John Earls' Runout Grooves: Inhaler interview and previewing the pick of the fortnight's new albums.
Each fortnight, leading music journalist John Earls goes deep on new releases, examines the latest vinyl issues and talks to the makers of the best new music.
STAR PLAYERS: Talking to the makers of the best new music
This week: Inhaler
Before lockdown, young Dublin gang Inhaler had built a fierce live reputation, one of the best new gangs around.
That momentum has obviously been halted, but it's led to the quartet having time to rethink and reshape their debut album. Produced by Peaky Blinders composer and ex-Pulp/Elastica gutiarist Ant Genn, It Won't Always Be Like This incorporates old-school funk and hip-hop swagger among the timeless indie attitude.
Singer Eli Hewson, guitarist Josh Jenkinson, bassist Rob Keating and drummer Ryan McMahon talked us through the album - ahead of our in-store listening party of the album at 7pm on Tuesday July 13, exclusively in association with Tim Burgess' Tim's Twitter Listening Party.
How does it feel to finally have an album ready?
Eli: We can't believe it ourselves. We saw the vinyl the other day, which was an emotional moment, to say the least.
Ryan: We usually like to test our new songs live. If they turn away to go to the bar or the toilet, it tells us it might not be working. We've not had that on a lot of this album. We're taking a bit of a shot in the dark, but we're incredibly excited.
As you haven't been able to roadtest new songs, how did you know if a song was good enough?
Eli: We had to put the blinders on. You think about whether other people will like it when you're recording a song, but we weren't going to definitely know that. You just have to make something you believe in yourself.
Rob: Having a good manager and a good producer helped too.
How long into lockdown were you able to motivate yourself into writing and recording again?
Ryan: We each went through a dry spell where we weren't really motivated. We were lucky that we moved into our producer Ant's flat in London last summer. That was the moment when we really started being a band again.
Eli: Three months into lockdown, me and Josh were saying neither of us felt inspired to write anything. We really had to force ourselves out of that mood.
Josh: We were so used to being stimulated by different experiences, as there are so many different personalities and things to do on tour. You're on a loop every day in lockdown. That's not very inspiring, but it made us reach into ourselves.
Did it help introduce new elements into the music too?
Eli: Yeah, completely. Slide Out The Window - which is ironically about looking out of your window and wishing you were somewhere else - has more of a hip-hop rhythm, and Totally has a real swing to it.
Rob: Ant pushed us from the start, telling us: "When all you can do is write, you might as well write."
Eli: Ant is such a great collaborator. He doesn't shy away from pushing us into different places and telling us not to overthink things. It's nice to have that energy, where it doesn't matter if there's a harp on a song. Or dustbin lids.
Josh: We're of the generation that's let go of genres. We're full of all different kinds of music.
Speaking of the different sides of the band, My King Will Be Kind is unusually angry for you...
Eli: It was inspired by a documentary about incels. I took on the character of someone like that, which is where the line "I fucking hate that bitch" comes from. It's meant to make you think it's tacky and disgusting - I don't want that song to represent what I think. It's playing with the idea that you think you know everything, that when you're online you're right and the other person is 100% wrong.
That's understandable, but did you have any reservations about using "bitch" in your lyrics?
Eli: Definitely. But someone made the point to us that "Have you heard rap lyrics for the past 40 years?" Yeah, I was nervous about singing it, because a lot of our fans are young girls and we don't want to step on anyone's toes. At the same time, it's sung by a character and the meat of the song's intent is there for anyone who listens.
Could the interlude song Strange Time To Be Alive have become a full tune?
Rob: It used to be a full song, but it never developed properly. We played it the way you hear on the album in our live room one day, and it then felt right - it's open and airy, and it leads into the next song. We never thought about having an interlude on our album, but it fits.
Did the title track and Cheer Up Baby take on new meanings in lockdown?
Eli: Yeah. We wondered if Cheer Up Baby might be a bit too on-the-nose as a title. But those songs weren't designed for lockdown, and they've got an energy that people need out in the world. "It won't always be like this" was written in huge letters on a wall in Dublin by a fan. People are having their photo taken in front of it, most of them not knowing it's anything to do with our band. That's a really nice feeling, that the album title alone is connecting with people.
How much of a gang mentality is there to Inhaler? It seems like that from the sound and how you are in concert.
