Rediscovering a Lost Musical Love

So, recently I was obliged to get a new laptop. This one actually has an optical drive, so I was able to get all my old CDs and some music from my days with CONFRONT Magazine and recover some of the library I lost when my previous old computer (the computer before the computer that just died) died.

In spite of years of asking the NSA to send me a mirror of their copy of my old old computer’s music directory, they never answered my pleas.

But today, I started listening to The Cranberries, again. I’d forgotten how much I loved the-better-than-U2-Irish Alt Rock band from the 1990’s, and their moving, emotional, haunting, political music.

And then I dug around in my old files and found this: a phone interview I had once, with Dolores O’Riordan, on the occasion of her releasing her first solo album – and premiering at the Montreal Jazz Fest.

Dolores O’Riordan: The Simple Things Make Life Extraordinary
By SteveK

When CONFRONT’s Editor told me that we were being offered the opportunity to have an interview with Dolores O’Riordan, the words were barely out of her mouth that I told her I wanted to do it. Here was my chance to finally interview someone whose music I had been listening to for years, having been a fan of the Cranberries since the very early 1990s when I bought ‘Everybody Else is Doing it, so Why Can’t We?’; CONFRONT’s interview coinciding with the release of ‘Are You Listening?’, O’Riordan’s first solo effort.

My excitment turned to worry however as while doing research into O’Riordan, I discovered that the singer/songwriter from Limerick, Ireland is a fairly private person; what little news there is of her is fairly ordinary, and as straightforward as she and the Cranberries had been about their politics through their music, there wasn’t much controversy to build an interview around.

Fortunately what I found out while talking with the unassuming artist who was calling from Cologne, Germany, was just how easily she inspired conversation. So much so in fact, that I found myself speaking with her as if we were old friends catching up, talking about things like children, creativity, our mutual love-hate relationship with road-trip vacations and just the simple things that make life so extraordinary.

Despite having jotted down questions about the release of ‘Are You Listening?’, I found myself being engrossed in conversations about her family life, getting a glimpse into how this Irish mother joggles celebrity and family. Although originally planned as a Beat Bazaar interview, Dolores’ candid simplicity with regard to herself and motherhood made it impossible to not want to share this side of her in greater detail.

“Well in part I just really wanted to spend some seriously quality time with my family,” she explained when I mentioned it having been 4 years since this new solo project nad the last release of the Cranberries. “I’d finished with the Cranberries; we’d kind of done the full journey: five albums, the Greatest Hits…we were out of the contract and it was time to get off of the treadmill and get away from it all, go chill out and enjoy the kiddies—and have another one!”

I had noticed that one criticism that kept coming up in reviews I had read, is that ‘Are you Listening?’ sounds so much, like the Cranberries musically. Was it intentional of her to keep in the same musical style or was that just coincidental? After all, O’Riordan’s voice is expressly distinctive.

“Well, I didn’t really want to cut my legs off and call myself ‘Shorty’ or anything like that. It’s still me, so it’s the same chick, the same writer. I’m a little bit more experimental though.”

While listening to the new album, what I found was that with the Cranberries there was more of a social or political message whereas with ‘Are You Listening’ it has become something much more personal; it’s apparent a change in her life’s perspective has been made; that the time off and the personal life she was able to foster really colored the album.

“I suppose that’s really because I spent four years at home. I was very grounded, you know. I was first a mother, then a wife, then a daughter. Kind of making up for all the years that I toured and left my family, you know? I just wanted to stay at home and be normal and see if I’d missed anything in all those years I’d been traveling. Kind of trying to go back and catch up and hanging out with old friends again. In that time the old songwriting became a hobby again. Which is odd because when that happens you do it as a therapeutic thing, you know? You do it because you feel like it; you don’t do it because you feel like “Oh, we have to meet a deadline we’ve got to get an album out” you know? Also, when you’re on tour you don’t have much life experience because you’re going from the hotel to the stage to the bus, to the hotel to the stage to the bus. And that’s it; you don’t really experience that much, you know? You’re on this kind of treadmilly thing, you know? So it’s kind of hard to get inspiration. And I suppose you take your inspiration from social stuff because when you’re traveling and you’re watching the news a bit more. But when I was at home it was more like, you know, very organic and it was a bit of a hobby to write about everyday things, ordinary things.”

Through research I also found out that Dolores spends a great deal of her time on Canadian soil.

“Well, Vancouver is lovely…I like the Vancouver mountains. (…) I like Montreal, Quebec; I’ve had a lot of good times there, I’ve had a lot of fun there socializing. (…) Done a bit of damage to the old credit card there, you know, spending a lot. (…) Good for a bit of shopping and good little restaurants and good little pubs. I think it was either Montreal or Quebec; one of them we were in for the anniversary and a wedding anniversary; we had great laughs.”

