THEY SAY DON’T MEET YOUR IDOLS, but Inhaler aren’t too good at falling in line. Drummer Ryan McMahon is still reeling from the night before when he had a happy encounter with his hero Fab Moretti from the Strokes on the set of Late Night With Seth Meyers, after the band delivered a mesmerizing performance of their optimistic hit “Love Will Get You There.” Later that evening, he celebrated the occasion by stumbling into a Stone Roses-themed bar, another band that’ve had a heavy influence on Inhaler.
“My head’s a little bit woozy, I won’t lie to you. But I’m all good,” he admits from his hotel room in a cheerful tone that surely belies his creeping hangover.
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When vocalist-guitarist Eli Hewson jumps on, lazing on his mattress with a white mug and his delightful bedhead, the two ponder their late-night appearance, where things didn’t go quite as planned. Look closely at the video footage and you’ll notice that their lovable bassist Rob Keating is missing in action. Turns out that on the first morning of their NYC trip, he got appendicitis and has been out of commission for a week, McMahon says. “Rob’s been making good spirits of the whole situation. I saw him this morning, and he was just like, ‘Lads, this trip is mad. I’ve not even left the street,’” he laughs.
Even without Keating, Inhaler have been soaking in the city to promote their sweeping second album, Cuts & Bruises, a release that positions the Dublin quartet in a whole new lane by transforming the online hype into substantial growth. Out Feb. 17 on Geffen, the record trades tales of their careless youth for more mature, tender songs steeped in friendship, introspection and reverence for ’60s rock — several steps ahead of their 2021 debut album, It Won’t Always Be Like This. The differences between those two records, at first blush, seem monumental. For one, the band were mostly in the same room when they wrote and recorded the album’s 11 cuts. It was an awakening for them, as they’d written many of their debut’s songs — a “Frankenstein” of a record, Hewson admits — in different people’s houses. That process, they found, worked against the group, breeding guesswork and disconnection. “You’d come into the studio after a few months or a few weeks away from each other, and there was this weird expectation that we’d all meet somewhere in the middle and we’d be on the same page with everything, which was hard,” McMahon explains.
[Photo by Lewis Evans]
The follow-up, naturally, required a different way of thinking. Rather than entering the studio with completed songs, the four banked on spontaneity, simply jamming on the clock and coming up with ideas on the fly. Peter Jackson’s sprawling Beatles documentary Get Back also loomed large in their minds, serving as a reference point after they watched it in 2021. In fact, the footage inspired them so much that it “snowballed the momentum [they] were trying to create” for their second album, the drummer says. “We were just itching to get into a room and jam and play together and see what came out of that,” he adds. The record’s closing number, “Now You Got Me,” arrived unexpectedly from that connection. The band had been working for roughly four hours on a different song that didn’t make the cut, McMahon recalls. Stress and frustration were mounting until a distorted bassline from Keating made them all turn. Soon, within the span of another two hours, they had a whole other song.
Like the eight-hour Beatles epic, Cuts & Bruises paints a vivid portrait of the intricacies of being in a band. Take the single “These Are The Days,” which spends its nearly four-minute runtime as a celebration of living out your best days with your mates right by your side. It’s a fitting triumph, as three members of the Dublin-formed band have been playing together since 2012 when they were teens. Guitarist Josh Jenkinson joined the fold three years later, and it’s been a love affair ever since.
There are also a great deal of love songs. The album’s fifth cut, “If You’re Gonna Break My Heart,” sounds like nothing they have ever released. Taking cues from the Band and Bob Dylan, Inhaler imagined themselves as a “show band” for that one. It maintains a certain glow without nostalgia hanging on its sleeve, and the way the track builds to the chorus evokes strains of the former’s rootsy thumper “Chest Fever” and George Harrison’s perennial “My Sweet Lord.”
“I guess [love is] not really the most unique topic, is it? But for us, it never gets old,” Hewson offers. “I think it felt right, and especially coming out of the pandemic, I feel like everybody felt a bit raw and a bit dazed or a bit jaded, and [bringing] feeling back is really important. We needed to hear those [kinds of] songs.”
