In terms of apt titles, Inhaler’s debut album – ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’ – is the kind of hopeful prophecy we’re all yearning for. For a band long predicted to make it to the big leagues, they’re ready to take the limelight on their own terms.
Words: Jamie MacMillan. Photos: Christian Tierney.
“It looks like you’re in the Teletubbies!” This is going well, then. Even by Dork’s standards, no strangers to being casually insulted by The Pop Stars, megastars-in-waiting Inhaler aren’t messing about. “Because of the hills behind you, I mean,” they clarify, helpfully saving our feelings as they do. Phew, back on track. Which is handy, really, because they frankly do not look anything like Teletubbies, and it’s proper hard to think of a good retort when you’re faced with the level of cool that they’re currently exuding. It’s just weeks before the release of their debut album ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’, a record that feels like the musical equivalent of the deep breath you take before things get really exciting and one that will surely usher them into the big league.
It’s been a little while. The last time Dork spoke to the Dublin band, frontman Eli Hewson told of what a confusing time it was for the world and pondered what surprises the next year or so would bring. “Nobody knows what the future holds” were his exact words. That was in late 2019, and soon all of their bold plans for world tours and global domination had to be put to one side. Someone somewhere probably ate or touched something they shouldn’t, and then you know the rest. Facing up to the fact that the world, and life, had other plans for them, there’s a real ‘Last Band In Town’ feel about Inhaler today. Sitting squeezed together on one sofa in their Dublin studio, they smile wryly at how all those heady expectations suddenly disappeared.
Chatting to them is a proper blast of happy energy. When one of them starts a sentence (usually Eli), two others will join in to finish it in that easy kind of way that you get between good friends. Drummer Ryan McMahon might chuck a joke in, guitarist Josh Jenkinson will quietly agree, and bassist Robert Keating will chip in with something sensible. It’s the kind of dynamic that have kept the bonds strong through the whirlwind of the last few years, a real ‘best mates who happen to be in a band’ vibe that you just love to see. It’s also what have helped keep things together over the enforced separation due to lockdown.
“When we said that about the future, it feels like a different era now,” begins Eli. “We’ve had to do a lot of growing up during the pandemic. We came straight out of school doing this, and for a lot of reasons, people get into bands just so they never have to grow up. So it was a very sobering moment; there was a sense of, maybe this is the end of it?” Thankfully not, as Ryan explains that the extra time gave the band a chance to produce something way better than if they’d followed their initial plans of releasing the debut last year. Eli agrees, adding that it would have been “50% not as good”, explaining that, “We wrote some great songs in that time just out of desperation. When you’re put in a situation where everything is in jeopardy, you force yourself to write a little bit more. You want to be heard, you know?”
The band’s lockdown story is a pretty universal one, all of them moving back home with their respective parents for the year. With everything kicking off just as they returned from their world tour, what was supposed to be one week off before a stint in the States turned into a year and a half instead. For a band who were always on the run to somewhere, it was especially weird. “I was just wishing I was somewhere else, and most of time, I was just daydreaming,” says Eli about the strange times. “About you,” he finishes, stroking Ryan’s arm, laughing that he missed the drummer’s glorious taste in shirts the most. It’s easy to see why – today, he’s wearing a lovely little blue number; we’d rate it a strong 4 out of 5. “It’s very comfortable,” is Ryan’s glowing review.
“We just missed being a unit,” says the frontman more seriously. “It was weird after seeing each other every single day for four years to then go three or four months without seeing each other. It was nice not to see them for a week,” he laughs before finishing. “But it’s the first time I’ve ever sat at home doing nothing and not had any FOMO.”
As the others chip in, it’s lovely to see that the one thing they struggled with the most was purely not hanging out with each other. So, in true 2020 style, they embarked on doing the album as a WFH project, writing new music over good ol’ Zoom, as well as creating the ‘Falling In’ video virtually too. But it wasn’t until they got into the recording studio over in London that things really clicked into place – even though the timing and context still added another level of intensity.