She later recounted her experience taking a road trip through the province of Ontario, a family vacation much like any of us have taken with our parents at one time or another; her story bringing back many memories of childhood voyages and cranky yet fun excursions. Here are a few excerpts:

“Yeah, the other half decided ‘Let’s take an RV down to Niagara’ and the baby wouldn’t sit down the whole way, you know? So all the way down to Niagara it was like ‘Wah!’ it was so funny; and trying to get the kids to sit down in an RV is really difficult, you know? It’s quite hilarious; my poor husband was fit to bust by the time we got to Niagara Falls; he was like ‘Oh, my God I’m going to go crazy!’ because the kids were giving out and stuff, you know [like] ‘I’ve got to go to the bathroom!’ and he was like ‘Oh, God, okay, can you balance there?’ It was so much fun I don’t think we’ll be doing the RV again.

“It’s not just the driving it’s the stress of driving; and then you get stuck in rush hour in Toronto (…) and there’s naught you can do about it. And then, you know, it’s like ‘I’m Hungry!’ and ‘Well, okay, there’s some bread and butter’, but ‘Yeah but I want something else’.

“We drove from Ontario about five, six hours down to Niagara and we stayed there; they have great little lands there; stuff for the kids to spend time playing on their own machines; it’s a good fun place, Niagara is. Then we did Marineland, as well. That’s great fun as well…good rides there. You always feel like puking afterwards but it feels good at the time, you know…those dangerous rides. It’s kind of one of those funny things, too; when the kids get to that age where they want to do the roller coasters. And you’re thinking ‘Hey, man! I’m so beyond that I’m an old lady, here!’ but they’re going ‘Come on! Come on!’ an then you just kind of go and you just feel like ‘Oh my God, I’m so sick!’ How do kids like those things spinning around and going upside down and shaking around and all that?”

In effort to bring the subject back to the topic of music, I asked one of the questions I had always wanted answered and now finally had the opportunity to ask: What is it with Ireland? Is there something in the water that keeps turning out so many great musicians on such an epic scale? U2, Van Morrison and Sinead O’Connor to name a few all hail from the ‘green isle’ and though varied in their musical stylings, all seem to share that same passion. Not surprisingly Dolores’ answer rotated quickly back to the topic of children.

“I would say it’s kind of very much a part of the culture, music; we have the Celtic music and the Celtic people are very musical—you know, the Scottish people are very musical as well—and so you have that kind of background and in primary school all the kids have to play the tin whistle when they were five or six. They kind of really push it on some of us in school, you know? Get the little small ones playing the tin whistle or the pipe or playing something, you know? It’s nice to get kids playing music on their own because then when they’re hitting their teens and they’re going through their tough times they can go off to their rooms and play with their instrument, you know?”

Even a question like “What was your first and last concert attended” seemed to bring back memeories of her kiddies. “The first concert I ever went to was the Waterboys in Croom, in County Limerick. And the most recent one I’ve gone to was probably my bass player’s with Tin Lizzy in Dublin (…) it was rocking. But I had to leave early because I was very pregnant and it was vibrating. I don’t think they use in-ears so the stage was really rocking, right? And the baby was going nuts because I was about eight months pregnant. Totally it was like vibrating the baby.”

I think most notably the point at which it had become clear that Dolores ‘ life had changed from Rockstar to mother over the course of those four years spent at home with her children came when I asked what her musical guilty pleasures were.

“Uh, Sesame Street, maybe?” She said which made me laugh. This wasn’t exactly what I had expected this icon of mine to answer. “But I’m not embarrassed, though; I’m kind of proud of it. I think Sesame Street is brilliant music. What’s that guy’s name? is it [Jim]Hanson? His stuff is great and he has the bear in the big blue house and stuff. And I just think that he’s so melodic and my kids listen to it and at home you just find yourself singing along. But I’m not really embarrassed about it. I don’t really get embarrassed because I think it’s important to be yourself and be proud of your choices and who you are.”

I assume that as an artist and a working parent, the decision to take time off from your life, your passion and your dreams could seem daunting. But it is obvious that with her children, comes a new life Dolores cherishes and feels it imperative to make time for. All too often we hear stories of parents in the entertainment industry who feel that juggling careers and family is a daunting task, children regularly being pushed into the arms of necessary third party helpers and surrogate parents so that the celebrity can take advantage of them moment of keep the momentum of their careers going. Yet this talented artist seems to all take it in stride.

The past four years might have taken the spotlight off of Dolores O’Riordan but the May 2007 release of her first solo effort ‘Are You Listening?’ while certainly help in edging it back in her direction. I believe Allmusic.com said it best when they printed: “That’s why [the album] is a success as a solo debut: it doesn’t resurrect O’Riordan’s earliest work as much as reconnect with it, and she hasn’t sounded this purposeful, or made a record this satisfying, since the days of “Linger.”