The Cranberries are pissed off. Or, at least, they’re pretending to be. Y’see, the guys in the band seem to think that every time they talk to this magazine Dolores gets the bulk of the space and they’re side-lined into a box containing a few cursory quotes. Maybe that’s why, this time round, we’ve been told we must “talk to all of the Cranberries or no-one at all.”
This would be fine – except that Noel Hogan hasn’t turned up for the interview anyway! But Dolores O’Riordan, Mike Hogan and Fergal Lawlor have. And as they sit on a sofa near the rehearsal space in Dolores’ home in Kilmallock, County Limerick, they’re in fine form, buzzing, blissful and anxious as hell to tell the world about their new album Wake Up And Smell The Coffee. But let’s kick off by hearing them sound off about the media tendency to focus on Dolores.
Joe Jackson: Are the guys really pissed off at that?
Fergal: No. It is, as you say, a standard media practice.
Dolores: Actually, to be honest, last week we were having a few jars because of my daughter’s christening and Mikey got a bit drunk and held my neck up against the wall and told me he was going to bust my ass if I kept hogging the media.
Mike: (laughs) That is true. I said ‘I’ve had enough, it’s too much, I want some attention!’
That must have been traumatic for the baby. Her first experience of the real world. Or the world of rock ‘n’ roll!
Dolores: Fortunately, she wasn’t there! But I’m telling you, these guys do often grab me, slap me, say (adopts Mafia voice) ‘Hey, girl, you’re getting too much attention in the media’.
But is it only something that happens in Ireland?
Fergal: It varies from country to country, magazine to magazine and even in terms of who does the interviews
Mike: But people always seem to want to talk to the singer more, in most bands.
Dolores: Plus, there’s the fact that girls are far more attractive than boys. Boys are boring!
That’s the kind of shite you gave me the last time we talked, Dolores, where you said sexist things like ‘all men suck’! Do you still feel the same seven years later?
Dolores. Let me put it this way. Girls are more psychological, they’re more analytical.
Okay, guys, defend the male of the species.
Mike: I was just listening to the Gerry Ryan show, about women nagging. And they say it’s scientifically proven that men need to be nagged because it keeps them going! It was the biggest load of shite I ever heard!
Dolores: But women are good at nagging! And I do think women are more analytical. You know that book, by John Gray.
Not Men Are From Mars And Women Are From Venus for Christ’s sake!
Dolores: Yeah! I read that eleven years ago, when I was only seventeen! Before it became a big thing! It was given to me, in San Francisco, by one of my husband’s friends. And it helped me realise that men and women are a different species, you can’t debate that.
But let’s try. Guys, when you read some of Dolores’ lyrics on the new album – one is actually called Analyse – would you think ‘I’m too thick, too much of a man to analyse things this way’?
Fergal: I usually relate the lyrics to my life. And all the fans – male and female – do that as well. They often say ‘it’s as though you guys were singing about my life’. So maybe we’re not that different after all! Men are more quiet, contemplative, but we take it all in.
All of you in the Cranberries have gotten married and had children in the past few years. Though, Fergal, I know your wife is only having her first child as we speak. But do such experiences make the Cranberries even more contemplative? Would you, for example, reflect more deeply on the world you bring a child into?
Dolores: Of course. It’s the same for us as it is for every other parent.
Fergal: It’s very grounding become a parent. And you do start thinking about the future more because your children are going to grow up in that world.
How does that affect your life as a rock star?
Dolores: It makes life more difficult in the sense that we all hate leaving our children. So that’s one of the hardest things about doing gigs. You try to bring the children with you but that doesn’t work. Because when children are three or four they make friends and form their own little secret society and you can’t be taking them away from that just because it suits the parents. So one of the challenges for myself – and for the children – is leaving. I brought Taylor, my firstborn, for a time. I’d base him, say, in San Francisco and do gigs in places like Santa Barbara and Arizona then fly back to him. But that, in itself, is hard, because I’m doing all that travelling and I’m tired. So on the last European tour I decided instead to fly out from here, at about ten in the morning, get to Shannon at noon; destination at two; hotel to change my clothes by four; gig venue by seven; on stage by nine; off-stage by eleven; back in a car; back to the airport; back home here around five in the morning. And I’d be wrecked.
