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Interview with Dolores O’Riordan (1996)


Dolores O’Riordan is much like any 24-year-old from a background of people living in sheltered accommodation might find a touch restrictive. She’s still more of a girl than a woman: physically she’s so pixie-like you’d imagine she has toadstools instead of sofas at home. Mentally, she has the traits of an unfinished article, liberally peppering her conversations with “like” and “kind of”, before finishing almost every sentence with “…and stuff”. She smokes Silk Cut at a reasonably ferocious rate, goes all coy and giggly when discussing her husband and could well be tremendous value on a girls’ night out.

Sadly, as lead singer and virtually sole songwriter of The Cranberries, about to follow the 10 million-selling No Need To Argue with a third album, To The Faithful Departed (helped along by an arena-sized world tour and a promotional blitz that would shame Princess Diana), O’Riordan won’t be having many girls’ nights out in the foreseeable future.

There are three more Cranberries. Scowly guitarist Noel Hogan, who could well be mute, is a master of non-committal shrugging; his bassist kid brother Mike doesn’t buy records because he can steal Noel’s, while drummer Fergal Lawler resembles the newly teetotal Adam Clayton and buys so many CDs on tour, he regularly shells out hundreds of Irish punts on excess baggage. The latter pair (it’s impossible to tell with Noel) seem the proverbial decent men. They don’t get hassled in pubs because nobody recognises them. That Rolling Stones magazine called them Dolores O’Riordan & The Cranberries on it’s cover effectively encapsulates the way of this particular world.

“They” say disconcerting things about Dolores O’Riordan. They always did, from the time the weekly music press ambled Limerick-wards to paint a racist picture of stupid bog-trotters bemused at encountering street lighting and running water. Then, when The Cranberries rose, without the assistance – let us not forget, because the group themselves will never forget – of the printed word, the tone changed. It seemed that Dolores O’Riordan was a bitch of the worst order: arrogant, petulant, over-ego-encumbered and, frankly, thick.

Quick turnaround wasn’t it, from waif-like leprechaun to cantankerous bitch from hell?
I know, but I’m not a bitch and I would never hurt anyone. There are very few 24-year-old women that have achieved as much as me. I did it on my own. I didn’t have anybody looking after me. I met three guys, who were total strangers to me, I left home, moved into the city, and it was dangerous stuff, hanging out with all those men. I’ve worked hard to get where I’ve got in my life and I really don’t have time for people who want to be bitchy towards me because they’re jealous.

You walked out once, when someone asked why you dye your hair. It was, as questions go, spectacularly stupid, but couldn’t you just have laughed?

You get to that point where you are sick of people annoying you. You’re talking to a journalist and you know they’re not getting the right vibe, because they don’t want to. They want you to be an arrogant bitch. You’re not being an arrogant bitch and the journalist continues to ask stupid questions. It’s a real pain in the arse, especially when it’s from a woman, so it’s, Listen, love, thanks for coming. Sorry to waste your time but I could do better things, like washing my cat. On that occasion, anything I said, it was (adopts prissy accent), Could you explain yourself? She had this weird vibe and kept staring at me in a strange manner. I thought it was a bitchy thing.

Certain women can’t handle other women being successful.

Exactly, that’s what it was, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I really tried for about 15 minutes and then I said, I’m out of here. There’s a dignity question as well, she was treading on my drawers a bit.

Are you like this in the real world?

If someone gives me negative energy and I don’t like them, then I’m out of there. If I feel a bad vibe from someone, I move. I’m happy to leave anywhere as opposed to staying and getting grief. You don’t need the hassle, whether you’re famous or not, but you shouldn’t be expected to put up with it just because you are famous.

What are you like?

Oh yeah. When people asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, I’d always say I wanted to be a famous singer. When I was 12 I left the famous out, because then you become aware of what you’re saying, but I still fantasised about being a star. I loved Elvis. We had a picture of him and I used to think he was God. He was the only celebrity I was into as a kid. My parents used to play a lot of country – Jim Reeves, Bing Crosby…Frank Sinatra – and what you listen to early on influences your later style, because you’re so open. Elvis was The King and I remember coming downstairs one morning and my mum was in bits in the kitchen, crying, He’s dead, he’s dead. I went, Who? The dog? She went, No, Elvis. The whole of Ireland went mad. He was incredible. Sometimes you can get out old movies of him performing; he used to go down to his fans and kiss them or mop his brow with towels and give them out. he was cool, no kidding.

