Sometimes it’s best to avoid studying the fine print.
Take, for example, It Won’t Always Be Like This, the shrewdly crafted, carillon-chiming debut disc from Irish upstarts Inhaler, which—despite its members’ median age of 21—is brimming with searching, introspective lyrics, a remarkably cohesive twin-guitar propulsion and an assured, remarkably mature vocal presence with just the right amount of echoed slapback. Formed at St. Andrew’s College in Dublin, the quartet released its debut single “I Want You” in 2017, but it’s already prepared to rock arenas with this album’s volley of anthemic potential mega-hits, such as “Cheer Up Baby,” “When It Breaks,” “My Honest Face” and the mortality-wrestling title track, with an ambiguous title purposely left open to interpretation. But there’s plenty of other ambitious tracks to enjoy here, as well, a la the Celt-rocking “In My Sleep,” the cascading guitars of “A Night On the Floor” and a bass-punchy mission statement of sorts, “Who’s Your Money On? (Plastic House).” As in, these lads becoming successful rock stars is a pretty safe bet. And they’ve wagered everything on that outcome, too.
The odds tip ever more convincingly in Inhaler’s favor once you really start listening to the vocalist’s raspy-but-soaring tenor, a tad reminiscent of someone else, someone decidedly Irish, although you might not place it at first. And even if you study the credits, you won’t necessarily guess the noble lineage of frontman Elijah Hewson, better known as Eli, who turns 22 on Aug. 17, since his father, U2 anchor Bono, rarely uses the Hewson family name. So while the apple didn’t fall very far from the majestic-rock tree, all told, Eli’s band is aggressively charting its own course, courtesy of his and co-guitarist Josh Jenkinson’s interlaced, angular riffs that don’t attempt to emulate or echo U2’s The Edge, alongside the melodic, post-punk rhythms from bassist Robert Keating and drummer Ryan McMahon that drive most of the tracks.
Naturally, no kid wants to skulk through life in the shadow of a world-famous parent. But it’s hard to discount the insights, influence and general cultural access such an upbringing entailed, either. What could it possibly have been like growing up around not only U2, but also all of the incredible personalities, musical, political and otherwise, with whom the band regularly crossed paths? Or around an older sister, Eve Hewson, now 30, who was carving out a name for herself in the acting world? So it stands to reason that the Inhaler founder doesn’t discuss dad much, but he and Keating checked in a couple of weeks ago to talk about nearly everything else, and came across as such likable and serious true music heads that you can’t help but have faith in their mission and wish them the best.
Paste: Robert, what made you choose bass? Because if you pay close attention to this record, Robert kind of controls it. Am I wrong?
Robert Keating: Thank you very much. Maybe you are, maybe you’re not—I’m not one to say. I’d like to say, though, that I definitely grab the songs by their balls when I’m playing bass.
Eli Hewson: He’s got a very … his sound is kind of inspired by the kind of bands that we started off listening to, like Joy Division and New Order. And it’s kind of stuck with us. We’ve changed a lot as a band, stylistically, but that’s always stayed the same. And he’s just got a very unique style.
Keating: I’d love to say I always wanted to be a bass player, but like every bass player, I started on a guitar, and was there first. I love Peter Hook, and also J.J. Burnel from The Stranglers.
Paste: You guys were both going to St. Andrews College—what were you studying?
Hewson: Well, we had to study a number of things. We studied a lot of Irish, English, math. And the plan was just to graduate from school, but we all kind of decided to take a leap of faith and spend a year on the band, and not go to college. There was kind of a moment when we were asking ourselves, “Do we want to go to college and do the band?” But I think we all kind of knew that we weren’t going to be able to give it the attention that we wanted to put in if we all went to college. So we took a leap of faith on that and just worked on the band for a year and wrote loads of music. We were all living at home at this point—and we still are, really, thanks to the pandemic. But that was really the plan, and luckily it paid off and we didn’t go back to college.
Paste: Well, Eli, the one thing a listener can take from this record is—and I think it’s the bullet point of your presentation—you sure like to sleep.
