Sound engineer Mike Plotnikoff has a long history with The Cranberries. His first encounter with the band was engineering “To the Faithful Departed,” working alongside his good friend, the late Bruce Fairbairn. He then mixed “Bury the Hatchet” in 1999 and “Beneath the Skin,” released in 2001. Now (much to his surprise), he’s been asked not only to mix Dolores O’Riordan’s new solo song “Black Widow”, but also her upcoming solo album, which, Matt says, Dolores is scheduled to begin recording in November. For this and more revelations, read the transcript below or download the MP3.
I called Mike Plotnikoff at LA’s Bay 7 Studios today on the telephone for an interview about his current and past work with Dolores and The Cranberries. And here’s what he had to say…
Alex Kraus’s Phone Interview with Mike Plotnikoff (MP3, 7mb,, 15mins)
(LINK NO LONGER AVAILABLE)
Zombieguide: Hey, this is Alex from Zombieguide.com, we’re on the phone here with Mike Plotnikoff, who Cranberries fans will remember was the engineer for “To the Faithful Departed”; he mixed “Bury the Hatchet” and also the live DVD “Beneath the Skin,” and he also mixed some songs on “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee,” which I did not know til I looked at your resume. I thought it was entirely handled by Cenzo Townshend? Most recently, and what everyone seems to be talking about is, Mike, you also mixed Dolores’ solo track “Black Widow.”
Mike Plotnikoff: Yes I did, just one track a couple of weeks ago
Zombieguide: OK, well, since that seems to be the topic of interest right now, we’ll get started with that
Mike Plotnikoff: Sure.
Zombieguide: And, trust me, anyone who’s listening to this is going to be really jealous of you for getting to hear it before the rest of us.
Mike Plotnikoff: OK [slight laughter]
Zombieguide: So you say you mixed it a couple of weeks ago, we just found out about your involvement within the past week or so.
Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah, they called me up, I guess it was a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know if you know Don, obviously, Dolores’s husband.
Mike Plotnikoff: He called me to see if I’d be interested in mixing this track. I think what they want to try to do, what he told me, is to get it into the new Spiderman movie?
Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah, so that’s what it was for. For the new soundtrack which they’re going to try to get it into. I think that was the thing behind this one song.
Zombieguide: Interesting… because we also learned recently that she recorded a song for Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ” movie.
Mike Plotnikoff: Yes, she did.
Zombieguide: Did you have any involvement with that?
Mike Plotnikoff: No, I was going to mix it and for some reason it just fell through. I think what happened was that they went with an a cappella version only. [Editor’s note: Does that imply there are other versions?]
Zombieguide: Yeah, in Latin.
Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah, exactly. So they said, “There’s no point,” they’re just going to put the vocals up themselves wherever they tracked it. They sent me this other song which is going to try to be for another soundtrack.
Zombieguide: So the other song didn’t require much mixing?
Mike Plotnikoff: No, it didn’t. It was pretty much vocal only, so it was only a 5-minute mix really.
Zombieguide: We’ve heard of another title called “Croatia” — is that the song?
Mike Plotnikoff: [thinking] Uh.. no, I think it’s a song I know they asked me to mix. I dont know if they mixed it already, but I know I spoke with Dolores about a week ago and she asked if I’d be interested in an offer to do that as well [?]
[Editor’s note: Given that the song for the “Passion” soundtrack song appears finished and so does “Black Widow,” we have good reason to believe that “Croatia” is indeed the title of the song Dolores O’Riordan recorded for Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ”…]
Zombieguide: Dolores has said that these new solo tracks that she’s doing are very different from what she’s done in the past with The Cranberries…
Mike Plotnikoff: [emphatically] Yes, they are! Well, obviously I’ve just heard “Black Widow,” but it’s really different.
Zombieguide: In what way?
Mike Plotnikoff: It’s more experimental type. I don’t know if you remember a song that was on the movie soundtrack for “The Devil’s Own”…
Zombieguide: Yeah, yeah, yeah! [getting excited…] “God Be With You.”
Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah, “God Be With You.” It’s more along those lines. A lot of keyboards and programming… experimental is about the best way I can describe it.
Zombieguide: [shitting a brick] Excellent!! “God Be With You” is one of my absolute favorite songs.
Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah, its kind of along that line: very quirky, but it’s a very interesting, really cool song.
Zombieguide: Now, does that make a difference in how it’s mixed?
Mike Plotnikoff: [hesitating] Not really, but then you could be a little more experimental with delay and stuff. You could take it a little more that “quirkiness” way, take it more left-field.
Zombieguide: Are there any past Cranberries songs you’d compare it with, other than “God Be With You”?
Mike Plotnikoff: No, it’s nothing compared to any Cranberries song at all.
