Irish rock band Inhaler decided to take a more stripped-down approach with their second album, Cuts and Bruises. compared to their earlier works. “Cuts and Bruises” is filled with instrumental music and heartfelt lyricism that tells the story of devotion, heartbreak and sentimentality that comes along the road to stardom. Behind the enigmatic stage presence and elaborate production of the band, reminiscent of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, stand only four best friends – frontman and guitarist Elijah Hewson, bassist Robert Keating, guitarist Josh Jenkinson and drummer Ryan McMahon – who are obsessed with Guinness beer. and cowboy hats.
Receiving praise from the likes of Louis Tomlinson, Noel Gallagher and Elton John, Inhaler’s career has grown since the release of their very first single ‘I Want You’ in 2017. Despite the band’s recent success — reaching No. 1 on the Irish album charts and amassing more than 1.7 million monthly listeners on Spotify — one thing is still certain: The inhaler is just starting to work.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
WSN: After the release of the last album, how do you feel about getting back on tour?
Elijah Hewson: I am delighted. We have more people on tour this year and less space on the bus, so it’s going to be interesting. But I think in any case, it’s just a great opportunity to see different things and meet new people, it gives that extra boost of enthusiasm needed to survive the hangover and long trips.
WSN: Do you still get nervous before performances, or have you gotten used to the stage?
Ryan McMahon: It depends on the concert –– where you are and the size of it. I mean, we can see that the house gigs in Dublin are where we’re probably a bit more nervous than usual. Everyone you’ve ever known is there, and your family is there, so you can’t get away with being – or trying to be – cooler than you really are. They will call you out on it later.
WSN: What makes a good performance? Which makes you think, “I just killed that!”
Ilya: [Laughs] This rarely happens.
Ryan: When the audience is jumping up and down looking like they’re having a good time, but you feel like you’ve played a bad show, you say, “Well, everyone else seems to be enjoying it, so that’s cool.”
Ilya: If we feel we have done very well, there is no disagreement. At camp, when you pull away, everyone just nods at each other, like, “Yeah, that was serious. It was shit, you know?”
If it’s not, I’ve definitely walked off the stage a couple of times and said, “I let it out at that moment, I messed it up or something.” But there are nights when we all feel super in unison and everyone is just spinning the tracks. But this is rare. I think everybody can feel that we’ve all been outdone, you know.
WSN: Fans started lining up around 5am for the upcoming show. How do you feel when you walk up to the venue and already see a line around the block?
Ryan: I just hope they have enough water. It’s really hot here today. I mean, we were still struggling to really come to terms with — and accept that — people would be waiting outside at 5 in the morning just to watch us play for an hour and 10 or 20 minutes. Our fans are some of the sweetest people we’ve ever met. They are also very, very funny. We feel blessed to be able to say that this is part of our job or what we do for a living.
Ilya: I kind of envy them because it’s such a sense of community, it just seems like everyone is really nice to each other. It’s just nice that we can facilitate something like this, even though we never thought it would ever happen with our music and stuff. It is a great honor. Really, it’s crazy.
WSN: Rob, I did a little digging and found that you have a Spotify playlist called “Songs From Home”. It got me thinking about what you have to give up to be on tour. Could you talk a little bit about the mental, physical and emotional preparation required to be away from home for so long?
Robert Keating: When we’re at home, we just switch off. I don’t think we necessarily do anything on purpose to prepare for the tour. What’s more, we don’t do anything, so we just spend time with family and friends without going out. And when I’m at home, I really do so little. It’s almost pathetic. I just watch TV and go for walks. But then when you’re on tour, it’s the complete opposite because you’re doing something every day. Your weekends are in new places, so you spend your days off and stuff. I think it’s just an opportunity to relax when there’s free time.
WSN: You often hear a lot about these famous artists who were essentially musical prodigies from the age of five. In other interviews, you’ve talked a little bit about how you picked up instruments a little later. Have you experienced imposter syndrome?
Ilya: I think the three of us learned to play our instruments at the same time because we’ve been together since we were 13, except Josh joined when we were 16. Before that it was just hopeless, it was tragic.
When Josh joined I think there was like a rock, then we could hide a little better. It seems his game was so great compared to ours that we all picked him up. And even though we’ve been playing for so many years, we haven’t made that much progress. We cheated our way into it, and I think we’re still somehow faking it, really. Some of us had lessons as kids, but it’s only when your passion for the instrument is ignited that you start.
WSN: Josh, you’re like the glue of the band. Can you talk about what it was like from your perspective?
Josh Jenkinson: To be honest, when I joined, we just started doing more gigs. I think when you play gigs, if you can’t play, it just doesn’t happen. Playing the show every day helps because you eventually get better at it. But I definitely think we weren’t good until 2019. I would say that’s when we started playing really well as a band. Before that, we were all just learning – and then everything started, which was nice. But I definitely don’t think I was the glue.
Ilya: You were
WSN: I’d like to switch gears a bit to talk about your new album, Cuts and Bruises. How do you think this project differs from your debut?
Ilya: The only thing we said about this album is that we wanted to give the songs a little more breath. Whether it was putting less information into the mix, recording less, or trying to spend less time on things, it all made a big difference. With the lyrics, we wanted to tell a more honest story about where we ended up. The album is a bit more realistic I guess. The first album was very idealistic, joyful and challenging – it made loud statements and felt young. This one feels a little more, I don’t know, grown up. We feel like we’ve grown up a bit on this one.
WSN: Which song on the album was the most difficult for you?
Ilya: It was “When I Have Her on My Mind” because Josh had a really good riff. I won’t say unbelievable because he’s going to hate me, but he had a really good riff and we played it at soundcheck on the last US tour. Then, in the studio, we just had to find a song that was as good as the riff. I think we got there in the end, but I still think the riff is definitely the highlight of this song — it’s very catchy and stuff like that. It took a lot of experimentation. It was a bit of a headache, of course. We were still writing it all the way to the mix, to be honest with you.
WSN: What kind of vulnerability does it take in the songwriting process for you to make music as a band?
Ilya: Lots of vulnerability.
Ryan: You have to be almost completely vulnerable, especially when you’re going up on stage every night in front of a bunch of people. This is probably the most vulnerable situation anyone can find themselves in. I think you have to leave most of your ego at the door when you get into the process of trying to make the best song you can.
WSN: I have a question for Josh. Since the alternative and rock genres are largely dominated by white men, how important is it to you to be a black musician catapulting to mainstream success in the rock genre?
Josh: Kele Okereke from Bloc Party was a big inspiration for me when I wanted to do music because I was like, “Oh cool. He’s kind of like me, so I could do it.”
I try not to think about it because I don’t think it’s a noticeable feature that many people pay attention to. But if I made one person want to play guitar or be in a band, that would mean everything to me.
Inhaler will perform in New York at the Manhattan Center Hammerstein Ballroom on March 17.
Contact Erie Russell at [email protected]