Hewson: Ha! I think the lads in the band could definitely tell you that that’s true. And it’s funny that you picked up on that, because I think a lot of these songs are inspired by youth, and you definitely do a lot of sleeping In your youth, and a lot of dreaming, as well. I think sleep is a beautiful thing, is it not? So yeah, it’s kind of crept its way into the lyrics, but definitely on a subconscious level.
Paste: Do you take inspiration from dreams? Or keep a dream diary next to the bed?
Hewson: I definitely should. I always have dreams that are very vivid, and I think it’s important to write them down. There’s a song on the album called “Slide Out the Window,” and a lot of it was kind of inspired by—not night dreaming—but daydreaming. And I think during the pandemic, we were doing a lot of just wishing that we were somewhere else. We were all kind of locked up, wanting to play gigs, and wanting to play to a crowd. So there was a lot of imagination involved over lockdown, and we had to keep ourselves engaged. To quote our producer, “To breathe out, you have to breathe in.” And over lockdown, you’re seeing the same place every day. So we had to do a lot of assimilating and just trying to exercise the brain, because it wasn’t getting a lot of exercise on its own. I finally cracked Bob Dylan. I’m into his albums now. But I think before, I’d wanted to get into Bob Dylan, but never really found an opportunity that really took.
Paste: What was your gateway drug, album-wise?
Oh Mercy. And it was funny, because I think the reason it was the gateway album is because the music on that is so good. You know, Dylan can write a great tune, but he’s not known for his music. And [producer Daniel] Lanois did great things for him. And I remember reading somewhere, where he said he had to kick Dylan up the arse—he said, “Come on, man—you’re one of my heroes! Let’s make something great!” And I think Dylan for the most part in the ‘80s felt quite uninspired. And as a music lover, hearing that music really drew me into the lyrics, and I was able to get hooked by ‘em. And now I’m like obsessed by ‘em—it’s like the only thing I listen to. So yeah, I’m a bit of a fanboy now. Rob, what did you get up to over lockdown?
Keating: Me and Bob Dylan just share the same name—that’s about as far as it goes. But I do like listening to the odd song with Eli, and I’ve gotten a little more into it over the past year. I definitely went from not liking him at all to enjoyment of his sound. But I just practiced bass, went inside for a bit, played some football—just some pretty average stuff.
Hewson: The thing about Ireland is that it was on such a tight lockdown that you couldn’t even walk down the street with your mates. You were a criminal if you did that, basically. And only now are we slowly starting to open up, so there wasn’t much to do.
Paste: Obviously, you’re working with words, lyrics, and you’re nine singles in now. How do you decide how much to put in without getting too Dylan-dense?
Hewson: That’s a good question. Because one of our problems over lockdown and finishing the album was asking ourselves when we were done. I think we had a lot of time to overthink things. But lyrically, half the album was written before lockdown, and we had come straight out of school into being a band, and we kind of got into that because we didn’t want to grow up. So there’s a lot of teenage experiences in there, but over lockdown we kind of matured a lot, when we realized that the band may be … you know … people forget, but at the start of lockdown, there was a lot of uncertainty, and we didn’t know if we were ever gonna play a gig again, you know? So there were a lot of times where we just really focused on writing, and we definitely tried to write about stuff that could immortalize the album in its time. Like, there’s a song on there called “A Night On the Floor,” which is really just channel hopping, talking about all the things that we were seeing on our phones and in the news and over in America. It was just a really stimulating thing to talk about. We’re not like a political band, by any means, but I think we all kind of realized that if we were ever gonna talk about the world as it is, we were gonna talk about it now, because there is a lot to talk about.
Paste: When you were flipping through images and stories, what did you stop on and go “Whoa. WTF?”
Hewson: Oh, man—everything. Like the wildfires, for one. Remember all those wildfires in California? That was a little scary. And it’s horrifying, because that was the hottest year on record, and this year is beating it already. So that is scary, especially for a young person, you know? Because we’re gonna have to clean up this mess. Or attempt to clean it up, anyway. And I definitely feel like our generation is turned onto that sort of thing, thank god, and they have a voice. So I certainly think our generation is much more vocal about that kind of stuff. So maybe that’s why I’m talking about it. But it definitely feels like it’s—to quote the record—a strange time to be alive. It’s not even a strange time to be alive—it’s a strange time to be a rock band. Like, we were just discovering the world, and it almost feels like it’s about to end. And we’re not even 22 yet. So it’s definitely something to write about.