And not in any great condition to be a mother.
Dolores: Right. Because then when you wake up you are too tired to play games, whatever.
That must have been a wake up call. As in, ‘I’m too fucked to be a parent to my child’ – wake up and smell the coffee indeed!
Dolores: It was a “wake up call” for me! So now I structure tours differently. But being a parent is a case of trial and error. You have to learn how to balance things for yourself.
Dolores, the last time we last talked, you were insisting “I’m mad keen to have a baby”.
Dolores: Well, I didn’t want to be some old fossil by the time I got started!
Mike, Fergal, did similar feelings hit either of you or did you just meet the right person and decide to settle down?
Fergal: For everyone, after the third album, To The Faithful Departed, things like that hit home because we just completely exhausted and had devoted the previous five, six years to the Cranberries. As in, touring non-stop.
Dolores hadn’t. She said, even then, “if anyone in the music business tries to tell me I can’t have a child I’ll kick their head in.” Did any of you ever encounter resistance along these lines? Let’s not forget that Sinéad O’Connor’s record company suggested she have an abortion because they didn’t think having a child at the time of the release of her first album made sense.
Dolores: That’s disgusting. I never heard that story. That must have been Jake. He’s a beautiful little boy. But no I didn’t get any of that crap and wouldn’t have put up with it either, if I had. But then, as you say, they could see me coming and they knew where I stood on this subject. And the point is that I have a very different childhood from Sinéad. I grew up very close to my mother who taught me to be strong, proud and focused. And I know who I am. Sinéad has more vulnerability than I have.
But some girls in my class would say things like ‘what are you having a baby for? You’re up to thirty million albums, why don’t you go on ‘till you sell seventy million, first’. And I’d say ‘why should I?’ Life is about more than selling albums. But they didn’t get that. They’d say ‘she’s all mixed up’.
Did both you guys also come to realise life is more than just selling millions of albums?
Mike: That was part of deciding, after the third album, that it’s time to do something else, whether that is settle down or whatever. And it wasn’t just that we’d been touring non-stop for those five years, the fact was that friends and families had been left behind.
Fergal: And the fun had gone out of being in a rock band.
Mike: True. The same vibe wasn’t there at all.
Dolores: And unlike other acts from Ireland, success came quickly for the Cranberries. Our first album sold six million copies and the second, sixteen million. But you’re young and naive and green. And the more green you are the more a shock it is to the system. For U2 their success, massively, came with their third album, I think. But at least they had time to adjust, they were tougher, they were older. Whereas we were a bunch of teenagers and hadn’t a clue!
So did it all really end up dark and depressing?
Fergal: It was great fun during the time of the first two albums and recording the third but when we got out on tour it all started to go wrong. Because we basically finished the tour for No Need To Argue, went into the studio, recorded Faithful Departed and went out on the road with that a few weeks later.
Who was pushing you at this level?
Dolores: Everybody around us.
Fergal: But it was us as well. You see things on paper and you sign it and next thing, you’re on tour!
So did you all get greedy?
Dolores: No, you become a robot.
Mike: We thought that was the way things were done, I suppose.
Who was managing you then?
Dolores: Leftbank management, a really hot-shot LA company that manage a lot of massive acts such as Meatloaf, Richard Marx, Luther Vandros, Blondie. So they lined up brilliant stuff but the schedule was gruelling.
Mike: We had a lot done before we signed with them. We had toured the first two albums and then said to them, in terms of the third, ‘we don’t want to tour this one’ which must have seemed strange to a new management team.
