Enya's Enchanting World
HMV (Canada) 20 December 2000
Irish Siren Returns On A Day Without Rain
Eithne Ni Bhraonain, better known to millions as recording artist Enya, laughs as she explains why a plant in her hotel room is seated in a chair facing the window. Apparently the previous interview, in a day packed with inquisitors, required a little shuffling of furniture and changing of the surroundings. So the plant got its own chair. But, she says good-naturedly, it wasn't by her insistence, nor has she given the plant a name. "I'm not that eccentric," she confides.
It's refreshing to see artists poke fun at the public image formed around them. In Enya's case, it's an image that's been cultivated without any effort on her part. Ever since she emerged from seemingly out of nowhere with her incredibly lush 1988 debut Watermark (10 million sold, propelled by her hypnotic first single 'Orinoco Flow'), many a myth has been created around her. Both her loyal fan base and the media have been guilty of casting the Irish songstress as some sort of real-life siren, sitting in solitude on a rocky shore, swathed in mist while awaiting her muse. Currently in the midst of a promotional tour for her first new album in five years A Day Without Rain, she is not only interested in revealing the process behind her entrancing work, but perhaps in dispelling the mythology a wee bit.
"A lot of people say they don't know much about me - they know my music," she says softly. "But in a way I share a lot of me through the music, emotionally. It exposes more than just reading about where I was last week."
Indeed, much of the discussion concerning A Day Without Rain has referred to it as Enya's most personal work to date, with songs like the first single 'Only Time' and the melancholic 'Fallen Embers' ("Once, all dreams were worth keeping/ I was with you") coming under close scrutiny. True, many of the songs deal with love won then lost, and the themes of change and 'what if?' crop up often. But as with most of Enya's albums, the laments are offset by jaunty, buoyant melodies ('Flora's Secret') and life-affirming messages. Enya agrees that it's a very personal record, but she doesn't really know how to make anything but.
"I think they're all personal, but it's a different time," she says."What I was experiencing in 1998 would be different than what I was experiencing in 1988. I think that's the same with anyone. As you grow older there's a lot of change. I just find in my own life there are a lot of things that I think back about and say 'Why did I let that bother me so much then?' I think you mellow out after a time, and I certainly have done that in my life. And there are a lot of questions in our personal lives that we ask at times, and I was doing that as well. It isn't that it was so much on my mind, but it kept sort of popping up in the writing of the music. The song 'Pilgrim' is about those sorts of things - I was asking myself 'Well, what has this been like for you?'
"I've been asked by family and friends, because they know how much time I dedicate to working on a new album, 'Do you miss not having a family of your own?' And I started thinking about that. But to this day, I really enjoy it, and I wouldn't change anything."
That's good news for Enya's fans, and for her record company as well. In today's commodity driven music industry, many artists aren't given a shelf-life beyond two releases. And most artists are certainly not granted the luxury of taking years to craft their works, with precious little record company involvement in the creative process. In sheer commerce terms, Enya's track record speaks for itself - 44 million albums sold worldwide, all without the benefit of touring or extensive media saturation. But from Enya's standpoint, it is absolutely necessary to be given full artistic freedom, and to allow the music to evolve at its own pace.
"Regardless of how much you sell, you can't be sure that the audience will be there. And for me, that makes me not take anything for granted. But I solely concentrate on the music, I can't think about the success. It's too much of a distraction. Thinking about those things, like 'Maybe we should try to sound more like this or that,' or 'What should the single be'...I think it's wrong to put that kind of pressure on music. There's a lot of freedom in the way we work."
Lest anyone think that Enya is fond of using the royal 'we,' the collective she is referring to is the triumvirate that has worked on the albums from day one - herself, producer Nicky Ryan and his wife, lyricist Roma Ryan. With each album, the creative process runs more or less like this - Enya crafts the melodies and decides upon the mood she wishes to convey with each piece; Roma listens to the melodies, consults with Enya on lyrical ideas and fleshes them out; Nicky distills the grandeur from Enya's ideas and commits them to tape. Very rarely is any outside help called upon - all vocals and instrumentation are done by Enya.
Of course, such attention to detail coupled with lack of outside interference can, and in this case does, result in years spent in the studio. But now that the trio has their own studio, that's not much of a concern. And where in the past the creative environment might've been charged with intensity from such a close working relationship, things are, according to Enya, a tad more relaxed now.
"We're giving each other more space. If Roma has an idea, I'll want to hear about it. In the past maybe I'd have to admit to being a bit... reluctant at times if I thought an idea was totally against what I wanted to do. But now I find I'm more open in regards to any idea. And I think sometimes it is good to clear the air as well. I think that that's to do with the beginning of my career, when we didn't have our own studio, and sometimes we'd start a piece in one studio and have to transfer to another, and the engineer there would be complimentary and negative in the same sentence. 'It's nice, but...' In other words, they'd be saying 'Well, it's not very commercial - what are you going to do with it?' And that's not great when you're trying to work on something - you can't be distracted by opinions like that.
"Our new studio is designed to provide no distractions, but I can go in there and a week goes by and I haven't written anything yet. But it's Nicky's encouragement - he's always said 'You have a lot of melodies in you.' So that's a good way of thinking, and then I can go back in the studio with that in mind," she says with a laugh. She smiles, the memories of creating A Day Without Rain fresh in her mind. "But that moment where I write a melody is still a very exciting moment, and I never get tired of that. And when I write a melody, I sit back and think 'This is why I do what I do,' because I love that moment so much. It's worth it."