They’ve just dropped a new track, ‘Love Will Get You There’, and announced their second album, ‘Cuts and Bruises’, to come early next year. But after a chart topping debut, are Inhaler ready to do it all over again?
Words: Jamie MacMillan.
Photos: Lewis Evans.
Calling themselves ‘losers’ within minutes of the interview beginning isn’t the kind of grandiose fighting talk you’d expect to hear from a chart-topping, globe-trotting and hysteria-inducing band like Inhaler. After the highly-deserved, and frankly massive, success that the four Dublin lads achieved with ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’, you’d expect them to be breezing easily through life. But then, these aren’t normal times, and Inhaler aren’t your normal kind of band either.
A relentless tour schedule has followed ever since, with this particular bunch of long-time mates facing the same challenges and pitfalls that have caught up with a number of our favourite artists this year. And yet, somehow, they have still managed to squeeze in the recording of a follow-up, titled ‘Cuts And Bruises’, an album that the band promise us is even better than their debut (which was not too shabby itself, thank you very much).
After a few weeks of trying to track them down to find out more, Dork caught up with them over Zoom just a few hours after the band arrived in the States on yet another transatlantic hop for Ohana Festival.
With the band fresh out of their studio, it’s no surprise that the mere promise of Californian sunshine is making Elijah hunt for a sunny spot as he joins the call. Josh and Rob, meanwhile, have settled for sitting in the dark, while Ryan is missing in action (the drummer was stuck in a social security office, but the rest of the band promise us he’s ok and did actually made it into the country). The jet lag hasn’t hit yet (“Give us another day, and I’d say it’ll fuck us up,” promises Rob), and the band are grinning like they haven’t played about 500 shows in a year. Exaggerate, us? Not that the band feel like they’ve cracked touring life and dealing with jet lag just yet. “We don’t feel like pros at this yet,” laughs Elijah. “I think that probably takes a couple of albums.”
They must be getting to that point soon, though. ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’ has taken the band around the world and back again, with tour schedules bouncing into festivals and continuing out the other side. Chances are, if you’ve been in a festival field this summer, you’ve seen them. “It’s been wild,” nods Elijah, while stating that it’s something the band are fairly comfortable with. “I think we can deal with touring because it’s just physical exhaustion rather than mental,” he says. “We try not to party too hard. I mean, we don’t really need to try because we just don’t do it. It’s in the studio that the wheels come off a little bit, but we’re quite well-behaved individuals. If you’d believe it.”
With the summer season bringing a Glasto debut amongst other treats, as well as a support slot for Arctic Monkeys’ return, it’s been quite the trip. “It all just feels like a haze,” says Rob. “It’s mad to think that Glasto happened recently. But it was great, man. Just getting to go around the world and get to do decent slots in places we’ve been to before is always very humbling, and a pretty special thing that we get to enjoy.”
Slipping back into life on the road as a touring band came easily enough, though Elijah describes their first festival back, at Boardmasters, as being “nerve-wracking”. “It was strange,” he remembers. “We spent every day of our late-teens together, and then after the pandemic, we met up and were like, ‘hey mate, haven’t seen you for a while’. It felt like, had that all even happened? But we all just settled into it quickly – it felt normal, and it felt right.”
“We’re just nerds. We finish a show and socialise, but a lot of the time, we just go back to the bus and do shit together”Rob Keating
Like many others in the music world, the frontman admits to having had doubts about whether the band would survive an extended lockdown and admits to “jumping up and down with relief” when the foursome could finally hit the road again. That festival slot in Newquay brought it all back home. “We had done a few festivals before the pandemic,” remembers Elijah. “But we didn’t feel that good at them, or that we’d mastered it. But it just kind of fell into place and felt normal. So I think this summer, we’ve really had an opportunity to at least try and master them a bit more. But after all this touring, we definitely feel older. I feel at least ten years older now.” Rob chips in to say that it feels more like twenty years for him since the start of the summer, Josh nodding along and half-wincing.
