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The Juice on The Cranberries (1995)

Save a personal copy of this article and quickly find it again with Get started now. (It’s free.) Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of the band that’s making such a splash, talks about fame, relevance, rebellion, and the other “grand” berries Dolores O’Riordan has the rock ‘n’ roll sneer. Elvis had it, Sid Vicious had it, and the twenty-three-year-old singer-songwriter for the Irish quartet the Cranberries has it twice, both sides of her Cupid’s-bow lips lifting in an expression of disdain and disgust. She aims her sneer at the war in Northern Ireland in the brilliant, omnipresent video for the hit single “Zombie,” off the band’s multi-platinum second album, No Need to Argue. The heretofore mild, buzz-cut country girl expresses a deep rage on “Zombie,” her thick, haunting Irish accent erupting in waves of condemnation as the video shows British soldiers patrolling Belfast streets and her band (guitarist Noel Hogan, bassist Mike Hogan, and drummer Feargal Lawler) plays tense, dynamic guitar-rock. The rest of the album follows more in the sepia-toned vein of the band’s hugely successful debut, Everybody Else Is doing It, So Why Can’t We?, with somber breakup songs and an “Ode to My Family.” I talked on the phone with O’Riordan as she sat in a London hotel, preparing for the Cranberries’ second sold-out gig at the Royal Albert Hall. While she’s fought her way to the top with a grit that just outweighs her naivete, O’Riordan still shares some of the backward, unsisterly views that are woefully common among rock’s pioneering, if unenlightened, heroines (not to mention the heroes): “I couldn’t work with women; I reckon I’d kill ‘em,” she said, unprompted, during this interview. But to the hordes of teenage girls who pack the Cranberries’ shows, she still provides an empowering image of a female bandleader, singing her mind.

EVELYN MCDONNELL: Where are you living now?
Dolores: In the south of Ireland. I’m building a house there overlooking the sea. It’s really quiet and peaceful.

EM: You just got married, right?

Dolores: Yeah. I met my husband when we were opening up for Duran Duran. He was doing their stage management, and I noticed he used to give us an extra few minutes. So we hit it off on tour – romance and then marriage. No babies yet.

EM: Are you a practicing Catholic?

Dolores: I was raised Catholic and I have a lot of respect for the good in the Catholic Church. But I don’t go to church.

EM: In the “Zombie” video directed by Samuel Bayer you’re presented as some sort of deity figure.

Dolores: We wanted an abstract message as well as the real Belfast footage. The idea of the gold was my idea; I wanted to paint my body in gold and be all glamorous and perfect and just gold. And all the little kids on the bottom were painted in silver, but they’re screaming. Silver and gold symbolize the beauty that we see in the world or that we care to open our eyes to. Then the screaming and the cross and the real, black-and-white footage symbolize the pain that’s there and we close our eyes to: the children that suffer, and the parents and families that suffer.

EM: HOW do you feel about the peace treaty between the IRA and the British government?

Dolores: Very happy. Just keeping my fingers crossed. For political parties it takes a lot of courage to put their arms down.

EM: Your Irish heritage seems very important to you.

Dolores: I love the country. I’ve traveled a lot, and there’s no place like it.

EM: How did you maintain such an accent in your vocals, when most Irish bands sing like Americans?

Dolores: I grew up with a very strong Irish accent, and I didn’t see why I should put on airs and graces for anything or anybody.

EM: What was your first instrument, and when did you start playing?

Dolores: Tin whistle, when I was five years old. I was able to play really quick reels when I was about eight. It’s like learning to speak when you’re a kid; in certain schools in Ireland, you learn how to play the whistle, and you can play it with your eyes closed, hanging upside down.

EM: What does your family think of what you’re doing?

Dolores: They’re all really proud and supportive.

EM: But there was a time when you had to rebel.

Dolores: Yeah. Sometimes you can break your parents’ hearts, but you don’t mean to. Now they see that I was sensible and I didn’t fall into any bad pits. Although it hasn’t been easy. I’ve been the only girl in a very male-dominated world, trying to find myself and trusting the wrong men, semi falling in love with idiots.

