The Cranberries’ latest reunion was a happy accident. It’d been a few years since the Celtic-rock brooders’ last release, 2012’s Roses, which they dropped more than a decade after going on hiatus in 2003. But of all things, it was ABC’s The Bachelorette that got lead singer Dolores O’Riordan and guitarist Noel Hogan back in the same room, where they performed an orchestral version of “Linger” for the show’s resident husband hunter (and her date).
O’Riordan and Hogan had such a good time that day that they decided to record a whole new album of songs both classic and new in the same stripped-down style, not unlike they had on MTV’s Unplugged in 1995. Among the songs they revisited on the record, titled Something Else, were Clinton-era standards like “Linger,” “Zombie,” and “Dreams,” among others. They also wrote three new tracks, one of which is about the death of O’Riordan’s father. “It’s really about the in-between and the afterlife,” she tells me during a visit to Paste’s New York office. “I wonder, “Is there an in-between? Is there somewhere that the soul goes?” A lot of strange coincidences happen that make you realize that there’s definitely something more. I have no doubt in my mind that there’s more than this world and this dimension.”
Below, O’Riordan and Hogan delve further into reuniting The Cranberries, who are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year; learning the term “Generation X” two decades after the fact and the time Michael Stipe wore O’Riordan’s “red rubber mini with little nipples coming out of it.”
Paste: How did you initially decide to reform The Cranberries?
Noel Hogan: Right. Was that two years ago? That’s going to be our claim to fame.
O’Riordan: That was two years ago. Before that, our city got this award as The City of Culture, and I did a performance in Limerick on New Year’s Eve with the Irish Chamber Orchestra Quartet. That went really well. It was live. It was five songs. And then a couple of years later, The Bachelorette approached and asked if I’d do “Linger” with the Quartet for the grand finale. I don’t watch it, but… It was filmed in Christ Church in Dublin, so it was nice.
Paste: That sounds oddly creative for The Bachelorette.
O’Riordan: Isn’t it?
Hogan: And random, yeah. We rehearsed it just an hour before we did it. Two hours before we went on, we were like, we’d better run through this. But “Linger” is one of those songs… The strings were always part of it. So it wasn’t going to be a big, difficult, complicated thing to do live, you know? I think that night we both spoke after that kind of the idea for this album.
O’Riordan: [A stripped-down album] had been suggested before. The Vatican orchestra approached me, because I’ve done a few gigs out there. The conductor approached me and was like, “We’d really like to do an album where we’re your band,” and I was like, “That’ll be lovely, but there’s like 80 people in that orchestra. How could you ever pay for that? That’ll cost a fortune.” So this was actually something that we could do because it was four people. It made sense financially. So we’re actually bringing a quartet on the road with us. What we’ll do is, the local promoter will hire three people, so in each venue we’ll have three people—relative strangers—onstage with us. The main guy from the quartet is going to come on tour with us. So we’ll have booked 26 dates across Europe and hopefully the States in September. Like, we can’t perform in the U.S. until September because we’re waiting for our permits to come through.
Something Else purposefully strips down your older material to be more acoustic. What was the process like to reconfigure the old songs?
Hogan: All of these songs were originally written acoustic. They would have come from that. So to bring it all the way back to the basics, we knew that was doable.
O’Riordan: We did [“Zombie”] at the MTV Unplugged, actually.
Hogan: I actually did watch that Unplugged a couple of times on YouTube just to see what way we were doing it, and for me, I was thinking, just—bang—[take] electric guitars out of it. Try and break it down. And then it was this time last year we went to start this album. For us, that’s good. ‘Cause we can be …
O’Riordan: We can be quite slow.
Hogan: We recorded it very much like we would a normal album in that we’d get the drums and bass down first, then the acoustic went down, and the strings of the instruments were kind of the last thing to go down. And then Dolores’s vocal. And that’s kind of how we would do a regular album.
O’Riordan: Initially we did go to The Irish Chamber Orchestra. It’s up at the University of Limerick. It’s a very high building; the acoustics are amazing. We went in there thinking we’d do everything live on the floor. But it didn’t happen because everything was spilling and bleeding out into the microphone. All of these strings were coming down, too much reverb. So we ended up doing it in pieces.
Paste: What inspired you to incorporate yodeling when you were developing your singing style?
O’Riordan: My father loved to yodel, and he sang a song called “The Lonesome Cattle Call.” [To Noel] Do you know that?
O’Riordan: You might know it if you heard it. I think Marty Robbins sings it, it’s a pretty famous cowboy song [Editor’s note: Dolores is referring to “The Cattle Song” by Eddy Arnold.] He was always yodeling, and I was very little and I was like, “How do you do that, Dada?” I just kept with my father all the time, just copying him and eventually I learned how to do it. Then over the years there were artists like Sinéad O’Connor and Siouxsie from Siouxsie and the Banshees and even Peter Harvey was doing it. It was something that you could work into The Cranberries’ format because a lot of that was used in religious Irish music.
Paste: The new single, “Why,” is beautiful. Can you give me a little background on it?
O’Riordan: I wrote that about a year-and-a-half after my father passed away. I was kind of confused about it all, because I was holding his hand when he took his last breath. I was really so glad that I was there with him because I had this fear that I’d be on tour; so many of my family died and even got buried and I wasn’t at their funerals. My grandfather died in the ‘90s and we were on tour, and I wrote a song called “When You’re Gone” about him, and I remember being really devastated. But The Cranberries were contractually bound and there was no way to go back and see them.