Did your parents encourage you to sing?

My dad plays the accordion and he had a band. I’ve seen the pictures, but by the time I was born he wasn’t in the band anymore. He used to get it out and play so loud I’d go, Dad stop it! Then when I started to play the piano it was, Dolores stop it! I’d be singing away and they’d be going, Shut the hell up. My mother always encouraged me. She knew I loved music and had a gift and that my voice was really good – I could take off Patsy Cline to the tee when I was six – but she wanted me to teach music, so she sent me to learn piano for 10 years. She wanted me to do a diploma but I legged it and joined the band.

It can’t be a great moment in a mother’s life when a daughter comes home and says she’s off to the city to join a pop group – with three men.

She wasn’t impressed at the time but she’s happy for me that everything’s worked out. She knows it’s a step away from that standard rock’n'roll thing of boys, taking drugs, the stuff that parents fear. All our parents go to see us. It’s a good laugh for them, they get together when we have gigs in town and they all get legless.

You must have been spoilt rotten, being the youngest of seven.

No, I wasn’t. My mother preferred boys. I still have a chip on my shoulder, by the way. It’s the typical Irish thing, how she loved her sons, she was more of a boy’s woman. It was hard being a daughter, with the fear of getting pregnant, so she was very strict. I got to go to discos twice a year, but with my brothers patrolling.

Did they take their patrols very seriously?

Oh yes. You’d be dancing with a guy and they’d walk up and say, Where’s his hands? Who’s he? What’s he do? Where’s he from? They probably saved me from a lot.

Have you resolved everything with your parents?

After the weird years, you suddenly realise how much like your parents you are and how bad you’ve been to them. They brought you into the world and you wonder how you could have taken it for granted and been so nasty to them. God forbid me becoming a parent.

Why?

I’d love kids but I think, Why bother bringing them into this horrible world. Then I think it could bring so much happiness and cheer. It’s a debatable one, you know, having children.

Was it musical love at first sight with the others?

When I first heard the guys, their music was absolutely fine, but their singer (a bloke called Niall Quinn) was writing wacky stuff that wasn’t expressing an emotion. The first thing Noel brought me was Linger, which the singer had a different vocal for – I’d love to have heard him. He played those chords, I joined in and the band played along. I went home and wrote the lyrics. It was mad for the lads because they were used to the boys thing and singing songs about bleeding on the carpet or drowning in a fountain in Lourdes. When I started singing I was really embarrassed, thinking it might be too emotional, too girly for them, but I thought, Who gives a shit? I started singing and you couldn’t hear the lyrics because I had this really horrible amp and Noel’s guitar was going through it. He had the good channel, I had the shitty channel. The bass player had his amp blaring and the drummer beat the shit out of his kit. I was in the corner going, I can sing, I swear, but nobody could hear me. I was like that for yonks, putting my head against the amp trying to hear myself.

Was there a point where you all looked at each other and thought, This is it?

When Linger hit America was a very optimistic moment for the band, even if there hadn’t been anything after it. We’d released it in Ireland, England and Europe and it was ignored. We bring it out in America and it goes to Number 8. Thank you, America.

What did people see in you?

Our music has a global feel. Linger, for example, does not sound like it’s by an Irish or an English band, it just sounds like a song – it could be 30 years old, it doesn’t have a rock tempo. We don’t do any of that Diddly-I-Skiddly-Die stuff, so as not to make it too stereotypey. I had different training while growing up: traditional Irish, religious church music, classical piano. I love African music too, so we’ve got a taste of everything. We try to create music that doesn’t latch on to Ireland but has subliminal feelings of certain types of music.

You left home for Limerick at 19 didn’t you?

Yes, but not to live with the three guys; to live with a man. In sin.

And how did that go down in the O’Riordan household?

Do you know, I’m really sad it’s over. I wanted that day to last forever. At the time you’re so nervous, then you look back and see the pictures and go, Ooh look. We plan to renew our vows on our fifth anniversary. If you’re really into someone there’s nothing so good as re-proclaiming it. It’s so untrendy to get married these days and if you have a great marriage, you’re happy. So many people don’t understand.

