The Cranberries may be Ireland’s most successful export since U2, but that doesn’t stop lead singer Dolores O’Riordan from being even more barking than Bono. With a new album due for release in October Sylvia Patterson talks to her in Dublin.
“Would you like to see my weddin’ list?” Dolores of The Cranberries, indie Irish superstar, the voice behind the two million-selling debut album and sporter of a brand new bleached-blonde hairdo (and dressed in what appear to be two pastel-pink, silky nighties), is twittering like a 15-year-old in the first flush of hormonal imbalance. She thrusts at me the beautifully laid-out list of modern life’s essentials for today’s discerning rock star – bonny plant holders, wine glasses (tall), Mayers Three-Piece Straining Green Pot (£29. 99). Very nice. “I’m gettin’ married next week!” she tweets. “To Don – and this is Don…” Don is sitting at the desk of Dolores’ Dublin hotel suite, scribbling. He’s Canadian, sun-bleached of hair and lumber-jacked of shirt. He doesn’t look up. Hello, Don. Er, hello Don. He still doesn’t look up, so I march over and proffer a hand at his elbow. “Uh…yeah.” He shakes his head ruefully and goes back to his scribbling. If this was my fiance, I’d punch him up the left, as they say in Ireland. Dolores, on the other hand, beams. And then morphs before one’s eyes from a frothy teenager into a 50-year-old fishwife having a blether down the post office.
“So, will you be havin’ a cup of coffee? Did you have a good flight? What time d’you get in? Sure that’s a looovely accent you’ve got there, where d’you coom from?” This is not the Dolores O’Riordan of popular folklore – moody, arrogant and bitter. Who supposedly hates the press for supposedly ignoring the band in Britain yet lauding them in America. Still, she’s an imminent bride, and imminent brides are supposed to act a little strangely. She also has other reasons to be perky. The Cranberries’ debut album Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? is now classed as something of a dream-pop classic. It’s a lot like The Smiths (and was produced by Smiths producer Stephen Street) and features Dolores yodelling in a Morrissey-esque manner of the blokes who have left her (Linger), but never mind ’cause there’s the future (Dreams). The band’s second album, No Need to Argue (another Stephen Street production), arrives in October. As Dolores will tell you, it’s far more dramatic than the whimsical debut, because “it’s about the changes I’ve been through”. The first single, Zombie, isn’t just dramatic, it’s apocalyptic, what with its disturbing drum thunderings, murderous guitar shimmers and Sinead O’Connor-style vocal acrobatics. “Violence causes silence,” pleads Dolores the general idea being that war is not a good idea. She has, it seems, found a global world conscience. Two words immediately spring to mind: “Simple” and “Minds” (and while we’re at it, “Oh” and “No”). Dolores perches on a settee and eyes the tape-recorder dubiously. The second it’s switched on, her gleeful voice evaporates. Over the next two hours, her personality swoops erratically from friendly, confident young person to paranoid rock star. She either talks in a stream-of-consciousness or says nothing at all. The questions she hears don’t appear to be the ones she was asked. Her school reports, surely, centred on the phrase “easily distracted”. She has a lot of freckles and her thinly-plucked eyebrows are pencilled-in-again orangey-brown.
“You just know…” she’s saying of her decision to marry Don. They decided to get married 10 days – yes, 10 days – after meeting while The Cranberries were supporting Duran Duran on tour last year. (He’s a businessman, working in tour and production management for rock giants across the globe). “I’ve had a lot of boyfriends and you know when you’re in love, so you go for it. You get to the point where you want to settle down,” she says. But you’re only 22… “Yes, but my mother’s turning up towards 50 and she hasn’t seen as much as me, had as much global experience as me. Y’know what I mean? Travel and stuff.” Don is 32 and Dolores, clearly besotted, loves his wisdom. He understands her hotel-hopping life. And he can teach her things, like how many hours it takes to put up a stage. (Answer: seven.)