But did anyone in the band ever say “I’m at the fucking edge here and unless we stop I’m going to go over?”
Dolores: I did. And everybody declared I was anorexic. But it was actually depression. Yet the media love to hop on a story, make it more ‘sexy’ and marketable and anorexia was a ‘big thing’ at the time so they said it was anorexia. I was actually clinically depressed.
For how long?
Dolores: Two or three months. And I went off to the Carribbean for three months, basically, to get away from the media. And stayed on one of these tiny islands, with my husband. That was in 1996.
Why did depression hit at that point? You’d found the man you loved.
Dolores: But when I met him all my demons started coming out. I started talking to him and telling him all the things that had happened to me. Relationships that went drastically wrong. One in particular that I really don’t want to talk about again. I told Don tons of things. And I’d never really done that because I was too busy working with the Cranberries. I didn’t have time to talk to anybody. I was a robot, as I said. But the breaking point really was all the attention I was getting, from the media and otherwise.
So did you guys feel similarly disillusioned at the time?
Fergal: Yeah. We were all totally pissed off and introverted. Then we sat down after one of the shows in the States and actually asked, ‘does everyone feel the same?’ and the answer was ‘yeah’. So we said ‘then what are we doing this for? If the joy has gone there’s no point in going on’.
But did any of the guys get as depressed as Dolores was for that three months period?
Mike: Not as bad. But then, as we were saying at the start of this interview – jokingly! – she gets more attention than we do. Which basically means she does more work, more interviews and all that.
So is one of the real reasons, Dolores, that you now have the guys beside you during interviews, to be a form of support system?
Dolores: One of the reasons I sometimes do, yeah. But to get back to what finally broke me, it also was a case of, say, being in a restaurant and trying to go to the loo and someone comes charging in, banging on the door, shouting ‘are you the singer from the Cranberries?’. And, likewise, whereas when we came home the guys could relax, I was being chased to my house by the media. They even chased me to the shopping mall. Because of that anorexia story.
Were you easily able to snap out of that depression after three months.
Dolores: I couldn’t go back to the music full-time because I was afraid I’d fall back into the depression. So my next big goal in life was to have a baby. And it took me a while, actually. I wasn’t able to conceive, at first, because I was so stressed. When women are stressed it affects the hormones. Then, about six months later, I was pregnant and it was the first real joy I’d had in my life for years. That wasn’t alcohol or something like that. It was real. So then I became totally pure, no drink, no nothing for nine months. I really got into the pregnancy and really sorted my head out.
And it was a healthy baby?
Dolores: Very healthy.
So after the birth you immediately went back on the alcohol and everything!
Dolores: (laughs) No! Not as much. Because when you have kids you can’t.
Do you smoke?
Dolores: Cigarettes? Yeah, once a week, when I drink. But I gave up the cigarettes when I was pregnant.
And did you guys all begin to live healthy lives when you realised you were becoming daddies?
Mike: We’re pretty healthy anyway. We all go to the gym and work out regularly.
So when, exactly, did the Cranberries become clean living? Dolores, when you said “no alcohol, no nothing” in terms of the pregnancy does that “nothing” mean you were doing drugs?
Dolores: I never saw alcohol as a drug but now I see it is. Too much of that will mess you up. And, at one point, I was drinking way too much.
Fergal: Drink actually was our drug. We were really fond of the oul’ liquor.
Did other drug use ever become a tendency in the Cranberries?
Dolores: No, it was more the drink.
Mike: It was the drink. You’d get pissed most nights.
Dolores: Then you’d wake up with panic attacks. I used to hate it.
Panic attacks about what?
