Dolores O'Riordan of The Cranberries

by Carl Wiser

We got word that Dolores O'Riordan died on January 15, 2018. This interview is from April 2017. As you can tell from the tone, she was in low spirits and in some ways just going through the motions. It didn't seem disrespectful, just that it was all she could give. Considering what she went through in the past, this was understandable.

When her mood didn't waver, I tried to remind her of the incredible songs she had written and the positive impact they had, at one point asking how it feels to perform them, which often is when an artist is at their most vital. She seemed to have lost that connection.

Below is the interview as originally published.

In 1990, an unusual number of A&R men found themselves driving around county Limerick in Ireland. They were looking for The Cranberries, a group of teenagers whose demo tape made its way to their offices in London.

The draw was lead singer Dolores O'Riordan, who even on cassette was an unmistakable talent. She sang her truth, writing lyrics of wonder and heartbreak and young love (the most powerful kind) that were put to music laced by guitarist Noel Hogan. There was consensus that they were going to be big; the harshly critical British music press fawned over them, with high praise appearing in NME and Melody Maker, which dubbed O'Riordan "The Voice."

Island Records won the bidding war, and in 1993 released their debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?, with two surefire hits from the demo: "Linger" and "Dreams." That summer, they came to America and toured with Duran Duran as "Linger" made its way onto radio stations and MTV. As the song rose up the charts, the band was working on their next album, No Need to Argue, which contained the incendiary "Zombie," written by O'Riordan about an IRA bombing that killed two innocent children.

In 1994, O'Riordan got married (to Duran Duran's tour manager), the band played a triumphant set at the Woodstock revival, and their songs saturated pop radio, which was desperate for alternatives to hip-hop and grunge. O'Riordan, a country girl from a small town in the north of Limerick, had a hard time with her new lifestyle. The grind of touring was at odds with her priorities: family, church and nature. By 1996 she was subsisting on coffee and cigarettes, and down to about 90 pounds. The press turned on her as well. Everett True, who writing for Melody Maker called The Cranberries a "heaven-send" in 1991, wrote of O'Riordan five years later: "You can actually see the mean-spiritedness of her thoughts imprinted on her pinched little face." Nasty stuff. She hardly deserved the vitriol.

She kept going because she knew many people were depending on her for their livelihoods, but O'Riordan finally crashed at the end of the year. The birth of her first child in 1997 helped align her priorities, allowing The Cranberries to regroup in 1998. They've released three albums since, with another, Something Else, slated for April 28, 2017. Recorded in Limerick with the Irish Chamber Orchestra, it's a collection 10 Cranberries favorites in acoustic, orchestral form, along with three new songs: "Rupture," "The Glory" and "Why?"

In this interview, O'Riordan doesn't exactly open up, but she offers honest insights into her songs.
Carl (SongFacts): Dolores, please tell me about the song "The Glory." This is a really interesting one. I'm wondering where you drew inspiration from.

Dolores O'Riordan: Well, Noel had the guitar part written for a while and he gave it to me and then I started singing. I suppose it's from the angle of when you're going through a hard time and you're needing help and you reach out for help. So, it's kind of sad but it's also positive.

Songfacts: There's the image of the rose in there ["I see the rose, I see the glory in your eyes"]. What does that signify?

O'Riordan: Well, a rose is always very positive and it's something that brings happiness and a smile to your face. So, I was like: "There's always roses," you know?

Songfacts: The show you appeared on, The Bachelorette, appeared in my mind because there is a big deal about the whole rose ceremony in there. You performed "Linger" on the show - was that the right song for that situation?

O'Riordan: Yes, it could work.

Songfacts: Many people think of "Linger" as a very heartbreaking song. What do you think of it as?

O'Riordan: I think of it as a love song.

Songfacts: But you're asking, "Was it just a game for you?" I'm just trying to understand why you see it as a love song.

O'Riordan: Because it's about being broken-hearted by a love situation. You love somebody but they reject you.

Songfacts: And you come out stronger for it.

O'Riordan: Yes, I hope so.

Songfacts: What is it that you pictured as lingering?

O'Riordan: The relationship. Not knowing where you stand, really.

Songfacts: Can you tell me what inspired your song "Dreams"?

O'Riordan: "Dreams," actually I wrote that about my first love when I was living in Ireland. It's about feeling really in love for the first time.

Songfacts: You've talked about how songs are very therapeutic for you. Which of your songs have been the most therapeutic for you personally?

O'Riordan: I think those two, "Linger" and "Dreams," have been very therapeutic and I think "Zombie" was therapeutic in a different way. And "Ode to My Family" was written when I first came to America with The Cranberries. I was away from my family and friends and I was lonely, so I wrote that.

Songfacts: How do you go about writing a song?

O'Riordan: There's a lot of different ways. Sometimes I get music from Noel and I write around that, and other times I just get the keyboard or the piano and write with that - sit down with an idea in my mind and work it out at the keyboard. And then other times I'll just sit down with a guitar and come up with ideas with a guitar myself.

