The Cranberries on Their Surprise Hit Debut and Final Album With Dolores O’Riordan
When Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, the Cranberries’ major-label debut, was released in March of 1993, “we were gutted,” says Noel Hogan, the band’s guitarist and co-songwriter.
The reason? “It came out and basically disappeared without a trace,” he recalls. “So we figured, ‘That’s it. We’re done now.’ We were doing empty clubs as an opener in the U.K. and it was pretty depressing. We really, really thought, it’s just a matter of time before we get that call [from Island Records] and they say, ‘We’re going to move on, thanks very much.’”
The band did in fact receive a call from their label, though the message that was relayed was quite different. “We were told we had to drop off our tour and come straightaway to America,” Hogan says.
Apparently, college radio had picked up on one of Everybody Else’s singles, the lilting, strings-adorned ballad “Linger,” and it was quickly taking off. “You could have knocked us over with a feather, we were so surprised,” he says. “And so the next day we flew to Denver and did our first gig in the U.S., opening for The The. We walked out onstage that first night and everyone in the theater knew our songs. And from there, everything changed.”
Fueled by “Linger” and the buoyant “Dreams,” Everybody Else Is Doing It went on to sell more than 6 million copies worldwide, beginning an impressive run that would see the Limerick, Ireland–based band — Noel, his brother and bassist Mike Hogan, drummer Fergal Lawler, and singer and co-songwriter Dolores O’Riordan — become one of the most successful pop-rock acts of the Nineties. Their next album, 1994’s No Need to Argue, went on to sell more than 17 million units, and its first single, the O’Riordan-penned smash “Zombie,” is currently enjoying new life on the charts courtesy of an updated cover from L.A. groove-metal act Bad Wolves.
Last year, the four Cranberries reconvened to begin work on an expanded edition of that life-changing debut album in celebration of its impending 25th anniversary. But as they got close to completion, tragedy struck. On January 15th, 2018, O’Riordan, 46, was found dead in the bathtub in her hotel room at the London Hilton. A later inquest determined she had drowned accidentally after excessive alcohol intake. O’Riordan had been vocal over the years about struggles in her life, from mental-health issues to being sexually abused as a child and grappling with fame as the very visible face of a very popular band. But, says Hogan, the singer was in a good place at the time of her death. “When I heard the news, it just didn’t add up,” he says. “So I knew she didn’t do this deliberately. And the inquest confirmed that.”
The days and months following O’Riordan’s death saw an outpouring of grief from peers in the music community and fans across the world. But few were hit as hard by the loss as the three men who had been her bandmates for just under 30 years. “Everything just fell apart,” Hogan says.
Eventually, the remaining Cranberries did regroup and complete the 25th-anniversary edition of Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, which, in addition to the original 12-track album, gathers B sides, studio outtakes, early EPs and demos (including material from when the band was known as the Cranberry Saw Us) and previously unreleased live performances in a deluxe package that is due out October 19th.
In addition, they’ve also put the finishing touches on a new record, which features songs and vocals O’Riordan wrote and recorded with the band prior to her passing. That album, titled In the End, will also be the Cranberries’ last. “The Cranberries is the four of us, you know?” Hogan says. “Without Dolores, I don’t see the point of doing this, and neither do the boys.”
In the End will see release in early 2019, “and we’ll leave it at that,” he says. But before closing the book on the Cranberries with a final album, Hogan took some time to talk with Rolling Stone about the one that started it all.
When you were compiling the reissue, did you come across anything that surprised you or really struck you?
You know, the most surprising thing for me was actually the album itself, because even though we’ve played songs like “Dreams” and “Linger” at almost every show, I hadn’t listened to the whole record in probably 20 years or more. And I’m not trying to be cocky, but I was very surprised at how great it sounded. And it brought back a lot of nice memories as well, because it was a month or two after January [and O’Riordan’s death] by the time we got to sit in the room and remaster it.
One thing that is clear from listening to the record is that the classic Cranberries sound was already fully formed even at that early stage in your career.
Yes. And you know, the album’s 25 years old, but some of these songs are even older than that, because we wrote them when we first met. We were so young, and all we were doing was working to the best of our abilities. We had only playing a couple of years, and we weren’t the best musicians in the world. But that actually helped to make the Cranberries sound. Because if we had been better musicians that album probably wouldn’t have been the album it was. Not probably — definitely.
What do you recall about Dolores coming in to audition for the band in 1990?
I can still remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Sunday afternoon. And everyone kind of knows the story of how we had a singer before Dolores [Niall Quinn], and that it was a completely different sounding band at that time. But when Niall left, I had started to write, and I had stuff like “Linger” and “Dreams,” which were just instrumentals at that time. And we’d been playing them, it could have been for up to six months, just kind of hoping that someday we’d find a singer. And then I’d run into Niall and he said, “My girlfriend knows a girl who’s looking for a band that’s doing original stuff.”
So Niall came up with Dolores on that Sunday and I remember she was shy, very soft-spoken. A very quiet country girl. Not the Dolores that everyone grew to know. And she comes in and we’re just kind of a gang of young guys sitting around the place. It must have been very, very intimidating for her. But she sang a couple of songs that she had written herself, and she did a Sinéad O’Connor song, “Troy.” And then we did some of our stuff. I remember we definitely played the instrumental version of “Linger.” I was just shocked that she wasn’t in a band already. Because the minute she sang, you know, it was like your jaw drops at her voice. When she was getting ready to leave I gave her a cassette that had the basics of “Linger” on it and I said, “Do you want to take this home and work on it?” And within a few days she’d come back with basically the version of the song that everyone knows.