“It was pretty tough,” agrees Eli. “Going from doing nothing for three months straight to going into that. We weren’t able to hang out, go have a drink or go to a bar or anything. But I think in the end, it maybe benefitted us because we were forced to be super driven and focused? But often, the best things don’t come easy.”
Living off a constant stream of Deliveroo’d Nandos (“I thought I was gonna turn into a chicken,” says Ryan unexpectedly), it was all work, work, work. “We never really party that much in the studio anyway; we’re not ones to drink,” explains Rob, “so we didn’t miss that aspect of it. But we definitely do like to see London on days off, going to see our friends and see the place cos we’re obviously from Dublin, so it’s still nice to see everything? But this was very much studio, back home, studio, back home. It was intimidating to navigate.”
“We’re like a chameleon; we’re constantly changing what style of music we play and what we’re into”Eli Hewson
The most excitement they got? Josh’s birthday cake, something that prompts the largely silent and thoughtful guitarist to suddenly burst into life to confirm both its niceness and its chocolatey-ness. “That was a nice cake,” he says thoughtfully, the band nodding quietly together in a moment’s silence for a truly Good Cake.
Thankfully, Inhaler came out of the studio with more than good cake and much chicken. ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’ is glorious. If you were going to attach a painful metaphor to it (something we like to do), you’d say it’s the kind of debut album that strides into the room, checks itself out in the mirror, nods to itself, says ‘alright, lads’ to all the other big defining debuts of our time and makes them shuffle down the table and make room for it. Or alternatively, you could say it’s dead good.
Those early singles you already know, of course, towering moments of timeless indie rock anthems like ‘My Honest Face’ slotting alongside the title-track and ‘Cheer Up Baby’, songs that feel like they’ve always been here – perfect reminders that whatever you’re going through, it’s all only temporary. Elsewhere, the band show they can do smaller moments just as big and bombastic; ‘Slides Out The Window’ and ‘A Night On The Floor’ highlight another side of the band altogether. ‘When It Breaks’ carries the same sense of urgency and fire in its belly that fuels Sam Fender (“massive fans of him,” is the Inhaler verdict), while ‘Totally’ is the moment that sees the band break off any shackles of heritage and expectation.
It is a record that zips by, and it fires the starter pistol on what will surely be Inhaler’s ascent to the big league. In an era increasingly defined by bedroom artists, it is designed to be the very opposite. “Yeah, that was important to us,” says Rob, the band all nodding in full agreement. “We’ve always put so much attention in our band on gigs; they’re at the forefront of Inhaler. So it was important for us to try and reflect how a gig feels like on our album.”
“We wanted it to be full force,” finishes Eli. “We wanted to make a vibrant, energetic thing because we don’t feel like there’s a lot of that around at the moment. But it’s very much all an observation on the times that we’ve been living in for the last two years.”
“If you’re going through the news any of these days, there’s just horrible stuff after horrible stuff“Eli Hewson
Those last couple of years, even before Covid, were a pure hurricane of deafening hype – one show at The Great Escape, in particular, going down in infamy as one of the sweatiest and most tightly-packed gigs in the festival’s history. “Oh man, I sometimes think, did Corona start there?” laughs Ryan at memories of scenes that seem like ancient history right now. Bizarrely, that was at the start of Inhaler’s one and only festival season, meaning that there was even more riding on their studio time. So how did they decide on what made the cut? Arm-wrestling?
“Nah, that’s a b-side that didn’t make it,” says Ryan, a future king of dad jokes in the making before Eli takes control again. “Once we had a better understanding of what we wanted to talk about on the album, it was really about what songs fitted the narrative,” he says as he explains some notable absences. “There was a bit of arguing back of forth about whether ‘Falling In’ should go on, or why ‘We Have To Move On’ or ‘There’s No Other Place’ isn’t on there. And our response is just, they’re still there? They’re out in the world. But we were writing songs that we just thought needed to be heard right now.” He warms to his subject. “We’re like a chameleon; we’re constantly changing what style of music we play and what we’re into. So that means that certain songs, if they don’t come out now, then maybe they won’t ever?”
