If it wasn’t for the all-consuming force of the pandemic Inhaler would have continued their vibrant spell of international touring, energetic live dates that saw them enjoy the decadent beauty of Tokyo, the splendour of Mexico and the unforgettably striking sunset of Los Angeles, as part of their North American tour alongside Blossoms.
Being born and bred in Ireland’s authentic capital Dublin has so far done little to prevent the indie-rock four-piece – Elijah Hewson, Ryan McMahon, Robert Keating and Josh Jenkinson - from experiencing some of the most iconic cities and corners of the world, something they relish and look forward to resuming.
Completed in lockdown, their eclectic debut album ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’ is a distinct, anthemic sounding exploration of their lives, viewed through their lens, it depicts who they are, and what it’s like to be young right now.
Capturing the current conditions they were made in, while ultimately offering hope and optimism, the songs tackle poignant subjects such as mental and the challenges young people face.
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It’s been a year like no other. What’s characterised Inhaler’s response to the past year?
Elijah: At the beginning the pandemic we didn't know if we were going to be doing a gig ever again. It was hard to get inspired, but we eventually realised that it was a great opportunity to write for the album and make it better. That was the only thing we could do, it took some drive to stay focused on that.
We wrote 50 percent of the album during it. Originally, the album was going to be singles rather than one concept. It was interesting to record in that way, because we've done long stints in the studio, but it’s always been for singles, this was the next step, doing a whole project like that required lots of work.
What tracks did you write in March and April? How did you ease yourselves back into it?
Elijah: The first demos we wrote were ‘Slide Out the Window' and 'In My Sleep'. I think the other two were 'Strange Time To Be Alive' and 'Who's Your Money On'.
Ryan: Some of the songs were older ideas that existed even before Coronavirus. We just had the time to go over an list of old things, as we had been on the road so much. We had a lot of ideas to catch up on and get back into our heads as we went back into the writing process.
The songs are varied, showing the range of music you’re into. How important is musical diversity for the band?
Elijah: We always wanted to have a song for everyone, we write different music naturally. And we have our own preferences that exist in the band. There's stuff that some of us don't like that others do, but that’s important for Inhaler, especially that we don’t play a safe option or stay in a certain lane. We’ve got so much music to offer.
How do you like to write? Does your writing approach change much?
Elijah: ‘Who's Your Money On' is interesting. We had been in limbo for a while, it was a jam that we had done in the studio live trying to figure out an idea. It floated about for a while, we just couldn't crack it. There was a time in the studio where we came in and our producer – Antony Genn - cut our individual parts and put them down as loops on a keyboard. We started writing songs in that way, more like a dance artist. It’s a fresh way of looking at it, I like that.
Although it was a long, arduous process, it was rewarding at the end. We were touching an area that we hadn't entered before. We knew we loved it, but didn't know if it was going to fit on the album. Antony suggested the two ideas would go well together, we found a way of doing it. It’s now one of my favourite songs.
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Genn produced the album. How did you meet him?
Robert: We went to him at a fairly young age and played him 'Ice Cream Sundae'. We asked if he would let us record into his studio, which he let us do. We went in and recorded, and the relationship blossomed after that. We grew to like him as a person, and he’s given us some amazing advice over the years, he’s a mentor.
Ryan: He's like a fifth member. He's taught us not only how to be better musicians, but also be better people. As songwriters we have bestowed so much of his knowledge that he's picked up down through the years and passed on to us, we can take it with us through our lives now. We're very grateful to have him in our court.
That sounds inspirational. What’s the best advice he ever gave you?
Ryan: The best advice he gave us was early on telling us that we weren’t good enough, he said to get where we wanted to be, we had to start practicing more. Until that point, no one had said anything like that, we were 18 and 19. That was our motivation to really start honing our instruments, getting tight and play well together as a band.
Robert: Many people in the music industry will tell you that you’re great, but maybe not a lot of critics. We needed some honesty at the time, we couldn't play our instruments, but we had a great passion, and we were good at songwriting.
Strong relationships make a difference in critical times. How was the recording period?
Elijah: We recorded at Narcissus Studios, North West London. We literally spent all our time in London. When we weren’t recording the album, we weren’t going out for drinks, we were trying to protect everybody in the studio. It was just walking to from the studio every day on hot summers days, and when the weather was wet or humid. We have fond memories of these times.
Do you enjoy recording? What were the main challenges you had to overcome?
Ryan: The world we were living in was restricting, mentally and physically. You couldn't go anywhere, you felt somewhat shut off from the rest of the world. As much as we love each other, we were only able to see each other and if you spend too much time with anyone, there'll be idiosyncrasies.
Josh: But we got through it together, that's the great thing about being a four-piece, you’re surrounded by people you can rely on to tell if we were going to get the truth out and each get to reap the rewards together, which is nice.
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The debut shows Inhaler’s distinct sound. Having started out doing cover versions, do you see that continuing?
Elijah: If the time and song’s right. One of the reasons why The Beatles were good was that they could play every song on radio, that's how you learn to write, it’s like keeping guns in the arsenal. You’ve got to keep your pencil sharp. There's some good music out there, but I feel there's a lack of real music with real instruments in the charts.
How big an issue’s the lack of substance in manufactured pop?
Ryan: One of the obstacles is that there aren’t many real songs in the charts. Guitars are not prominent, it's about trying to find the good songs in amongst the bad.
Elijah: It feels like pop music is factory-based. It's produced of the same stuff that came before, it's not doing anything and doesn't come from a real place. John Lennon saw it as wallpaper music, which is why I love our album, it comes from us four.
It comes from things that we've been observing or feeling, and that's the music we like. The Beatles are the greatest pop band of all time, but we love pop music every era. Obviously, each era has had dribble that has made it onto the radio. At the moment there's pop music coming out that doesn’t have substance or sincerity, which makes it harder to spot something good.
Ryan: It’s nice to work in a level playing field. We're five years into this, and are just about to receive radio play, but there are many bands, who are nowhere near the surface of being seen. It's expensive to put together a band and play shows. Things need to be made easier for young bands, because there's great music out there that just isn’t not heard at all.
It’s a fact that more money’s needed for a band to make guitar music than being a grime artist.
Elijah: That’s why hip-hop and bedroom pop is popular, it’s the easiest music for a kid to make. If you want to make music, just go into software on your computer, and you can make stuff, but back in the 60s, the cheapest way to do it was buying a guitar and drum kit. These things determine what genres of music populate radio. It's hard for a young band, it’s expensive.
Why do you think many people are turning to Inhaler’s music?
Ryan: We’re rarely happy with something, it’s a blessing, but it’s a curse, too. We’re gonna learn how to balance that. For every song we've put out, there have been countless conversations about every detail, which someone was unhappy with. But people resonate with our passion, they can hear how much effort goes into our music.
People who’ve listened to the album said that it comes with this positivity and sense of optimism. Especially in this time, that's something people gravitate towards, probably more so now than ever.
You address complex issues like mental health, did that happen naturally?
Elijah: Most of the lyrics come from personal experiences. Everybody battled with their mental health over lockdown. Humans just need social interaction. There was less of that, especially as a band, when we put out music we love to be able to see people's reactions, thoughts and plans. But you were just reading Instagram comments, they were dark times, so you couldn't help but let that seep into the songs.
Do shared experiences help strengthen your friendship?
Josh: For us personally, we're not necessarily going to see it. As much as we will a few years down the line, when we look back, that was a crazy experience. We got through it, and we helped each other get through it. But we’re getting closer, even though we might not think that ourselves, it's happening behind the scenes.
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‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’ is out now.
Words: Susan Hansen
Photo Credit: Lewis Evans
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