Bury The Hatchet fits as the title for the new Cranberries album. Not because the Irish foursome have had problems with each other in the nearly three years since they released their more anthemic To The Faithful Departed–in fact, the time apart has made their bond stronger. One can hear this in the music, which is tight, poppy, and unencumbered by the anachronistic grand gestures brought to the previous album by producer Bruce Fairbairn. And we could see it over lunch with sprightly singer Dolores O’Riordan and soft-spoken drummer Fergal Lawler in Los Angeles last February. Each spoke so softly that they seemed tuned to some private wavelength, but LAUNCH picked up enough to realize that Hatchet, more than just another album, is in fact a celebration of their rebirth as a band.
LAUNCH: What makes the new album stand out from your older ones?
Dolores: The thing that makes it separate is that when you’re starting a band when you’re young, you’re into the aspect of pulling people into your gigs and becoming successful. I guess when we started, we became so successful with our first album that the fun went out of the band. I really didn’t like the band anymore. We just got sick of it. On this album, we did it for ourselves. There was no pressure, nobody watching us.
Fergal: There was no time limit on when we’d release the album. We didn’t even say, “We’re going to write a new album.”
Dolores: We based the album around real life. And real life inspires. We spent six months away from each other, and during that time I really never wanted to sing again, because it was destroying me. People were looking at me and saying things about me. I can’t handle that. We’d go out in the evening, and people were like, “There she is! That’s her!” That was doing my head in, you know, big-time. As well as because we got famous, the whole industry aspect of it got harsher on us. The business people got way more involved on the third album. We dug our grave in a way, because of the third album. There were controllers everywhere, and this industry thing that wasn’t around in the early days kind of took over.
Fergal: Which is why we took a break.
Dolores: We weren’t very aware of units and all this stuff, but on the third album people talked about it casually in front of us.
Fergal: And we were like, “F–k off” [laughs].
Dolores: I mean, it’s nice when someone tells you that you’re doing really well. If you want to look it up for yourself, fine. But you don’t want it to be the topic of conversation all day, every day, especially with people who don’t give a hoot about the songs, you know what I mean? They don’t even really like the band; it’s just…money.
Dolores: Well, you start to feel like a product. You become conscious of it because you go from playing for 60 people to playing for 20,000 people. You go from living at home in your flat to living in buses. You go from days when you were just doing it for a laugh, rehearsing a couple of times a week, to this level where every day is crammed. A very important key is for four band members to stay close and grounded, and to not let all this stuff change your character, and to not feel pressured to become anything.
Fergal: Our parents have always given us that grip on reality, you know? It’s never been any of that false bullsh-t where your main goal in life is to have a flash car. That’s very important, especially in this industry, which is so false.
Dolores: The most important thing we needed to do was to learn to miss each other, because we were sick of each other. We were stuck in the same bus, and every day we were forced to be together. It wasn’t our choice, but it became such a bloody ritual. We’d see each other, and it was like: “Hi.” “Hi.”
Fergal: We had nothing to say, because we were doing the same sh-t every day.
Dolores: It took a toll on our relationships, because we didn’t have any personal lives. To be honest, the whole band were falling apart in our hearts and souls because we were just not enjoying the tour. So it was like, when we were finished up, will we break up or will we continue? Everybody was like, “Let’s not break up,” but we were saying, “We can’t continue. We have to stop. Obviously, let’s not go back on tour, because it’s killing us,” you know what I mean? I’m the one you’ll always see first. I get most of the attention, and I have most of the work from day to day. I’m out there, singing, so I would be the first member of the band to show weakness. So I guess at that point, we said, “Let’s stay together, but let’s go our own ways for a while and see what happens.” So everybody went away. It was kind of sad, but it was kind of exciting too, because we were starting our own lives, which we hadn’t had. I wanted to get to know my husband. And Fergal went off with his wife…
Fergal: No, I wasn’t married at that stage.
Dolores: But you’d been going out with Laurie for five or six years and hadn’t spent very much time with her. So we went off and discovered our own lives. I got pregnant, and then I started writing songs. I remember writing the first song at the piano. It was really beautiful; it was called “Dying In The Sun.” It’s the last track on the [new] album. I remember that I was teary and kind of happy because I could write again, because I wanted to write again. I think I was about four months pregnant; it was around that time that the baby moved, and the inspiration just came out. I was really happy, because it was really scary to hate music and hate singing.
