- 09 Apr 01
Since Dolores O'Riordan appeared on the cover of Hot Press at the beginning of the year, her life has changed dramatically on both a personal and professional level. Not only has she starred in the Wedding Of The Year, but she's also sustained a serious leg injury, appeared on the Late Late show, and became a dab hand at dealing with media begrudgery. In between all this, The Cranberries found time to record a new album, No Need To Argue. Interview: Cathy Dillon.
“Dolores knows things she doesn’t know,” said John Waters on a recent Late Late Show.
He wasn’t suggesting that the Limerick singer had reached some kind of Socratean state of wisdom where the more she knew the more she realised the limits of her knowledge. He was rather pointing out that there is a history reflected in her voice of which she is not necessarily conscious. Just as, as human beings we have a collective unconscious, we also carry the emotional history of our race, a history which is reflected in everything from our art, music and literature to our accents, manners and physical posture.
Nothing your average Jungian psychologist would argue with there, but Waters, who was on the Late Late to publicise his forthcoming book on U2, maintains that we are, as a country, denying the reality of our past. It has of late, he argues, been left to a large extent up to popular artists to attempt to deal with it, politicians being too busy embracing the notion of Ireland as a new, progressive European democracy and none too keen, for pretty obvious reasons, to rake over the past.
He maintains that while it is indeed a good thing that U2 became the most popular rock band in the world and that our soccer team did well in the World Cup, our over-reaction to their successes – the sense of stunned delight that we could actually achieve anything at all – is the hallmark of an immature and deeply damaged national psyche.
As Waters see it, Bono’s now-notorious tearing up of the tricolour in public was an understandable reaction to his frustration at this country’s apparent inability to grow up. It is people like U2 and Sinead O’Connor – whose new album, Universal Mother, contains a track about the famine – who are attempting to make us look at the trauma of our past.
Most of the studio audience expressed amazement that anyone could possibly imagine things might be less than tickety boo in this country’s march towards a glorious Eurofuture. The impression was given that this was a rum idea indeed with several people accusing Waters of being a “natural melancholic” whose point of view was tainted by his own childhood baggage. One woman did muster the courage to agree that this country is “in massive denial” about its past.
In the midst of this, the Cranberries came on and did their new single ‘Zombie’, a heavy-duty grunge workout, which Dolores introduced as “a plea for peace in our country.”
“With their guns and their tanks and their tanks and their bombs,” Dolores sang, her voice, somewhere between a snarl and a yodel, sending shivers up even the most resistant spines. “It’s the same old theme since 1916 . . .”
“I had never heard of the guy,” says Dolores the next day. “But I thought he had a lot to say for himself. I don’t think the public really wanted to hear it though. He had some good points but it was probably a bit deep for television.”
Dolores and her fellow Cranberries are in Jury’s to do promotion for their new album No Need To Argue which hit the shops this week and she and I share a pot of tea at one end of a long table in one of the hotel’s plusher conference rooms.
She was, she admits, pretty nervous about appearing on the show.
“It was funny, because Don, my husband, couldn’t understand it. He’s Canadian so to him it was just another TV show. I said I supposed it was because since I was two or three or something it was the show, the thing that people always watched.”
No doubt there are, as we speak, people writing theses about the significance of the Late Late in Irish life, but Dolores was hep to the pitfalls of appearing on it.
“I think there are people who want you to go on and be the rebel and want you to say the wrong thing and try to provoke you but I just went on with a casual attitude, y’know – it’s a show and I’ll chat but I wasn’t into causing a rumpus.”
Nor, today, will she be drawn on the subject of her voice, despite the fact that Waters is not the first to comment on its evocative quality. Jah Wobble, with whom Dolores had a recent collaboration, observed that her voice had “a rare, ancient, almost shamanistic element.”
“I’m not conscious of that at all,” she says hurriedly, when I bring it up.
Then: “It’s people who are really into the music who hear it, but it’s not something you really want to talk about because it sounds kind of weird. You can talk about it to your friends, but not in public.” She eyes me warily.
