THE CRANBERRIES The X-Press Interview

Many were shocked and saddened in January last year when the news broke that Dolores O’Riordan, the unmistakable voice of legendary Irish band The Cranberries, had died unexpectedly. None more so than three of her closest friends, her bandmates, who had been working with her on a new album. It was bittersweet news when the band announced that they had decided to finish the album. Guitarist and songwriter Noel Hogan speaks openly to ALFRED GORMAN of heartbreak, and the challenging process of finishing the album, but also looks back on the good times and how they met Dolores. The Cranberries’ eighth and final album In The End is out now.

After Dolores’ death, there was a lot of speculation as to the cause, and her past battles with depression, addiction and bipolar disorder. She’d been through some tough times, but Noel truly believes it was an accident and says she was doing great and very excited about the new album, which she felt was their best in years. She was found in a bathtub in a London hotel room, her death ruled to be an accidental drowning due to alcohol intoxication. She was only 46.

The album is their first since 2012’s Roses, and the good news is, it’s a truly great finale, up there with their finest work – though hard to get through the first time without a few tears once you hear that voice. One can only imagine what it was like for the band members having to spend hours in the studio finishing the songs. With Dolores’ mother’s blessing, they spent a year working on it, seeing what they could do with what they had (which fortunately was quite a lot) and dedicating themselves to ensuring that it was going to be the very best Cranberries album they could make.

The four members of The Cranberries never changed. Though before Dolores joined, in 1989, they were called The Cranberry Saw Us. The line up was the same, with Noel, his brother Mike on bass and Fergal Lawler on drums, but their singer was a friend called Niall Quinn – though he didn’t last long. So the young friends from Limerick needed another vocalist. As fortune would have it, a friend introduced them to Dolores, a shy Catholic girl. After they gave her a tape of an instrumental they’d written, she came back with complete lyrics. The first time they played the song, they knew they’d found someone special. That song was Linger.

Despite it being bittersweet, congratulations on the new album. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it sounds so complete and Dolores sounds very present. It must have been quite a challenge to get through the recording, but you must feel proud to have finished it as a final tribute. How far through the process were you when you found out the tragic news?

Thank you. When we were telling people, we’re doing an album and it’s demos and we’re working from those, I think the fear of God was put into a lot of people because ‘demos’ can mean a lot of different things. It could be like some bands have done this kind of thing over the years and it ends up being a disaster. So we set a few rules before we went in – that we would only use songs where the vocal was good enough that Dolores would be happy with it, and that it was a fully formed, finished song. Not a bit of this and a bit of that. No chopping things up. We made it very clear to the record company that this might just be an EP when we were done with it. If you’d told me two years ago, you’re gonna make an album out of demos and it’s gonna sound like this – I would’ve said no, that’s never gonna happen. But Dolores and I had worked a lot on this stuff from June to December of 2017 and so we had a rough idea what the songs sounded like, but I didn’t know how much of everything was there.

Dolores was in New York and I was between France and Ireland at the time. We’d send ideas back and forth through email. So it was a bit of a process getting it all together. The first time we listened to the demos, we were all kind of a bit shocked about how much we actually had, and how good it sounded. So we started to feel a bit more confident we could do this. But then we started to question, is this the right thing to do? We were worried, to be honest, that people might think we were doing it for the money. But I can’t tell you how excited and eager Dolores was to get in and record these songs. We had started the album about half a year earlier, so for me, we’d come this far, I wanted to see it to the end, and the boys were in agreement with me. And we just thought, if people say whatever, let ’em say it. If the album is good, at the end of the day, that should speak for itself. We spoke to Dolores’ family to see what they thought about it, and they were delighted.

There must have been a lot of pressure, you put on yourselves, to really make this album special and the best it could be…

Yeah, we were probably more meticulous than we normally would be.  We knew we were leaving ourselves wide open for all sorts of criticism. But after four or five days, we took the weekend off and had a listen back to it, and thought, this is actually really good. Then we got in touch with Stephen Street, who’s produced most of our albums. It made sense to bring him back in since he’s worked with us for all these years. And he was the one who said we should do this now, and not leave it a year or two, because he felt we wouldn’t feel the same about it and might not even want to do it later – and in hindsight, I agree with him. If you rang me today and said, let’s go do this album, I don’t know how I’d feel about it. We were a couple of weeks into it and went over to the record company to play a few tracks. And the best compliment we got that’s really stuck with me was, “It sounds like you’re all in the same room playing together”. And I think that’s it, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think this was just another band in a room recording together.