Dolores? Drinking and being in the public eye. It was the combination of both. You get very paranoid, You think somebody is following you all the time. That’s what I kept thinking. I couldn’t get out of the bed. I’d wake up and tell my husband, ‘I’ve to go to the toilet’ and he’d say ‘go’. And I’d tell him ‘no, there’s somebody out there’. And he’d say, ‘it’s all in your head!’ And I’d say, ‘honestly, there is somebody out there’. I was a mess. Really paranoid for that three months. And you can get panic attacks when you are on TV, on camera, doing interviews. Because you’ve been drinking too much and you get the shakes and you say to yourself ‘they’re going to think I’m on drugs’. And all you’re thinking is that you’d love another drink.
Fergal: All of that is magnified when you are in the public eye. Though the worst that could happen to me is a terrible hangover. It never got so bad that I’d think there was somebody outside on the hall. Or following me. Dolores got that, we didn’t.
Who took the decision – if the decision was taken – to stay clean in terms of drugs?
Dolores: Nobody really.
Fergal: We’re all pretty sensible like that. And you do read lots of interviews about drugs casualties.
Dolores: In other bands. And crew buses are always pretty wild. But, I think that, at the end of the day, we knew if we started doing cocaine and all that shit we probably wouldn’t be here today. We’d probably have killed ourselves.
Fergal: The reason we started off the band wasn’t to be famous. It was because of the music. And I think if you fall into the drug trap you lose sight of why you started – if you did start out purely to make music. Music is the one thing that has always kept us bound together at the centre. All the rest, surrounding it, was just something that had to be done to get people to hear the music.
So have the Cranberries all rediscovered the absolute joy in making music?
Fergal: At the start of Bury The Hatchet that started to return. That’s why we went back in the studio. We wouldn’t have done that, otherwise. We had a break, then realised we really missed something out of our lives that had been there for years.
You’ve also recently changed labels so is this another form of war going on in the background?
Dolores: No. It’s just that MCA have taken over.
Fergal: Four or five times since we signed to Island it’s been sold. And we lost our original point-of-contact with the label, Denny Cordell, who died. He was a real music-guy, great.
Dolores: And we met lots of different record company presidents, and so on, in between. But right now we’ve another great music-guy, Jay Boberg, who started that label IRS, which signed REM and acts like that. And everyone in the record company really loves Analyse, the first single, so we’re getting great backing from MCA on this. In fact, as we speak, Don, my husband is over in New York meeting with those guys.
What, exactly is Don’s function with the band?
Fergal: Part of the management. We formed our own company.
But did Don have any musical influence on the band. I’ve heard he teased you towards heavy metal music because that’s what he loves.
Dolores: He teased me towards the cot!
Fergal: Zombie was written before Dolores even met Don. We all had a metal side to us.
It seemed to move to the fore when Don came on board.
Fergal: One of the reasons for this was that we were writing a lot of songs on the road, so they were directly influenced by that live environment.
Dolores: You also figure out how to use your distortion pedal better as you get older! I remember when I started with the Cranberries I saw the distortion pedal and asked Noel ‘What’s that?’ He showed me (imitates guitar screech) and I went ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph!’ Now I love that stuff and just say ‘give me more distortion’.
So did Don have any musical influence on the band at all?
Dolores: No, not really, to be honest. But he would inspire lyrics and stuff.
Mike: He’s into Ted Nugent, Aerosmith all that stuff!
Dolores: And AC/DC!
And you guys can promise that there will be no Nugent, AC/DC derived music coming from the Cranberries.
Fegal: No fucking way will there be!
So what are the Cranberries listening to these days?
Dolores: We all like the new Travis album. Coldplay. The new REM album. Badly Drawn Boy. And I like Limp Bizkit.
Tell me more about the new album: I see you’re back working with Stephen Street who worked on the first two albums. Was that to get the old feel back again?
Fergal: At the end of Bury The Hatchet, the guy who was mixing it was having problems and we suggested getting Steve in.
It was said that you, Dolores, at one point, were at war with Stephen.
Dolores: I was talking to Stephen recently and he said there’s a rumour that he had a fight with Damon, from Blur. People just start these rumours. It wasn’t that we fought with Stephen. We just went our separate ways. Amicably. You move on. But he was the right person to bring back for this album. And he wanted to come back. So we started from scratch, again, with Steve, when it came to working on this album.