Zombieguide: [intrigued] Really?
Mike Plotnikoff: Nothing, no.
Zombieguide: Fascinating. Are there any other artists you’d compare it with?
Mike Plotnikoff: I guess along the lines of, if anybody else, Björk, some of the weird stuff Björk would do.
Zombieguide: [shitting another brick] Really?!? I’m a big Björk fan, too.
Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah, it’d be along those lines, the Björk category. But then at the end it gets really cool because these big drums and guitars come in at the very end through the last chorus and it has this Led Zepplin-y feel drum sound, it has that element too. But for the most part, it’s a lot of bizarre programming and with Dolores and her vocals and you know the things she can do with her vocals.
Zombieguide: Now, you talked to Don for this, did you have any contact with Dolores?
Mike Plotnikoff: Uh, yeah, I talked to Dolores a few times. She basically said to do what I do and that was all. She just kind of left it open to see how I would interpret it.
Zombieguide: Now, Matt Vaughan co-produced the song, is that right?
Mike Plotnikoff: You know, I don’t even know.
Zombieguide: Well, he did. Did you have any contact with him at all?
Mike Plotnikoff: No, I didn’t.
Zombieguide: No? OK. Do you know where it was recorded, by the way?
Mike Plotnikoff: I think it was recorded in Metalworks in Toronto.
Zombieguide: OK… ’cause she’s been recording there with Matt for the past few months and she also recorded with him in London.
Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah, I think that’s where “Black Widow” was recorded [in Toronto].
Zombieguide: Cool. Right now, it’s listed on the Timeless Music label, which I guess is what The Cranberries’ self-owned label, [that’s] what they’re going to call it, now that they left Universal this year. Do you have any idea of what’s going on with that?
Mike Plotnikoff: No idea.
Zombieguide: No idea? Because right now it looks like it exists in name only…
Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah, I just spoke with Dolores last week, I guess it was. I’m going to go work on the record with her in Toronto, to finish the record she’s working on right now.
Zombieguide: The record….? [prying, already knowing what the answer is]
Mike Plotnikoff: Her solo record, after I finish the record I’m working on right now.
Zombieguide: Now there’s been a lot of conflicting reports about this so- called solo record that she’s doing. Is it, indeed, a full record?
Mike Plotnikoff: I, I have no idea. Songs, I don’t know what it is.
Zombieguide: The band is being very vague about it at the moment.
Mike Plotnikoff: I think it’s just going to be her solo record and not going to involve the other band members. I’m pretty sure about that. But I could be wrong about that. All I know is that they called me up to ask if I could come and work with her sometime in November in Toronto at Metalworks Studios. And that’s about as much as I know.
Zombieguide: The band’s PR announced in September that the band themselves are taking a two-year break to do side projects, like Dolores’s solo material, etc. Do you know anything about that at all?
Mike Plotnikoff: No.
Zombieguide: No? And the band themselves are slowly — very slowly — putting together their sixth album. Pathetic_Senses (aka Saeed) from the Zombieguide Forums wants to know if you have any idea if you’ll be inovled with it.
Mike Plotnikoff: No idea, I haven’t heard anything.
Zombieguide: Dolores has said in a few interviews that on these new songs she’s doing, she’s using a lot of new tools she hadn’t used before, like ProTools, etc. Do you know what she’s using?
Mike Plotnikoff: ProTools.
Zombieguide: ProTools? Anything else?
Mike Plotnikoff: [inaudible program name] maybe. I think she’d do all her programming with [inaudible]. I have no idea…
Zombieguide: OK, let’s go back in time just a little bit to “To the Faithful Departed.” The band said then that they wanted the album to sound really raw, almost live. How did you approach that in terms of mixing? Because that album has a much different sound to it in comparison to other albums by them.
Mike Plotnikoff: Well, we set them up live and what we recorded was pretty much what we mixed. We tried to keep it as simple as possible. I think that was the plan, because it was supposed to be more “rock” than the last two albums, the two previous records. I’m trying to think back, it was a long time ago. I’m not sure, pretty much how I do every kind of mixing, throw up the frame and let the song take shape and whatever comes out at the end, hopefully will track in a way that the song takes you in a certain direction.
Zombieguide: And then on “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee,” I just learned that you had mixed some tracks on that. What songs were you involved with? Do you remember?
Mike Plotnikoff: I don’t even know! I noticed it was on allmusic.com, I was looking at my discography one day and noticed the mix credit on there. I don’t know which songs they put on there. They must have put some B- sides on there that didn’t make either “Bury the Hatchet” or “To the Faithful Departed.”
Zombieguide: It could be… they recorded “Do You Know” for “Bury the Hatchet” originally, but they ended up putting it on “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee.”