There is no doubt that Dolores is suspicious of the press and with some justification. She still feels resentful about the failure of journalists here to pick up on the Cranberries before they became mega in the US and feels there is still a lot of prejudice against bands who aren’t from Dublin.
“Well, that was a long time ago and things have changed a lot for me since then, but I still want people to know that there is a lot more to Ireland than just Dublin. It’s not that there aren’t some great people in Dublin, there are, but there are a lot of stupid, pretentious people in the scene too. Y’know (adopts South Dublin drawl) ‘we’re this band and we’re in the capital and we go to this pub’ or whatever. I prefer just going to ordinary pubs where there are real people and nobody gives a shit.”
Things have indeed changed a lot for Dolores. 1993 was an extraordinary year, a year in which, after almost four years of being ground in the music industry mill, the band conquered America within a matter of six months.
They returned to this country at the end of the year to find that Cranberry fever had crossed back across the Atlantic. Their January gig at Dublin’s Tivoli theatre was a particularly sweet revenge, though it took until early summer for their debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can’t We? to go to number one in the UK.
1994 has proved pretty eventful too. At the end of ’93 Dolores ended a long-term relationship and began going out with Canadian tour manager Don Burton whom she had met while the Cranberries were touring America with Duran Duran. Then, at the beginning of this year, she sustained a serious leg injury while on a skiing holiday in France. She still has a steel pin in her leg, which causes her to wince in pain from time to time.
The injury put her out of action for a considerable portion of the beginning of the year, just as the Cranberries were supposed to begin recording the new album.
“It could have been pressurising if I had let it be,” she says of her inability to fulfil her commitments. “But you just have to get over the whole thing of ‘oh, I’m in a band and people are waiting’ – let them bloody wait, y’know? Put yourself first and get your priorities right.”
Getting her priorities right involved taking time off and going on a “premature honeymoon” with Don in Jamaica where she relearned how to walk on the beach.
“It was good, ’cos you know you can’t really learn how to walk again on the street because there are too many people pushing and shoving and walking around the house isn’t really any good.”
She returned to London to put down the vocals on the album.
“It was a bit frustrating for Stephen (Street, the producer of both albums and frequent Morrissey collaborator) because I couldn’t stand for long periods and I can’t really sing properly sitting down, but in the end we got this album done in the same length of time as the first one – six weeks.”
Then, in July, Dolores, sporting a new peroxide hairstyle, married Don Burton in Holy Cross Abbey in Tipperary. Her outfit, a cream lace number, designed by hip New York designer Cynthia Rowley, caused a flurry in the tabloid press, inspiring comments along the lines of “she got married in her knickers.”
The “controversy” which she has described as “pathetic” and “typical of a Catholic country” obviously hit Dolores hard. Mention of the incident brings forth a knee-jerk torrent of anger at journalists who are “about forty and are fat and insecure and have problems with themselves and are jealous of me.”
“It was really pathetic to me,” she goes on, “because every time you’d read an article that said ‘oh, she’s vulgar and she’s this and she’s that’ you’d go ‘this has to have been written by a woman and she has to be either old or fat or ugly or in some way insecure, so much so that she has to bitch about my wedding clothes’. ’Cos I would never, ever, complain about anything another woman does. If she’s happy then leave her. I don’t understand that mentality, that whole bitchy thing.”
You sense that she means it and that the rant is simply a reaction to a real sense of hurt. But surely she knew it was bound to happen. It was, after all the silly season and she is a rock star.
“I didn’t really think there would be that many press there,” she insists. “I had an idea there would be a couple but then the Abbey and the priests were saying that they were getting an awful lot of calls – from every newspaper in Ireland basically – and we thought ‘Shit, we’d better get some security’. But all you really want is to be an ordinary girl on your wedding day.”
How did her parents react?
“They were OK about it because, well, I moved out of home when I was eighteen and it’s turned out alright and I think sometimes your parents realise that you can actually make decisions about your life and they can turn out to be good decisions.