But there are quite a few mellow tracks on this album, such as Chocolate Brown.
Dolores: I love Choclate Brown because we did it with one microphone. I went in one morning, thinking I was doing guide vocals – so we get the bass drums and guitar down – and Stephen says “actually we’re going to do a take on this”. And there was one microphone hanging in the middle of the room and we didn’t use the 48 tracks at all. Everything was picked up on that mic. You can hear it. The plucking of the guitar… the drums – which we had to keep moving back from the mic. We loved recording that way.
In terms of lyrics, did you guys have any input?
Why? Are you dummies or what!
Mike: If I wrote something and Dolores had to sing it, I’d find that awkward. So I never even try to write anything. I’d like to write a song sometime. The music but not lyrics.
Fergal: I see it that way, too. If I was a singer and someone write lyrics for me, I’d feel strange singing them. If they weren’t my own.
Isn’t the truth that Dolores won’t allow you to write!
Dolores: (laughs) They can write lyrics anytime they want. But I won’t sing them! They can sing them themselves! In fact, they all tried singing in the studio and none of them could!
Mike: I lasted about ten seconds!
Dolores: And it’s hard with Ferg because he plays drums and finds it difficult to sing and play at the same time. That’s why we got a backing singer to tour with us for a while but that didn’t work out so now we have a guy working with us and does the really high backing vocals.
Have you, Fergal or Mike, ever read a lyric of Dolores and said ‘I don’t want to play on that’.
Mike: No that’s never arisen.
So whatever Dolores delivers, lyrically, you will back – in every sense?
Fergal: Yes. Because we trust her. And there is that trust in the band. If someone is doing a guitar part or a percussion part, the rest of us will go off and know that when we come back it will be done. And, at that level alone, we are really pleased with Wake Up And Smell The Coffee. There are new elements involved. The Cranberries have evolved, musically, from the first album to this. It’s not that we sit down and say ‘we have to change our sound’. It’s more of an evolutionary process. So. to answer a question you asked earlier, we didn’t actually say that this album has to sound like the early ones we did with Stephen, or whatever. Because if you do that the music is somewhat artificial. That’s another thing I love about the new album. There is a lot of spontaneity on it. We’re just going with the flow.
Dolores, tell us about a few of the lyrics on the new album.
Dolores: Okay, ladies and gentlemen! ‘Never Grow Old’ is a song I wrote with no music whatsoever. I was walking outside here, with my little baby in a pram and my son with me and I started singing. (sings) “I have a dream/Strange it may seem/This is my perfect day”. So I ran home and tried to get down the chords on the piano but didn’t because I was distracted. The baby was crying! So I lost it. But the next day I woke up and it came back to me so I wrote it at the piano, then played it with the lads.
Dolores: When I wrote that I was actually stuck for lyrics. I was going (sings) “Close your eyes/Breathe the air” (breathes in and out) looking for lyrics. Then it was “We are free/We can be wide open”. But as I was trying to think of lyrics, I was telling myself not to analyse, just to let it come and that became the idea of the song. And what that song says is, basically, ‘because of you I see beauty I didn’t see before so don’t analyse, just live for the moment’. You know when you analyse, you tend to go ‘maybe I should, maybe I shouldn’t do this?’ and you take the spontaneity out of it. This song is about not analysing.
And Don is the ‘you’ to whom you are singing?
Dolores: Yes. Another song, ‘Time Is Ticking Out’, came as a result of what we were talking about earlier. Your changing awareness as a parent. I’d never have written a song like this before my children came along. But this is talking about how we screwed up our planet, in terms of, say, pollution. And how we sit by and let our governments do that.
Mike: That, too, is what we mean by Wake Up And Smell The Coffee.