Mike Plotnikoff: That’s probably what it is then, because I wasn’t involved with that record.
Zombieguide: Yeah, because that surprised me. I think that Cenzo Townshend handled most of it
Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah. Well, I think that they just took that song that I did a mix of…
Zombieguide: Ah, well, I was under the impression that they re-recorded that song.
Mike Plotnikoff: Maybe they did, I’m not sure. I haven’t even looked at the record to see what I was credited for. I just know that it’s out there.
Zombieguide: [One of your agents] sent me your discography and it’s listed on there too.
Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah, so it must be something. You know, there are so many records that I don’t keep track of them. Sometimes my name will appear on records I don’t even know.
Mike Plotnikoff: A lot of times they’re songs that they’ve recorded before that somehow got on there. So, I don’t know, I’d have to check into it to see what it was. I couldn’t tell you off hand.
Zombieguide: Hmmm. Ode to Dolores on the Zombieguide Forums wants to know just generally how you go about your job. Do artists ask you to do specific things or do you have the freedom to try out your own ideas?
Mike Plotnikoff: It’s both. I have my own creative free will but if they don’t like it, they definitely say something. A lot of times, they’ll steer me in a direction and give me an idea of what they want and I’ll try to go that way. Hopefully, I’ll go along the right path and if not, then they’ll say, OK, do this or do that. Because a lot of times I’ll do something and it’s not what they expect it to be.
Zombieguide: OK, just looking at the questions that people have posted on the Forums, just looking to see if there’s anything else… umm, I guess you’re not that inimately involved with the band?
Mike Plotnikoff: I’m not! You know, the last time I worked with them was quite awhile ago and I was quite suprised when they called me to do the “Black Widow” song, because I hadn’t actually spoken with them for quite awhile. So then I got a call to say if I could do this track. Then I’ve been in contact with them for the last couple of weeks regarding working with Dolores and her solo record.
Zombieguide: Right. Do you know of anybody else that would be involved with that?
Mike Plotnikoff: No idea, and you know, I’m still trying to make my schedule so that I can do this. I’m pretty tied up for almost the next year.
Zombieguide: Wow. Because over the past year they’ve been recording demos and things for upcoming releases and they’ve worked with almost everybody they’ve worked with in the past — Stephen Street, Cenzo Townshend again, you… Matt Vaughan is new, I think this is the first time they’re working with him. But it’s just kind of been a collection of The Cranberries’ past in terms of who they’re working with.
Mike Plotnikoff: Right…
Zombieguide: …Because the band’s Official Website hasn’t been updated for almost two months and there are things going on. It’s just very strange that the Irish press has all these reports out that nobody can really confirm or deny and the people at their Official Site won’t confirm or deny anything for the past two months. So I think the band is just leaving themselves just really open-ended as to what they’re doing in the future in terms of Dolores’s solo projects and I think Noel’s working on something. He was scheduled to work with a sitarist, but that got cancelled, and the Irish press is reporting that he’s working on a solo album
Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah, they may be doing that, they’ve been together for so long that they may be doing solo records. But, yeah, as far as I know for myself, I’m out of the loop when it comes to that inside information. They know for themselves what’s going on.
Zombieguide: [joking] I wonder about that!
Mike Plotnikoff: Sorry?
Zombieguide: I wonder about that sometimes…
Mike Plotnikoff: What’s that?
Zombieguide: Whether they know what’s going on.
Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah, they probably don’t even know what’s going on. I know that there are some health problems, you know, their families and stuff.
Zombieguide: Yeah, I know Dolores is in Canada right now because her mother-in-law has some health problems.
Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah, I know Noel’s wife has some health problems, the same with Mike’s wife. So I think there are a lot of things that happened all at once.
Zombieguide: One of Fergal’s children had glaucoma in both eyes.
Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah, last evening I know when I spoke with Dolores, she mentioned that she was taking a break because a lot things had happened all at once. [inaudible]
Zombieguide: Yeah, it’s pretty clear with this break that it’s to spend with their families and take personal time.
Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah, I think were a lot of things that all just came down at once and they need to get back a little bit. But thats what I got from it, you know. [inaudible]
Zombieguide: Thanks a bunch for your time, it’s incredibly appreciated. And if you work with them again in the future, I hope to talk to you again!
Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah, well, I’ll be working with them again in November, with Dolores anyways. That’s pretty much the only for-sure thing.
Zombieguide: Well, maybe I’ll be able to talk to you again, after you get some work done for her.
Mike Plotnikoff: Sure.
Zombieguide: Thank you, Mike! Huge, big, big thanks! Mike Plotnikoff: Yeah, OK, no problem!
Zombieguide would like to thank Mike Plotnikoff for his time and also thank all the fine folks at his agency, Nettwerk Management, for arranging this interview for us!