In either late 1994 or early 1995, I interviewed Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan for Interview magazine, over the phone. The article ran in the March 1995 issue, as an edited Q&A. When she passed away Monday, I dug up the old transcript; following is the unedited interview. She had just gotten married and the band had released their second album. It’s poignant, and powerful, to read now.
Interview with Dolores O’Riordan
By Evelyn McDonnell
EM: You’ve had more success in the U.S. than in England, haven’t you?
DO: It was hard to take off here because of bad marketing, I think. The two singles were released on a demo a year before they came out as singles, so most of the press had already heard them. They’d hyped up the band a year prior to the release of the debut. So when the debut came out it wasn’t anything new to the English public. They started going against them, backlashing, saying the demo was better and whatnot.
EM: How is the English press treating you this time?
DO: I don’t really read them anymore. The band’s happening around the world, everywhere except Japan. So at this time in my life my perspective is more global, so I’m not really worried what an English paper says, or what an Irish paper says.
EM: Are you at all reluctant to do interviews?
DO: No, but I suppose I’m getting a bit cagier.
EM: Where are you living now?
DO: In the south of Ireland. I’m building a house there overlooking the sea. It’s really quiet and peaceful. We haven’t actually started building, we just got planning permission.
EM: Are you building a dream house?
DO: Yeah, it’s a nice big house. I’ve never really been that type of dream-house person, ‘cause I never grew up with too much materialism around me, so it wasn’t as if I longed for it. The idea of having a gymnasium in your house, or a bar, would just not be in my mentality, because you don’t see it that much. But as you travel and stuff, you realize you can’t go out to public places that much, so you put it all in your house — your own little gym and your bar, everything you need in there. You can go there for peace and tranquility, when you need to get away from everything.
EM: You just got married. Is your husband in the music biz too?
DO: Yeah. He started out as a guitar player maybe 10 years ago. He’s been in the touring side of the business about seven years: production management, tour management, stage management, that kind of stuff. I met him when he was out with Duran Duran doing stage management, and we were opening up. He oversaw the load-in and load-out, that type of stuff. And I noticed he used to give us an extra few minutes. So I thought oh, that’s all right. And he’d say, you gotta go now, and we’d say just one more song, and he never got too nasty to us. So we just kind of hit it off on tour — romance and then marriage. No babies yet though.
EM: In the future?
DO: Maybe. He loves kids and all, but I think it’s harder for a female: the whole process of becoming pregnant and your whole body going crazy, and your hormones and mentality going nuts. In the middle of fame I don’t think it’s a good idea.
EM: And finding the time.
DO: The time, and the privacy as well. The skiing accident, I was in the hospital and I was on a lot of drugs, and I just found it a bit hard. There were so many people out there, wondering what you’re doing — it’s just hard to take time out when things are happening. You’re better to keep going with it, and if you decide to have children, to take a year off. I’m too young.
EM: Your mom had had many children by your age.
DO: Yeah, back then that was the trend in Ireland, people had children very young. People got married and had children at 17, 18.
EM: Are you a practicing Catholic? I get a lot of religious feeling from your music, and I know you were raised Catholic.
DO: I was raised Catholic and I have a lot of respect for the Catholic church, the good in it. There’s good and bad in everything, I don’t think it’s all perfect. There’s so many different religions, you see when you travel. And underneath they all seem to have a similar message, which is the hope for spiritual perfection when one dies. The belief that the better you behave on Earth, the better life is after death. I try to carry it out in my day-to-day life, not to hurt other people. And I don’t believe in stealing or injustice. I think people should work for what they have; if you can’t get anywhere by working, then you’re just kind of misfortunate, maybe there’s more for you in the next world. But I don’t really go to church. I do sometimes, on Christmas and stuff.
EM: In the “Zombie” video you’re presented as some sort of deity figure.
DO: What it was was we wanted an abstract message as well as visually the real, actual Belfast footage. The idea of the gold was my idea; I wanted to paint my body in gold and be all glamorous and beautiful and perfect and gold, you know. The cross was the director’s idea, and the cross symbolized Christ suffering and dying, and all the pain that was caused to him. And all the little kids on the bottom were all painted in silver, but they’re screaming. Silver and gold to symbolize the beauty that we see in the world or that we care to open our eyes to. Then the screaming and the cross and the real, black-and-white footage symbolize the pain that’s there and we close our eyes to: the children that suffer, and the parents and families that suffer.
EM: Who came up with all this? Did you work with Samuel Bayer?
DO: I came up with the idea of the gold and the performance, and I wanted Belfast footage. I was just going to try and get stuff from the TV that had already been shot, but Samuel Bayer was keen on going to Belfast and shooting it himself. He’s quite a wild American chap. He’s brilliant because he directs, but he also does the camerawork himself. He’s a passionate worker, he loves what he works with.