Elsewhere on the record, Inhaler revived an old favorite, “Dublin In Ecstasy.” The band originally penned it as teenagers and put it on the backburner for years, yet it’s the most explosive song of all. Fittingly, it’s also one that fans were so starved for that when the band played two spur-of-the-moment hometown shows to cap off a massive year in 2021, they heard screams of, “Finally! Thank you, thank you!” after closing with the live rarity, McMahon remembers. “We added too many words, I think,” Jenkinson suggests of the scrapped version. But when the band watched an old clip of them playing it in the clubs, it clicked. Why don’t they make the studio version more like that? “When we’re finishing this record, it felt like a really nice piece of the puzzle because it gave it a sense of geography. It felt like injecting a bit of our past into it because the album was about being in the band,” Hewson says.
Ultimately, though, the most taxing part about the making of the record, McMahon says, was balancing much of the writing and recording time between shows. “If we were lucky, we’d probably have two days at home at any given time, and then it would be back on the road or back into the studio,” he shares. “These are great problems to have in life, but it definitely took a bit of a mental and physical toll on our beings. However, that being said, we are over the moon with the record that we’ve made, you know? So I suppose it was worth it.”
[Photo by Lewis Evans]
IT’S CLEAR THAT INHALER are thinking about identity and the mark that certain bands are able to graft upon the world a lot these days. If you look at the four-piece lately, their image seems tighter than ever. The band have gone from sporting Led Zeppelin tees to donning sleek blazers and silk button-ups. Onstage, they embrace the enormity of it all, hungrier than ever for the growing number of venues and people who come out to bear witness. But perhaps most satisfyingly, Cuts & Bruises plays like an album — an 11-track collection with the kind of cohesiveness that makes you want to run it front to back every time (and maybe cop a vinyl and light a candle to set a mood). There’s no obvious attempt at a Top 40 number, either; it’s just love.
With any luck, Cuts & Bruises will encourage people to value the album as a whole, rather than turning it on and tuning out. Times are, after all, quite different from the ones their heroes lived in, and music can often feel secondary if you let it. “It’s not the main event. It’s like you listen to music if you’re on your way to work or you’re doing homework or you’re riding a bike or you’re in the gym,” Hewson explains. “But years ago, you’d sit down to listen to an album, and it was like watching a movie.” Cuts & Bruises was an attempt to get back to that feeling, that sense of staying power.
That is what Inhaler, and especially Hewson, crave. The frontman marvels at the way Arctic Monkeys, who the band opened for throughout August of last year in Europe, are “reinventing themselves all the time,” and he also brightens when mentioning albums that induced consciousness like Kendrick Lamar’s ferocious rap monument DAMN. “It wasn’t just the singles that people were talking about,” he says. “It was like the album was a cultural phenomenon.” Tame Impala’s Currents also springs to mind. “I guess if it’s got a really strong identity and really strong, unique production to it, people feel like they can live in that album for a couple of weeks.”
McMahon eagerly backs up Hewson. “It’s live music that’s become the most integral thing. We all experienced what that was like when that got stripped away from us for a few years there,” he reasons. “So even though we’re back into the swing of things, that longing to reconnect with one another at a live show is more important now than it ever has been.”
Recall any gig within recent memory and you’ll find that he’s spot on. Like in decades past, live music is once again reaching toward grandeur, with people eager to obtain a certain experience when they head out to gigs — and artists are delivering. Jenkinson cites Fontaines D.C. and the Murder Capital, two bands that put on gripping and relentless rock concerts, as evidence of their hometown’s strong music scene. But surprisingly enough, it is Dublin’s limited landscape that motivates artists to travel beyond the city’s borders from the start. Really, the band had no choice but to leave familiarity behind if they wanted people to know their name. Fortunately, Inhaler have been warmly received across the pond. “After the pandemic was quite a shock, especially in America and those places that we hadn’t really toured much, and it was pretty amazing to see [fans’ excitement],” Hewson says. To the extent that when they traveled across the U.S. last March, the band garnered a creeping collection of Stetson hats with every date until they ended up with 30 or 40 in their touring bus. McMahon smiles at the memory, seemingly endeared by the fans who would scribble song titles on the garments and toss them onstage (where the members would then pick them up and wear them).
