- 08 Feb 18
The teenage frontman of fledgling Dublin act INHALER might have a world famous rock star for a father, but Eli Hewson and the band are fully determined to go their own way.
Sitting over free pint glasses of iced water in a quiet corner of a Dublin hotel bar, Eli Hewson (second from left) and Josh Jenkinson (far right) of Dublin rock foursome Inhaler are trying to work out how many gigs they’ve played since first forming at school in 2016.
Coincidentally, today marks the first anniversary of the release of their debut single ‘I Want You’, but the fresh-faced teens still don’t have a huge amount of live experience.
“We haven’t really done that many gigs,” Eli admits. He extends his hand. “Hold on – let’s count. We’ve done three in the Grand Social, two in the Button Factory and one in the Workman’s.”
“And we did one New Live show,” Josh adds. “That’s our school talent show; it’s to raise money. We’re not experienced at playing gigs, but we learn so much at every gig we do – more than you would at ten practices. It’s a completely different environment, being on stage.”
Eli’s the singer, and Josh – his father is from Congo, his mother Irish – is the lead guitarist. Inhaler’s line-up is completed by bassist Robert Keating and drummer Ryan McMahon (at 17, the youngest member). They are all Leaving Cert students at private Dublin schools: citing influences such as The Stone Roses and Joy Division, their stated ambition is to “bring rock ‘n’ roll to the masses.”
THE BONO TALK
Inhaler’s most recent live outing was a Garageland showcase in the Button Factory just before Christmas, curated by RTE xfm’s Dermot Lambert. “The recent gigs have been pretty stellar,” Eli enthuses. “The Button Factory gig was mind-blowing. That was the first gig we played where everyone was standing up, and you could actually have a connection with the crowd. We feed on that energy. Energy bounces on energy... that sounds very LA, but it’s true.”
Despite the fact that he’s still at school, Eli has already achieved a certain level of rock ‘n’ roll notoriety. The eldest son of Bono and Ali Hewson, he’s featured on the cover of U2’s Songs Of Experience holding hands with Edge’s daughter, Sian.
“I got tricked into that by Gavin Friday,” he shrugs. “I didn’t know what it was when they were doing it – but, you know, clearly I had to say ‘yes’ when the time came. Look, I’m proud to be on the album cover. I’m not ashamed to be out there as that.”
Josh laughs: “It’s great though! You get to see your toes.” “Yeah,” Eli smiles. “It’s great. Everywhere I go, I get to see my toes, on billboards and all that.”
He might be the progeny of one of the world’s greatest and wealthiest rock stars, but Eli maintains that he had a relatively normal upbringing. “I didn’t really know about my ‘position’ until I was about 10 years old,” he recalls. “I went to Dalkey School Project National School, grew up as a normal kid. OK, I had a bigger house and everything, but I think I considered myself about as privileged as anybody else there. I don’t think I’m treated any differently, even in secondary school.
“I feel it’s different in Ireland,” he adds. “Like, a lot of American kids, or especially in London, they’ll play on it – ‘Oh, my dad’s rich’, you know what I mean? It’s like an ‘I’m better than you’ sort of thing. In Ireland, these lads wouldn’t ever let me say that shit. Like, I’d get a kick in the face… and I’d deserve it!”
“You would!” Josh laughs. “The thing in Ireland is that, unless you’re from the worst of the worst, you’re brought up the same way. If you’re a teenager in Dublin, everybody’s on the same level.”
Not in everything, surely? Following in the footsteps of a global rock icon isn’t like going into a normal family business. Those are some big Cuban heels to fill. Comparisons are inevitable, but Eli – who looks uncannily like the teenage Bono – is determined to do his own thing.
“It is a risky business,” he concedes. “We knew that going into it, but I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I think, as a band, we fit together so well – and every time we play together, we just know we want to do it. Obviously I’ve been around music since I’ve been born, but I only really got into rock ‘n’ roll when I was 13. We really believe in our music. Obviously connections are gonna come into play, but that can only get you in the door once.”
He winces slightly when Julian Lennon is mentioned. “Yeah, I haven’t listened to much Julian Lennon, but from what I’ve heard he has great songs. We know Julian personally. Well, I don’t, but my family does. He had his dad, and I have my dad. We don’t draw comparisons. It doesn’t mean I’m going to go the same way Julian Lennon went. I think Julian was more of a solo act, we’re a band. I’m only one fourth of the brain. We make up a brain together, and we’re our own thing.”
