The guys in the Dublin group Inhaler feel like they’re working backwards. Their debut album, 2021’s It Won’t Always Be Like This, had a massive, arena rock feel that most bands don’t make right out the gate, a result of creating during the pandemic. “We hadn’t really been together writing in the same room all the time,” drummer Ryan McMahon tells Rolling Stone. “I think there’s a lot of noise to sort of cover up our insecurities.”
Nearly two years later, their whole world has changed. The bigness of their debut caught the attention of heroes the Arctic Monkeys and Kings of Leon, who both brought the group on their respective tours. Inhaler also headlined their own treks and played Glastonbury, accumulating to about 106 gigs in a calendar year, according to guitarist Josh Jenkinson. “We didn’t process all the stuff we did [as it was happening],” he says. “We had a really great year. It was really amazing.”
Thankfully, celebrating the holidays back in Ireland with their families and friends allowed them to reflect a bit and look ahead at what’s shaping out to be a hectic, but exciting, 2023. When the band catches up with Rolling Stone, they’re in in town for Late Night With Seth Meyers and functioning as a trio instead of a quartet, as bassist Robert Keating recovered from having his appendix removed. The next few months ahead are just as frenetic: a spring headlining tour, more Arctic Monkeys dates, and a highly coveted opening slot for Harry Styles, which will include a hometown show at the iconic Slane Castle.
But first up is the release of Cuts & Bruises, their new album out on Friday. The LP is a pared back effort from the group, reminiscent of their days covering Joy Division and the Stone Roses in small rooms when they were teens. “One of things we’ve said about this album is it sounds more like us than our first,” says lead singer Elijah Hewson, whose dad is none other than U2’s Bono. “With this record we tried to go in with a ‘less is more’ type thing. If everything is turned to eleven, then nothing is.”
This time around, writing and recording was much easier. The band worked while they were on the road and were able to make everything together, in person. It also allowed them to soul search for the material: the whirlwind year made them appreciate the decade of friendship and music-making they’ve done together and begin to look at the group as the fated union it is.
“Being on the road, there wasn’t much else to write about,” Hewson says. “We started looking inwards and exploring what being in a band is. It’s a bit like a marriage. That was a lot of the subject matter of the album.”
They were particularly inspired by Peter Jackson’s behemoth Beatles documentary Get Back, which they had all watched individually during lockdown, texting each other from their houses about their favorite parts.
“It was just reassuring to watch the greatest band ever have the same arguments we have sometimes,” McMahon explains. “It was quite nice to look at that and be like ‘They managed to get through it and write those songs. Maybe we can make good ones for ourselves.’”
“We’re all responsible for each other and that’s a hard thing to balance,” Hewson adds. “We just kind of stopped writing songs about love for some reason and wrote about the love we have for each other.”
Last year proved to be a test of their connection. It was their toughest year yet, full of deadlines, pressure, exposure. But those external forces helped them present a supportive, united front. “You become very self-conscious,” explains Hewson. “It gets hard to separate your offstage self with your onstage self. Sometimes you wake up in the morning on the bus and those lines are extremely blurred. Ego is a massive part of it, which we’re good at keeping in check. We’re Irish.”
Jenkinson adds: “We didn’t fight with each other at all. None of us had arguments. It was all external shit. We really banded together and became one.”
The group describes the album as their “therapy.” But it’s also a return to why they started making music in the first place. It’s why they included some songs written long before official Cuts & Bruises sessions began in January of 2022. “Dublin in Ecstasy,” a bright slice of power pop, was first made in 2018 and was a live staple during their early shows. When they stopped playing it, the fans would beg for it. The group fine-tuned the record to include on their latest. “We could never figure out what it is that they gravitated towards about it,” McMahon says.
“We love the song but fuck knows what it’s about,” Hewson chimes in, laughing. “But it felt like a nice punctuation.”
Hewson shared the original demo for swooning opener “Just to Keep You Satisfied” just days after the group finished mixing their debut in October 2020. It was also the song that took the band the longest to perfect.
Part of the pride Inhaler takes in this album is the fact they feel like they got a great education from opening for the Arctic Monkeys and Kings of Leon: “It reignited our love for being on stage,” Jenkinson says. Watching how their heroes were able to keep their shows feeling fresh decades on was inspiring and motivating.”
“It’s like we went to music college,” Hewson adds.
Opening for Styles in June is a different kind of honor for Inhaler. Not only will they be playing a venue every Irish artist aspires to perform, but they will also be proving that they are as much a great pop act as they are rising stars of rock.
“It makes us feel good that we can go through each genre and be accepted in each one,” Jenkinson says, before stopping himself from getting too far ahead. “Well, we have to do it first.”