Inhaler On Their Chart-Topping Album, Creating Their Own Story & Irish Music’s Renaissance

“I must apologise,” laughs Elijah Hewson. He’s scratching his tussled hair, grinning at his friends through their respective Zoom windows some 10 to 15 minutes after they were supposed to log in. “We’re a little late, but we’re in a band, y’know? We’re not really used to getting up early.” It’s just after 11am in his native Dublin, for the record – not exactly up with the birds, but it’s forgivable all the same. You remember the days when 11am was early for you, too. It’s a hell of a time to be alive.

Hewson and his friends in the neighbouring windows, bass player Robert Keating and guitarist Josh Jenkinson, are living up their very early 20s – well, as best as one can in the wake of a global pandemic. They’re three-quarters of Inhaler, the same band that Hewson – its frontman – alluded to in his tardiness excuse. Right now, they are living out the fantasy of every kid that grows up with guitar-god posters on their walls.

Their debut album, It Won’t Always Be Like This, just hit number one on the album charts in both the UK and their home country of Ireland on its first week of release. Outselling rock giants like Queen and Fleetwood Mac, plus contemporary pop conglomerates like Dua Lipa and Olivia Rodrigo is an unexpected feat from a band that is still in its relative infancy – both in terms of the time they’ve been together and their ages.

Don’t let either fool you, however: It Won’t Always Be Like This is one of the most assured, confident and engaging rock records of the year. With big hooks, barrelling guitars and stellar production, the album’s execution entirely belies the experience level of those that crafted it. For those seeking their alternative rock with drive and ambition, you really can’t look past what these young Dubliners are offering up.

Ahead of the album’s release, Music Feeds spoke with Hewson, Keating and Jenkinson about the logistics of creating their debut, as well as creating their own narrative and being part of Irish music’s renaissance period.

Music Feeds: It’s interesting to look at the trajectory of It Won’t Always Be Like This as a title. The track itself came out a few years ago, but in its 2021 context, it really feels as though it’s taken on a new meaning and purpose. Is that fair to say?

Elijah Hewson: Yeah, definitely. I mean, we wrote it when we were maybe 16 years old. Back then, it was just about the usual stuff that you write about when you’re 16 – the girl you have a crush on, or the party the other night. When the pandemic, hit we sobered up a lot. Not literally speaking, by the way – I mean more mentally. We got out of that rush of being in a band – we all went home, and we all moved back in with our parents. I just got real big dose of reality, I guess. I think that seeped its way into the lyrics, and we all felt like we had to grow quite fast in those couple of months.

When it came to finding the title for the album, it really did just make sense. We’ve had comments on our YouTube and stuff being like, “’It won’t always be like this?’ Yeah man, it might get fuckin’ worse.’” [laughs] I dunno, we kind of like the way you can play with it like that. I think the fact that it’s been thrown around now as a phrase, not even being connected to our band, I think speaks a lot about it as a title. It’s done a good job.

MF: Several of the album’s tracks are collected from stand-alone single releases over the last couple of years – did you notice any of the other songs changing in their context when they moved from being singular entities to being placed on the album?

Robert Keating: I think ‘Cheer Up Baby’ was one of them, definitely.

EH: I think so, too. It’s weird how that one and ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’ changed so much from when we first wrote them to [when we] put them on this record. Neither was written around the pandemic at all, we couldn’t have ever known this is the world this album would come out in. So much so, that we were worried about how it would come across when we released the song – like, ‘Cheer Up Baby’. At a time like this? We really didn’t want to annoy people.

Really, though, we wanted to get that song out for our fans more than anything. We’d been playing that song live for a long time, and people were just desperate to have it – we literally got sent Instagram pages solely dedicated to, like, campaigning for the song to be recorded and released.

MF: Really? Literally just “Inhaler, Please Release ‘Cheer Up Baby’”?

EH: Literally!

RK: It was absolutely bizarre. It ended up being a nice re-connection point with our fans, though. After being locked down for so long, to put that song out ended up working out really well.

MF: Obviously, you only get one debut album – how much of a democratic process was deciding which song would go where? Did everyone have their different playlists and different ideas?

