Memories of interviewing Dolores O’Riordan
I interviewed Dolores O’Riordan in Sydney a few years ago. I think it was 2007. Our interview was at the Intercontinental Hotel at the end of a long day of press for her and I was nervous, as I’d been warned that she could be a bit spiky. I needn’t have worried. She was disarming, friendly, open, honest, impish and kind.
She asked me questions about myself, we laughed and joked about this and that, she spoke excitedly about the future and she talked at length and with stark honesty about how the pressure nearly destroyed her when The Cranberries were at the peak of their success. I was utterly entranced by her company. She seemed fragile and vulnerable and yet entirely powerful. I was scheduled 15 minutes with her but we chatted for almost an hour in the busy bar at the top of the hotel, overlooking the Opera House. Of the hundreds of interviews I have done, this one remains my favourite.
Simply, the hour or so I spent in the company of Dolores O’Riordan was wonderful and she was a real gem, with a strong spirit and an intense talent. I am terribly saddened by the tragic news of her death.
I wrote the above paragraphs on my socials on the afternoon of her passing and a few people responded by telling me they’d be interested to read the interview, which originally appeared in a few Australian music papers to promote the release of her album, Are You Listening?. I managed to find it in the depths of the internet, so here it is, for those of you that asked.
Bobby Townsend, January 16th, 2018
DOLORES O’RIORDAN INTERVIEW – CIRCA 2007
“I wanted to get away from the music industry, cut all ties with the planet and go and live in the forest to be a human spirit, a mother, a wife and a daughter and make up for all the time that I spent away singing.”
It’s been four years since The Cranberries went on indefinite hiatus after shifting an incredible 40 million records, and now frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan returns refreshed and revitalised with her excellent debut solo album, Are You Listening? “When you come back, you’re not really expecting anything,” she says about the fact that her record is gaining critical acclaim and making hefty dents in charts across the globe. “You come back for the love of it, and if you’re doing it for the right reasons rather than because you are contractually obliged to do so, then it turns out better.”
Sipping a beer in Sydney’s plush Intercontinental Hotel, O’Riordan is a picture of happiness as the sun sets over the majestic view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge behind her. Her cheery – at times cheeky and impish – demeanour suggests that the mother-of-three is enjoying life and, despite being tired at the end of a hectic day of promotional appearances, she talks lucidly about her effervescent new record, her upcoming tour and her surreal existence as a young megastar in the 90s. Upon hearing her story, I discover that her strength is born from the most awful adversity. Since the birth of her first child in 1997, O’Riordan has been healthy and content but, prior to that, she was almost entirely broken, both physically and mentally.
As we discuss her new long-player, she contextualises the joyfully uninhibited sense of freedom that she has as a returning solo artist by explaining how the pressures of fronting a hugely commercially successful band nearly destroyed her. “The first Cranberries album was a massive success, so everyone said, ‘Now do it again.’ I said, ‘I’m really tired, I have no friends, I haven’t been at home for years, but…ok, I’ll try.’ When No Need To Argue came out and was even bigger there was stuff happening to me emotionally which I never dealt with because I was always working. So by the third album I started to lose the plot. I was exhausted and I had all these demons. I tried to keep going and hold all that crap inside, but you really can’t because it eats you up.”
She pauses, takes a small sip of beer, glances briefly out of the window, then focuses back on me and continues. “I got really sick. I couldn’t stop either because I’d already signed contracts to tour for the next two years. There was a lot of pressure from the record company but I was saying, ‘I’m serious. I’m really sick.’ They would say, ‘Oh, you’ll be fine. Just get out there and sing.’ My leg kept breaking because I was so emaciated. I had metal in my knee from major surgery and I never did enough physio because I went straight out on tour. All these things just got on top of me.”
Eventually, her diminishing health led to music industry bean counters reluctantly entertaining the idea of cancelling the tour. “I had to go and see these nine doctors for insurance reasons. I felt like a piece of meat. In the end they sent me to a psychologist and I said to him: ‘Am I mad?’ He said: ‘No. The world around you is crazy and it’s affecting you. You have to stop.’ So the tour was cancelled. Then the paparazzi started chasing me and saying there was nothing wrong with me because they saw me shopping in the grocery store. I couldn’t get better because they kept chasing me. It was terrible.”
Realising that the only way to inch her way back to health was to escape from the glare of the media spotlight, she disappeared off the radar. “My husband and I went and stayed in these places that were almost like retreats. At first I couldn’t walk along the beach on my own, I couldn’t eat and I was really nervous. But with time I started to get better. I’d walk on my own for five minutes and I’d come back and say: ‘I did it! I’m not scared.’ One time I smelt a flower and it was seven years since I had last smelt a flower. I almost started crying because I’d forgotten to do the simple things in life.”
Fast-forward a decade, and the Dolores O’Riordan who sits in front of me and who recorded her solo album from the comfort of home is a world away from the person that the music industry chewed up and spat out. However, remarkably she still believes that if she were to do it all again she wouldn’t change a thing. “I think everything I went through was for a reason, to make me who I am today. If I went back and said to myself: ‘Don’t do this and don’t do that,’ then I wouldn’t be as tough as I am at 35-years-old, because you have to go through some crap in life to get strong.” Considering the intensity of her past struggles, I ask her whether, during the four year gap, she thought about staying away from the music industry for good. “Initially when I stopped [working with The Cranberries] I was staying at home. Then Adam Sandler asked me to go to Hollywood to appear in the film Click and I got a taste for it again. I thought, ‘I miss this travelling. Maybe I’m not ready to be a recluse forever.’”
As well as being infectiously catchy, Are You Listening? is a powerful juxtaposition of the darkness and light in O’Riordan’s world. Her song Black Widow was inspired by the death of her mother-in-law, while current single Ordinary Day is a paean to her daughter. In Human Spirit she sings: “Don’t let life consume you/It could eat you up inside,” and it is clear that Dolores O’Riordan is now wiser, more worldly and ready for phase two of her musical adventure. “When you’ve learnt as much as I’ve learnt, the second time around you see the error of your ways. I’m not saying I’ll never make a mistake again, because I will, but not the ones I’ve already made.”
And with that, Dolores finishes her drink and bids me a fond farewell. “I’m back on the old treadmill,” she laughs. “I’ll stay on there as long as I can, and if I have to hop off, then off I’ll hop.”
Interview by Bobby Townsend.