Of course, this relentless pace of touring has seen several of their peers take to social media recently to announce the cancellation or postponement of some shows due to mental health reasons and because of a general sense of self-preservation – artists such as Sam Fender, Wet Leg, Arlo Parks and Yard Act who, like Inhaler, seem to be on a similar never-ending tour cycle since lockdown opened up. So, how have Inhaler dealt with this? “We have discussions amongst ourselves about just being exhausted and not wanting to get to that place where you’re not enjoying what you’re doing,” states Elijah. “I don’t really know how we managed to survive it, but we just… did. I think because we’ve been together since we were 16, we can kind of finish the gig and just go back and watch a bit of television and get some food, try to feel like normal people as much as we can. But that’s hard to do when you’re on a bus going from Salt Lake City…”
Avoiding the typical post-gig temptations is key for the band here, they say. “The highs from a gig can be quite intense,” the frontman says. “And if you really drink a lot, then that can definitely make the low even lower. Being on stage can inflate your head a little bit, so it’s healthy to do things that can deflate it and not feel like the person that you were on stage.”
“I think we have to thank the fact that we are music losers in a way,” Rob chips in with a laugh. “I mean, we do have friends! But we mostly stick to ourselves, slightly on purpose but also slightly because we’re just nerds. We finish a show and socialise, but a lot of the time, we just go back to the bus and do shit together, because it calms us down more naturally than sinking ten pints and doing all the stuff that we do do on occasion, with occasion being the important word.”
Not for this band, the wild temptations of life on the road, the four turning instead to Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm coming to the rescue of their sanity on a regular basis. “Honestly, if we could find a way of incorporating that into the band somehow, I think we would…” laughs Rob.
Amongst all the sexy Glasto slots, one undeniable highlight for the band was supporting Arctic Monkeys on those long-awaited return performances. The guys still shake their heads at the memory. “We just didn’t feel worthy of it. We still don’t,” says Elijah with a grin. “They were so gracious and so welcoming, and their fans were too, which was the main thing. Beforehand, we felt a bit like, ‘maybe this isn’t our place’. But they really warmed to us.”
Like most bands of the day, Inhaler see the Sheffield gang as leagues above the rest. “As a band, they defined a generation really – and they definitely defined our generation of bands,” the frontman states, describing Alex Turner as one of the best lyricists of the last 20 years. “We were always just bowing and trying to keep out of their way or step on their toes too much – because they are the masters. Just being able to watch them live every night was like going to college in a weird way.”
Next summer, of course, their college course continues as they will also support Sam Fender on one of his ridiculously big hometown celebrations at St James’ Park. It’s starting to look pretty clear that Inhaler are beginning to move in the same sweet spot where fans of indie, rock and pop collide as those two icons. So could they see themselves doing a Sam and playing their own version at Dublin’s Croke Park? Rob blows his cheeks out. “That’s one of those were you can’t conceptualise yourself doing that at any stage of your career until it just happens. I doubt Sam was ever like, ‘I’m gonna do that’,” he says before reconsidering quickly, “Actually, I’m sure he was because he’s a bit of a lunatic in that way. But for us, we’re only ever thinking about the next venue and the next fifty tickets. But yeah, for sure, Croke Park would be pretty special. Every person in Ireland loves that place.”
Rob might be playing it cool, but it definitely looks like the thought has at least crossed Elijah’s mind. “I think all the bands that we look up to are the ones that aim for that,” he says. “Maximum connection with the maximum amount of people, while doing what you love. Maybe it seemed more realistic in our brains when we were 14, but we’re still dreaming and still aiming high. And I think if you do that, that’s kind of where I’m going with it.”