The first album that really opened Eli’s mind to rock was Smashing Pumpkins’ 1995 magnum opus Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (a birthday gift from one of his sisters). While he loves, admires and respects his father, U2 are not among either his or Inhaler’s major influences. “That’s not our world,” he observes. “Clearly U2 has been a big factor in my world, but it’s not really in my influences – and definitely not in Inhaler’s influences.”
Did he ever get ‘The Bono Talk’?
“What is the Bono Talk’?” he asks, genuinely perplexed. He laughs loudly when informed that Bono is renowned for revealing the ‘10 Commandments of Rock’ to fame newbies: ‘Thou shalt not ride the pink Cadillac’, ‘Thou shalt only move house on the live album’, etc.
“No, I haven’t received that,” he smiles. “I’ve received a few tellings-off, but none of that. I’m sure it’s freaky for him – and I hope we give him a run for his money. I’ll listen to him as my dad. His musical influences and musical tastes are his. He might say, ‘That’s a great song. What were you doing with that lyric, what were you doing with that melody?’ But, at the end of the day, it’s ours. We go with what we want... and he can wait in line.”
The band is so named because Eli used to use an inhaler. “I’ve never been an athletic kid,” he confesses, smiling. “I had asthma. I have athletic-induced asthma. I can show you the articles; it’s a real thing (laughs). That was my slag as I was growing up, and my family and my sisters would call me that. I remember we were looking for a name, and my sister, Jordan, just said, ‘You should call yourselves Inhaler’. Everybody laughed, but it just sort of stuck with us.”
On their rare live outings, Inhaler currently play a mix of covers and originals, but they’re always working away on new songs. “I think our songs are really about an escape,” Eli says. “There’s a lot of new bands around and I think they all have one main concern, escapism. It’s just writing about your youth. I mean, our lyrics are far less political than a lot of bands back in the day. We’re mainly writing about being a teenager.”
Is there a lyric he’s most proud of?
He scrunches his face. “There’s a line in ‘I Want You’ that goes, ‘She’s a session queen/ almost 18’. As shallow as it is, I think it resonates with a lot of teenagers just because it’s such an Irish thing and I think it’s unique, you know. Irish teenagers are a different animal to other teenagers.”
The video for ‘I Want You’ has been viewed more than 50,000 times on YouTube. Not a staggering figure, but not too shabby either.
“We recorded it at my house for weeks and did drum tracks. We recorded four songs. There isn’t a studio in the house so it was just garage band, a few mics, very shit recording. It was real rough but anyway, my cousin, he works on audio software, so I did vocals with him and he mixed it. It’s not the greatest sounding single ever but it did the job for us.”
With their exams looming, Inhaler are unlikely to have a busy start to 2018. “The Leaving Cert’s had a really bad effect on the band, trying to find space to fit stuff in. This year, with the gigs and the articles, it feels like it’s developing, so we want to release stuff. We feel we need to space it out. The Leaving Cert’s like a big wall, so as soon as we can break that down, we plan to start gigging and recording and releasing as much as we can. We’re gonna go for it then.”
They don’t currently have a record deal... and they’re not so sure they want one. “Look, I know there were a few articles that were saying that we were getting chased by American and English record labels – we haven’t seen any of that. I feel like artists these days, Spotify and Apple Music take all the revenue. We need some of that to survive and get us going. I feel like the main reason that you got a record label back in the day was to get distribution and publicity.
“Publicity is still the main thing they can do for you: getting your name out there,” he continues. “But, you’ve still got Facebook and Instagram and all these things that they didn’t have when record labels came about. Also, anyone can record an album, wherever you want. We could record an album in our bathtub if we wanted to, with all the technology that we have. I think the positives outdo the negatives at the moment for not having a record label. We certainly haven’t seen an offer that has made us want to sign to anybody.”
Josh: “We’re just trying to get the music done.”
They’ve decided that they’ll concentrate on releasing singles rather than EPs or albums. “I don’t think it’s a necessity to do an EP,” says Eli. “I mean, people don’t listen to EPs. I can respect albums and EP’s as an art-form, but right now our intention is just to get our music out there and heard.”
Eli Hewson doesn’t just look like his old man, but he’s also inherited some of Bono’s ambitiousness. Asked where he sees Inhaler in two years time, he doesn’t miss a beat “Croke Park,” he says. And then he smiles. You wouldn’t bet the house against it.