Dolores: Absolutely. My husband has a house in Canada and I spend a lot of time there. And the Canadians are brilliant when it comes to the environment. Incredibly strict. We’re getting better in Ireland with, for example, an organisation like Crann. They’re great in terms of preserving trees. I just planted 300 trees and I am really getting into environmental issues now.
But what world were you guys living on before this that you hadn’t been aware of such issues?
Mike: We always were aware.
Fergal: No, let’s face it. We were kind of partying on the bus.
Some say that’s the general tendency in rock, that as long as its participants are happy on that “bus” they couldn’t give a fuck about what goes on in the rest of the world.
Fergal: Until, maybe, they do have children and think about things like ‘what kind of world will my baby inherit in twenty years?’ That may be what it takes. As happened to us.
Dolores: But you do have to wake up to these realities. I can’t believe the amount of young people I know who have, for example, skin cancers. So these really are issues that effect everyone. And the songWake Up And Smell The Coffee is about myself and becoming aware, in a general sense along these lines. On a more personal level, it’s also about looking at the face of my daughter, seeing myself in her and hoping she doesn’t go through any of the sadness I went through.
She will have to go through some sadness.
Dolores: Of course. But mommies hope their babies won’t go through any sadness! Especially little girls. But we do know that girls have to go through more in this world, than boys.
There she goes again, guys! Ending our interview the way it started. Wake up and smell the coffee, Dolores! Boys go through the same heartache girls do!
Dolores: They don’t! And what part don’t you get, Joe! We have to bear the children. Once a month we menstruate and once a woman comes home from work her work isn’t over, because she still has work in the house. For a man life is also not as crazy in terms of the hormones. So, okay, when I look at my son, I think ‘I don’t want him to go through’ whatever, but I honestly do believe it is harder for little girls growing up in this world. I honestly do. And, actually, Concept is about the concept of love and how, no matter what life throws at you, all you really have to hold onto is love. And never lose your vision of love.
Mike: I do believe that is true.
Fergal: So do I. It may sound simplistic but, at the end of the day, all you do have is love…
As John Lennon said.
Dolores: He was right. And, at this stage in our lives, the four of us – fortunately – are in love. And that experience is like having children, in a way. It makes you think of the circle of life. Look outwards. You see children being born and people dying. And you think ‘what would I do if I lost this person from my life? This person I love?’ Another thing is that, obviously, everyone in the Cranberries is getting older. We’re all nearer 30 than 20 so we all are thinking about such things. And that, too, is what this album is all about.
“When we were twenty nobody warned us about the illnesses that can be caused by drinking too much. But now I see a lot of my friends have developed those illnesses. I realise, for example, that if you go out drinking heavily your liver collapses. You don’t think of things like that when you’re a teenager, or 20. But you do when you’re 30. And have children. Carry On, from the new album, was actually inspired by my many friends who are ill and I am just telling them to carry on. Among my friends and in my family I’ve had an awful lot of people die from cancer and such over the past ten years. That, too, is why I worry about the ozone layer. So this song is to people who are ill. Particularly those who, maybe, have a limited time to live. I’m really saying to them with all my heart: Carry On.
So, as the Cranberries ‘carry on’, what’s their main goal?
Dolores: Well, getting across messages like that to people is one of my goals.
Mike: But a more simple goal is just to enjoy being in the Cranberries. Which, as I say, we didn’t for a while. But right now we can’t wait to get the album out, do the tour, play those gigs. Because that is where it all started for us.
And there’s no way the Cranberries are going to fuck it all up at this stage in their career, right?
Dolores: No way. Not now. Longevity is the real challenge. To stay true to yourselves over a long period. And stay creative, make great music and still love what you do. At least that’s how I see things, in terms of myself and the Cranberries.
Mike: Jesus, Joe, don’t give her the last word! Again! Let me have it!
Copyright. Joe Jackson. This artic le cannot be used, i n part or in whole, without the permission, in writing, of the author, Joe Jackson.