Will You Remember sounds like it’s about that day…
It’s not, actually. One day I went to the airport to meet my husband and I was wondering if he’d remember all those little tricks I’d done: lipstick, hair ,dresses, blah blah blah, things that men don’t remember. Guys don’t take much notice of lipstick colour…

Were The Cranberries lucky?

In a way, MTV and college radio picked up on Linger, but it wasn’t a cash thing or a poster thing. Our videos cost shit-all, nothing. It was down to the songs and luck. I suppose our music appeals to different types, even middle-aged people, and there are strong melodies so four-year-olds pick up on it.

Why, for To The Faithful Departed, did you dump Stephen Street – producer of both previous Cranberries albums – for Bruce Fairburn of Bon Jovi fame?

We wanted to experience working with someone else and we knew our limitations with Stephen. A producer’s position is very much to inspire the band in the studio and that was dying out. It lacked challenge and we needed a change. We didn’t want a lot of keyboards or an over-produced sound, we wanted it to sound pretty raw and live. It’s important to have a producer who makes you feel no pressure, that this is fun, we’re in here to have a laugh, a few jars, and that’s exactly what we did.

Are the results mainstream?

I don’t know, to be honest.

It’s extreme, in terms of lyrical moodswings…

I’m a moodswing woman: happy one minute, depressed the next. Ho ho.

Do you tell lies in your lyrics?

No, and I don’t create characters either, although I do exaggerate my emotions a little and I overreact for the sake of a song. The lyrics are personal reflections, personal experiences and personal emotions.

The album begins with you and he in bed, but all the songs are terribly romantic.

SI’m a big romantic person. I love the old-fashionedness of it, the simple things that are not reflected upon enough, that get neglected because sex is always in your face. Sex is overrated. I love the anticipation, the little things that mean a lot.

It’s difficult to remember even the best sex, isn’t it? That’s why it renews itself.

Exactly. When you’re having sex, you’re having a great time and not thinking. You’re like, Whoo, and whoah, the mental camera’s not going, you’re just indulging. It’s like pigging out on a cake and you can’t remember belching afterwards.

Are you cynical about the music business?

Of course. All they want is money. That’s as obvious as anything.

You’re quite a shrewd businesswoman, aren’t you?

When we started we didn’t want to get into business, but we realised we needed to get involved and to get our shit together. We used to sit staring our the window, not understanding a word. Now we get people to simplify things for us.

Otherwise you’ll end up penniless.

Exactly. You get wiser as you get older.

Do you enjoy your wealth, being the third richest woman in Christendom or something?
It’s really handy. The outside world is obsessed with it, while you’re thinking about it, you’re thinking, Great, let’s build a house, let’s buy a car, let’s buy loads of clothes. All I want is clothes. It’s a good idea to try and invest money as opposed to bringing it all home. I’ve never actually seen $1 million in cash, we put it away and do something with it. It’s just paper.

Did you see the French & Saunders sketch with Saunders playing you as happy bunny and French playing Sinead O’Connor: “You say potato, I say potato famine”?

No, but I heard about it and I’d love to see it. Last week I went through 10 video tapes trying to find it. I love it when people take the piss and when it’s good.

Yet there’s no humour in Cranberries music.

It’s not in the music but it’s in the overall thing: the four most unlikely people who never wanted it, who never wanted to be rock stars, who were never into the shades and leather pants scenario. We get it. Loads of people come up and say, You never wanted it, I really wanted it, I’ve been dressing in leather trousers and shades for 10 years. Now that’s funny!

What do you hope for?

I’d like to have a nice body of work by the time I’m 35 and I hope for a happy life with a lot of loving experiences. I hope the children don’t have to suffer, but that will never happen.

Will you get to heaven?

I do wonder what faces me in the next world, because my life has been pretty good. I know people who suffer will be rewarded and children who suffer will go to a better place.

Have you got a guardian angel?

I must have. I’m still alive.

Can you feel it?

Yes.

All the time?

Sometimes when you’re going through hell in your head, you close your eyes, you feel there’s somebody there and it calms you.

How far can you go?

You can go to a certain point but there’s a line that you cannot cross, because when you cross that line, you can never come back. Everybody’s got their own line, although they don’t always know it.

What’s your line?

You must be strong. If you never forget that, it becomes easier, and you must never ever think you’ve cracked it. The Cranberries is our lives, nobody else’s. I want to look back and go OK, I did this, this, this and I’m happy, I’ve done what I wanted to do. Nothing nor nobody will get in the way of that.

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