Paste: When you guys gave yourselves a year, did you have a calendar you adhered to, an exact date marked when you had to Make It Or Bust?
Hewson: Yeah. It was like, from one summer to the next. It was like, let’s see how much we can get done. And I think at the end of that next summer, we just did our first gig at this festival called the Electric Picnic, and it was a 300-capacity thing, and our friend Sam who was there taking photos, 10 minutes before we went on, we were like, “Hey, man—can you go out and see if there’s anyone in the crowd, and tell us what the vibe is?” And he was like, “Yeah, no worries.” And he goes out, and he comes back about five minutes later, and he goes, “I’m sorry, guys—it looks really empty.” And we were like, “Oh fuck.” But we went out, and the whole thing was packed, and there were people pouring out of the entrance and stuff like that. And we were just shocked, because we’d never played to a gig that was more than 20 people, and usually those 20 people were made up of our extended family and friends. So that was the kind of moment where we all turned to each other and went, “Oh, my God! People are actually starting to turn up and see us now!”
Paste: How on Earth did you wrangle a tour of Japan, pre-Covid? The fans are so serious there, they figure out your hotel and arrive in the lobby, long before the band gets there after a gig.
Hewson: That’s the weird thing! It’s so different, because in the U.K., you just meet the fans outside the venue after—they’re not bothered to go back to your hotel. But in Japan, that seems to be the culture—the fans go to the hotel to meet you. And everyone was so courteous. And I think we were all a bit frightened, going over, because it’s so far from where our home is. And we’d been to America before that, so it was a weird experience. But when we landed, we just felt this real big sensation of comfort, and we all fell in love with it. And that was in February, right before the pandemic happened. I remember we got on the plane to go over, and everybody was wearing a mask. And we were like, “Wow—I guess it just must be like that in Asia.” And then on the plane home, we were all wearing masks. You know? It was crazy to be over there while it was starting to kick off. Even at the border control they had temperature things to check your temperature, and that was freaky. But now it’s just normal everywhere. So we were lucky that we got to play Japan before lockdown. But I think the U.K. is opening up pretty soon, so we’ve got some tours booked for there. But we really want to get over to America, because we hear it’s like the Roaring Twenties over there right now.
Paste: I’ve never been to Japan, but if I went, I’d have to hit the Miyazaki theme park and the Godzilla store, for starters. Where did you two visit while you were there?
Hewson: We didn’t go to as many interesting places like you just named. But we should have. We were in Shibuya, though, which is a really cool area, and we actually went up into the Park Hyatt Hotel, which is in Lost in Translation, if you’ve seen that movie, and that was pretty cool.
Keating: Yeah. And we saw some big temple, and we went into a cafe where they had loads of little pigs, loads of little piglets that you just pick up and pet while you’re drinking tea. And we did it right in the morning, as well—we did a little photo shoot in there. But we also spent most of our time in Japan in an Irish pub. It was weird, because we showed up, and the only artist they were playing was U2.
Paste: And you didn’t dare say anything, did you?
Hewson: No, no—we just said, “Hey, man—have you heard of Thin Lizzy?” And the cool thing was, they only used CDs, so that was our experience in Japan. So next time? Maybe we’ll go to an English pub next time!
Paste: Ireland actually issued official Thin Lizzy postage stamps a couple of years ago. And of course, there’s a Phil Lynott statue in Dublin that you can stand next to for photo ops. Again, I’ve never been there, so I never actually saw it.
Hewson: Yeah! We actually put him in our last video. I don’t think it made the final cut, but it’s right on Grafton Street, and it’s the main street in Dublin, and I think some kids pushed it over, and it got fixed, though, but it’s still a little bit battered. But I don’t know who in the hell would do that—who in their right mind? There’s a song on the album called “In My Sleep,” and that was when we wanted to push our Thin Lizzy influence and go a little bit Irish on that one. They are a massive, massive love of ours, and Phil Lynott, who was just the coolest guy.