[Photo by Lewis Evans]
No doubt Inhaler will receive an even brighter response when they embark on a massive world tour in support of Cuts & Bruises this month, traversing the globe from America and the U.K. to Germany, Italy and beyond. At least in the States, they’ll hit quite a few areas that they’ve never been to before, including a first-time visit to Texas. They’ll also stop by Saint Andrew’s Hall in Detroit, a city they had to skip on their last run because “there was so much moshing at the Baby Keem show that the floor literally fell through,” Jenkinson recalls with a laugh.
Notably, the Irish foursome are back with Arctic Monkeys for a handful of dates in Europe this spring. When asked what qualities they admire about the Sheffield quartet that they’d want to bring to their own band, Inhaler pause briefly to consider their affection for the indie royalty. Like the Monkeys, they aspire to transform themselves with every album, praising their elder’s ability to travel from the gritty indie rock of Favourite Worst Nightmare to the heavenly string arrangements on The Car. For Inhaler, every night is a chance to soak up lessons from one of the largest rock bands in the world.
“They have something about them that they carry, which is just a really strong identity,” Hewson says. “Identity,” once again, dominates his mind. “They’re confident in who they are and what they do, and it really comes across in everything that they apply themselves to. I think if we could have an ounce of any of their confidence, we’d be doing well for ourselves.”
McMahon gushes over the progression of their songwriting, which is “night and day” from their early work. “I think Alex Turner is just a very good commander of the ship,” he adds. “He makes that stage his, but he doesn’t distract from the brilliance of the rest of the band.” Plus, they look fantastic onstage. “Wherever they’re buying their clothes, we need the address,” Hewson jokes.
Besides reuniting with Arctic Monkeys, Inhaler have a couple of other looming milestones that are sure to make even more people fall sideways over their widescreen rock. In June, they’ll open back-to-back dates for Sam Fender and Harry Styles, respectively, which is a massive feat for any rising band — Jenny Lewis and Kacey Musgraves, who both opened for Styles, are living proof, and have since experienced a dramatic shift in fanbases and graduated to even more arena shows. Essentially, opening for the biggest pop star in the world, and impressing his fierce fans, is as formidable as it gets. “We need to be very careful what we say here, lads,” Hewson warns lightheartedly, a moment where the 23-year-old frontman seems to mirror Turner’s knack for steering the ship (and from the comfort of his hotel bed no less).
McMahon remembers being in the back of a car when they found out about the Styles gig and began “punching the seats with euphoria.” The show is set to take place at Ireland’s Slane Castle — the kind of venue where “if Bob Dylan was coming in, everybody would go, and you’d camp there,” Hewson explains — and holds 80,000 people, playing host to giants like Bowie, U2 (who’ve performed three times), and Metallica in years past. “That’s a huge thing for any Irish artist to be associated with, so we’re not thinking about it too much because if we do, we’ll just go insane,” McMahon says. With a bit of luck, though, their new songs will sound at home in those massive spaces in no time.
[Photo by Lewis Evans]
WITH A BAND LIKE INHALER, there are unavoidable topics, elephants in the room that leer over the laughter. When asked if it’s easy to separate the worlds of Inhaler and rock icons U2 (Hewson is Bono’s son — sorry to bury the lead, but we’re not in the habit of basing a whole story on the merits of another band), the vocalist doesn’t falter; he dives right in. This is, of course, a subject matter that the band have gotten used to, as well as an added boost to the sales that made their first record go No. 1 in Ireland and the U.K. two years ago.
“I don’t know if we’re looking to separate it,” he suggests. Though the band remain grateful for the advantage, they’re also eager to escape those U2 comparisons and stand tall on their own in the coming year. “I think we’re very determined to build our own character and form our own identity and path. And I think we’re doing a good job of it. The other thing is that’s only a quarter of this band. This is a unit.” Besides, many of their fans are young enough to only have hazy memories of U2.
Inhaler were, after all, friends before they were a band, and their ability to have a good time makes them easy to talk to. They effortlessly compliment and jab one another in equal measure, always punctuated by a laugh or smirk.
“[We] face it head-on,” Jenkinson chimes in.
“Sorry lads, what is this that you’re talking about?” McMahon interjects with a dry wit.
“Noel Gallagher,” Hewson replies flatly. Their laughter soon sparks rapture — a crystalline reflection of three best friends, and one in spirit, who are taking their next great step by simply having a laugh whenever they can get it.
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