Irish rock band Inhaler got their name because of lead singer Elijah Hewson’s asthma. “Everybody saw the band as quite nerdy and geeky and we thought it was cool,” Hewson tells Rolling Stone. “I had asthma for a while and people just kind of started calling us the Inhalers. It was something that stuck. It felt right.”
It’s a rather endearingly un-rock & roll beginning for the Dublin four-piece, whose frontman just happens to be Bono’s son. Yes, that Bono. Despite Hewson’s lineage, Inhaler is a democratic affair: They grew up together, and now they play to sold-out crowds together. What started as a teenage talent show group is now a proper touring band — Interscope record deal and all.
The members of Inhaler first met in school, drawn together by their mutual love of guitar music: Hewson (vocals, guitar), Josh Jenkinson (guitar), Robert Keating (bass) and Ryan McMahon (drums). “It started off as us listening to anything with a guitar in it, really,” Hewson says. “None of our friends were really into it. We found each other through that. It was a little haven. The Stone Roses was our first big moment of, ‘Music is amazing!’ Then we tried to emulate it. Our first cover was ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ at our school.”
That show went over like the proverbial lead balloon. “To be in a band in school is not as cool as it sounds. Not in our school, anyway,” Keating says. “People gave us weird looks. We dressed weird, listened to weird music. Who were we kidding? We weren’t ready to be in a band until we grew up and learned how to play our instruments.”
Eventually, the boys started writing their own music, learning how to compose a song as they expanded their musical vocabulary through bands: Nirvana, Metallica, Depeche Mode, Sonic Youth, New Order, etc. The result was the recent single, “Ice Cream Sundae,” a song five years in the making. The poppy track definitely evokes some of the more atmospheric bands listed (with a dose of Interpol) and Hewson’s voice is a dead-ringer for his father’s. Still, this is “Ice Cream Sundae,” not “Sunday Bloody Sunday” — the sound is all Inhaler’s own and it’s edging on sweet.
Once that song was written, Hewson showed it to family friend Antony Genn, producer and former member of Pulp, among other bands. Genn let the band record it in his studio as a favor, but then he took them under his wing.
“There was an important moment in our band when our producer told us we weren’t actually good,” Keating explains, laughing. “We blindly thought we were ready, but we weren’t. So we stopped and practiced for three months. Now we’re finally able to play our instruments.”
And that practice paid off. Inhaler has gigged with the likes of Noel Gallagher in 2019, and hits the road for their first American tour this year. Tuesday, they’re out with their next single, “We Have to Move On” — a track off their upcoming debut album.
“When we first started writing it, we were going to all these places and seeing what a state [the world is] in,” Hewson said. “We were exposed to the world all of a sudden. We were kids. It was interesting to see all these different cultures melting together and fighting each other all at the same time. It’s just a song of letting go of old ways and trying to move on.”
Now if they could just get over that talent show…
Inhaler Tour Dates
April 25 – Washington, DC @ Union Stage
April 27 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
April 28 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Foundry
April 29 – Boston, MA @ ONCE Ballroom
May 3 – Toronto, ON @ Velvet Underground
May 7 – Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour
May 8 – San Francisco, CA @ Popscene @ Rickshaw Stop