Sunday, August 23, 2009

Via Dolorosa

I scored Dolores O'Riordan's only feature interview for the release of her new album - this was two months ago before she moved to Canada with her hubby and kids. The woman has never lost the sharp edge of a county Limerick accent; I'm not sure if it's because she was pretty much forcibly cut off from the rest of the world (see article) during the heighth of her fame, or if it's just the most uncompromising accent in the world. And steady on, Limerick-ites, my folks are both from there!

Anyhoo, here she is:

By Susan Daly

Friday August 21 2009

The Cranberries lead singer Dolores O’Riordan is back from the brink and going solo—she tells Susan Daly why she’s taking on the pressures of fame once again...

Dolores O'Riordan will not be reading this article. She doesn't care to know what I, or anyone else, thinks of her. “One of the mistakes in my younger days was reading the press,” she says. “I should have said, ‘You've done it, move on, que sera sera, you know?' You're just going to be psychoanalysing yourself. I've got bigger fish to fry.”

It's not as aggressive as it sounds. It's a note to self. Must not get stressed. Must keep things in perspective. The bigger fish are not the usual self-aggrandising ambitions of a rock-star ego. They are her kids, her marriage and her mental health. Looking after all of these involves practising a degree of self-protection that it took a nervous breakdown and physical collapse to learn.

O'Riordan at 37 looks a lot like the tiny, sharp-faced teenager who fronted Limerick band The Cranberries to international stardom. Her hair has reverted to a severe peroxide crop similar to the one she sported on the cover of The Cranberries' second album, No Need To Argue (1994).

The rock chick 'do replaces the earth-mother, tumbling brunette locks from the time of her debut solo album, Are You Listening? two years ago. That was her first outing since The Cranberries went on hiatus in 2003. She, the brothers Noel and Mike Hogan, and drummer Fergal Lawler are still friends. They have 12 children between the four of them, a unifying factor that gets them together socially.

“We are all in that incubation period so it made sense to step away from each other and have a bit of time out,” she says.

For all that, she brands this period as one of R&R rather than rock 'n' roll, O'Riordan releases her second solo album this month. No Baggage has a raw acoustic feel to many of the songs, and the emotive O'Riordan keen is still in full throttle.

It's not about multi-platinum sales this time, she says. She already knows what it is to have 40 million album sales under her belt. “I'm not one of these people who is really serious about her career — I write because I have to write. It's what I was put on this earth for. I'm a writer. I'm an artist. I can't help it,” she says. A little trace of ego, then.

The album came to her easily, “an eclectic bunch of songs”inspired by the present and the past. She likes the“freshness” to it, a result, she thinks, of walking through the fields for weeks, listening to demos made at her home in Howth, Co Dublin on her iPod and then laying down finished vocals in three or four takes.

“For the four years I was at home, I was living in the full-time motherhood world. Then when I brought out Are You Listening? it was a huge change. Back in a bus, living with a load of lads, huge change, there was no lack of inspiration,” she says.

“There are songs, as well, about the thought process, about what goes on inside your mind when you're under pressure.”

The track Skeleton, for instance, reflects on the “shadows from the past” that haunted O'Riordan even while The Cranberries were selling 40 million albums worldwide. Fame was a terrible weight around the neck of the sensitive country girl who suffered so badly from stage fright at early gigs she would sing with her back to the audience. It was a vulnerable state in which to be catapulted into rock's premier league on the back of first album Everybody Else Is Doing It, Why Can't We?

O'Riordan references the other major Irish rock act to break America. “With U2, it was their third album when they broke through. They came from a city, they were used to crowds. I was a girl — I didn't even know the boys; they were strangers, I jumped on the bus with them.”

Unformed and na├»ve, she was isolated in a celebrity bubble. “It was hard because in those days there were no mobiles, no emails. So if you wanted to call your mum, you had to get your few coppers and go down to the phone box in the hotel.”

Her inexperience saw her “sign my soul away” and struggle under a heavy workload. “I remember there was a stage where I was doing two gigs a night — I was going on stage at six and coming off at eight. That's how we got there, how we got so big in America. Going back on at nine and coming off at 11. No wonder I got burnt out.”

She was already well down the road to depression when, halfway through the promotion of No Need To Argue, O'Riordan was in a skiing accident, aged 22. “I ended up in a hospital for a month. I was on morphine. I had major surgery, was on bedpans. No one spoke English. The band were so big, and suddenly I was in hospital and I got depressed. Then I got it again, six months down the road.”

By the time her naturally thin frame registered a frail six and a half stone on the weighing scales in 1996, O'Riordan was already a physical and mental wreck.

“I look back and see photographs of myself and I do recognise that I was 23 and, oh God, I was so bony.” She pulled out of a worldwide tour with the band and was sent from doctor to doctor to verify for insurance purposes that she was too unwell to be on stage.

She can talk about all this now because she feels she has dealt with it. While she makes some sweeping statements about fate and destiny, O'Riordan also speaks about accepting her “demons”. She says things like, “If aperson is judgmental on me, it's just because they don't love themselves.” The hallmarks, one thinks, of much soul-searching and therapy.

“And I find writing very therapeutic and very healing. It's really terrible when your life spirals out of control like that, but later on you can look back and you can talk about it honestly, without being ashamed of your weaknesses and what happened to you.”

It seems strange to me that someone with such a dysfunctional relationship with fame would want to put her head above the parapet again. Are You Listening? plunged her straight back into the quagmire of record-label difficulties when Sanctuary Records, who she signed to on going solo, were taken over by Universal. “So I only got the chance to release one single and my CDs were pulled out of the shops. It was a nightmare. I went from the frying pan into the bloody fire!”

This is where O'Riordan's newly acquired steeliness comes in. She slightly reworked a favourite track, Apple Of My Eye (about husband Don Burton), from that album and rereleased it on No Baggage to make it her property again. “I wrote it years ago, but it's a nice old love song. I think it would be a lovely single,” she says.

O'Riordan fixes me with an uncompromising eye. She's stronger now, she says. She has Don, the former Duran Duran tour manager whom she married in 1994, by her side. She is stepmother to his 17-year-old son; mother to their three children aged from 12 down to three years.

Family comes first, which is why they are moving to Canada for now so that 12-year-old Taylor can attend high school. I don't know it when I meet her, but O'Riordan will cancel the US tour she had planned for late summer, without stating a specific reason. Dolores comes first these days.

“My husband is with me now and I'm a lot older now. I'm like the mother now. It's not like I'm a little girl who's developing things and I don't know what the heck they are. Once you've hatched a few chickens yourself, there's nothing that can embarrass you. I'm a lot more relaxed and what-not.”

Relaxed Dolores is a funny concept. The woman opposite me is a fizzing ball of energy, “hyper” as she might be described in her native Limerick, almost too bright-eyed and “on”.

But she insists she is at peace. She paints abstract canvases, some of which she posts on her website for her devoted fanbase to view. “It's very, very hard to rise me now. I guess I have been through a lot for my age. I feel like I have survived some kind of thing, in a way.”

It's not correct to say that Dolores O'Riordan comes with no baggage. There's plenty of it. She just knows better how to pack it away.

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