“But my dad was funny because he’s a real countryman. And I put on the outfit and said ‘Look Dad’ and he said ‘Yes, that’s lovely but where’s the dress?’. I said ‘Dad, I’m not wearing a dress. I don’t want to be boring and predictable. I want to wear something different’. But I mean if you go around thinking about the pea-brained Irish mentality and worrying about what people will think . . . I mean who gives a damn?”
She is obviously still angry too about a piece that appeared in a recent Q magazine in which the band’s former publicist – by his own admission fired when he failed to deliver the goods and get the band exposure – was quoted as saying that since they had become famous, Dolores had changed.
“How could he possibly know?” says Dolores. “I haven’t spoken to him for three years. It’s just that now that we’ve become big, bigger than he could have imagined and he’s trying to sell stuff about us. It just goes to show how disloyal some people are and what lengths they will go to to get themselves a bit of attention. It’s sad really.”
The second album from any successful band is traditionally considered ‘difficult’. When your debut has sold 4m worldwide it could be described as ‘well nigh impossible’.
No Need To Argue however seems set to consolidate the Cranberries’ success. Dolores describes it as being about “the changes I’ve been through.” It is not an upbeat album – several songs clearly refer to the break-up of her last relationship and there are songs dealing with child abduction as well as the aforementioned ‘Zombie’, about violence in the North.
It’s clear that the events of the past couple of years – wonderful though they may have been – have taken an emotional toll. ‘Ode To My Family’ is a paean to the simple old days and the warmth and security of family life.
“It’s just about missing the old days when nobody judged you and you were a nobody,” says Dolores.
She has of course experienced ye olde Irish begrudgery, though she seems to have become inured to most of it.
“It’s just sometimes when you’re out having a pint and someone passes by and says ‘my friend hates you’ and you’re like ‘ah, can you tell me that when I’m sober please?’ Sometimes it’s a bit of a pain in the ass. At the same time, the whole ‘I love you’ thing – it’s like ‘ah STOPPIT!’. The only person I believe when they tell me that is my husband.”
Overall though, she is confident about her ability to handle fatal fame.
“I think there are no major dangers unless you let it happen. It’s all in my control because my mind is in my control. I’m not going to say anything unless I want to. I could turn around and start saying horrible things and being a rebel and protesting and suddenly everyone hates you and you make your life a mess like a lot of people have done. But I don’t choose to do that. I leave that for other people. I’m just an ordinary girl making a living like everyone else. I never wanted to be famous. I just wanted to be a singer and a songwriter.”
As with everything else in life, however, women in the public eye are subjected to more push and pull than men. Dolores got a taste of this when she was recently asked to do a fashion shoot for an ultra-hip New York magazine.
I ask her if she considers herself a feminist and she immediately swings into sarcastic mode. “Yeah, I’m a real feminist, I hate men – that’s why I got married.”
I’m trying to figure out how she has come to confuse feminism with hating men when she explains. The photoshoot was supposed to focus on feminism and Dolores was presumably picked as representing young, independent-minded, talented women.
When she turned up for the photo session the stylist informed her that the first picture would feature her bursting out of a cardboard box wearing nothing but a pair of high heels. In the second, she would again be naked but this time with her Docs tied around her neck. This, apparently, is what passes for a feminist statement in New York’s hipper circles these days.
“I said immediately that there was no way I was going to do it. And I said ‘You think that’s a feminist statement? To me that’s just being a dumb woman!” says Dolores.
“I don’t need to use my body, why should women use their bodies to get attention? I don’t need to strip off to get exposure. If I ever take my clothes off for a photograph it’ll be when I decide – maybe if I’m pregnant or something, maybe I’ll take a picture of my belly. There’s nothing wrong with nude photography – it can be really beautiful – but that’s just such a cliché.”
All of which sound sense brings us to Madonna. It has been said that La Ciccone is a Cranberries fan. What does Dolores make of the Material Girl?
