Drummer Fergal Lawler opens up with emotion and modesty about the future of the band, their new album “In The End” and the music that blows him away.
Hi Fergal. How are you doing?
Fergal Lawler (drums): I’m doing OK. It’s tough because we talk a lot about the past, Dolores and her passing. This is a part of our job. We are very proud of the songs on the album and we want people to hear them.
Can you tell us about the recording process of the album?
Fergal: The songs were written and demoed in 2017. We have been doing an acoustic tour with the album “Something Else” and with a string quartet. Dolores had problems with her hernia disc and the doctor said she needed 6 months resting. During that rest she started writing songs and sending material. She was living in New York, so she had demoed some songs there. A month after Dolores passed away, we listened to those demos. We realized there was a lot of material that we could use for an EP or an album. We spoke to her family and asked them how they feel if we finished off the work she had started.
They were very supportive because they knew she was excited about doing a new album. We spoke to Stephen Street who said he would definitely love to do the album with us.
We went into the studio in April of last year. The first few days were really difficult, so difficult that we would think we wouldn’t be able to do it. It was very emotional. It was only a few months after Dolores has passed away, but Stephen said it would be the best to go to the studio then because we were putting all that passion in the recording.
Once we settled down, it wasn’t much different from the way we normally worked because Dolores would come and do 3 or so vocals and then leave for us to work with Stephen. Then she would come back at evening time to do her vocals. Basically we would record all the instruments, add the voice and worked around it.
Did you have any doubts about this project?
Fergal: Before we started, we spoke to her family and we put a message on Facebook directed to the fans, asking how they would feel about it. We were sure that the songs were strong enough, but we still wondered 100% how it turned out. After the first week we looked to each other, and we said: “OK we have three or so songs here done, and they are really strong”, so we kept going. There were some other ideas that were demo tapes Dolores had, and were like humming and not finished lyrics or anything like that. And then there might be a bit of a verse but no chorus, so we would not work on that as the quality was not good enough. We didn’t want to seem like we were milking and trying to make money out of it. That’s not what it is about. It is about a gift Dolores left and about finishing what she had started.
As you said earlier in the press, it’ll be the last album from The Cranberries. Was it something you had in mind before?
Fergal: No no. This album was supposed to be another Cranberries album. We would then go on tour and write another one in the future. Dolores was in a very positive place before she passed away. She was fine after being through her divorce, and she was putting all of that behind. This album helped as well because she expressed all those feelings. A lot of the songs are about finishing, like “In The End” or “All Over Now”. She felt like it was behind her. Even songs like “Got It” which are more upbeat on the album are more about a positive future.
How was it working with Stephen Street?
Fergal: It was fantastic. There’s no one else that could have done this album. Stephen knew Dolores so well and worked intimately with her on the vocals. He had become a friend over the years because we worked together for so long. He is the perfect person to do this job. He really understood the band so well. He is great at pushing us to give our best performance.
Would you have done this record without Stephen?
Fergal: It would have been very difficult. I don’t know if we had done it. Stephen is almost like a fifth member, we can bounce ideas off. As I said he knew Dolores so well. I think if somebody who didn’t know her so well came in it wouldn’t have worked out at all.
The response of the fans after Dolores passed away has been amazing. Were you surprised by all the love you received?
Fergal: It was incredible because we did not expect it. Especially now as we are not that popular in Ireland. There has been some amazing tributes. It is fantastic to see that. I think she would have been very proud.
What about playing the album live?
Fergal: We can’t. That’s something we thought about when we were playing those songs in the studio. It was our first time playing them together but also our last time. Dolores’ voice was so distinctive and unique, there’s no one that could come out and do her justice. It wouldn’t be right. People said: “You’re gonna get another singer’ like Queen”. No way. It is not something for us. We’ve had a very long and successful career, we are really happy to say: “OK that’s it now.”
People have been talking about holograms for the live shows…
Fergal: (laughs) For people like Roy Orbison it’s fine. People have suggested things like that already and… no.
It must be frustrating.
Fergal: Yes. When you make an album, you record the songs and you play them in a certain way in the studio. When you play them live they turn instead into something slightly different, like Mike could be playing it more aggressive or me also in a certain way. It is natural: as you play the songs every night, you start to play them in a different way than you have been in the studio. People always say that we sound different live, that we sound more dynamic. It’s a pity. It would have been nice to play those new songs live. We can’t do it, we have to accept it. That’s the way it is and there’s no way we’re going to bring in an artist to do it because Dolores’ voice is unique. There’s no way someone else would do the songs’ justice.
Did the passing of one of your best friend have an influence on you as musician?
Fergal: No, it is a more personal thing. As much as Dolores was a part of our band, she was our friend and almost like a sister. I’m still trying to get my head around it. Doing all the promotion bring it back up again. It is going to take some time to eventually put to it realization.
Is there a theme running through the album?
Fergal: Like I said a lot of lyrics are about things ending. At that time, as she has been through her divorce and struggled with her mental health for a while, she was starting to feel better. It is like an ending of that period of her life but also a new beginning. She was feeling content and looking forward to the future. She has just bought a house outside Limerick, she was getting furniture for the house and she was excited.
How do you feel about people getting to read between the lines of the lyrics?
Fergal: I think that if she hadn’t passed away, people wouldn’t be looking for those questions. It’s almost like a premonition, like the songs “All Over Now” or “In The End”. As I said, the way she was writing was like: “That part of my life is over, I’m moving on”. Before she passed away, it was supposed to be another Cranberries’ album and then after that there could more. Nobody knew this was the last album. Of course now that she’s gone people will be reading into it a little more.