Ambitions should be, and can afford to be, high, of course. ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’ raced to Number 1 in the UK, and scenes of frenzy and excitement at their live shows emerge from whichever part of the world that Inhaler perform in. Stating an eternal gratitude to their fans for helping them get that Number 1, at a time when they were genuinely worried about whether anyone would care enough to get them there, the band talk often about making that connection with their fans in order to feel like they are all in this together. So have they seen the crowds around the world react in the same way? “Yeah, especially in the States,” nods Elijah. “In America, we seem to have our scene going on, and there would just be a sea of kids already there who knew all the words, and that feeling never gets old. I think before, we were used to a lot of older folks coming down to our shows because of the elephant in the room.”
“We’re trying to decode ourselves a little bit on this one, and figure out what makes us tick”Elijah Hewson
Ah yeah, that elephant in the room. You know, the one over there wearing massive sunglasses. We didn’t mention it last time we chatted, but then we don’t often tend to ask many questions about peoples’ parents unless they happen to be in the band, tbh. But yeah, having the man who was once probably the biggest rock star in the world as the singer’s dad is kind of a big deal. But nicely for Inhaler, things are changing rapidly, and this is now a band with a huge percentage of fans who, in all likelihood, weren’t even alive when U2 were at their peak. Does the fact that their fanbase has shifted largely into a world of people who might not have even heard more than a couple U2 songs please Elijah and the band?
“Yeah,” admits the frontman with a laugh. “I think it’s something that we never want to shy away from too much because we can’t change it, and I’m sure it has brought us advantages as well as disadvantages. I think to know that these people are liking us for our music and nothing else is so gratifying, though, and it was something that felt at the beginning like it could never happen. But we love music and weren’t gonna become architects, you know?”
Rightfully proud of the hard graft the band put in during their early days, the lads all feel that it is paying off now. “The pressure of that really pushed us to work harder than a lot of people would have assumed us to have worked just to prove ourselves,” states Elijah. “Playing the small clubs and taking the necessary steps was important, and also some of the best times, by the way.”
So, attention is turning to ‘Cuts And Bruises’, the second Inhaler album due for release in early 2023. It looks set to be the record that turns the hype and early celebration into something more tangible, an album that cements their place at the top table. Not that they’re having it when told they’re becoming a ‘big deal’ in their own right with this. “We don’t see ourselves as a big band, and I don’t know if ever can,” grins Rob. “Maybe we can’t go down and play in the Workmen’s [iconic Dublin venue] now without causing a ruckus. But it’s important for us to never walk around going ‘we’re a big band, blah blah blah’.”
In fact, they’re hoping it helps them to take care of some much more basic needs. “At the moment, we’re all still living at home,” the bassist sighs. “We’re not making enough money to buy or even rent our own place in Dublin yet. So that’s still very much the goal for us. But the next album has been the big weight on our shoulders for that, as we all knew that if we didn’t smash it, then people could just forget about us. Second albums can make or break bands, so that’s what we put our attention on.”
The early signs are promising. The latest cut from it, ‘Love Will Get You There’, has an urgency and groove behind it that manages to be your classic Inhaler banger while proving lighter on its feet than the songs that precede it. It wouldn’t feel out of place on ‘Seventeen Going Under’ and could well herald a similar stratospheric upwards curve as big as Sam found on that. Surely that is a sign that the well-used music cliche about Difficult Second Albums isn’t relevant here, right guys. Guys?
“Erm.” “Erm.” “It was difficult.” Those three answers come from three pained faces on the video screen. It’s left to guitarist Josh, a man who has few words in interviews but always makes the best point when he does speak, to explain more. “It hasn’t been easy,” he admits. “But for different reasons than you’d think. The songs came quite quickly, but just everything else around it…” Elijah’s comment earlier that the wheels come off in the studios sounds more relevant now. “Living in that studio environment and being a functioning human at the same time while also putting all your effort in doing that as well?” continues Josh before he finishes to cackles from the others. “It’s been a great experience, but I definitely wouldn’t do a second album again.”