“I’ve never met her but we know someone who is close to her and she says Madonna is a really nice person. But y’know she is so famous and I mean I go out and people sometimes call me a bitch when I’m out drinking, and I mean I haven’t taken my clothes off, I haven’t done porn, I haven’t done anything really vulgar, but Madonna has done some pretty heavy stuff. And if I can go out for a jar and get called names and you can end up in bits – crying because you’ve had a few drinks and someone calls you names and you take it really badly – if that can happen to me, imagine what it must be like for Madonna.
“She mustn’t be able to walk a hundred yards without people shouting things at her. So it probably does end up making you pretty angry. And you know Madonna is really famous and she knows how to make money but I don’t think money necessarily makes you happy.”
Dolores’ songs seem to reflect a genuine interest in spiritual matters. Was it this aspect of her poetry that drew her to Yeats, who inspired a track on the new album?
“I don’t claim to be spiritual,” she says. “I see too many people in bands who claim to be spiritual and maybe it’s just because they are into aromatherapy or whatever. Spiritual awareness is something most Irish people have because of the Catholic religion – you think a little bit more. Like, kids in the States are very materially spoilt but they have nothing else. You’re aware that maybe there is another world. Your parents may tell you it’s God and Jesus and the Devil. Any maybe it is or maybe it’s not, maybe it’s some other side. I do believe that there is another side, a spiritual world where the human soul goes after death but it’s not something I harp on about.
“I just always loved Yeats, him as a human. He was so passionate and just wrote what he felt. I always found it difficult in school because I loved Yeats’ poetry but I wasn’t into analysing it. I just had my own understanding of it, me as a poet myself – a young girl who writes. I write my own lyrics and as far as I’m concerned I’m writing my own poems and verse and it might not be over-intellectual and it mightn’t be fifty pages and have big words and y’know, clauses and all that stuff in it but I’m just writing what I feel and as far as I’m concerned Yeats just wrote what he felt.
“But then you sit down at your exam and it’s like ‘where does he use similes in this poem’ and ‘where is he being ironic’. I’m sure when Yeats wrote his poetry he didn’t want kids to look for the irony in it, I’m sure he wanted young people to sit down and go ‘wow that’s cool, I really understand that’.”
Her stubborn determination to hang onto her own thoughts and ideas and dreams and her equally stubborn anti-intellectualism got Dolores O’Riordan through childhood and schooling in rural Ireland. Ironically it is this same refusal to bow to the authoritarianism of hipness in her new world that has earned her both plaudits and scorn. The Cranberries’ lack of studied coolness and a sense of irony is what endears them to those who are jaded by post-modern cynicism.
Because Dolores is the singer and chief songwriter, there have, needless to say, been rumours that she is being put under pressure to go solo.
“Well the band actually got me into a room last week and put a gun to my head, a knife to my throat and a rope around my neck and said ‘Dolores you’re to go solo’,” she says in a voice laden once more with sarcasm. “So I said, ‘OK lads’.” She pauses. “And that’s what I think of that question.”
She has in the past expressed a desire to have kids. In fact in the last interview with Hot Press she said she has been putting it off since she was eighteen.
“Actually I already have a child,” she exclaims, smiling. “There’s your headline: SHOCK HORROR DOLORES O’RIORDAN HAS A SON! Actually, I have a stepson – he’s three. He’s my husband’s son and he’s really great. Because I love kids and I would like to have them some day, but having the contact with him kind of keeps my longing satisfied for the moment which is good.
“I’m only twenty-three and the first record has done this much and if this one goes well then maybe in a couple of years I’ll be able to take a year off, ’cos you really need to take a good bit of time off.”
She also says that despite being married she would like to be financially independent enough to look after her kids.
“I know that my husband would be great – it’s not that – it’s just that I think if you are a strong woman you sort of want to stay independent. But if things continue to go well that shouldn’t be a problem, in ten years I may be able to give up working.
“But for now I just want to what I’m doing and stay sane and enjoy it.”