Songfacts: Has that process changed for you over the years?

O'Riordan: No, not really. It's usually the same kind of process.

Songfacts: When you were starting off as a songwriter, you were doing it in the countryside with lots of nature and wide-open space, which is what everybody would love to have so they could think clearly. Then you found yourself on the road and in this different environment. How did that affect how you wrote songs?

O'Riordan: On the road, writing things became more alive. I think that's why "Zombie" emerged. The first album was more tame and more reserved, and then we started to rock out a bit more. So, we started to write more rock and roll songs.

Songfacts: Yes, and "Zombie" is one of the most powerful songs out there. It's been viewed over half a billion times on YouTube, which is just astounding. Can you talk about how you feel about that song today?

O'Riordan: I think it's a very strong song and the audience always have a great reaction to it, so it's always good to perform because people just love it.

Songfacts: Were you taken aback by any of the reaction to the song, in the sense that it was controversial.

O'Riordan: No, I knew that would be the angle of the song, because it was controversial. But, I suppose I was kind of taken aback with the success of the song. I didn't know it was going to be that successful.

Songfacts: What are your thoughts on the video for that song?

O'Riordan: I think it was a really good video. I remember the director, Sam Bayer, he was a very good director. He went up to the north of Ireland and got a lot of footage up there: kids jumping from buildings to buildings and the army and just kids and what they normally do day-to-day up there. That was all real footage, none of it was staged.

Songfacts: And how did you feel about getting painted in gold?

O'Riordan: That was my idea and I thought it was a nice idea. It was kind of an abstract thing. And the kids were painted in silver.

Songfacts: What was the concept behind that?

O'Riordan: It was to make it magnificent in a way, at the cross. It was metaphoric for all the pain that was being caused, and it was slightly religious as well.

Songfacts: What was it like doing that song in this new arrangement for the new album?

O'Riordan: It was nice, actually, to do it with the quartet. It was a lot more mellow and I think it worked out pretty nice because I was wondering, will that come across OK? But I think it came across nicely on the acoustic album.

Songfacts: A song that's so intense like that, is that at all hard for you to perform?

O'Riordan: No, not really. I perform it a lot so I find it OK. It's just part of the setlist.

Songfacts: Are any of your songs hard for you to revisit?

O'Riordan: Well, I only do the same kind of songs over and over. We tend to stick with the same setlist - we don't really move around too much.

Songfacts: Yes, but are any, from an emotional level, hard for you to get back into that place to be able to perform them?

The group was originally called The Cranberry Saw Us, as in "Cranberry Sauce." Dolores was not their first lead singer: that was a bloke named Niall Quinn, who left, he said, because his heart wasn't in it.
O'Riordan: No. If there was any that I couldn't perform I suppose I wouldn't put them in the setlist. But I haven't had that trouble.

Songfacts: There's another new song that is very intriguing on the album, which is "Rupture." Can you talk about that song?

O'Riordan: Yes. It's about depression. It's about feeling low.

Songfacts: Is there a specific person you had in mind when you sing, "You cut a hole in my heart"?

O'Riordan: No, it's more about depression, I suppose.

Songfacts: And what's the idea behind the line where you're asking, "Sell me something"?

O'Riordan: It's about the way the world works. It's all about money, isn't it really, at the end.

Songfacts: Can you tell me about what inspired your song "Ridiculous Thoughts"?

O'Riordan: It's such a long time ago. I remember feeling a bit like an object at times. The success was so big and there were so many expectations and demands from all sides - from the label and from everybody. I remember feeling under a lot of pressure when I wrote that.

Songfacts: What was, in retrospect, your favorite time in terms of your career?

O'Riordan: I don't know. It would be hard to pick one period really because there's been so many good times. There's been bad times, but there's definitely been more good times than bad times.

Songfacts: How has the world of technology, with the internet coming around and social media, affected you and the way you work?

O'Riordan: Well, it's kind of handy. You can use your phone to record ideas and stuff - that's handy. And you can use your phone to jot down lyrics and all that kind of stuff. You don't need a pen and paper in your pocket anymore once you've got a phone.

But I think that kids don't listen to music as much as they used to when I was growing up. When I was growing up, you'd have music in your bedroom, you'd have your cassettes and your vinyls or your CDs, or whatever it was, but nowadays I think kids spend a lot more time on YouTube and Safari and Yelp and Google and Twitter and Facebook. All these things are there now and they take a certain amount of time and focus off music. So, kids are caught up a lot on Facebook and these things as opposed to just going to their room and playing music when they're feeling bad.

Songfacts: Is that what you did when you were younger?

O'Riordan: I played music in my bedroom, yeah.

Songfacts: Which must have been interesting because you shared a bedroom, didn't you?

O'Riordan: No, we had separate rooms.