Rob jumps in to add his own perspective. “There was pressure, but it wasn’t the kind of pressure that I think we should have had on us,” he says. “We never really looked at each other and said, ‘what if we fail?’ Instead, it was a physical pressure of ‘right, after 84 shows this year, you’ve got two weeks to finish the album or else we can’t do it for a whole other year because of the vinyl problems. And that’s it. Like… brilliant!”
Happily, though, the band feel that that sense of chaos and frenzy have bled into the finished record. “I think it may have helped the music in some kind of crazy way,” explains Rob. “We brought the manic summer that we had, and all that with the Monkeys, into the studio and just used it as inspiration. And now I think we’re actually gonna finish in time which is exciting, and something that we weren’t sure about.”
“Second albums can make or break bands”Rob Keating
Elijah promises “new territories” are explored musically, the promise of ‘Love Will Get You There’ carried forward throughout the record. “We’ve never stayed in one place, and I don’t think we ever will,” he states simply. “And I don’t think we ever should.”
Taking inspiration from their lives this year, influences and ideas poured in from all angles. “Seeing other bands, seeing Arctic Monkeys and having these experiences at Glastonbury really rubbed off on us,” Elijah explains. “It inspired us, and I think we all felt that it was a bit easier to write music than it was during the pandemic. Because then, there was nothing going on. We just feel a bit more alive now… even if we are a bit dead inside.”
Asked half-jokingly whether being alive but dead inside is an accurate reflection of the record’s themes, the band laugh, but it seems pretty spot on. “It wasn’t a conscious thing, but I think a lot of the songs are just about the experience of being in a band,” states Elijah. “It’s a lot more introspective and based on smaller ideas, rather than the kind of grandiose ‘it won’t always be like this’ stuff. I think we’re trying to decode ourselves a little bit on this one, and figure out what makes us tick.”
Don’t panic, though, because the band promise that ‘Cuts And Bruises’ won’t be a gloomfest. “It’s just a little bit darker,” explains the frontman. “But not in a sad way. It’s just like we were saying earlier; it’s all about trying to stay normal and stay friends. And not get our heads inflated too quickly. That’s the theme that inspired the beginnings of the record, but we do go to other places with it.”
Those other places contain “curveballs and risks”, but the band resist any of our gentle probing to reveal any more. These surprises will just have to wait. “There’s no rapping or anything” is about as far as Rob will go, with Elijah confirming that there are no Nicki Minaj collabs on the horizon just yet. “I think we’ve matured a lot, and I think we all feel that it’s a lot better than our first album,” says Elijah happily. “It’s just really satisfying that we have come to the end of an album and feel like ‘yeah, I’d stick every song on there on my playlist’.”
It looks set to keep Inhaler living out of suitcases and travelling the world for the foreseeable time yet, though the band’s hearts still remain in Dublin. “It feels like a holiday when we go home,” admits Elijah, before Rob continues on that theme. “It’s weird to go home and always get celebrated just for going home,” he says. “I’m constantly treated like I’m about to leave, so it’s a weird vibe.”
Describing their current life as “nomadic”, Elijah laughs sadly about jumping back into group chats to find out that some mates have left town in the meantime. “You rely so heavily on the people around you when you’re working,” he points out. “And then when you get home, everybody’s else life has moved on in its own way. It’s a strange thing that I think we’ll never get used to until we can have our say in our schedule.” “I think we maybe get a proper break in three years?” smiles Rob.
But for now, Dublin will always be the home they yearn to go home to. “There’s something about it that is so magnetic,” explains Elijah. “I don’t think I could ever raise kids in another country. It definitely feels that no matter how far you travel from it, it’ll always be where you want to be eventually.”
Despite all their travelling, Dublin is still the perfect place for these music losers to heal those touring cuts and bruises then. ■
Taken from the November 2022 edition of Dork. Inhaler’s album ‘Cuts And Bruises’ is out 17th February 2023.