EM: This is your first band, right?

Dolores: This is my first real band, that I’ve been writing with. I couldn’t imagine myself with any other band. I couldn’t work with women; I reckon I’d kill ‘em. Too many women together would get on each other’s nerves, and I don’t know any women that play instruments. The boys are grand to work with because they’re quiet and easygoing.

EM: Were they looking for a female singer to replace their old singer?

Dolores: No, their old singer was a guy and they didn’t care either way. Which is quite good, because not many women play rock ‘n’ roll in Ireland; they’re usually doing more the long-hair, walking-through-the-woods kind of thing. I suppose it’s more common now, since Sinead.

EM: Was she an influence on you?

Dolores: For an Irish woman to get up and sing rock ‘n’ roll made me want to do it.

EM: Didn’t you also cut your hair In a gesture similar to hers?

Dolores: I’ve had short hair since I was a kid. I have a weird thing against long hair. I put bubble gum and paint in my hair before my first communion, at age seven, so my mother had to cut it. I’ve always been a short-haired girl in a group of five brothers. I’ve always been a tomboy. I used to go to the extreme of trying to go to the loo like boys and wetting my pants when I was three. It just didn’t make sense being a girl.

EM: But you wear dresses onstage now.

Dolores: I’ve gotten over it by now. I discovered men. I discovered the beauty of being a woman, in a different way. But the hair still didn’t grow.

EM: The Cranberries’ sound seems tougher on this album.

Dolores: It’s just a growing-up thing. I became more experimental. On the first album, the songs I wrote are acoustic-based. On the second album I wanted “Zombie” to be a really aggressive song because it was about an aggressive subject: a child’s life being taken by violence. For “Daffodil Lament” I had all these ideas about tempos changing like a symphony. Musically, everybody got more adventurous.

EM: You had a bad skIIng accident while recording this record, right?

Dolores: In the French Alps. I broke the main ligament in the knee that joins your femur onto your fibula, your thighbone onto your shinbone, I had a fiberglass one put in. It’s much more complicated than breaking a bone, because you have to have your flesh cut open and fiberglass stuffed in and holes bored in your bones and screws put in. And when you wake up, your leg’s all sore and huge. It’s like someone else’s leg, You have to relearn how to walk.

EM: Did the recording get put on hold?

Dolores: For about six weeks. I did a lot of the vocals on one leg, and I like to perform in the studio in pitch darkness and close my eyes, and sometimes I’d wobble and lose my balance, The producer would hear a huge bang, the lights would go on, they’d all come running, and I’d be getting up off the ground. So there were some really nice sound effects, but we took them out.

EM: Why do you like to perform in darkness?

Dolores: I think your mind wanders a bit more when there’s nothing to look at. Your imagination is freer, there’s nobody intimidating you. You can drift into what you’re singing about more.

EM: When you said before that you don’t think you could be in a band with women, is that based on experiences you’ve had?

Dolores: I’ve never been in a band with women, but I always get on well with boys. Boys are more easygoing. I think women are easy to get upset and offended. We’re just different creatures than men.

EM: But you’ve also said before that you think it’s tough to be a woman in a band with guys.

Dolores: It’s tough either way. It’s easier as time goes on and you can afford to behave like a female and have the privacy a female requires among males. But once upon a time that couldn’t be afforded and I had to sleep in a very tight van, thrown across their laps, and sometimes share bedrooms with eight boys and sleep on the floor. It’s just not nice.

EM: You must like It to some degree, since you have chosen it.

Dolores: Of course I love singing. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

EM: But you’ve also chosen to sing rock. I mean, you could have been one of the long-haired girls walking through the woods.

Dolores: That proposes no challenge to me in terms of my songwriting. There’s a big world out there and I want to do something that’s relevant on a global scale, as opposed to just being relevant in a small place. It’s much more exciting to be big in the world than in one country.

EM: When you said before that you don’t think you could be in a band with women, is that based on experiences you’ve had?

Dolores: I’ve never been in a band with women, but I always get on well with boys. Boys are more easygoing. I think women are easy to get upset and offended. We’re just different creatures than men.

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