"Okay boys, show me your stuff" - that was how Dolores O'Riordan introduced herself to The Cranberries in 1989. At the time, Noel and Mike Hogan (guitar and bass) and Fergal Lawler (drums) had been looking around for a lead singer for their band but the small and frail girl standing in front of them just didn't look the part. Noel played her a few chords he had been messing with and Dolores went home that night and wrote a set of lyrics for them. She came back the next day with a song called "Linger." They gave her the job.
Dolores wrote "Linger" about her first ever boyfriend, but when she sang it for the band the first time, they weren't listening to the words. They were just wondering how something so small could sing so strongly-they were mightily impressed. The band were still working under the name "The Cranberry Saw Us" (say the last two words quickly) which had been given to them by Niall, their first and very short-lived singer. Nobody really took Niall seriously, he used to write comedy songs like, "My Granny Drowned in a Fountain in Lourdes," but now that they had Dolores on board, they decided to go into a studio in their native Limerick to record three songs. They pressed up 300 cassette copies of the songs, left them in local record shops and waited to see if they would sell. All 300 copies were gone in a matter of days. Boosted by this first reaction to their music, they shorted their name to The Cranberries, made a demo tape and sent it off the every record company they'd ever heard of. Dolores was thrilled with her new band, all she had ever wanted to do was sing in a rock band. "One of my earliest memories is being about 5," she says, "I was at school and the headmistress brought me out of my and up into the 6th where the 12 year old girls were. She sat me up on the teacher's desk and told me to sing for them. I loved it, singing was something I had that could win people over, but I'm still very shy about singing. Even now I'd rather die than sing in a pub."
As Dolores went through school, and kept on singing with her local church choir, a few miles away brother Noel and Mike had been playing around with guitars since their early teenage years. Down the road, a young Fergal Lawler had just gotten a drum-kit and when he heard that the Hogan brothers were interested in forming a band, he went straight down to ask if he could play with them. When the band recorded their first demo tape, they had an average ago of 19 and actually spelt their name "The Cranberry's" on the cover of the tape. The demo had five songs, including an early version of Linger, Dreams and Put Me Down. Once it had reached the desks of recording companies in London, the race was on to sign the Cranberries.
The band continued playing around Limerick during this time but what people saw on the stage them is far removed from was you get now, as Dolores explains: "The performance of the Cranberries consisted of four timid little teenagers, with the front person standing sideways like a statue, afraid to budge in case she tripped and fell. We weren't performers at that stage, but I think it was the potential they saw." When the record company offers started flying in the door, the band eventually signed to Island Records. Everything was in place for the Cranberries, but then things started to go wrong.
The band's demo tape was released to journalists and it met with an ecstatic reaction. The band was described as "the future" and expectations were running high for their first time ever single, called Uncertain, which was released in 1991. After all the hype around the band, they went for a "low-key" single that came nowhere near to the quality of the demo tape. The single was described in the press as "second-grade" and the Cranberries were beginning to learn about the fickle nature of the music industry. "That was an awful time for us when the debut single didn't do too well," remembers Dolores, "I still had faith in the band but no faith in the music industry and then I lost faith in the world. I was 18 and home in Limerick and I got really depressed." To make their problems worse, the band was going through difficult and complex problems with their first manager and just as the band was about to go into the studio to record their first album, they were on the verge of breaking up.
With all these problems in the background, and frustrated by the band's lack of progress, Dolores found herself at a gig in Limerick one night, watching from the audience as some local band went through their paces on stage. She turned to her friend and said, "everybody else is doing it, so why can't we?" The fight back began.
The band found a new manager, Geoff Travis of Rough Trade Records, and finished off their debut album, which was recorded in Dublin in 1992. By the time the album made it to the record shops in 1993, The Cranberries found that they had to start their career all over again, even at this early stage they were being described as "has-beens." The band rook to the road on a vengeance in `93. They toured Britain (with Belly), Europe (with Hothouse Flowers) and America (with The The and Suede). "The strange thing about touring in America," says Dolores, "is that we were acting like tourists and having a great time but in the background the album was selling and selling. People would be telling us ` you've just sold another 70,000 records this week' and we'd be going, `is that good?' People used to laugh at us because we had no idea of how well the album was doing."
By the end of 1993, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So why Can't We? had topped the million mark in the US and the band returned home with a hero welcome in Ireland. "I went away as a nobody and came home to people calling me a star," says Dolores. On the back of the band's American success, the album started to climb up the British charts and eventually took the one spot. The band was thrilled with their success but were wary about being seen as "one-hit wonders." They went back to the studio to record their follow up album, No Need To Argue, in March 1994. The recording went well, so well in fact, that the band went off on a skiing holiday after it was finished. Dolores, her first time on the slopes, ended up falling badly and doing serious damage to her knee. Just as the band was beginning to peak, they were forced to cancel all engagements until Dolores could walk again.
One engagement she never missed was her wedding in Ireland in July 94 to Don Burton. "I met my husband, who's Canadian, when we were touring with Duran Duran in America. He was their stage manager. We're very happy."
No Need To Argue was released in October 94 and proved to be an instant success, selling 1 million copies in the first three weeks of release. The first single of the album, Zombie, proved to be one of their most popular songs although it was never released as a single in the US, it became the most-played song on alternative radio and the highlight of the Cranberries' live set. "Zombie was written about the same time or the Warrington bombing in Britain (the IRA bomb that killed two young children)" says Dolores. "It's not actually about the north of Ireland, it's about a child who died in England because of the situation in the north." The rest of No Need To Argue was written when the band was on the tour of the US in 1993. "Everybody else would be out in the front of the tour bus but I would be in the back, trying to protect my singing voice," says Dolores, "I wrote all these songs about my life back in Limerick, and how much I missed my parents, that's what Ode To My Family is about. The only song on the album that reflects my new married life is Dreaming My Dreams."
At the end of 1994, the Cranberries looked on as No Need To Argue became a huge worldwide seller. They went on the road in October 94 and will be touring all the way through 95. "The best thing about all of this is that we've answered our own question, the question that was the title of our first album," says Dolores, "we proved it with the first album and we're now going to prove it with the second album."