Inhaler prepare to gig again: ‘We’ve been ready since March 2020’

The pandemic gave Eli Hewson and co space to rethink their debut album

Inhaler

Inhaler

 

You can’t blame them. There is to be no discussion of Bono or U2, and a request from management and record label that no headline should include mentions of same. For some bands, connections are essential, reference points inevitable, personal history unavoidable.

For the Dublin band Inhaler, it’s shutters down, keep calm and carry on as if nothing is out of the ordinary, as if there is absolutely, positively, no-way-José a proverbial elephant in the room. We get it, we really do. Having to answer far too many inane and nosy questions about any member of your family, let alone a father who just happens to be one of the world’s best-known rock stars, must be like sitting under a circling Dementor, poised and waiting to suck the life out of you. 

This is why we don’t mind at all keeping schtum about the Mount Temple Four, and why it’s gratifying to see the four members of Inhaler sitting on a sofa, lined up, eager to talk about their forthcoming debut album. However, as is the way with rock bands that conduct interviews in a Musketeer-like one-for-all, all-for-one fashion, there is always a band member or two who just sit there awkwardly, saying next to nothing. Not Eli Hewson, Inhaler’s lead singer and co-songwriter. We might say he’s a chip off the old block, if we were allowed. 

“ ‘When are we going to gig again?’ was the main thing on our minds,” he says of being shot down in mid-flight last year. Was there blind panic? Calm resignation? No. “We were relieved because while we were freaked out, initially, we knew we’d have time to write, to decompress before we had to go back on the road, in what we thought was going to be a few months. Obviously, it didn’t turn out like that because we’re still not gigging well over a year later. But yes, not being able to gig was the main worry. As a band, it’s what we do. Being able to play to a crowd, to play on stage, should be something we can do all of the time, but 2020 was such a massive change.” 

Inhaler
Inhaler

In a way, adds Hewson, the sudden lack of typical rock band closeness, if not intimacy, affected their friendship. Drummer Ryan McMahon says they went “from seeing each other every day for about three to four years, travelling together on a bus with our crew, to then coming home and not seeing each other for about three to four months. We were in the same bubble as everyone else, uncertain of where the world was headed. We questioned the fate of the band, or if gigs were ever going to return. We were all a little bit scared. Were we ever going to be able to record the album? After a few months, last year, we knew we had to make a start, so we moved to London for about a month and started recording, hanging out together and playing music again. We tried to rebuild and make up for all of the lost time, and thank God we had the opportunity to do that.” 

Different album

The result is a different debut album from what it would have been a year ago. Is it safe to assume they reached a point where they were glad to have had the time to reshape it? “You went from seeing what happened last year, the stalling of gigs and recording the album, as the worst thing ever, but the positive out of the negative was that we were able to develop more of a work ethic and homed in on how we wanted the album to sound,” says Hewson. “With all the pre-Covid touring we’d been doing, we hadn’t had the time to think about that, let alone orchestrate it. We knew the time we had on our hands was a massive opportunity to strengthen the songs. Not only that but we wrote about six or seven new tunes, and that made the result about 50 per cent stronger than it would otherwise have been.” 

McMahon adds: “The time given to us was also a way of making sense of everything.”

You’re in this whirlwind of touring, continues Hewson, dealing with what they felt was a steadily ascending route. “For that to stop and the band to feel like nothing was going to come back made us more resilient, so we knew we had to put the proverbial blood, sweat and tears into the music.”

Before Covid-19 landed with a smack, he admits the album “was beginning to sound more like a compilation of singles, primarily because that’s the nature of the way we were going into the studio – coming off tour and then recording in a studio for a few days delivering, what else, but the next single. To be able to take a couple of months to just focus on a series of songs rather than a compilation was very important. It’s not that we view the debut as a concept album, far from it, but it’s much more of a cohesive work than it would have been. It has a through-line, and we got to where we were able to express ourselves much more because of that.”

And the through-line is? “All of the songs were born out of uncertainty, of not knowing how things are going to work out, yet there’s a positivity to them.” 

The producer

Gathering the songs into a unified, compact whole was helped, they add, by having an extraordinarily good relationship with their producer (and former member of tipped Noughties band The Hours) Antony Genn. Genn is as crucial a part of Inhaler’s debut album as producer Steve Lillywhite was to U2’s Boy. Genn was described as “a family friend” in a 2020 interview Hewson gave to Rolling Stone. On listening to Inhaler’s first finely wrought song, Ice Cream Sundae, the producer invited them into his studio and subsequently took on an avuncular advisory role. 

Flaws and virtues are briefly discussed. Genn will often, states McMahon, “tell us if a song isn’t working, and if or when that happens, we’ll take a step back and either agree or fight our corner”. Losing the impetus of a successful emerging band, says bass player Robert Keating, “grounded us and, I reckon, eradicated those flaws. Our virtues now include a great work ethic and the realisation of what we have and what can be taken away from us.” 

What has been removed is slowly and presumably being returned. For Inhaler, an extensive time on the road starts from September – are they match fit, ready to roll? Are they up to the task of smelling each other again, night after night, in a tour bus? 

“We’ve been ready since March of 2020,” says McMahon. 

“My bags are packed,” adds Hewson.

Inhaler release their debut album, It Won’t Always Be Like This, on Friday, July 9th. For further information on tour dates, visit inhaler.band

FATHERS AND SONS

Leonard and Adam Cohen We can thank musician and songwriter Adam Cohen for the final album of his father’s career. Thanks for the Dance, released in 2019, three years after Leonard’s death, was lovingly tended to and resulted in a record of great depth – as essential, noted Rolling Stone, “as anything issued in the artist’s lifetime”.

John and Sean (and Julian) Lennon John Lennon’s sons Julian and Sean may not have come close to matching the creative output of their father (how could they?), but between them, they have made their respective marks. Julian’s 1994 debut album, Valotte, was Grammy-nominated, while Sean has released three acclaimed experimental indie albums, as well as collaborated with The Flaming Lips, Lenny Kravitz, and The Strokes.

Tim and Jeff Buckley The sadness surrounding the estranged Buckley father-son relationship is that both died so young and so tragically – Tim at 28 from a drug overdose, Jeff at 30 from drowning. Each songwriter, however, shared a special connection of not only nonconformity but also virtuosic singing voices.

Paul and Harper Simon Having one of the most garlanded songwriters in the world as a father, you might have thought Harper Simon wouldn’t even bother. Fortune favours the brave, however, and Harper has released two solo albums as well as appearing on numerous records by a wide range of US acts (including, in 2016, the title track of Lady Gaga’s fifth studio album, Joanne). 

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