Dolores O'Riordan on life with and without The Cranberries
After a whirlwind time at the top of the pop world, Dolores O'Riordan has sometimes made headlines for the wrong reasons – but life is good for her these days. Ahead of a concert in Belfast she talks to Lorraine Wylie about depression, motherhood and her admiration for her mum's strong faith
A LOT has been written about Dolores O’Riordan, not all of it flattering.
But to really get a handle on what makes the singer tick, you only have to listen to her songs.
From Dreams, about the heady intoxication of first love, to Rupture, inspired by the darkness of depression, or even the controversial Zombie, triggered by an IRA bomb that killed two children, it’s all there, an emotional porthole.
With over 40 million in sales, her distinctive voice has helped make The Cranberries a commercial triumph.
Yet, for Dolores, music is more than a commodity. It’s also her therapy.
“I’ve been singing since I was five years old,” she recalls, in an accent that betrays her Limerick roots. “By the time I was 12, I was writing my own songs so, yeah, music has always been part of me. To be honest, I’ve never imagined doing anything else. I think at one time though, my mum, who’s deeply religious, might have had a notion of me becoming a nun!”
Instead of a convent, at 18 O'Riordan joined an indie band and traded anonymity for the glare of the international spotlight.
“Looking back, it was a crazy time. Suddenly the band was massive, everybody wanted The Cranberries. I couldn’t’ believe it. Going on stage, in front of thousands of people, was nerve wrecking. Even now I still get the butterflies before a performance. But once I’m out there, I just love it. There’s something about that vibe that makes me forget everything. It’s the best feeling ever.”
The success of the band's 1993 debut album Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We was followed by No Need to Argue then To the Faithful Departed and Bury the Hatchett. Her personal life experienced a high when in July 1994, she married band manager Don Burton. Although, prior to getting a ring on her finger, a skiing accident at Val d’Isère left her with a metal rod in her leg. Major surgery, not to mention gruelling sessions of physiotherapy, took its toll on her health. By their third album, The Cranberries were also running out of juice.
“Maybe if we’d taken a break, who knows, it might’ve helped. But we were so green when we started out. We signed up for a two-year straight contract without knowing how hard it’d be. We were working all the time and in the end, I was burned out.”
The band finally ground to a halt in 2003.
O'Riordan hopes her experience serves as a warning to other young hopefuls.
“It’s not good to be working constantly. Everybody needs to find balance in life. I’d advise anyone starting out to take their time, think about what they’re doing. Don’t over commit, only take on a few months at a time. See how it goes.”
The Cranberries were no longer an item but for artists like O'Riordan, the music never ends. It merely finds another outlet. No doubt, the birth of her children inspired a wealth of material for her solo albums, Are you Listening and No Baggage.
“The best time in my life was the years spent at home with my family. I love being a mum. My kids don’t see me as a famous person, or have any kind of expectation; I’m just their mum.”
Prior to moving to Canada, the family spent several years on their 150-acre stud farm in Kilmallock, in south Co Limerick.
"Don, who’s a Canadian, loved horses. So being around the animals and enjoying the farm was an amazing experience. Then we decided to move to Canada to be nearer family. It’s a beautiful country with a lot to offer. We lived in a log cabin, surrounded by bears, wolves and all that great outdoor stuff.”
The Canadian home she describes as a ‘log cabin’ was a bit more spacious than it sounds. As well as a rehearsal space, the singer had her own recording studio.
In 2009, it was obvious that the bond between The Cranberries had stretched but it hadn’t broken. After a six-year hiatus, they kicked off with a reunion tour in the US tour and a new album – Roses.
“It felt natural being back with the band. The Cranberries just fit together," O'Riordan says. “I think we missed each other and that can be a good thing. Sometimes it takes a break apart to make you even stronger.”
The Cranberries were back in sync but for O'Riordan, once listed among Ireland’s richest women, life was once again, falling apart. The Canadian dream was over. So too was her marriage of 20 years and she returned to Ireland. In 2014 she reached her lowest point, when she was arrested for an alleged assault on an air hostess. The fact that it was her mum who rushed to her aid, shielding her from the media, reveals the strength of their bond.
“I’m very close to my mum. She has a strong faith that gives her this amazing sense of peace. I admire her; she’s a very strong woman.”
It’s ironic that O'Riordan, the daughter who chose singing in a band instead of the cloistered halls of a convent, should make her mother’s dream come true.
“I was invited to sing at the Vatican several times; it was a real honour. I was chuffed to see inside the place. But one of the best things was taking my mum to meet the late Pope John Paul II. She was blown away. He was such as good man, very kind and I loved him.”
Today, 28 years after they formed, the Cranberries are still together. For O'Riordan the journey has been a mixed bag.
“There have been times when I’ve struggled. The death of my father and mother-in-law was very hard. Looking back, I think depression, whatever the cause, is one of the worst things to go through. Then again, I’ve also had a lot of joy in my life, especially with my children. You get ups as well as downs. Sure isn’t that what life’s all about?”
Now living in Dublin, she is in good form.
“I’m enjoying life in Ireland. One of the things I always miss, is the Irish pub culture. You know, the atmosphere, the music, the craic, all the things you won’t find anywhere else. At the minute, though, I’m just focusing on the tour.”
The band is looking forward to bringing their new album Something Else to Belfast. The name of the album is a nod to their first Everybody Else... and with tracks such as Linger, Zombie, Dream, and An Ode to my Family, there’s more than a hint of nostalgia.
Although it’s not merely a rehash of old favourites. The addition of a string quartet from the Irish Chamber Orchestra, as well as three new songs, brings it bang up to date.
“I think the fans will love this one. We’re excited about performing in Belfast. It’s a beautiful city and the atmosphere is fantastic yet, despite the progress, the pain from the past is still there. One of the most peaceful places in Belfast is Botanic Gardens. I love it there. You’d never think you were in the heart of the city.”
As for the future, it seems O'Riordan has learned from the past.
“I don’t know. These days, I don’t look too far ahead, I like to take things as they come. But so far, life is good.”
:: The Cranberries perform at The Waterfront Hall in Belfast on May 17. For tickets and information see www.waterfront.co.uk