It’s hard not to analyse the lyrics in retrospect without reading things into it, but some of the songs and lyrics seem so telling and foreboding [the first line of the first song All Over Now is “Do you remember? Remember the night?/ At a hotel in London/ They started to fight”]. How did you think Dolores was feeling during the making of this record? Do you think she thought it might be her last album for whatever reason?

No. I mean, she had been through a lot in the last few years – there was the mental health issues where she had been diagnosed with bipolar and she was very open about that. She had been divorced the year before that. And she started having back problems, which became a big issue, particularly for touring. It was kinda one thing after another, but finally, after the last tour she seemed to turn a corner, and that’s when she started asking about doing this album. She’d ring up or email and say, “I’ve got a lot to say at the moment, I’ve been through so much in the past few years, I want to write, I want to get all this down, out of my head.” So we started working on these songs as quickly as we could. She was in great spirits and was really looking forward to everything. She died on a Sunday night. I’d spoken to her on Friday at length about touring, and the plan was to go to China that March. She wanted to get us all in the studio, but it was just before Christmas and we couldn’t get anywhere. So when we got the call… I knew this wasn’t a deliberate thing… This was an accident of some type. We didn’t know any details. I knew straight away people were gonna say she did it to herself and all the sort of things people say at times like this. Sure there are lyrics about moving on from this part of her life to the next and the end of this, and it being all over – and with what happened it is quite easy to listen to these lyrics and get a different meaning from them. But I think it was more just about the part of her life she was in and how she was moving on from that.

To get off that sad topic though, and go back to happier times, I wanted to ask you a bit about the early days – can you tell us how you guys formed, and how Dolores came to join the band? Could you tell there was something special about her right away?

Yeah, well we grew up together really. My brother, obviously. I think I met Fergal when I was about 14, and we were just really into music. So we formed a band with another friend of ours, Nile, who was the singer. We had a bunch of songs, but we were dreadful, a terrible mess. Then Nile left. So we were just an instrumental band for about six months. It was Nile’s girlfriend that knew Dolores. I bumped into him on the street and he asked if we were still together, and I said yeah, but we’re still looking for a singer. He said “I might know someone. I’ll bring her up on Sunday”. So he turned up with Dolores, and she was just this really shy, quiet girl. She played a couple of songs she’d written, and she played a Sinead O’Connor song for us. And then we played a few songs for her, just instrumental, and Linger was one of them. And she said, “Yeah, yeah, that one might work.” So we gave her a cassette with Linger on it. She took it away and came back a week later and said she’d worked on it and wanted to give it a go. And that version of Linger we played is the one that everyone knows.

Yeah, wow. That was the first song of yours I heard. It was a big hit down here, and everywhere really. At that point when you were playing it, did you have any feelings that it might blow up?

No, I think we were more surprised than anybody at how big it was because it didn’t really sound like stuff that was out, like the grunge thing that was coming in. We were so far removed from that kinda stuff. It’s a special song for us because it was the first one we wrote together, and it helped break the band. But it didn’t take off right away. The album completely bombed when it came out. We were gutted. We thought this is the end of it now. But then in the States, MTV and college radio both picked up on it at the same time. No idea why, but they did. We hadn’t done any press, we’d never been to America, but we got a call out of the blue, “You need to go to the States”. I think by the time we went over there Linger was Number 8. It changed everything. The album was re-released, and on the back of its success, it exploded everywhere.

I wish you all the best for the success of the record, and I wish I could say I was looking forward to seeing you play it live. That must be really hard…

Yeah, we’re really disappointed about it. We’ve only ever played these songs once – recording them. We’ve not played them since, and we’re gutted. We’d love to do it live, just one time even.

I know you’ve said this is the end of The Cranberries, but was there ever a question at any point of maybe getting someone else to fill in just to sing these songs on tour?

No… but look, it’s come up a lot in the past month or two. A lot of people are saying, you should just do one or two shows as a kinda farewell thing. But it’s all still so fresh for us. Dolores has only been gone a year, so we’d be kinda weirded out. But still, I would love, and I know the boys feel the same, we would love to be able to do this album live one time. But that can bring its own problems as well. Look, never say never – but there’s no plans to do anything at the moment.

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