RK: We did, but to be perfectly honest I don’t think any of us really had, like, the definitive answer. We were all very much open to ideas. We all kind of agreed on ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’ to open the album because that’s the way we started our gigs. We have done for years, and it’s always felt great. We thought we’d pay tribute to our live show, and kind of put people in our world straightaway. With the closer, ‘In My Sleep’, that was one of the last songs we wrapped up in the studio, and we were all just super pumped about it. We thought it felt like an epic, grand finale kind of thing. There wasn’t really too many arguments about that. One of the things we argued about the least, I think, was the track-listing.

MF: What were the stumbling blocks you hit when making the record, then – if not in the positioning of the songs, then in the process of making and recording them?

EH: I would say the last 10% of the process was especially stressful. I think that’s always the case when you’re making an album, though. I felt it from my end in particular, because I think I was starting to get really stressed out. Like, I couldn’t believe that we were actually finishing our debut record. I put the lads through a bit of hell there. [laughs] Mixing probably took the longest out of everything. Everything else felt really natural, I think.

In the studio, I think it really hit the four of us where we were all like, “wow, we are getting really good at working on something and not fighting about it.” Someone has an idea, and everybody rolls with it. Maybe a couple days down the line, we’d go “Okay, that’s not working,” and “that’s working,” just picking and choosing after the fact. I think it’s important to kind of roll with something in the moment and then decide a couple of days down the line, rather than shooting anything down. I think we work quite well in the studio compared to some other bands.

MF: Would you say the whole process was a learning curve for the four of you?

RK: Definitely. When we finished the record, I think there was an element of not wanting to let go of it – just because we’d become so attached to it. The end of the process was about working through that, taking account of everything we’d done. Any mistakes we made making this first album, we’ll now know not to make when we make a second album. That’s really important. It’s exciting to think about, even when this album isn’t even out yet.

EH: We learned so, so much. Doing the album during the pandemic was difficult – especially considering we’d never made an album before. Normally, you’d think making an album would be this nice, exciting time. For us, though, we didn’t even know if we were going to be able to get home, man. It was quite scary. We were in London, working our asses off. We’d just walk into the studio every morning and then back to where we were staying every night. That was it; we were doing that every day for two months straight. There were good moments – really good moments, even – and we’ve some great memories, but I think at times it was a bit like a pressure cooker.

MF: One could definitely imagine that having a veteran like Antony Ginn producing the record would have been a good guiding hand through such a tumultuous period. How did you cross paths?

EH: We literally approached him when we were all about 16. He was kind of a family friend, and I only kind of knew him a little bit, but we knew he had a studio in London. So I went up to him, and I was like [assumes high-pitched voice] “Can me and Rob record in your studio?” He was like, “Of course man, I’ll do you a favour. Come on up for a day, we’ll record your song.” We went up and we recorded a demo of our song ‘Ice Cream Sundae’. Ever since then, we’ve just kind of done everything with Antony. We brought Josh and Ryan over the next time, and we developed this beautiful relationship with him. He’s kind of become a mentor to us.

When it came to making the album, we weren’t looking around at a lot of other producers at all. It’s literally worked so well – it just feels natural to deal with him. It’s fantastic because he’s got so much different experience. He’s just written a ballet, he’s done hip-hop, he’s worked with slowthai, he played with Joe Strummer for a long time, he was in Pulp. He just has so much experience in different types of genres, that really opened up a lot of doors for us.

MF: When you went in to record It Won’t Always Be Like This, were you using the studio as an opportunity to experiment with amps, pedals and the like? Or was it more to do with transposing what you use in the live environment to the studio?

Josh Jenkinson: Before we recorded the album, when we were doing singles here and there, I definitely did a lot more experimentation with stuff like that. By the time we got to the record, though, I really loved the setup I had going live and really wanted to put that on the record. We got as close as we could get with the amps, and then we used all the same pedals but added a few more.

EH: Man, you are way better at that shit than I am. [laughs] I literally have no idea what I’ve got going on down there on my pedalboard. No idea! I think I have all the same pedals, but I just don’t know what configuration they’re in. The chemistry is really good, though. [laughs]

MF: It Won’t Always Be Like This arrives at quite an exciting time for Irish music. The last couple of years, some of the most acclaimed acts in alternative music have come from your homeland – you’ve obviously got a band like Fontaines DC at the front of that, but you also have stuff like the For Those I Love record, the Pillow Queens record from last year, Sinead O’Brien…

EH: Man, you know your shit!

