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Inhaler: ‘love is the most potent emotion you can write about’

Support slots with Arctic Monkeys and Harry Styles and the small matter of releasing their second album are all in line for Inhaler in 2023. Rolling Stone UK meets the Irish group as they gear up for their biggest year yet.

By Nick Reilly

Inhaler (Picture: Lewis Evans)

“This album is about relationships with the band and there’s definitely been some residual scar tissue. There always is in any marriage like ours,” says Inhaler frontman Eli Hewson. “That’s the thing, we know where each other’s buttons are.”

It’s a Friday in late January and, over pints in a North London boozer, Inhaler are going deep on the meaning behind Cuts & Bruises, their second album which arrives this Friday. While that title might hint at some untold trauma, fans needn’t worry too much.

Instead, as Hewson explains, it’s a neat reflection of their journey so far. In the case of this Dublin four-piece, it represents the arduous trips away from home and relentless sold out shows that beckoned after their 2021 debut It Won’t Always Be Like This, went straight in at Number One and saw them becoming the first Irish band to top the UK album charts in over a decade.

“Everyone has their own idiosyncrasies and I think we tend to come to a boiling point more than other bands, so we do have regular discussions,” says drummer Ryan McMahon.

“I definitely think that being in a band means you have to be more in touch with your emotions. Especially in a group of other young men, because we literally don’t see our mums or our girlfriends for weeks or months on end. You just can’t wait until then, otherwise you’ll turn into a bit of a dickhead.”

It’s a healthy approach, given that one listen to their second album indicates that the group are gunning for festival headline slots and even longer trips away from home. The album’s lead single ‘These Are The Days’ is tailor-made for the stadium gigs with Arctic Monkeys and Harry Styles that beckon for the group this summer. Meanwhile, the low-key energy of ‘If You’re Gonna Break My Heart’ has subtle shades of the heartland rock sound that runs through the DNA of The Killers.

“It feels more personal,” adds Hewson. “It’s definitely informed by the experiences of everything that we went through the first time round.”

Underpinning it all, Hewson explains, is emotions. Writing about love is the thing that has always come most naturally to him.

“It’s been done to death, but it feels like the most potent emotion you can write about. For us at least, we haven’t heard enough about it.”

As the group explained in a previous interview, Sam Fender suggested their sound can be best described as ‘alternative pop’ – a label they were only too happy to adopt. It means that the group, who formed at school in Dublin, can appeal to rock fans, sure, but are equally adept at catering to those dipping their toes into the world of guitar music for the first time.

Proof of this emerges days before our interview, when the group deliver their own take on Miley Cyrus’ recent smash hit ‘Flowers’ for BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge. Sonically at least, their cover feels like it could easily fit within the Inhaler catalogue.

Or, as McMahon puts it: “If Spinal Tap turned it up to 11, we turn it up to about eight or nine.”

“We’re lucky to be levelling up in our sound without thinking about it too much,” adds Hewson. “But we’re not Mark E Smith and we’re not Dua Lipa. We’re just trying to find our way.”

The group – which also comprises of bassist Robert Keating and lead axeman Josh Jenkinson – also recruited longtime producer Antony Genn once more for this album, no doubt helping the record retain its familiar edge.

“We’ve spanned the musical spectrum quite far and that’s not a thing that a lot of bands do,” says Hewson. “Maybe we’ll bump into something definitive, but for now we’re having a lot of fun in the studio and a lot of that is thanks to our producer – he has such an eclectic mind of music and is up for almost anything we want to try.”

You sense this dedication to broadening their sound has also helped the band to quickly shake off some heavy familial luggage that inevitably emerged on their first album. You might be familiar with Eli’s father Paul Hewson, or as he’s better known: U2’s Bono.

“We’re not Mark E Smith and we’re not Dua Lipa. We’re just trying to find our way”

It’s testament to the band’s variety and determination to succeed in their own right that questions about Eli’s very famous dad soon dried up. Still, when the much-discussed Nepo Baby debate emerged in late 2022, Eli’s actress sister Eve Hewson joked that she would get the label ‘tattooed on my ass’.

“She will probably go through with that, knowing her! But I won’t be following her,” he says.

“I just find the Nepo Baby debate quite amusing. I like reading the tweets and it doesn’t effect us at all. Lily Allen just said entertainers aren’t the ones you should be worried about. We embrace the advantages we get from that stuff. But it doesn’t mean that people will stream your songs or keep coming back to your gigs. We don’t come face to face with it anymore.”

Or, as McMahon summarises: “Fans haven’t got tattoos on our arms because of nepotism.”

Instead, Inhaler have carved out a sold-out string of forthcoming shows because they’re loved by a legion of fervent young fans who have allowed them to dream of being headliners one day. They just know they can’t take their eye off that goal and fall victim to the classic pitfalls of rock and roll.

“We’re so proud that we’ve never burnt out,” says Ryan McMahon. “We came pretty close when we played loads of rescheduled shows last year, but we’ve never cancelled our own show – it’s only ever been cancellations due to Covid. We’re very hard ruled and that’s important to us. We never went to a lot of gigs growing up, so if you’ve been looking forward to seeing us for months and we cancel? That’s a big deal for us.”

Of course, that’s not to say there isn’t the odd opportunity to live the more classically rock and roll high life.

“We’re so proud that we’ve never burnt out”

“Ryan had one very eventful time in Amsterdam where we were playing for two nights,” remembers Rob Keating.

“I was getting sick all morning and afternoon and even into the canal before the show! It came to fifteen minutes before the show and I thought I’d get sick on stage, but I got out there and played. That felt pretty rock and roll!”

For the most part, however, you sense that Inhaler are doing everything right. A sold-out European tour beckons, before those aforementioned support slots with Styles and Arctic Monkeys.

“If we’re fifth on a festival line-up for the rest of our career, we’d be very happy,” says McMahon. “But we’d be lying if we said we didn’t want to headline.” On the basis of this album, that reality surely won’t be too far off.