In 1995, Oprah was skinny, O.J. was on trial, and for some reason Fran Drescher had her own TV show. Hollywood might have been an insufferable bore back then, but music was a teeming jungle of enchantment. Bands like Pearl Jam, Jane's Addiction, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden kept radio waves buzzing with ferocity—even if those fuzzy riffs did sound a lot alike after a few beers. One '90s outfit that was instantly recognizable was Irish quartet the Cranberries. You couldn't come within 10 feet of a strip mall or high school parking lot without catching an earful of pixie frontwoman Dolores O'Riordan's unmistakable yodel, woven through trebly guitar on sweetly melodic hits like "Linger" and "Dreams" or wrapped around the political punch of "Zombie." This month, the Cranberries get back to it after seven years apart, their singer having made a last-minute decision to forgo her solo tour in support of her new album, No Baggage, and instead hold a reunion in honor of the band's 20th anniversary (feeling old yet?). We phoned O'Riordan at her home in Canada for a chat about what she's been up to these past two decades, and she had much to say about her family, future, and accepting the past.
City Pages: You were a defining voice of the grunge decade. What was the best thing about that era?
Dolores O'Riordan: There was a lot of new music occurring at the time between Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Blind Melon and all that stuff, so creatively it was a really great time. It was nice to be part of that. People obviously wanted something different than what had come before.
CP: You've stated that your early years with the Cranberries was a dark time for you. Why was that?
O'Riordan: The band got really, really big, and we kept working and didn't take any time off during the first three albums. We literally went from school into the band and got a record deal and were on the road for seven years. It just became our whole life, and we didn't have any life outside of it. After a while, music became a job. I think it's the typical journey of coming out and being new and everyone loves you, and then when you get to the very top, everyone wants to knock you down like a stack of dominoes.
CP: When you hear your hits like "Linger" and "Zombie" and others that came out around that time, do you feel sad?
O'Riordan: No, it's nice when you hear them on the radio, but it feels like a very distant thing—as in, 'Oh, yeah, that was cute.' I was only 18 when I wrote "Linger," and that's a couple of years ago now.
CP: Are you and your old bandmates still friends?
O'Riordan: Yes, we just all had kids and wanted to spend time with them while they were small. I'm really looking forward to this reunion, though—it's been seven years since we've all been together.
CP: With four kids, how did you possibly finish your new solo album, No Baggage?
O'Riordan: When all the kids are in school, you have time to write. When they're in diapers, good luck. You really get back to having time for yourself. I took a lot of time to write and reflect, so this album came so quickly I couldn't believe it! Sometimes when you're not trying hard, things come spontaneously like that, and it's great.
CP: Unlike past Cranberries stuff, there's no political tension on this one.
O'Riordan: Back then, I was living in hotels watching CNN, because in a lot of European countries it's the only English-speaking channel you can get. I would be flipping between that and the BBC, and that was my window to the world. When you have a family and you're running a house and stuff, your focus is very much around that. I don't really consider myself that political anymore.
CP: Do your kids know Mom's position in music history?
O'Riordan: I don't know if they know, because I don't think I know it myself, to be honest with you. I think I'm still trying to come to terms with the whole thing. I didn't really realize how big the band was until I got my computer in March of this year, when I walked in on my kid Googling me. She showed me a picture she found online and asked, "Who's he and where is he now?" and was pointing to a paparazzo. I said, "Oh. He's gone now," and that was that. I don't think she really understood, and sometimes I don't, either.
CP: What is the biggest lesson you've learned since becoming famous?
O'Riordan: I've learned to really revel in the moment and to enjoy the simple things, like being healthy enough to get up and get out of bed, to walk and talk, to express to the ones that you love that you do love them. I saw so many people go through life looking backward, and then suddenly you're 60 years old and you're thinking, "I wish I would have hugged my parents more and spent time with my kids more," as opposed to worrying about the future and the past. That's a big, big problem. If you're looking backward, you're not in the moment now, are you? So in 10 years' time, will you also be looking back upon this time and thinking, "I wish I would have spent more time in the moment"? I think life is about snapping out of it. You can never go back, you know?
THE CRANBERRIES play with Griffin House at 6 p.m. on SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 28, at FIRST AVENUE; 612.332.1775