Life has been moving at such a pace for the four that it’s no surprise that they’re in such a rush. Each era of Inhaler has been defined by what they and their mates have been going through, so it’s only natural that it’s developed over time. “We were changing as people, our music was growing up with us, and so the songs used to be about girls, about being a teenager and that kind of thing,” he says. “Obviously, the pandemic hit, and it took on a more serious tone, but we still wanted to feel positive and optimistic. I think that’s the heart of it.”
The band all grin knowingly, staring at him, waiting for something that doesn’t come. When he sits back, Rob chips in. “I’m surprised he didn’t do what he usually does and get the plug in,” he laughs, pointing at the camera in a classic frontman pose. “It won’t always be like this!” Eli rolls his eyes happily as the band laughs. “That song took on a different meaning recently,” he says of the message of carrying on and getting through it. “But there’s a mural with it in Dublin, and RTE put up a photo of it on their website. And there was a comment underneath saying, ‘yeah, it might get worse!’ So there are two ways of looking at it” he laughs.
Out of the many bangers, one song that stands out lyrically is ‘My King Will Be Kind’, with its memorable chorus of “She says I’ve got no love, I fucking hate that bitch”. “Oh, that lyric…” laughs Eli, clearly no stranger to the obvious question. “It’s not about a girl or anything like that,” he promises. “It’s about people who think they have the absolute truth or that they know everything. Everybody thinks they’re an expert these days, and a lot of people our age especially are getting kind of taken away by these crazy ideas online and extremist groups.”
It’s a theme they return to on ‘A Night On The Floor’, with its talk of teachers under desks and living in an increasingly divided world. “If you’re going through the news any of these days, there’s just horrible stuff after horrible stuff,” Eli explains. “It’s a collage of that kind of channel-hopping, all the intensity of what’s going on right now. Our parents all say that things were shocking during the seventies and eighties, but they’ve never seen a time like this. People will look back at this time and think, ‘that’s the moment things changed’. I wanted to document that.”
As talk turns to how it stands up against other debuts, the band shrug off comparisons initially. “You always have your favourite bands, and you might think, ‘oh, what was their debut like?’” admits Eli. “And you do wanna top that at the end of the day. But to have a record that we love is enough. It’s not a competitive thing.” There’s a short pause and a wickedly big grin before he continues. “I mean, maybe it is. We’ll see. We won’t name the band, though.”
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that an album chart battle will soon arise whenever one of the big indie albums of our time gets released. Heroic fights by Sports Team, Deccers and Fontaines have all resulted in a well-fought Number 2. So how are Inhaler feeling? “Drake’ll probably do a surprise album or something,” smiles Eli, before they start wondering what Taylor Swift is up to. “I think I know where she lives, though?” ponders Rob somewhat ominously, not elaborating any more on how he got this information. We can’t tell whether he’s telling the truth, and we don’t want to incriminate him any further, so we move on.
Regardless of which pop behemoth they inevitably come up against, the band know their place in the grand state of things. “Pop is a juggernaut, and the music industry is a very difficult place,” says Eli. “If you are a small-to-medium-sized artist, then it’s almost impossible to survive because you can’t make money off album sales or anything. You’re either massive, or you’re not. So it’s all down to playing live, and at a time like this, when a band like us can’t, then it’s extremely damaging. But you know, we’ll make it through. We’re feeling good.”
“People will look back at this time and think, ‘that’s the moment things changed’”Eli Hewson
Of course, Inhaler are just one of what is becoming increasingly a tidal wave of pure talent from across the Irish Sea. Whether it’s just the rest of the world catching up, or something particularly fizzing in the Irish scene, it’s relentless. Fontaines D.C. have led the charge, of course, with the likes of The Murder Capital, Sinead O’Brien, For Those I Love, Just Mustard and more following swiftly behind. With Eli and the guys promising to be the next huge thing, we ask the really obvious question about just why Ireland is giving us so many of our favourites right now.