EM: The timing of the single and video were certainly interesting.
DO: The song was actually written a year before the signing of the peace treaty.
EM: How do you feel about the treaty and how things are going in Northern Ireland?
DO: Very happy. Just keeping my fingers crossed. For political parties it takes a lot of courage to put your arms down.
EM: Your Irish heritage seems very important to you.
DO: I love the country. It’s very unique. I’ve traveled a lot, and there’s no place like it. Sometimes there’s things that give you a pain in your bum about it, but there’s also things that I really love about it.
EM: How do you think you managed to maintain such an accent in your vocals?
DO: I don’t know. I think that a lot of people listen too much to what goes on on the radio so they develop these accents when they sing. I grew up with a very strong Irish accent, and I didn’t see why I should put on any airs and graces for anything or anybody.
EM: What did you grow up listening to?
DO: Lots of different things, from Bing Crosby to Marilyn Monroe to Elvis Presley to Irish traditional music – jigs, tin whistles — to playing the church organ for about eight years, to classical piano for about eight years, then to a band. I think I got it all there. I was more of a player of music than a listener.
EM: When did you start playing and what was your first instrument?
DO: Tin whistle when I was five years old. I was able to play really quick reels when I was about eight.
EM: Did you take lessons?
DO: In school. It’s like learning to speak when you’re a kid; certain schools in Ireland, you just learn how to play the whistle, it comes very naturally to you, then you can play it with your eyes closed hanging upside down. One thing I was always brilliant at in school, I always came out with stars, was music. I was probably crap at everything else.
EM: When did you start singing?
DO: When I was about five or six.
EM: I read in one article about the Wren.
DO: It was something I did when I was about 15, 16, and 17, to make money. It’s a festival, the day after Christmas, you go out and put polish on your face, and you go out to the clubs and sing. The polish is for disguise. Then you go around and put your hat out to drunk people and you make money then. Your parents let you go out for four hours to the pubs.
EM: How close is the house you’re building to where you grew up?
DO: About a three-hour drive. To me it’s important for a married couple to have space from everybody. That way you don’t get into all the local gossip. Nobody knows what you’re doing. But at the same time it’s good proximity to my home.
EM: What does your family think of what you’re doing?
DO: They’re all really proud and supportive.
EM: Cause there was a time you had to rebel.
DO: Yeah. I wouldn’t really blame my parents, it’s not exactly the thing you tell your parents after they’ve been sending you to music lessons for so long, spending so much money on your education, your books and your school uniform, to turn around and tell them I’m joining a band, and I’m not going to college. It did annoy them and I wouldn’t blame them either. But life isn’t always perfect. Sometimes you can break your parents’ hearts but you don’t mean to. But now they see that I was honest about it and I was sensible and I didn’t fall into any bad pits. Although, it hasn’t been easy, it’s been tough to get to this position, really. It’s been a tough ride. I’ve been the only girl in a very male-dominated world, trying to find yourself and trusting the wrong men, semi-falling in love with idiots. It’s not acceptable for you to go out in a band with a load of men when you’re female and 18. It was something that I knew if I did it, I’m doing it alone. There were times when it was very hard and I probably trusted the wrong people and I got myself hurt a lot of times. Got burnt.
EM: People that you worked with?
DO: Yeah, you know you’re an innocent teenager and you’ve got something and they want it. And you think that they have something that you need.
EM: This is your first band, right?
DO: I had a lot of school bands, doing traditional stuff. And I joined a cover band for about two weeks and they wanted me to sing “Dancing in the Dark,” so I wasn’t long running from that band. This is my first real band, that I’ve been writing with. I couldn’t imagine myself with any other band. I pretty much love this band. I couldn’t work with women, I reckon I’d kill ‘em. I reckon that too many women together would get on each other’s nerves. And I don’t know any women that play instruments and stuff. In Ireland it’s not really a big thing that girls do. And the boys are grand to work with because they’re quiet, and they’re easygoing, and they don’t complain too much. There’s no egotists involved. A lot of limelight is shed on Dolores and that’s fine, they accept that and so have I, but it doesn’t mean anything to us. It just means Dolores is the main writer, she writes the lyrics, she gets more attention.
EM: Was it ever a problem?
DO: Never. The press always tries to make an issue out of it. There’s something in Melody Maker this week that says I’m leaving the band — a stupid story. And I worry that sometimes the boys might become upset about it, but they don’t care.
EM: Were they looking for a female singer?
DO: No, they didn’t care if it was a boy or a girl. Which is quite good, because rock‘n’roll is usually such a boys’ thing. Not many women play rock’n’roll in Ireland, they’re usually doing more the long-hair, walking through the woods kind of thing. I suppose it’s more common now, in the last four years, with Sinead and all.