So I had this dread all the time in my head that my father would die and I wouldn’t be with him, but thanks be to God I was with him, and it gave me great peace and a great sense of comfort. So he passed on, and the shock kind of kicks in for a while and I went out on the road with The Cranberries for the Roses tour about six or eight weeks after he died. It was actually the most difficult tour I ever did in my life, and I kind of hit rock bottom on that tour; it was really bad. Then once that tour was finished I began to write again, and this song came very quickly.
Paste: The record definitely comes full circle, historically. I was reading the Rolling Stone profile of you from 1995, have you ever gone back to that?
O’Riordan: No, I don’t really read my interviews or anything like that. It’s tough enough to do ‘em and then if you start to read them you’ll be getting paranoid about yourself.
Paste: The cover looks like something that could’ve come out today. Some of your videos, aesthetically, look like they could’ve been made today, too. Is that surreal for you, the nostalgia for ‘90s pop culture?
O’Riordan: The ‘90s was cool wasn’t it? Somebody told me it was called Generation X. Did you know that? I didn’t, I’ve been living under a rock.
Paste: It’s funny because “Liar,” my favorite Cranberries song, was on the Empire Records soundtrack and Empire Records is one of the most famous cult Gen X films.
Hogan: That song was just a B-side or something but it’s just so popular. I don’t think it’s on any of the albums.
Paste: It’s not! To what extent do you get asked by younger fans about what it was like in the ‘90s? Seeing as it’s a decade Gen Z seeks to emulate in terms of fashion?
Hogan: Well, my 16-year-old keeps saying “I wish I was around then,” because she just looks around and thinks all of the things are so cool. It’s nothing to do with The Cranberries or anything, just the whole ‘90s thing. Songs come on the radio, on what’s now classic radio at home, and she’s singing along to all these songs and I’m like, “How do you know that, even?” It just goes to show how many great things there were, but at the time you take it for granted. You’re living in the moment.
Paste: ‘90s songs being on classic-rock radio always throws me for a loop.
Hogan: Yeah, to me, classic radio was always like The Beatles, The Stones, stuff like that, but now most of the kids wouldn’t know half of those songs.
Paste: In looking at a lot of the fashions, and what you guys were wearing in promo shots then, I see a lot of that today. The ‘90s came back and we romanticize it. Not just because they were so cool culturally, but politically speaking they were a more optimistic time.
Hogan: A more innocent time, I think. We just kind of got on with things. For me the ‘90s is always just such great memories. We were doing the band and getting to travel the world and see so much and do so much. There are nothing but good memories, really.
Paste: You guys were really young when you started. Was there any moment in the rush of things, maybe someone you met or a gig you had, where you felt like, “Woah, this is real now”?
Hogan: First person I met that I always remember is Michael Stipe. We were doing the “Linger” video and he came down. We kind of grew up listening to R.E.M. and you’re standing in the hallway in the hotel where we shot the “Linger” video just chatting away. And gig-wise, I know I always remember Woodstock in ‘94. It was just as far as you could see.
O’Riordan: We had to take a chopper over the crowd, and I’d say maybe one or two kilometers square was just people in camps. Of course [I had] nerves, because we had to perform. It was like, “Shall I poop or shall I puke? What side is it gonna come out of?” But we actually ended up opening up for R.E.M. on a summer tour, and Oasis were on that tour. Michael Stipe came into my dressing room and he said, “Can I see your wardrobe?” I had this red rubber mini, with little nipples coming out of it, and he says, “Oh that’s pretty cool,” and I said, “Yeah, I know!” but I hadn’t actually had the courage to wear it. He said, “Do you mind if I borrow it?” So, next thing we went to the stage and do our opening slot and then I went down to see him perform and he was wearing it, he’d put it on.
Paste: Did you ever get to wear it?
O’Riordan: No, I just put it in a china cabinet. But we opened up for AC/DC and The Stones as well, that was another great experience.
Hogan: Yeah, that was cool as well. I think anytime you meet people that you grew up with you’re always kind of starstruck in some ways. You never really believe you’re sitting there talking with them like that. It’s one of the perks of the job, really.
O’Riordan: I got to meet with Pavarotti. It was Pavarotti & Friends and there were a lot of really cool artists there going up on stage. Me and Simon Le Bon did “Linger” together and he said “Lingah” instead of “Lingerrr.”
Paste: Dolores, I also wanted to ask about you D.A.R.K. Do you and Andy [Rourke] have any plans to continue that project?
O’Riordan: We were going to do a tour, but I got a problem with my back and we had to postpone it and then I ended up going back with The Cranberries, and we just got cracking on this album. But we might do more work together in the future. I’m a big fan of The Smiths and it’s nice to work with Andy. Andy has a lot of fans. People get really excited because he’s a Smith. Because there are only four of them, and the band is so iconic that their fans are really into them.
Paste: What do you see in The Cranberries’ future, going forward?
O’Riordan: We’re hopefully going to do an album of new material after this one. We’re kind of slow when it comes to writing, because we live in different countries and we take so much time off. We’re terrible for writing, aren’t we?
Hogan: Yeah, it’s like your life gets in the way these days. You’ve got so many other things. Through the ‘90s this was all we did; we wrote, toured, wrote, recorded, so I think we did so much of it then it was like overkill, that now you do this for a while and then you go, “Alright I won’t see you for two months now.” Everybody goes off and does their own thing, granted we’ll pop an email to each other or a call or something. Then when we get back into it, we go doing it, but it’s good to get away from it and forget that this is like the day job. But because of that we take forever to do everything.
We’re getting older as well, so we slowed down. You have a lot to prove at the beginning, and you’re thirsty for it as well; you’re hungry to do that. But definitely as you get older you realize there’s other priorities that need to take place. But when we do write new songs and get those first few bits together we sort of get on a roll then, and when we get on that we keep going on that and then we slow down for a while. It comes in bursts that way.