- 05 Feb 20
While it was initially family ties that gained them attention, Inhaler's inclusion on our ‘Hot For 2020’ list is entirely down to them being one of the most exciting young bands around. Lemmy, Noel Gallagher, IDLES, Elton John and Stormzy all feature as they tell their story so far.
Let’s straight away address the elephant in the Inhaler room. The eyes, the hair, the dazzling megawatt smile; they’re identical. Try as you might it’s impossible to ignore how much of a ringer Ryan McMahon is for a Hamburg Star Club-era George Harrison.
The drummer and his bandmates are chilling backstage before the first of their two sell-out shows in the Dublin Button Factory.
“I’ve had to stop answering my phone because everyone I’ve ever known is looking for guest-list,” laughs the other member of Inhaler who looks naggingly familiar, Elijah Hewson. “To be playing two nights in a venue we used to queue up to get into just feels insane. These have been the most amazing twelve months of my life.”
Inhaler opening for Noel Gallagher last summer at Malahide Castle mightn’t have been entirely unconnected with him being best pals with Eli’s dad, Bono, but given their opportunity the lads seized it with a swaggeringly assured performance that kicked a lot of the cynicism towards them into touch. Also striking was the large knot of teenage kids down the front who were clearly there to see Inhaler.
“We were seriously out of our depth at Malahide, but that was part of the fun of it,” Eli reflects. “Whatever the reason is, if Noel Gallagher asks you to support him – and he’s genuinely a lovely man – you’re not going to say ‘no’.”
The PiL, Joy Division, Led Zeppelin and Nirvana t-shirts that Eli has sported on stage recently attest to a lot of the band’s shared influences.
“Eli and Ryan bonded the first week at school over their long hair,” bassist Robert Keating laughs.
“Yeah, we were in art class and listening to something incredibly heavy like Black Sabbath or Motörhead,” Ryan nods. “Eli was over like a shot saying, ‘What are your favourite bands?’ We were both complete metalheads at that stage. One of the best things about last year was getting to play The Roxy in LA, which has a pub beside it, The Rainbow, where Lemmy had his own pinball table. They’ve a massive statue of him, which we fan boyed over. We couldn’t have a Jack Daniel’s in his honour because we’re still only twenty and they won’t serve you unless you’ve your passport and a letter from a lawyer. In Dublin you can fake ID away to your hearts content, but in the States they throw you into jail for underage drinking.”
Asked who they’ve had their boats floated by recently, the lads variously shout out the names of Michael Kiwanuka, Billie Eilish, Shame, Whenyoung, The Murder Capital, Fontaines D.C. and Touts who they’ve also toured with.
“They’re such a tight band for their age,” guitarist Josh Jenkinson enthuses. “Our first proper tour was supporting Touts in the UK, and just seeing how hard they work made us realise we had to majorly knuckle down. They were several leagues ahead of us.”
By year’s end they’ll be hardened cynics, but for the time being Inhaler are enjoying every second of their globetrotting.
“We did the Corona Capital festival in Mexico, which was one of the best days of our lives,” Eli enthuses. “It was a massive crowd in a field on the other side of the planet, and they were singing our songs back to us. As Rob says, they were singing lyrics that even we didn’t know! The night ended with us getting to see The Strokes who are one of our favourite bands. We tried sneaking into the VIP area to meet them but security were having none of it.”
It doesn’t matter who your da is, if your name’s not down, you’re not coming in. Before heading south of the border, Inhaler had run round the US with their pals Blossoms.
“At school we’d skip class and go and listen to the first Blossoms album on the computers,” Eli recalls. “We were like, ‘This is mad, a band with guitars on BBC Radio One! What’s going on?’ That inspired a lot of our sound; we bought keyboards in after that. Eventually we got to support them in the Olympia and became friends. We didn’t have a manager and met theirs who became ours as well. We’ve a lot to thank the Blossoms guys for.”
In addition to opening for Blossoms all over the States, Inhaler did their own East Coast club tour.
“In Ireland, we’ve a sound guy and a guitar tech but in the States it was just us, a tour manager and a van,” Eli resumes. “Which, when you’re starting off as a young band in the practice room, is what you dream of. Stuff like travelling up from New York to Toronto in a battered old Chevrolet, and seeing Niagara Falls along the way, was grueling but magical.”
Inhaler’s travels also brought them into contact with another of their favourite bands.
“We did Pukkelpop in Holland where the dressing rooms were arranged in alphabetical order so we were besides IDLES who are great guys,” Rob enthuses.
Also wandering around backstage at Pukkelpop was Stormzy who Eli professes to being totally in awe of.
“He has such a great aura and is the perfect spokesperson for his generation,” he says. “It made a lot of sense for Stormzy to do Glastonbury. Him in the Union Jack stab vest was probably the defining musical moment of the year. A lot of people either didn’t understand or want to understand what he was getting at but it was such a powerful statement.”
Seriously big things are expected in 2020 of Inhaler who were still nursing their New Year’s hangovers when word came through of them being the only rock ‘n’ rollers in a BBC Music ‘Sound Of…’ Top 5 that also includes Celeste, Easy Life, Yungblud and fellow Irish up and comer Joy Crookes. Also singing Inhaler’s praises have been Elton John and Louis Walsh who told Hot Press before Christmas that he’s looking for an exciting new act to manage in 2020.
“I wonder what we’d be like if we had Louis Walsh managing us?” Robert asks to which Eli cheekily answers, “The next One Direction. Fair play to Louis, he’s done it not once but several times.”
“We’ve a few mates who need to get out of the house so we’ll get them to give Louis a call,” Robert resumes. “Elton John – sorry, Sir Elton John – saying nice things about us was totally fucking surreal. He was one of the first to champion The Strypes; we’ve met those lads and they’re unbelievable musicians.”
Having garnered widespread radio airplay and over five million Spotify plays with last years ‘My Honest Face’ and ‘Ice Cream Sundae’ singles, all eyes and ears are now on Inhaler’s debut album, which they’re working on in London with a fascinanting fella by the name of Antony Genn.
“He was an early member of Pulp and was then in a band called The Hours,” Ryan resumes. “He toured as part of Elastica and formed the Mescaleros with Joe Strummer. Antony just did a ballet in Basel for eleven nights in a row with a full orchestra, and composes the music for Peaky Blinders.”
“There’s no pretention, though,” Eli jumps in. “He’s just a real northern Sheffield lad who’s been round the block a couple of times. He’s a scary looking dude who’s taught us a lot of great lessons and helped with our music. He listens to The Stranglers but has Beethoven tattooed on his arm. He has such a breadth of things he’s passionate about, which is a life lesson in itself. We haven’t been able to do it yet because we’ve been gigging so much, but we want to go in for a month and nail it.”
For all of their trying to play it down, Inhaler are acutely aware of the expectations being heaped on their young shoulders.
“Because it’s our first we’ve just got to make sure it’s right,” Josh concludes. “It’s very flattering being on all these ‘ones to watch’ lists, but now we’ve got to deliver an album that’s as good as the first Clash or Strokes record. If you don’t aspire to that you shouldn’t be in a band.”