EM: Was she an influence on you?
DO: For an Irish woman to get up and sing rock’n’roll made me want to do it. It encouraged me. I thought if she can do it, I can do it.
EM: Didn’t you also cut your hair in a gesture similar to hers?
DO: I’ve had short hair since I was a kid. I have a weird thing against long hair. I put bubble gum and paint in my hair before my first communion, at age seven. My mother screamed at me. I’ve never had long hair and enjoyed it, I suppose because I’ve always been a short-haired girl in a group of five brothers. I’ve always been a tomboy, I preferred boys’ games to girls’. I used to go to the extreme of trying to go to the loo like boys and wetting my pants when I was three. It just didn’t make sense being a girl.
EM: But you wear dresses on stage now.
DO: I’ve gotten over it by now. I discovered men. I discovered the beauty of being a woman, in a different way. But the hair still didn’t grow.
EM: And your husband hasn’t asked you to grow it long?
DO: No, he wouldn’t. He likes it short, actually, which is quite nice. It’s nice to have a man who understands your soul and understands the physical things you do reflect what you are inside, maybe. And they don’t ask you to change, or be what you don’t want to be. They just accept you for what you do and what you are.
EM: The Cranberries’ sound seems much tougher, and more away from folk influence, on this album. Is that something you’ve been wanting to do all along?
DO: It’s just a kind of growing up thing. I became more experimental myself. I wrote a lot more tracks on the second album than I did on the first. On the first album, the songs I wrote – “Waltzing Back” and “I Will Always” — are just acoustic-based things. On the second album I wrote “Zombie,” and I wanted it to be a really aggressive song because it was about an aggressive subject: a child’s life being taken by violence. “Daffodil’s Lament” is another one I wrote. It was kind of weird, I had all these ideas about tempos changing and things stopping and starting, like a symphony or something, going into different phases and different tunes. I think musically everybody got more adventurous and experimental. Fergal came out of himself a lot on drums, he got bold, cause he needed to be encouraged to break out and get louder. But that’s what being in a band is about: being encouraged by your fellow members. They encourage me and I encourage them.
EM: When did you start playing guitar?
DO: I got one for my 16th birthday, my brother gave it to me, but I was more into piano and organ. And then I started playing it just before the first album. I wrote a few songs on it. It was very rhythmic, cause I’m into rhythm a lot. I don’t do much plucking. I did a little bit more plucking on the second album. On the first album I was learning how to strum and sing and write a song at the same time. By the time the second album came along, I was pretty comfortable with the instrument hanging off my neck, and I could give my voice full performance without distracting myself because of the guitar.
EM: Where did your skiing accident happen?
DO: In the French Alps.
EM: And what did you break?
DO: I busted up the main ligament in the knee, that would join your femur onto your fibula, your thighbone onto your shinbone kind of thing. So I had a fiberglass one put in and set with four steel screws. It’s a big ligament, it’s probably about the size of your middle finger and your pointer, twice. It’s much more complicated than breaking a bone because all your flesh is wounded around, you have to have your flesh all cut open and fiberglass stuffed in and some holes bored in your bones and screws put in. And when you wake up your leg’s all sore and huge. It’s like someone else’s leg. You have to learn how to walk. It feels like there’s something in your leg that belongs to someone else, and it shouldn’t be there. It doesn’t feel like your leg. Sometimes I’ll be like, I don’t want my leg! But then I’ll be like, yes I do. It got so frustrating, it was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had. I hope child labor isn’t as bad.
EM: So how is it now?
DO: It’s okay, but it’s sore still. Things like crossing my legs, it’s very sore, or to turn my foot from right to left. But I can bend my knee straight up and down to about a 110-degree angle. I can’t kneel on it by any means. It’s very sensitive. It takes about two years to recover fully. And after that it’s probably never the same, it’s never as good as your own.
EM: When did this happen?
DO: The end of March.
EM: Had you skied much before?
DO: It was my second day. It was kind of one of those, I love this, and I’m ripping down the hill, not listening to anybody. What happened was I gathered up too much speed. I went to the advanced slopes. I shouldn’t have. I went up in the car with our producer, Stephen Street. It was in the middle of recording our second album. We did three weeks. And then we were taking a week out to get a break and go back in all full of beans. I remember Noel was really careful, and I thought god, boys are so careful. Cause you know girls seem to be a little bit wilder, sometimes. I was going down these steep slopes and I’d say, c’mon lads, and they’d be, no way. The first day I was blasting down really dangerous slopes for a starter. The boys were like, take it easy, you don’t want to hurt yourself. And I was like, I’m grand, I’m fine. I was talking to my husband, and I was saying it’s brilliant, the Alps are brilliant. And he was saying, don’t fall, don’t break your leg. And the next thing was, oh yeah, she’s in the hospital, she has to undergo major surgery. It was like, Doh! Operations are depressing.
