“Singing is something you’re born with, and it’s probably the most obvious way that you can release your emotions. It’s just an incredible high,” Dolores O’Riordan said about the great joy she derived from singing.
In addition to the catharsis, the power and melodicism of her Irish lilt helped her band The Cranberries achieve a true distinction amid the abundance of guitar groups in the early 90s.
She grew up in the small farming community of Ballybricken, Ireland. Her observant Catholic family would attend church several times a week. Delores took the opportunity to learn the church organ and sing in choir and at the age of 11 wrote her first song.
“I’m really glad I was a country girl,” she told MTV in 1996. “You really [get to] form your own head, your own person. I can remember just going up the fields on my own and sitting there for three hours, maybe bring a book, and write things or colour, just doing really simple things like that.”
But she knew early on that she wanted to be in a band.
When Delores told her mum, the swift and stern response was ‘I’ll band your arse…get into your room and do your homework!’ But she persisted, turning up to a studio to meet some local lads who were looking for a new singer.
She turned up in pink tracksuit pants with a keyboard under her arm, quietly assured that she could easily impress Noel and Mike Hogan and drummer Feargal Lawler with her voice. She took a demo they’d been working on and wrote the song ‘Linger’ over it.
If the immediate and sizeable success of the debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? surprised the young band, they were completely ill-prepared for the impact of second album No Need To Argue. Particularly that of its powerful lead single ‘Zombie’, written by O’Riordan about the IRA bombing in Warrington in 1993.
“I don’t think any of us had any idea that it was going to be as big as it was, I certainly didn’t,” guitarist Noel Hogan told FaceCulture in 2012. “Up until that point, a lot of the songs probably would have been softer, [but] this was a new direction for us.
“All the elements seemed to glue themselves together perfectly in that song and it would stand out in the set because of that. It kind of became a live favourite even before the album came out.”
“But it was much bigger than any of us would have anticipated, that’s for sure,” O’Riodan added.
There were personal songs too, like ‘Empty’, ‘Disappointment’ and the album’s haunting title track drawn the experience of O’Riordan’s relationship breakdown at the time.
But there were also light and lovely touches best heard in the tribute to familial roots in ‘Ode to my Family’, a song about “trying to escape from the pressures of reality and just be a kid again” as O’Riordan told Planet Rock in 1995.
The pressures she spoke of refer to the heightened expectations and workload that came with No Need To Argue’s massive success. This included the constant touring, interviews and of course the intense public and press scrutiny which took a measurable toll on the band, especially Dolores.
“Fame assaults women twice as badly,” she told the Daily Telegraph. “I think there are a lot of men who have a problem with women doing really well and it gets twice as nasty for women. The questions get really personal. I am lucky because I have three guys to bounce off. I wouldn’t like to be a soloist in this business.”
But there seems to have been an awareness on her part that she would have to tread carefully because of the visibility of her position.
“I knew I had talent. I always knew since I was a kid,’’ she said in 1995. “So, I knew it was kind of dangerous. I knew I would attract bad people — I would attract people who know you are kind of innocent and you haven’t a clue.”
And she made her feelings about the media very clear.
“A lot of the time press is all just a big game. Sometimes they love you and sometimes they hate you, sometimes you’re a bitch and sometimes you’re a goddess. To me, it has nothing to do with what I do.”
O’Riordan also spoke openly about her health issues both physical (her long-term back pain was a cause of many cancelled shows) and mental.
Asked by American Songwriter in 2017 about where she finds inspiration for her songs, she said the sources were varied.
“I go from a lot of different life experiences: births, deaths, war, pain, depression, anger, sadness… emotions, y’know,” she said.
“Nostalgia is a big one for me, but then I’m also obsessed with mortality. I wake up in the morning and I’m feeling anguish, I feel terrible and I don’t know why. I wake up and look out and think, ‘Oh God, how do I get through another day!?’
"I get so worried, and I have a couple of cups of coffee and I start to feel okay, but life can be difficult. I have bi-polar disorder and so I think I go from being extremely high to being really low – one extreme to the next.
“But I honestly think a lot of writers have trouble that way, especially as life progresses. I find life really difficult, so I have to keep busy all the time, otherwise I go crazy – I suppose that’s why writing is great.”
Her explanation of the role music and songwriting played in her life elicit a deeper poignancy with the news of her sudden passing this year on January 16.
The tributes have flowed in from around the world and no less significantly, from her band mate and friend, Cranberries guitarist and co-founder Noel Hogan.
“Dolores' legacy will be her music,” he wrote in Rolling Stone. “She was so passionate about it. There are songs I hear today that we wrote over 20 years ago, and I see and hear people singing along with them.
“There are only a few artists who get to have maybe one song they are remembered by. Dolores has so many. It’s a great legacy.”