How could you describe the sound of this album?
Fergal: Something we did notice with the demos is that Dolores’ voice was more fragile, it was softer that it had been in the recent years. On the last album “Roses” that Stephen produced he said to her: “You were playing live a lot so your voice has become more aggressive but now you’re in the studio so you can make it more intimate”. It was something she hadn’t realize. In studio you are in an environment where you can sing really softly. I think that influenced her. The demos she did are quite fragile, especially on the song “Lost”. I noticed at the very beginning her voice was quite fragile but it grows and grows up this massive crescendo at the end. On the other hand in the song “In The End”, the last song on the album, it is almost like she is whispering to us.
What was the idea behind the music video for “All Over Now”?
Fergal: We struggled with the video and the cover because we didn’t want to have a picture of Dolores on the front. We didn’t want to use a photograph of the three of us because that would not make sense. So we spoke to our art director whom we worked with for the first three albums. He brought the idea of using a photograph of kids being related to us in some way on the cover. It is genius because it is like 4 mini Cranberries.
For the video it is the same thing: we didn’t want to use the older footage that we had because it is something new. It was either an animated video that we wanted to do or one with actors. Same for “Wake Me When It’s Over” which is going to be the next single. We spoke to the art students in Limerick, and we suggested them to do proposals for the video. It will be an animated video as well.
There always has been a strong involvement of fans during your career. Do you think the fans will still follow you even after the end of The Cranberries?
Fergal: Songs like “Linger” are still played on the radio, there are new fans arriving all the time. We did an interview in Dublin just before we came over and the girl working at the radio had a 16-year-old intern working with her. She told her to check out a new band she had discovered and it was The Cranberries. The woman told her that she grew up with The Cranberries! It’s great to hear stories about people discovering the band for the first time. I am used to noticing older and younger people at our concerts. It’s nice to see our songs lasting over thirty years. Hopefully new fans will discover our music as time goes by.
You’ve got heavy rotations on the radio and new people are still discovering your music.
Fergal: The lyrics are so personal, people could relate to it as being written for them, their situation. People take it very personally.
As a musician did you experience or try new techniques on the album?
Fergal: I always try to evolve as a musician. With this album we kind of really worked on Dolores’ voice. When it was soft, we played more softly; more dynamic when her voice was as well. It was not much a different process than when we recorded the other albums. Emotionally it was quite a struggle a lot of the time. Personally I was struggling to get a good take. I wanted to make her proud because her performance is really good. I wanted to give everything. After we finished the recording, about 3 weeks later, I was completely drained and down. I couldn’t listen to the album for a while. I left it for a month before listening to it.
Would you like to carry on as a musician by yourself or working again with the guys?
Fergal: It is something we discussed. If the three of us work together again, it will sound like The Cranberries even with a different singer. When we play it has that distinctive sound. We know each other so well that we are almost telepathic when we play. But playing together again, we haven’t really thought about that. It is still too soon. We’ve been so focused on doing the record and the promotion that I didn’t give it too much though for now.
After the promotion, we will settle down and have some time to think about the future. We can start moving forward.
What about producing?
Fergal: I did that for a while but I didn’t really enjoy it too much. I love soundtracks, I’ve always connected to that so maybe I’ll go down that road.
What’s your favorite soundtrack at the moment?
Fergal: I love the two guys that work on the “Annihilation” and “Ex Machina” movie soundtrack, Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. He is a member of Portishead. I also like the one from the Netflix series “Dark”. It’s a German series taking place at two dimensions and time. It’s fantastic, it’s really good. The soundtrack was done by Ben Frost.
Are there any exciting bands in Ireland?
Fergal: Honestly there is nothing in Ireland that blows me away. There’s a Limerick band called PowPig that sounds like the Pixies. They are 16 or 17, I really like them. Hozier is doing really well, he seems like a really nice guy. It’s not really my cup of tea of music as it is gospel-y. It’s good, but I am not mad about it, I prefer alternative music. There are a lot of crappy pop bands in Ireland, like two guys and a guitar, and we heard it a million times. It’s hard to find something fresh.
You have to start somewhere.
Fergal: Yes but there’s nothing original. People sound like the same music that has been done for years.
Music is a part of Irish culture right?
Fergal: There’s a lot of traditional music which is very good but as for pop music it goes in waves: there’s a lot of good bands and then it drops down.
Out of Irish music, are there any bands or artists that you like to listen at the moment?
Fergal: I saw Arctic Monkeys in Dublin, they were fantastic. I also listen to The Cure, Tool. They are a very heavy band and it is the heaviest I get! As far as new bands go, it’s hard to find new stuff that blows me away.
Just back to the basics: The Cure and that’s it.
How do you see yourself in a couple of years from now on after this turmoil?
Fergal: I don’t know. I don’t think too much about the future. That is something I learn from getting older: you can’t really plan too much for the future because you don’t know what is going to happen. Dolores’ death made me appreciate more everything I have now. I just live for the moment.
Last question: we are “RockUrLife”, what rock your life Fergal?
Fergal: I am really enjoying being at home, relaxing with my family and watching Netflix and different series. I can’t wait for the new “Game Of Thrones”.
It’s coming really soon!
Fergal: Yes, and I am going to be away for the start of it. I asked my wife to do not watch it so when I get home we can watch it together. It’s really nice just to be at home and relax with my three kids. It’s great to spend some time with them, even if they are teenagers now. As you get older you can relate to them more. If they are struggling with something I remember the same thing happened to me. You can tell them to not freak out. My son is in college, and he freaks out about the exam, he is losing sleep. I told him to relax. It will be fine.