“I was really shocked, actually,” she whispers, “about how much goes into it. Six big huge articulated trucks. And Don…supports me. And doesn’t treat me like I’m Dolores from The Cranberries.” And indeed the wedding, when it happens, is a lavish affair. It takes place in Holycross Abbey, just outside Tipperary. Dolores arrived by horse and carriage resplendent in an ivory lace and chiffon Cynthia Rowley number. A gossamer over-dress with suede briefs, a jewel in the navel, a crown and a gigantic flowing train. Don and his best man arrived on black mares, both being horse-friendly Canadians, both resplendent in all-over black leather. Bono and pals were invited but declined because they were on holiday. When Dolores sings “Oh-ho my life…is changing ever-ee dayee, in each and every wayee…” she isn’t joking.
April 1990. Limerick-based comedy rock combo The Cranberry Saw Us are disintegrating fast. They’ve got a lead singer who thinks he’s Bob Monkhouse, while the musicians in the band think they’re The Smiths (Noel Hogan, guitars; Mike Hogan, bass; Fergal Lawler, drums). The band boot out the singer, change their name to something less stupid, and ponder doing ephemeral instrumental tunes instead. They put an ad in the music press for a singer any- way. Dolores turns up. She’s a master of vocal quaverings, and not bad at melodies either. She takes four of the guitarist’s chords and writes a song about her first boyfriend at 17, a soldier. She calls it Linger. They make demo-tapes. The Irish press goes berserk. Geoff Travis, Rough Trade’s überlord and the man who first signed The Smiths, agrees and decides they’ll be the first band he’s ever managed, telling Dolores “people react to your songs exactly the way they did with Morrissey”. They sign to Island America. The début appears, Britain says they’re the new Sundays and nothing much happens. They tour America and everything happens. MTV decide Linger is a masterpiece and play it 47 thousand times a day. The album sales top a million. They tour there with The The, Duran Duran and Suede and the album sells another half-million (while Suede’s, er, doesn’t). Their record sales are now Nirvana-sized, and MTV invents Cranberries Days. They win the 1993 Irish National Entertainments Award for Best International Irish Rock Band – the first time in seven years U2 haven’t won it. They return to Britain, and Dolores tells the journalists who were asleep the first time around they’re all jealous of her. The singles scale the charts spectacularly. Then, at the start of 1994, Dolores keels over on the skiing slopes of the French Alps, sustaining a torn ligament. She’s laid up for most of the year but makes a record, The Sun Does Shine and a video, sitting down, with pop ubiquity Jah Wobble, who tells the world Dolores’ voice has a “rare, ancient, almost shamanistic element”. They’ve just played Woodstock 2 in New York, and touring all over the universe commences any second now.
Autumn, 1971. Dolores O’Riordan was born just outside Limerick, the youngest of nine children. Not long after she was born, her father, a farm labourer, was disabled in a motorcycle accident and never worked again. “I never really knew my father,” she says. Her mother, to say the least, struggled. Aged five, Dolores could play the organ and sang in the church choir, where the local community swooned at the obvious gifts of the young O’Riordan. She was a tomboy: she wore shorts and always had scabs on her knees. She was a romantic but confused child. “I thought everything was very unfair,” she says today. “I thought boys had an easier time. Girls were useless because they’d get pregnant so it was bad to be a girl.” Dolores isn’t sure where this notion came from but puts it down to Catholicism. Or it could be that Limerick is half a century behind the rest of the world. Known in Ireland as Suicide City and crippled by chronic unemployment, one Dubliner tells me that Limerick is “the arsehole of Ireland. It’s full of inbreds who shag sheep”. The other week a man there was arrested and charged with having sex not only with a cow, but with his children and his grandmother. Small town incarnate. Dolores hated school, where she felt she was dictated to. So she retreated into music, studying piano and music theory and singing daily to be in the choir. ”
