Since their 1993 U.S. breakthrough with the lush ballad “Linger”, Irish quartet The Cranberries have become beloved international stars, delivering hit after hit of their dark, melodic guitar-pop. From the beginning, their dreamy sound was distinguished by singer Dolores O’Riordan’s simple but heartfelt lyrics, her pure, impassioned voice and her signature Celtic lilt. Through a grueling schedule of recording, promotion and touring, they developed a fanatically devoted following not only in the States, but around the world. Through it all, they suffered many well-publicized ups and downs, from O’Riordan’s collapse form exhaustion while touring and the band’s near-breakup, to the birth of O’Riordan’s and guitarist Noel Hogan’s respective children.
Started by Noel and his brother Mike on bass as mere children and soon joined by neighborhood friend, drmmer Fergal Lawler, The Cranberries’ destiny began to unfold the day O’Riordan auditioned by singing a song she had written about her first boyfriend, called “Linger”. Then just teenagers, they have since followed a winding and bumpy road though their initial success and beyond. But along the way, they have grown into a happier bunch, learning to understand both their strenghts and their limits and to always be honest with one another, standing together for what they belive in and remaining fiercely devoted to their families.
Now, with their fifth album, Wake Up And Smell The Coffee, The Cranberries reveal a quiet exuberance that only be found in a group that is at peace with itself. At the same time, this fresh and optimistic approach is counterbalance by the band’s return to their core sound, as they team once again with producer Stefphen Street, instrumental in the success of their first two albums. When we spoke with Fergal about the album and the band’s plans for an upcoming tour, he agreed that songs like the first single, “Analyse”, “Never Grow Old”, “Every Morning” and several more signify that The Cranberries are indeed wide awake… and smiling.
What is the significance of the album title, Wake Up and Smell The Coffee?
It’s a realization. Most of the band has a family now and is married with kids and stuff. They bring so much joy into your life and open your eyes to a different side of life. It’s like, “I’ve finally woken up and smelled the coffee. It’s hit me. This is what it’s all about.”
Would you say that the album has a particular theme?
There are quite a bit of different themes in the songs. It’s a fairly positive album. Most of the songs are positive, but there’s a bit of an underlying darkness there as well, which I always like to have in a song. It’s nice to have a positive song and everything, but it’s nice to know there’s something else, something deeper, behind it.
What have you done differently with this album?
We worked with Stephen Street on this album, and we haven’t worked with him for the past two albums. So it’s been a while. It was kind of like something new, becuase we’ve all changed. We’ve all grown up and matured since the last time we worked together. But it was also like something old, because the familiarity of having worked with him before was there. It was a little bit strange, but it was very positive and very good. The whole recording session went really, really well. There was no really tough song on this album. It’s normally really hard, once you get down to takes. Luckily for us, this time it went so smoothly. Everyone was just in a positive frame of mind. I think that helped a lot.
What made you decide to work with him again?
We actually met with him when we where touring last year. We were in London for a while and Noel had been speaking to him just a few days before, telling him that we were coming over. He said, “We must hook up and have dinner.” So we went out for a meal, had a great night, and we got talking and said, “We must do another session together sometime again soon.” Then, when we finished our tour last year, we went into the studio and recorded about eight or nine songs. They turned out really, really well and we decided to keep them for the first half of the album. After the first couple hours, bang! It was straight back into it. We really clicked with Stephen again.
In the past, you’ve addressed some political and social issues in your songs, but this album focuses more on human relationships. Can you discuss that?
There is a song on this album called “Time Is Ticking Out”, which is the only real political, or environmental, song. It’s Dolores looking at the world nowadays, compared to when she was a child. She’s looking at it through her child’s eyes, what’s it going to be like in 50 years when he gets older. It’s a song about how the ozone layer’s in such a shambles and everything like that. It’s the only song that deals with that type of thing. Everything else is more love-oriented.
Was the first track on the album, “Never Grow Old”, written for a child?
Yeah, that was written for Dolores’ new baby daughter Molly.
Has the fact that you are all married now and Dolores and Noel have become parents changed the way you make music or the way you do things as a band?
After the third album, we had pushed ourselves so hard that we had to take a break for year. We learned a lesson from that: we would never push ourselves that hard again. On the last tour, we’d go away for six weeks and tour, then come back home for a couple of weeks, then go away for another six months, then coming back home for a week and going away for six month again. That’s just so unhealthy. It’s really not right. So what we did last year was six weeks on, two weeks off, and it worked well. By the end of the tour, we were still fairly fresh, saying, “I could do a couple of month more, if I needed to.” Normally, after a tour, you’d be exhausted.
How have you evolved as a band since you originally formed 11 years ago?
It’s a long time and we spent an awful lot of that time together in close quarters. We’ve become more like a family than even a family, because we get on better. We rarely ever fight, and there’s never been an all-out brawl where everyone starts abusing each other. We understand each other a lot. Sometimes when somebody’s really down, they might want to talk about it or something, or they might not. You know when to give them their space, and when to approach them and say, “Hey, is there anything I can do to help you?” All four members of the band are very supportive to each other like that. It’s a very unusual thing to be so honest. A lot of people often comment on that. It’s really nice to be part of that.
When you do have internal conflicts, how do you resolve them?
We just talk it through. We’re all very levelheaded and can discuss it. It’s pretty democratic. We discuss it and if someone’s pissed off about something, we usually won’t do it, if they feel strongly enough.
Do you find yourselves looking back on your early days as a band?
Yeah, you do sometimes. You kind of think back. There’s nothing you can change in the past and there’s no point worrying about it. You just kind of laugh about it and learn from your mistakes. It is good to make mistakes. It might be a difficult situation at the time, but afterwards, you learn form it and it makes you stronger.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned to make you stronger?
There are lots, really. I think the main thing for us is to be as honest as possible and that’’ what we’ve always tried to do. Usually, it’s an outside force, not the four members of the band, who’s trying to change us into something we’re not. When something like that happens, the four of us just stick together and become like one big strong unit fighting it off. We have a lot of camaraderie like that. It’s very close.
While some of the songs on the album have darker themes, many are very bright and optimistic. What is the reason for this?
It’s not something that we really think about. It’s an evolution. It happens naturally. It’s our fifth album and they all sound different form each other. They all have their own particular sound, because that’s the way we were as people at that time. Then there’s a two or three year gap between that and the next album, so you change as a person, obviously. The way you play, whatever happens, just comes out differntly. We try not to analyze it too much, because then you might lose the spark or the magic. This happens when four people play together. If you think about it too much and try to change it too much, it’ll just sound artificial.
What kind of touring plans do you have this time around?
Starting in February, we’re hoping to start off a full world tour, which will last about a year-and-a-half. We’re going to try to go to as many places as we can.
During the course of that, will you take the intermittent brakes as you mentioned before?
Yeah, like we did it last time – five or six weeks out on the road, a couple of weeks at home. We’ll just keep popping out and back like that. It makes it more fun and you can keep going for longer, you keep more stamina. The live show is really energetic, and it takes a lot out of you, because everyone gives more than 100 %. If you’re doing that every night, it really takes its toll on you. We get every second day off. Sometimes we do two shows in a row and then take a day off.
That makes the whole experience more enjoyable?
Yeah, definitely. Because you get a chance to see whatever town you’re visiting then, like a tourist.
What do you like best about performing for American audiences?
American audiences will always have a special place in our hearts, because they were the first real audiences to give us a positive reaction. Before anywhere else in the world, we got success in America. There’s something special about playing there, because you can cross five different states beside each other and it’s like being in a different country each time. It’s an incredible, incredible place. I really enjoy touring there. It’s a pleasure.