How was it to work with Dolores in a songwriting capacity?
It was amazing, to be honest. I don’t think I really realized it at the time. Both of us, you know, we were just kids, 17, 18 years old, and we both had a passion. Dolores was musically far superior to me, because she had been doing it all her life. She had been singing and she had taken piano lessons. She had done all the things that you would expect somebody that’s an accomplished musician to do. Whereas I had just been a listener of music. I’d been a massive fan of music, particularly English alternative bands. But I had only started playing guitar a couple of years before that. But she often said that’s what she liked about my playing — the simplicity of what I did left room for her vocal. There wasn’t someone filling the thing up unnecessarily. And the excitement was always when one of us would give the other a track and see what they would come back with. To the very end, that was my favorite part, when she would send me back a song.
At the time that “Dreams” and “Linger” became huge hits, mainstream music, especially here in the States, was geared toward heavier and more aggressive styles like grunge and hardcore rap. Did you recognize that you were having huge success with a sound that wasn’t particularly in fashion?
We did. And we never really got to the bottom of that, you know? We couldn’t figure it out. I remember when Nevermind came out and grunge became such a massive, massive thing. And “Linger,” it’s the complete opposite of that; it’s jangly guitar and strings. But still, it seemed to be accepted by the same kind of audience. But one thing Dolores and I always agreed on is that we would just write songs that we would want to listen to, and that we felt were good. Because trends come and go. And so for the 29, 30 years we were together, we just did what we felt was right. That might lead to different levels of success, but at least you can always stand by what it is you’ve done.
Being the face and the voice of the band, did Dolores find it hard to cope with success at such a young age?
I think she found it most difficult going back to Ireland. Because Ireland is a small country, and not a lot of huge music celebrities, particularly at that time, had come out of Ireland — you had U2 and probably, you know, Thin Lizzy, who are the two I can remember that would have had the most success. And we were so young. I know she started to find it harder and harder to go back home because people wouldn’t leave her alone. The boys and myself, we had a touch of that, but we stayed very much within our circle of friends that we had grown up with. So when we went home and we went out, we were in many ways protected a little bit. Whereas Dolores had grown up in the country [in Ballybricken, outside of Limerick] and most of her friends were out there. So if she went into the city it was a bit more difficult. So as the years went by she spent less and less time in Ireland. It was easier to be in places like New York, where you can kind of be anonymous and disappear into the crowd.
In recent years Dolores had begun to open up publicly about some of the personal struggles she had experienced in her life. With her passing, do you feel like those parts of her life have been magnified in the press in an effort to find an explanation for what happened?
Yeah, it definitely amplified it a bit. And look, it’s par for the course. We learned very early on that if you do this for a living, you’re putting yourself out there. It’s why Dolores decided she was going to be very open about it in the first place. Because she felt, “I have nothing to hide here because I haven’t done anything wrong.” And to be fair, most people were like, “Good on you for talking about it.” Because things like mental-health issues, they’re far more common than people would like to admit.
But the terrible thing about what happened with Dolores is that she had gotten on top of all of that in the last few years. Last summer, she and I began writing what will be the next — the last — Cranberries album, which we finished a few weeks ago. And because of that we would speak constantly, either by phone or by email. We’d been in touch literally up to the day before she passed away, and we were discussing when we were going to go in and start recording, because we had all the songs written. So that’s why when I heard the news it just didn’t add up.
“None of us wants to go ahead after this. But we’re delighted that we have this last album to give to fans.”
What can you tell us about the new record?
It’s a very strong album. Especially lyrically — it’s very moving. When Dolores and I first discussed writing a new album she was very keen. She kept telling me, “There’s so much going on in my life and I have so much to say.” So I went to France last June on my own to start writing, and then I started sending her stuff. She was based in New York at that time. And we were just going back and forth, going through different ideas. And by the time we got to December we basically had the album written. We knew what the stronger songs were, we knew which ones needed a bit more work. And then literally up until the day before she passed away — she passed away on a Monday, and this was Sunday morning — I had an email from her with another song saying, “Look, I don’t know if I sent you this one yet, but listen to it and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” And the plan after that was that we were going to get in touch with the two boys and take it from there.
And then obviously the news came in and everything fell apart. But once the dust settled, I started going through all this stuff I had. And I contacted the boys, because I hadn’t really spoken to them about it yet, and I sent them what I had. They were really, really pumped about the whole thing and wanted to do it as well. But we were very careful that we didn’t destroy the legacy of the band by doing this kind of glued-together album that didn’t need to be done if it wasn’t strong enough.
What does the new material sound like?
Honestly, it’s probably as close to the first two albums as we could have gotten, especially lyrically and sonically. It’s very, very similar, and we deliberately tried to do that. We just said, “Let’s go back to the original Cranberries sound.” And anyone that’s heard it has agreed: “Yeah, you managed to do that.”
What’s the name of the record?
So there’s a song called “In the End,” it’s the last song on the album, and it just kind of summed up the whole album and the band. Because it’s definitely the end of it for us. So we’ve called it that. In the End.
So after this album, that will be it for the Cranberries?
Yes, that’s it. None of us wants to go ahead after this. But we’re delighted that we have this last album to give to fans. And you know, we’ve had an amazing run — far greater than a lot of bands. I think we’ve written some good songs, some great albums. And we’ve got great memories and we’ve had experiences that completely changed the four of us. Our lives would have been so much different if we hadn’t had this band. But the Cranberries was the four of us. There’s no reason to do it without Dolores. So we’re going to leave it after this.