“I don’t know what it is about Dublin and Ireland at the moment,” admits Eli. “It’s a really buzzing music scene, and there are so many different types of music in it. There are so many Irish rappers coming about now, and to be part of a really diverse group of artists is amazing. But we’ve always felt as if we were, if not on the outside of it, then watching it.” Watching Fontaines and The Murder Capital support Shame was a pivotal moment for the group, a realisation that they might just be in the perfect moment. “It’s strange for us because you see everything on social media, so you don’t really miss it,” admits Rob. “We love seeing Irish bands on the BBC and stuff, but we’ve just been touring? We almost felt like we were missing everything, and when we came back, we were either sleeping or eating.”
The band are obviously proud of what’s been happening, though, talking of the camaraderie when they spot any other Irish artist on tour or at a festival. “What’s nice about where we’re from and what’s happening at the minute,” continues the bassist, “particularly from Dublin, is that all musical genres are as celebrated as the next. Rap is as loved as rock, rock is as loved as bedroom music, you know? Whatever anyone’s into, we’re all cheering one another on because we know how difficult it is to break out of that scene.”
In a time when London bands can sometimes get a bit ratty about being described as being from the wrong part of London or part of the wrong genre, it’s pretty refreshing. “I think there’s less snobbery, in general, these days,” he says. “Because genre is far less significant or important than it used to be. Nowadays all people really want are good songs, you know? That’s all that is important.”
“Genre is far less important than it used to be; all people really want are good songs”Rob Keating
Celebrating that diversity in genre, the band are delighted at what it means for them at a festival level. “I remember five years ago, festival line-ups were 90% rappers,” says Ryan. “And it does feel like there’s already a small change; you’re seeing bands like Fontaines and Sam Fender creeping higher and higher up the bill. It’s really exciting, and it shows that we can do it and follow in those footsteps.”
It’s painfully obvious just how much they’re missing the chance to be creeping up those bills themselves, and tour life in general – the odd flat tyre and Rob being a bit too tall for the bus are their only gripes, despite our digging into who is the biggest pain on the bus. Despite all of the delays, the album seems to be finally dropping with strangely perfect timing as proper gigs finally look like they are on the horizon. It’s a prospect that fills the band with excitement.
“With every period of something bad happening, like a pandemic or a depression, there always seems to be a renaissance afterwards,” smiles Eli eagerly. “And it feels like something like that is about to happen. And we’re just excited to be alive for that moment and to be in a band during that period.” He stops and laughs before adding with a grin, “I’m looking forward to being in my thirties and saying I was in a band during the roaring Twenties!”
Talking about the gigs to come, the band talk about how exciting it is to have such a passionate fanbase as they do. You only have to take one glance at their Twitter or Instagram feeds, and it’s clear that Inhaler are that rarest of breeds – the First Band Love, the band that will define memories for some of their fans for lifetimes. We chat about their own musical first loves, and the usual names come up. The Beatles. Nirvana. The Stone Roses. Icons one and all, even if *some* of them are a little tainted these days. Despite all that, it’s the latter that prompt the fondest memories, the first band that all of them fell hard for – even more so after their 2016 gig at Marlay Park. Though they can laugh now about hitting the merch stands for bucket hats aplenty, the enduring memory is one of community, and it’s something they can’t wait to return to at their own shows. “The gas thing about that night was that you couldn’t hear a single note that they played or sang,” remembers Rob. “Everyone there was the band, all fifty thousand people. People were all congregated for one thing; it was crazy. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Getting the chance to continue building their own thousands-strong community later this year when they finally hit the road once more (as well as a proper second run at a festival season in 2022), all the signs are there to say that it could be this four who begin to inspire the next wave. Not that they’d ever admit it in public, the band being far too humble about their hopes, fears and expectations to big themselves up that much. So we’ll say it instead. Everyone else better make a lot of room at the top table because Inhaler are right when they say it won’t always be like this. Things are gonna get a whole lot bigger.
Taken from the July 2021 edition of Dork, out now. Inhaler’s debut album ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’ is out now.