BBC Sound of 2020: Bono's son and his band Inhaler tipped for success

By Ian Youngs
Entertainment & arts reporter

  • Published
Inhaler with Eli Hewson second right
Image caption,
Eli Hewson (second right) with bandmates Josh Jenkinson, Robert Keating and Ryan McMahon

Inhaler want to make it on their own terms, just like any band.

The way they tell their story, the fact their frontman is the son of one of the world's biggest rock stars is almost irrelevant.

Yes, Elijah Hewson does have something of his dad's on-stage magnetism. Yes, he has a familiar yearning voice. Yes, there is a certain resemblance in the unkempt 80s mullet.

Yes, his dad is U2 singer Bono.

But the 20-year-old singer-guitarist-songwriter and his bandmates have spent 2019 showing signs - not least to the 170 music critics, DJs and musicians who have voted them to fifth place on the BBC Music Sound of 2020 list - that they have what it takes to be more than U2.0.

Inhaler's sound combines a recognisable widescreen sweep with a baggy Madchester vibe and modern, synth-swathed indie melodies. The anthemic My Honest Face is their stand-out track so far.

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At the same time, they have been relentlessly gigging to build up a fanbase of their own. They supported Noel Gallagher at two big summer shows and recently finished their first US tour, supporting Blossoms.

Their sound has more muscle than many of their indie contemporaries, and they say their forthcoming debut album will be about the effects of their generation's dependence on smartphones and social media.

So if Inhaler can build on their 80s and 90s influences (both parental and otherwise) while feeding their own generation's tastes and concerns, they will excite a young audience for whom Bono's band are, yes, almost irrelevant.

Hewson and his bandmates Robert Keating (bass), Josh Jenkinson (guitar) and Ryan McMahon (drums) sat down to talk about where Inhaler have come from and where they are going in 2020.

Inhaler were chosen for the BBC Sound of 2020 list by a panel of 170 music critics, broadcasters, festival bookers and previous nominees - including Lewis Capaldi, Chvrches and Billie Eilish. The top five were:

How has 2019 treated you?

Ryan: Better than any other year as a band.

Eli: We started two or three years ago just as kids in a school band doing covers and that sort of thing. I don't think any of us knew what we wanted to do after school. The band was something we always enjoyed, so we decided to go for it this year and it's really worked out well.

You bonded over your musical tastes at school, right?

Robert: We were the only kids listening to a certain kind of music and that really brought us together in a special way. [It was] the love of rock music.

Eli: It was really anything with guitars. We all wanted to play guitar in the band.

Josh: I was in a different school but I met Eli at a party and he played me I Wanna Be Adored by The Stone Roses.

Image source, Getty Images

What else did you bond over?

Eli: There was a lot of music from Manchester in the 90s, and the whole Britpop and Oasis thing. Every kid who's 16 and sees that goes, 'I want to be in a band'.

Tell me about the band name - are you all asthmatic?

Eli: No, just me. We were struggling to find a band name that we could all agree on for a long time. I'm asthmatic so my sister as a joke used to call us The Inhalers and it kind of caught on.

We liked it because it's something you have to rely on and it's a pick-me-up, and it relates to the stuff we're talking about on the new material on the album.

What are you tackling in your lyrics?

Eli: As teenagers growing up these days, it's interesting seeing how addictive things are, and that's down to people's phones and social media.

I'm even noticing I just always want to be looking at my phone. I can't just walk outside and stand there and walk to a place without checking something. Inhaler is - you take it when you can't breathe and you've got a medical issue, but it relates to self-medication and it's a stimulus. There's a plethora of stimuli that we have today.

I can see it in my friends. We'll be sitting there having dinner together and everyone will be zombied out on their phone. Or, 'Where are we going next?'

Are you yearning for a simpler time?

Eli: Kind of. We're not trying to slam it. I just think it's interesting to see the effect it has on people.

Josh: It's more of an observation…

Robert: …than saying it's a bad thing, because it could be a good thing, all this stuff that's going on.

Ryan: It's more just us trying to understand how you go about dealing with something like this, through music as well, because everything we do is under the eye of everyone. You play a song at a gig and it could go horribly wrong, but it's there forever. Everything is so accessible. It's mad and it's never been like that before.

When you're writing, where and when do you get in the zone?

Eli: With lyrics I definitely have to be on my own. Usually in my room with an acoustic guitar late at night.

Do you have your own place?

Eli: No, I live at home with my parents, like all of us.

Do they ever complain about the noise?

Eli: Not as much as they should.

Did you grow up around venues and get taken on tours?

Eli: I did, but it's funny, I don't really have that much memory of it really. I was a lot younger and my parents wouldn't take me out of school or anything.

Did that make you want to be in that world?

Eli: It's funny, I really wasn't into music as a kid, and I only really started getting into music when I was 13 and I discovered it my own way rather than growing up in it. With anything, you have to have your own angle on it for you to be attached to it. I just wasn't that interested in it as a kid. At all.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Bono and wife Ali with baby Eli in 2000

Do you think you've learned anything from your dad, consciously or subconsciously?

Eli: Definitely subconsciously, yeah. Just from hearing him play a song in the house and listening to it and he critiques it, and that sort of stuff. But I'd never ask him for advice - only advice about where am I going to live next year and that sort of thing. I try not to ask him about music.

Because you want to do it your way?

Eli: Yeah, definitely.

Do you think that family connection is a pro or a con?

Robert: I don't really see it as anything. It doesn't really affect us, apart from having to talk about it in interviews, which is fine. It is what it is. We love our band, we meet young people all the time who like our music.

Eli: A lot of U2 fans do come to our gigs, who are all really lovely. They've all been really supportive, so obviously that's a benefit. But I'd say it can also be an obstacle as well if you're trying to do stuff your own way. But we're not complaining at all.

You've just been on tour of the States with Blossoms.

Eli: Best two weeks of our lives.

Josh: It was my and Ryan's first time in the States so we were just blown away by everything.

Robert: We saw the White House, we saw the house from Home Alone in Chicago. That was pretty cool.

Did you recreate any scenes?

Josh: No, but Ryan looked like the sticky bandits for the whole trip because he had a hat on.

Eli: When we started a band, when I pictured success it was us driving across America in the back of a van. We've done it.

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