Paste: I think you’ve listened to a lot of Van Morrison, too. Because you definitely understand soul.
Hewson: Yeah. Well, Irish soul, definitely. So I think we’re Irish, but—as our drummer says, very well—you can love your country and be patriotic. So we definitely love all these bands, and we love where we come from and stuff, but we don’t replicate it in our sound that much, except on that last song on the album, where we really go for it. But you know, Thin Lizzy … have we done a Thin Lizzy cover? I feel like we have. Maybe back in the day …
Keating: No. We’d jam it and stuff, but they’re a tough band to take on, because we just wanna leave them in a sacred place. We did a cover of Nirvana when we were younger, a cover of “Teen Spirit,” and that song is no longer listenable.
Hewson: It is so bad. And also, we can’t play as well as Thin Lizzy. But I dunno. I think they’re just Irish legends, and the harmony guitar thing is where we draw the most influence from. We have a couple of songs that we didn’t put on the record that have that going for them, and it’s such an amazing sound when you hear those two guitars harmonizing, in perfect sync.
Paste: What I hear on the record, guitar-wise—and I could be wrong on this—is Will Sergeant. Echo and the Bunnymen.
Hewson: Yeah. We are massive fans of Echo and the Bunnymen. And we have covered them in the past— they’re one of the first bands we covered. And doesn’t Ian McCulloch go around saying that “Killing Moon” is the best song of all time? He might not be wrong. And “Lips Like Sugar” we love—that’s the one we covered. And we met Will Sergeant, actually, at a festival. We met him backstage at a festival in Ireland, because our tour manager worked for Echo and the Bunnymen before he worked for us. So we’ve had a couple of run-ins with them, and I think he’s been to a show of ours, and I remember what he said was, “It was a wall of sound.” And I don’t know if that was good or bad, but it was something from Will Sergeant, so it felt great. Because he is one of our favorite guitar players, ever.
Keating: And he was smiling when he said it—he wasn’t crying. So that was encouraging.
Hewson: And we also had lunch with him at catering at that festival, and sat at the same table with him and ate our mashed potatoes and peas, and just had a conversation about music. He’s such a smart man, and his radio show is great—it’s Space Junk Radio, and he just plays all these old psychedelic, ‘60s, kind of garage-rock songs, but really obscure. It’s a great listen. But yeah, Echo and the Bunnymen were a huge influence on us.
Paste: Your dad was actually friends with Joy Division’s late frontman Ian Curtis. Did he introduce you to them, or did you discover them on your own?
Hewson: Oh, man, I definitely wouldn’t have known about them if my dad hadn’t mentioned them. Obviously, we’re into a lot of the bands that were around at that time. And that’s the thing people always say to us, like, “Why are you inspired by such old music? You guys are 20, 21.” And we just always say, “Well, because music was better.” I was looking through the charts the other day, and it was just really depressing. As John Lennon would have put it, the amount of “wallpaper music” was incredible—stuff that just feels like it has no empathy, no passion, no drive behind it. And one thing’s for sure—when we were looking through the album charts, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory by Oasis is still at #20 right now, and I dunno why that is, but it just shows that great music doesn’t get old, but fashion does. And I think that’s always tried to do in this band, is just write great songs and not really care about the style it’s in or some genre that we’re trying to write for. And I think great songs will always be great songs—there’s a reason that people are still listening to “Dancing Queen” at every party that’s ever existed. And it’s funny—we just had a conversation about this the other day—nowadays, you can record an album in your bathtub with the amount of technology that you can get for cheap. And people record albums all the time in their bedrooms. But has music really gotten any better because of that? And the answer is no. It’s like, limitations have proven to be a good thing for music. And I think we’re kind of spoiled with the amount of technology we have. You can spend so much time trying to write stuff on Logic and in audio software, when you really just need to get down to the meat of it, which is the song.