Songfacts: You talked about making the video for "Zombie." What are some of the other videos that stick out for you as some of the best that you made?

O'Riordan: I thought "Linger" was lovely. I thought "Ode To My Family" was a really nice video and I thought that "I Can't Be With You" was nice even though it didn't get played as much as the other ones. And "Zombie" was very good, it was a very strong video. And I liked the video for "Time Is Ticking Out," it was nice

What other ones stick out to me? Thinking about later videos... oh, I like "Promises," it's kind of funny.

Songfacts: Do you have a visual in mind when you write a song?

O'Riordan: No, not really. I'm just concentrating on the song part at that point.

Songfacts: I'm trying to get a sense for when you're concentrating on the song part and putting these images together. How you do it really, how you think.

O'Riordan: Yes, well usually I come up with the music first and then I just start singing around that and finding lyrics that will go.

Songfacts: Do you start at the beginning, typically?

O'Riordan: Sometimes I start with the chorus. I very often start with the chorus.

Songfacts: Was there one of your songs that came to you especially quickly?

O'Riordan: Yes, a lot of them come quick, but in recent years the song "Roses" came very quickly, I remember.

Songfacts: Tell me about that song.

O'Riordan: My father was dying and he was very sick, so I found it easy to write. When you're going through pain sometimes it's easy to write. "Life is no garden of roses, more like a thistle in time."

Songfacts: That's an interesting thing you said, that pain makes it sometimes easy to write. Have you found that it can be tough to find inspiration when you don't have that pain in your life?

O'Riordan: Yes, and also the longer you've been around sometimes it can get hard as well, because you feel like, "Oh, I've done this already, and I've written this kind of thing already." So it gets harder to find something really new.

Songfacts: How do you deal with that?

O'Riordan: Well, I suppose you just don't write then. You can't with writer's block - you're not able.

Songfacts: Writing is so important to you - you've explained how that's kind of your therapy. So, if you're not in a place where you can write, what do you do?

O'Riordan: Yes, it's frustrating, but I've been writing little bits lately, you know.

Songfacts: Can you tell me about the song "When You're Gone"?

O'Riordan: Oh, yes, "When You're Gone." I remember that song came fairly quick as well. I liked that song. That was written in the '90s, and I think it was around when my grandfather died.

Songfacts: Which of your songs have gotten a reaction that you didn't expect from listeners?

O'Riordan: "Zombie" got a very big reaction. I wouldn't have expected it to be that big, at all. You don't expect that kind of success with a song.

Songfacts: Have you ever felt that song has been misinterpreted?

O'Riordan: No, not really. I think people have well got the message.

Songfacts: I guess it's just how they respond to the message.

O'Riordan: Yes.

Songfacts: Are there any songs that for you have changed meaning over the years?

O'Riordan: Well, you know, sometimes you'd write a song and it might be about one certain event that occurred to you at that time but then later on in life you might go through another event or another experience and that song will take on a new life and when you sing it you'll think about this new experience you're going through.

Songfacts: Are there any specific songs you can think of where that happened to you?

O'Riordan: "When You're Gone" is one of those songs. I wrote it when my grandfather was dying but then later on, on tour, when I'd be on the road, I might think about my kids when I was singing it or I might think about my father who passed away. So, when you're singing a song about loss and then if you're going through bereavement it can take on a new meaning and you think about what you're going through at that particular time with that song.

Songfacts: What is your favorite part about what you do, and what is your least favorite part of your job?

O'Riordan: My favorite part is actually when you go on stage and you have a really good time and everything sounds great and you have a great performance and you get a great reaction from the crowd. That's the best, and when I'm on stage performing and everything is great, I'll forget every single thing. All my worries go out the window, and it's the best feeling.

And then the part I don't like about it is the nerves that go along with it - the fact that you're nervous all day on a show day and that you're nervous before the gig. So, it's quite nerve-wracking, but then the payoff is great.

Songfacts: After all these years, you still get nervous when you go on stage?

O'Riordan: Yes.

April 24, 2017. Get Something Else at Apple Music or Amazon.
More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 4

  • Barry from Bristol Ct I get her!sometimes less is better than more.She touch my heart!I hope she’s in peace.But a great Gift to all of us.
  • Panini Kumar from Mumbai India Very nice list of questions so hats off song facts
    Love what you guys do for music and music lovers
    Clearly Dolores does all her talking when she sings the words she writes and the music the band create
    Love you guys ❤️
  • Edward from Foster City, Mich.A woman of few words obviously. It's kind of like pulling teeth. LOL.
  • Shawn from MarylandWow, Carl! I've got to hand it to you. Usually artists are a bit more flowing with their words. When they give you one sentence answers, it's really hard to have an interview. But, you kept with it. :) It almost reads like an interrogation. Ha! I'm glad you were able to get answers to your questions. :)
    And Dolores, if you read this, thanks for answering the questions. :)
see more comments

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