/winter tour. Picture by Lillie Eiger

"I think a lot of bands start off deciding to sound a very specific way, but honestly we don't have those conversations," admits Eli.

"I think it's a good thing, because we really just try to serve the song. If the song feels like it needs something, we'll just do it. I think great songs stay, but fashion can go out of style. That was important to us on this album.

"I mean, people listen to ABBA at parties still – but they're not going round wearing flares anymore."

"Although, to be fair, we do own our share of flares," deadpans Rob, prompting a brief debate about the relative merits of flares (favoured by Rob, me, all right-thinkers) vs bootcut jeans (Eli, culchies, literally no-one else under the age of 50).

Go big or go home, I say – and with their debut album finally about to drop, a run of record shop-affiliated dates in place to mark its release through August and September (including Belfast's Limelight 2 on September 12), a full UK and Ireland tour already in the diary for autumn/winter and their first ever headline tour of the US booked for next year, things are about to get very busy for Inhaler.

Sensibly, they are filling the time before they're allowed to play live shows again by working on songs for their second album – but it's a frustrating limbo for any young band on the cusp of great success to be in, as Eli explains:

"Ireland needs to get its s*** together and start doing some real 'tester gigs'," he tells me.

"That's a real stressful thing for us because, although we want to take it slow and for gigs to be safe, I think they've shown that you can do it and be safe in the UK. It's a little frustrating that music and artists have been left behind here."

In the meantime, just try to remember: it won't always be like this.

:: It Won't Always Be Like This is released on July 9, pre-order and full tour details at www.inhaler.band

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