EM: So the recording got put on hold for how long?
DO: I went back into the studio about four weeks after. I went in about a week after I got out of the hospital, but it didn’t work, I was in too much pain. I couldn’t stand and sing. So I gave it another three or four weeks. And then when I went back I was on crutches, and I mostly stood on one leg. I did a lot of the vocals on one leg. The worst thing was, I like to perform in the studio in pitch darkness, and sometimes I close my eyes, and sometimes I’d wobble, I’d lose my balance. And the producer would have his headphones right, and he’d hear a huge bang, ‘cause I would fall against something. And he’d go, are you all right, and the lights would go on and they’d all come running. And I’d be like, yeah, getting up off the ground. So there was some really nice sound effects but we took them out.
EM: Why do you like to perform in the darkness?
DO: I think your mind wanders a bit more when there’s nothing to look at. Your imagination is freer, there’s nobody intimidating you. You can drift into what you’re singing about more.
EM: Could you ever ski again?
DO: I’d love to, but I don’t know if I could do it again. I’d hate to go through all that again. Maybe I’d better go snowmobiling or something safe like that.
EM: Do you do other sports?
DO: I like to go to the gym. Because when you go from hotel to hotel, you don’t get to go outside for a game of football or hurling, which is this Irish game I like to play. It’s hard to be sporty when you live in hotels, so I just go to the gym instead, three or four times a week. I think it’s important for the human body to be exercised, it’s good for your mind. When you sit down too much, it’s bad for your head.
EM: When you said before that you don’t think you could be in a band with all women, is that based on experiences you’ve had? How much do you get to be around women?
DO: A good bit. We had a string section in for a few days and they’re all girls and they’re all great fun and everything, but I find a lot with women is that they’re very strong-minded, and they’re highly opinionated. Imagine four women together, and two are having a bad period, and the vibe (laughs) — they’re killing each other. I can’t say I’m speaking from experience ‘cause I’ve never been in a woman’s band, but I always get on well with boys. Boys are more easygoing or something. When you stand up and go (makes naggin sound), and start giving out, nobody pays any attention. But if there were girls, they would pay attention. You know the way women flip out sometimes and then give out, and men just sit there and go yeah. But usually women listen to what you’re saying and get twice as upset. I think women are easy to get upset and get offended. I think we’re just different creatures than men. I think that’s why women and men work good together as partners; they feed off each other.
EM: But you said before that you think it’s tough to be a woman in a band with guys.
DO: I think it’s tough either way. If you’re a girl in a girls’ band, it would be tough. It’s easier as time gets on and you can afford to have your own room and you can afford to have privacy, and you can afford to behave like a female and have the privacy a female requires among males. But once upon a time that couldn’t be afforded and I had to sleep in a very very tight van, thrown across their laps, and sometimes share bedrooms with eight boys and sleep on the floor – you know, that kind of thing. But right now, when things go well, I suppose I’m lucky in that my career has been successful so that I can live normally, like a female, in an abnormal world, the abnormal lifestyle I’ve chosen.
EM: You must like it to some degree, since you’ve chosen it.
DO: Of course I love singing. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do and I’ve never really bothered doing anything else.
EM: But you’ve also chosen to sing rock. I mean, you could have been one of the long-haired girls walking through the woods,
DO: To me that proposes no challenge whatsoever, to my songwriting, to my mind. There’s a big world out there and you want to do something internationally, you want to do something that’s relevant to the world on a global scale, as opposed to just relevant in a small place. It’s much more exciting to be big in the world than in a country. And I like challenge. I like doing something original.
EM: What exactly would happen in that van that you didn’t like?
DO: It’s just not nice. When you get your period and you’re on tour with eight guys, and you got it just before you went on stage and you can’t run to the shop and you need one of them to go for you, but you’re too shy to ask. That kind of stupid stuff happens. And I was very, very innocent. When I joined the band I’d just moved out of my home and I had a very strict Catholic childhood. So I wasn’t the greatest at talking with boys about girls’ things, cause I was never into being a girl in the first place. I mean there were times when you’d just love to talk to a girl after being on tour for four weeks. I still don’t particularly know the boys in the band that well, I don’t hang around with them. I don’t have relationships with them outside of the band. It’s easier now because my husband’s with me, and we have a wardrobe girl.
EM: Did they ever talk about groupies around you or anything?
DO: No, they don’t go on about girls very much. They’ve all got pretty serious girlfriends. None of them are rude lads, they all have good respect for women. I think a lot of Irish boys do have good respect for women.