TORONTO – Canadian music producer Dan Brodbeck had collaborated on dozens of songs with Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan and was looking forward to even more in the years ahead.
As recently as a few days ago, the singer was debating whether songs they had worked on together would be better suited for a solo album or a future project with her chart-topping rock band, which had a string of hits in the 1990s including “Dreams,” “Linger” and “Zombie.”
Then Monday, he was stunned by news the beloved singer was found dead in a London hotel. British police say her death is not being treated as suspicious, meaning that they found no evidence of foul play. The case will be passed to a coroner to determine the cause of death.
“Financially she didn’t need to (continue writing),” Brodbeck said Tuesday of O’Riordan’s insatiable appetite for making music.
He figures they worked together on roughly 80 songs since first teaming up on her debut solo album, “Are You Listening?” Brodbeck won a Juno Award for recording engineer of the year for his effort on the songs “Apple of My Eye” and “Be Careful” off her 2009 album.
He’s one of several Canadian musicians and producers that O’Rioran worked with during her extended stays in Canada, a place she often called her second home.
Their partnership began nearly 15 years ago when Brodbeck and his wife were invited to make an hours-long drive into the wilderness of Ontario cottage country to have dinner with O’Riordan at the home she shared with her family.
A mutual friend had recommended the London, Ont.-based producer to O’Riordan when she was searching for potential collaborators to make what became “Are You Listening?”
This was an audition of sorts, Brodbeck thought, but to his surprise there was hardly any music involved.
“It was 100 per cent based on personalities clicking,” he said.
Over a lobster dinner they discussed life, their musical tastes and their families. Before long the evening had melted away. The singer bid the couple farewell with more lobster to go. She also gave Brodbeck her seal of approval.
About a week later, he was delivered another surprise in the studio when O’Riordan tossed him a few chords and a piano medley before leaving the room to work on another song.
Brodbeck was sitting alone with little guidance, which he now thinks was O’Riordan’s way of seeing what he could come up with.
When she returned a couple of hours later, O’Riordan was impressed with the results, he said. She picked up a microphone and started to sing lyrics off the top of her head.
“It was always spur-of-the-moment, gut reaction stuff,” Brodbeck said.
“She knew how to deliver a lyric, so if she came up with it on the spot, she would easily be able to convey what she wanted.”
He described O’Riordan as a musician who knew what she wanted in a song, even if she couldn’t always recognize until she heard it.
Denny DeMarchi, a Mississauga, Ont.-based musician who played keyboards and guitars for O’Riordan in the early 2000s, said she was a perfectionist on tour. Occasionally during the show she’d turn to her bandmates and nix a particular track in the moment.
“As much as that frustrated everybody in the technical crew because they had to make all kinds of changes … she was emotionally not able to go there,” he said.
“For her, singing wasn’t just something to deliver… it was a real experience.”
DeMarchi and his brother Steve, who played together in late 1980s Canadian rock outfit Alias, known for their chart-topping song “More Than Words Can Say,” both worked with O’Riordan through the years.
Their families were friends with her Canadian ex-husband, the former Duran Duran tour manager Don Burton, and their three children.
In December, DeMarchi shot a music video for his song “Christmas Day” at O’Riordan’s Canadian home north of Peterborough, Ont. He played her white grand piano in front of a picture window that overlooked the snowy property.
O’Riordan’s glistening piano was a prominent fixture of the home, and she would often use it for improvised demos. Whenever inspiration struck, she would feed cables upstairs from a makeshift recording space in the basement and set up microphones.
Richard Chycki, a Toronto producer who handled preliminary tracking of O’Riordan’s first solo album, said the singer will be forever remembered for her standout vocals and songwriting talent.
“She was on the cusp of doing more work, she had gone through quite a few changes in her life, all of that’s traumatic,” he said.
“It would’ve been really great to see her create more.”
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