I remember singing being the only thing that could get me the centre of attention.” Dolores wanted out. She had her first job at 10, working in a canteen alongside her mother. She’d written her first song by the age of 12. Her mother wanted her to be come a missionary, but all Dolores wanted to do was sing and write songs. She didn’t know much about pop but liked Duran Duran, and she’d heard of The Smiths. She wasn’t allowed to join a band until after school. Then straight after, she ran away to join The Cranberries. Dolores is what you’d call a sensitive poet. After the first wave of press featuring criticisms of her “innocence” the pushing and shoving by the record company, her first business dealings (which culminated in a legal wrangle which is still going on) and the realisation that old friends from school “expected me to be a stuck-up famous pop star and wouldn’t talk to me” she lost the plot completely. She was diagnosed as being clinically depressed. She was 19. “It’s a callous, shark, cruel industry,” she falters. “People abuse the things they’ve been given. So I just got sick. I was depressed, I was too young, I’d never travelled anywhere, I’d had no success and no achievements and suddenly I had all this attention and ridicule. I lost around three stone in weight. I was traumatised. I just wanted to be in my bed where I used to sleep when I was a little girl, when I was happy and there was no pressure and no paranoia and no hurt. I didn’t want to get up ever again.” Sometimes even now she’ll freak, but she’s learning how to be hard. Today, if the record company tries to put the pressure on, she’ll say, “‘Show me the handcuffs. Show me the warrant.’ I’ve learned – and I’m not afraid of any journalists or anyone or anything.” When Dolores isn’t being just plain odd, she can be thoughtful, if serious, company, though there’s little evidence of a sense of humour. Know any good limericks? “No.” Oh, go on. just the one. “No. And I don’t like cranberry juice either. But there are some forays into cheery trivia. Well, two. One: her earrings (10 ruby studs up the side of her right ear): “I think it’s pretty.” Two: her new bleached hairdo. “It’s just fashion. It could be confidence. Like, I had long hair when the band started so I could hide behind it.
I was so shy. But when Linger did so well I got a skinhead!” But she’s much more concerned with the Big Picture. She’s a worrier. She worries about the state of humankind. She’s spent a lot of time in America, so she must have seen some shocking things. What’s shocked you the most? “New York,” she says. One awaits a critique of extremism in American society today. “The skyscrapers were pretty big and stuff. I knew they’d be big but I didn’t expect them to be that big. “She watches the news and gets very sad over the struggles in the world between good and evil. She thinks – possibly correctly – that men are responsible for most of the trouble. “I think women are stronger,” she muses, “because they stand behind the man.” Pardon me? “Look at the world!” she howls. “Who starts the wars? Look at little boys. They play with guns. You never see little girls with guns and fighting. And men are always fighting. I think it’s hateful.” She hopes to be of some worth to the world by touching people with the honesty of her music. “I would hope to have a message for the world. Just to talk about the human side, human experiences. Like John Lennon.” What do you mean? “Well…I think he was big on peace.” She still believes in Catholicism to a certain extent (“It’s just embedded in you”), and implores young girls not to “Give themselves away until they are loved. Which is what I did.” She didn’t actually sleep with the soldier who broke her heart, the one who inspired Linger. “I only kissed him twice. But the song was nothing to do with him, it was about me and the way I reacted to infatuation.” She has never taken vast quantities of recreational drugs because she ears it would send her insane. “I don’t think my brain could deal with it,” she states. “But I tend to get on well with people who’ve done a lot of drugs because they seem to think the same way as me. Has anyone ever told you that you’re quite mad? “See…” she begins, her voice shrinking to the size of a mollusc, “very few people actually know me at all.” Who does? “Don.” Who else? “One friend at home. But there are certain things that you can’t even discuss with your closest girlfriend.” No? “Well…”
Dolores allows herself an incredulous laugh. “I mean, you’re not intimately involved with them, are you?” You can only be close to someone you’re having sex with? “Well, you’re not going to talk to your girlfriend about what you’re like in bed, are you?” It is very easy to mock Dolores Cranberry, but she’ll have the last laugh. She’ll be very rich and famous and live forever in a cottage by the shore – Dolores has bought a house and plot of land by the sea in Ireland where she and Don can escape – and people will say that she’s so unhinged she must be a real genius. Possibly. I ask Dolores what her biggest personality change has been since her monumental success. Confirmed , she answers… She frowns, concentrating for once. “OK, let’s see…confirmed means to strengthen. Like, if I had an appointment and it was confirmed, then it would be certain. So, everything I wanted and thought I could do since I was a little kid has been…” She sweeps her hand down and up in a huge tick sign. “Confirmed.” The Cranberries have a new single, Zombie, out on 19 September, and a new album, No Need to Argue, out on 3 October.