Catching Up With… The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan

Music Features

Although Cranberries frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan may be best known for her alt-rock hit “Zombie,” when she calls Paste from a Toronto hotel, she couldn’t sound more alive. O’Riordan’s voice, much like when she sings, is full of tonal twists and turns; her deep Irish accent carries her words like a melody. But on this particular evening, there’s more than just the musicality of her voice pushing her energy through the phone; not only has O’Riordan just released her second solo album, No Baggage, but she’s also announced that The Cranberries will reunite for a tour after a seven-year hiatus.

In those seven years, O’Riordan took a big step back, and a bigger one north. She’s spent much of her time raising her three children somewhere “in the forest of Ontario” with husband/former Duran Duran manager Don Burton. The time in relative seclusion, she admits, has aged her, wisened her. But with her band back on the road this November, it’s clear that O’Riordan’s lingering spark has been relit.

Paste: Where are you today?
O’Riordan: I’m in Toronto. I’m overlooking a lovely lake, and a beautiful evening it is. And I’ve got a 7 a.m.-er in the morning; it’s just not rock ’n’ roll, dude.

Paste: Before playing with Noel (Hogan, guitar) and Mike (Hogan, bass) at the Trinity College in Ireland this January, you hadn’t seen them since 2003. How did it feel to not only see them, but play with them?
O’Riordan: It was really weird, actually. I was kind of apprehensive at first, because I hadn’t seen them in so long. But I walked into the room and it was anything but weird, like, “Oh, my old babies.” I was a bit emotional, and they were too. You never appreciate something until you take time away from it.

Paste: How had Mike and Noel changed in the years since you’d seen them?
O’Riordan: Not much. It was more a case of “Let me see your spare tire” and “How much grey hair have we?” But not a bit in character. And I’m really happy about that. At the end of the day, the four Cranberries had a unique experience in our journeys of life, and only the four of us can relate to each other like that. It’s kind of nice now; it’s an unspoken word.

Paste: Had you been in contact before that?
O’Riordan: I’d been talking to Noel for the prior year. We’d been texting and sometimes we’d phone each other. I only got a laptop this year. I didn’t know how to use computers; I’m from the old school. The reason I got one was that my son was starting high school and he was getting so good at bloody computers, and he was like, “Come on, Mommy, you better get involved.” I was like Old Mother Hubbard. So I got one and started on the e-mail; that’s really handy.

Paste: Would you even say that computers are partially responsible for The Cranberries getting back together?
O’Riordan: It actually helped, yeah. Noel could send me music through the computer. It was different when I was growing up—we had to send it through the post. Now we can also work on ProTools. As a singer or guitar player or bassist or drummer, you can put down your different ideas and send them to each other. In the old days, you actually had to meet each other and sit in a room and work out the cards and all that.

Paste: Looking back, does it seem like the hiatus was a necessity? What went into the decision?
O’Riordan: It was spontaneity. In 2003, my husband’s mom had cancer. We knew she was going to die. Suddenly, I realized life is fragile. People aren’t around forever. If you know someone is going to die, are you going to go on the road? No, you’re going to stay with them. The world, the music and the people aren’t going anywhere; you can always go back on the road. But you can’t always have time with the people you love. It was a re-evaluation of what life is about. Is it about x, y or z? It’s actually about x, y and z: all of the above. It’s about balance. You could be really rich and famous and on the cover of every glossy magazine for the rest of your life, but you mightn’t be happy. For me, I needed the whole circle.

We all got together at my son’s confirmation recently—it’s kind of like a Bar Mitzvah—and they [Cranberries members] all came with their children. When I arrived, I saw about 13 kids as tall as ourselves. Where did they all come from? But the little Cranbabies, as the press used to call them, were all grown up, all big. Going into secondary school. We were happy as well that we’d taken the hiatus because we knew we’d spent quality time with the kids.

Paste: You sound like you’ve gained a lot of wisdom from this hiatus.
O’Riordan: Yeah, I did. That’s the whole flippin’ journey. I remember being at the top of the ladder, with the band being so big, and people asking why we stopped. It’s because you get lonely when you’re stuck in hotels away from your family, and at the end of the day you’re just aimlessly going through the TV looking for something to watch after the gig, looking for solace. We all need family and love. I felt like I was destroying my soul because I wasn’t feeding it. I felt like I was selling something all the time.

Paste: Is this something you had to go through to understand? If the you of today described the downside of fame to the younger you, would you have understood?
O’Riordan: I would, but it’s only through experience that humans learn. You have to screw up to become who you are. That’s life: We make mistakes. And as you get older, you learn to forgive yourself. You realize you’re not the only one who screws up. As much as I might think I know now, I’m sure I’ll make more stupid decisions. By the time we’ve really figured it all out, we’re old. But then you have 100% self-acceptance; you know what’s going on. I think that’s why I love old people; you get older, you get wiser.

Paste: So is the title of your new record, No Baggage, an allusion to that idea that, with age, we can move past our mistakes? Are you now able to leave the baggage of past mistakes behind and move forward?
O’Riordan: Yes. I used this record as a vehicle to get rid of my crap. I got rid of it; it’s all on the record. I’m moving on. As we get older, we acquire baggage. We acquire more and more. But we do learn to carry it more gracefully, to accept it.

Paste: Is it not so much leaving behind the baggage, but learning to deal with it better?
O’Riordan: Yeah, exactly.

Paste: You mentioned that your son pushed you to become computer savvy. Has he showed you any new bands on iTunes?
O’Riordan: He’s into the Killers and Coldplay. And he likes Green Day. I’ll tell him, “I know them! They’re from our era!” And he says, “No way, mom. You’re a fossil.” I’m just mommy. I’m ancient. Even though I know Green Day, I’m still just a corny parent.

Paste: That’s funny: Green Day have now appealed to two separate generations of kids. Do you think it’s possible for the same thing to happen with The Cranberries?
O’Riordan: Anything’s possible. I always think the best thing we ever did was get out of people’s faces for awhile. Whether the Cranberries get big or not, I believe in the cosmic thing. If it happens, oh Lord, let it happen. But if it’s not meant to happen, that’s fine too. I’m easy. I never pray for success, just that whatever happens, it be for the better.

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