LAUNCH: Was there a period before then when you tried to write and couldn’t?
Dolores: I couldn’t even try. I just wasn’t interested. I’d see a piano, and it was like [hisses], “I hate music!” I didn’t really; I just hated what it did to our career, taking all the fun out of it.
LAUNCH: Then you rediscovered the ability to recover the ability to create with the band?
Dolores: Yeah, but not being on a stage in front of 20,000 people every night, then going off and sleeping in a bus. There were so many things to not having a life. You drive, and you don’t really sleep, because you can’t unwind. Then you get to the next hotel, and I had two hours of physiotherapy every day because my knee was all screwed up. The whole day was just work, work, work. I had lovely clothes, but I never got to wear them, except onstage. You lose all your friends, and you’re living in a busload of men.
LAUNCH: If I had been in the audience on that tour, would your performances have sounded short of your usual standards to me?
Dolores: You’d feel a lack of energy–not even a lack of energy, but there were no smiles on our faces.
Fergal: It was like, okay, do another gig, and we’re off the stage, and we do another gig. That was all of it, and it was terrible. It had never been that way for us.
Dolores: But it was our own fault, because we said, “Yeah, we’ll tour,” because we’d always loved touring. But we’d signed all these contracts, and there’s a major pressure that you cannot stop. You have to continue. It’s going to cost millions if you don’t, and you feel like, “God, I can’t sleep. I haven’t slept for days. I weigh 90 pounds. My leg’s all screwed up. I feel like a puppet. And the media are talking about all these same things. Why can’t we stop this?” And it was like, “You can’t. It’s going to cost us so much money!” “But what about me? I’m a nervous wreck!” Well, we finally stopped. I went to about 20 doctors before they understood that I was really sick. It was horrible, because that enhanced the feeling that I didn’t own my life. “Shut up and sing”–that’s the attitude I felt.
Fergal: Then you think of the 20,000 people you’re letting down. But at this stage, we wouldn’t let that happen anymore. People are always gonna see you again the next time you tour anyway. They’re gonna be disappointed and pissed off for a couple of hours if you cancel a show, but they’ll see you again. Whereas if you go up onstage and collapse, it’s a different story, you know?
LAUNCH: Even with all these stresses and distractions, Bury The Hatchet sounds more like an introspective exercise than anything you’ve done so far.
Dolores: It was a very natural album.
Fergal: It’s also a lot happier than the stuff we’ve done before.
LAUNCH: There’s only one seriously dark song on the album, which is “Fee Fi Fo.”
Dolores: That song is about child abuse, and when you listen to it, you hear that kind of fear. This child is being abused by a man, and the man is not going away. When I write a song like that, I try to put real feelings and fears that are part of this topic in there. So there’s darkness, which is such a beautiful vulnerability. Then there’s the anger of the person who’s singing the song.
LAUNCH: Right before the verses, you sing some discordant harmonies.
Dolores: I love discords. I’ve always heard discords. On “The Sweetest Thing,” the B-side, there are some crazy backing vocals. It’s really cool.
LAUNCH: Another hallmark of your technique is that you never use vibrato.
Dolores: I hate vibrato! It’s disgusting. I remember when Denny Cordell sent me to a vocal coach years ago in L.A. He was lovely, a really nice man, but he was trying to get me to add vibrato, and I hate that. It’s just so theatrical.
Fergal: And if everyone does it, then your voice isn’t unique. You get Mariah Carey and all these people. They’re all trained, but they all sound the same. It’s boring.
LAUNCH: Yet you’ve expressed appreciation for singers who have used vibrato effectively, especially guys like Elvis, Jim Reeves, and some of the country artists you used to listen to as a kid. What did you get from listening to them?
Dolores: I got that they were born to sing, that they weren’t trained to sing. There are an awful lot of people who really can’t sing but they’re trained singers. It’s actually more okay to be a singer when you’re natural. I hate trained singing. It’s so phony, how they go off the notes and everything. They’re doing all these things, but there’s no emotion; it’s not coming from here [snaps fingers].
Fergal: I have a hard time figuring out whether these people aren’t embarrassing themselves. Do they not hear themselves and afterwards go, “Oh, Jesus!”?
Dolores: They’re determined people. They know all the technical stuff. They’re like [in snooty accent], “Oh, do you know this, Dolores?” And I’m like, “I haven’t a clue…but I know I’m a better singer than you’ll ever be!”