Eli: For the most part, we're very united on what we're into. But of course, with four people in a room, there'll be conflict. We never say "How can you listen to that rubbish?", we're more likely to argue "That guitar is terrible!" about individual songs.
Ryan: A record we all loved in lockdown was The Strokes' The New Abnormal. That felt like a little present in the middle of all that chaos, like: "Here's something to see you through."
Eli: We're all still discovering old artists too. I've been getting into Bob Dylan. I've always known about how great he is, but I'm obsessed with him now. He makes me want to sharpen my lyrics.
Have you carried on writing since the album was finished? Eli: We haven't been able to play any gigs, and our only other job is writing. It means we're writing the second record now.
Ryan: Our demos are famous for being massive before we even get into the studio, and we've got a lot of great ideas floating about.
Josh: Some of the new songs only need bass, drum and guitar; others have new influences in there.
Eli: Basically, we can't stop writing. Choosing the songs for the second album should be a nice problem to have.
* It Won't Always Be Like This is out on Friday July 9. Order it here. Our listening party at 7pm on Tuesday July 13 in The Vinyl Whistle store for It Won't Always Be Like This features exclusive items from Tim's Twitter Listening Party, including Flare headphones, a Tim's Twitter Listening Party slipmat and one of only two exclusive badges.
Release The Tracks: The best of the next fortnight's vinyl in store
We're not just saying this because they're good guys and our Tim's Twitter Listening Party should be fun - the Inhaler album is mighty. Absolutely what you'd want from a new band for confidence, defiance and sounding like they're not going to let anyone get in their way. Order It Won't Always Be Like This here
Tom Odell must be wondering why he never quite made it as big as George Ezra or Lewis Capaldi, but his fourth album Monsters sees the former Brits Critics Choice favourite dust himself down and mixing things up. Mostly. The piano ballads are hardly anything new, but the R&B moves and James Blake-influenced sharp beats are a welcome surprise. Order Monsters here
Nashville rapper Namir Blade has always been a maverick, and he's going back to rap's origins by teaming up with labelmate L'Orange for an album that harks back to collaborative albums like Eric B & Rakim and MF Doom & Madvillain. L'Orange & Namir Blade's Imaginary Everything also recalls Everlast in its ability to marry witty philosophies with the chunkiest, no messing beats. Order Imaginary Everything here
Of all the comebacks in 2021, Stephen Fretwell has caused the most celebrations for anyone who loves their singer-songwriters to have bite. A mysterious character even when he was lighting up early 21st Century hearts, it transpires Stephen's 12-year silence since his second album was simply down to raising a family. And thinking of becoming a chef. Now he's back, the ironically titled Busy Guy is blissfully business as usual: precisely-played guitar accompanying a voice that has seen it all and is determined to offer solace, knowing what the consequences are if he doesn't. Beautiful. Order Busy Guy here
As the songwriter of all Spandau Ballet's classics, Gary Kemp knows his way around an anthem. That's proved once more on Insolo, his first solo album in over 25 years. David Bowie tribute Waiting For The Band is as moving a hymn as you'll hear to the power of fan worship, while Our Light is as good a ballad as Gary has written since True. Exactly the kind of mature but lively pop album you'd want from someone of Gary's vintage. Gold? Yeah, pretty much. Order Insolo here
There are under-the-radar stars and then there's John Mayer. Filling arenas without feeling the need to tell anyone about it, the title of the enigmatic bluesman's eighth album Sob Rock indicated this is as good an introduction as any to his unshowy, elegant playing and similarly understated vocals. Order Sob Rock here
The second album from Clairo, Sling sees the New Yorker forge ahead with her Courtney Barnett-style wry social commentary and self-examination. She's brought a bright, colourful pop collage of tunes to accompany it, ensuring her touch is light throughout. Jack Antonoff co-produces, because he appears contractually obliged to produce every female solo pop artist in 2021. Order Sling here
Nothing to do with Bruno Lage's team, Superwolves is Matt Sweeney & Bonnie "Prince" Billy's first joint album in 16 years. Five years in the making, with many layers of exchanging ideas in the process, it still sounds like beautifully simple Americana. Aided by players including Souleyman Ibrahim, David Ferguson and Mike Rojas, it's a rare collaboration that brings out the best in both artists. Order Superwolves here
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