MF: That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too. It must feel special for Inhaler to be part of such a special moment in time for your scene and your music community at large?

EH: It’s really, really cool to see. When we were kids, that’s what we would dream of – a scene in Dublin like Seattle in the early ’90s, or Manchester in the ’80s. Growing up, we didn’t really see it that much because we were obviously too young to get into venues. By the time we turned 18, we thankfully got to see a good bunch of it. I can remember us all going to see Shame, who are this great band from the UK. They played this really small club in Dublin, and the crowd was pretty much a bunch of middle-aged dudes and then us. [laughs] We were like, “yeah, I guess it’s kind of a cult thing.” It’s rock music, y’know?

A couple months later, though, we go back. It was Murder Capital opening, Fontaines DC supporting and Shame headlining. It was just a sea of kids in there. We were like, “holy crap – it’s happening!” That was really exciting for us to see. Right after that, we went off on our own tour through the UK, so we sadly missed a lot of what came next. We always kept an eye on it, though.

RK: There’s just so much happening right now in Ireland – and it’s not just rock, either. We have great hip-hop coming out, like Rejjie Snow. It’s just nice to see it being so diverse and alive. The only thing I wish would change about Dublin is that it’s quite expensive for young people to live here. Everybody’s been living with their parents or living out in the sticks somewhere. I just wish it was a little bit more accessible because it’s definitely a city that wants that kind of creative energy running through it. The kind of place where you
hear music on every street corner.

MF: For better and for worse, bands like Fontaines and Pillow Queens are really reflective of Dublin and of Ireland as a whole – in their accents, in their lyrics, in their music. Do you feel Inhaler follows a similar path?

JJ: I’ll say this: We’re not a football team. We’re not out there wearing the colours and the kit – it might not be obvious that we’re an Irish band as soon as you see us or hear us. We’re not nationalists, and we’re not running up to people going on about it. What we will do, though, is pay tribute to all the Irish bands that we love when we perform and make music. Like with ‘In My Sleep’ – we just fucking have it out, right at the end. That’s where you really see our fighting Irish side. [laughs]

EH: When you walk down Harry Street in Dublin, there’s a statue of [Thin Lizzy frontman] Phil Lynott. Every time you go past it, you’re just like, “Jesus, we’ve got a lot to look up to here.” So yeah, you definitely have to pay respect to that where you can.

RK: I think being Irish, as well, you don’t really need to worry about being Irish. Does that make sense? It’s quite an obvious thing. Even if it’s just talking to people and interviews, that’s enough for us to feel like we’re waving the flag with how we do things a little differently over here. I think if we made an effort to seem like we’re somehow more Irish, it could come across wrong. It isn’t really organic. In a way, we’re just doing our own thing. We’re proud to be Irish and we love our country. That’s pretty much it, really.

MF: Lastly, to somewhat address the elephant in the room – there is a very obvious narrative that you as a band could have painted for yourselves. Largely, however, that hasn’t been the case – in fact, it rarely comes up at all. How important has it been to Inhaler to prove your own worth and erase any notion of nepotism?

EH: It’s been a struggle for us to do that, but I think we have done it. I mean, I’m just lucky my dad [Eds note: U2’s Bono] doesn’t use his last name, so I can get by using it myself. [laughs] It’s been a tricky hurdle for us to get over, but I really think we have made the effort there. I mean, a lot of our fans might not have even heard of them, y’know? It opens doors, sure, but it closes them just the same. We’re just happy to be doing what we’re doing. I certainly wouldn’t have made a good academic, I will tell you that much. [laughs] I definitely need to be in music. My dad being who he is, I think that was always going to be the case. You just have to get on with it, really.

RK: There’s also so many times people can ask the same questions in interviews. If it came up all the time, it’d just be like, “Well, we already responded to that with the last guy. How many times can we say the same thing?”

EH: I dunno, it is what it is. [pauses] Is that something Trump says? I can’t believe I just accidentally quoted Trump. [laughs] I get it – it’s totally natural for people to want to talk about it, but we’re trying to find a balance. That said, we do get some of dad’s fans coming to our shows. They’re lovely, but they’re a big band y’know? They definitely have a few crazies in there. [laughs]

Inhaler’s debut album ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’ is out now.

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