On Her Shore
Inside Borders (USA) January 2001
An Exclusive Interview with Enya
As mysterious as she is successful, Enya is one of the most fascinating figures in modern music. Her career began when she joined the Irish group Clannad back in the 1980s. After they split, she composed a soundtrack for a BBC series on the Celts. She exploded into the mainstream in 1988 with her solo album Watermark and its instantly familiar smash hit, "Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)." Over the next 12 years, she sold more than 40 million albums, and although she never set out to redefine or reinvigorate New Age or Celtic music, she is often credited with that accomplishment. Despite the Gaelic surroundings of many of her songs, their landscapes of emotion and nostalgia are familiar to all. She is a master of electronic ambiance, but she is perhaps best known for taking a simple melody and layering it with many vocal harmonies (her voice is sometimes overdubbed hundreds of times in a song). Her music has been used in several films over the years, most significantly L.A. Story, Far and Away and The Age of Innocence. Although Enya is the face and voice of the music, it is actually created by the longtime triumvirate of Enya and the husband-and-wife team of Nicky and Roma Ryan. Enya composes the music, plays the instruments, and sings; Nicky produces and records; and Roma writes the lyrics. Released this past November, A Day Without Rain is Enya's first new album in five years. And although it's as exotic as its predecessors, it is significantly lighter and more playful in tone. Here the reclusive Enya discusses her career and the forces that lie at the heart of her music.
What caused you to move away from your work with Clannad and towards a solo career?
Enya: Music was always around me ever since I was a child. It was impossible not to be involved in the music world. My mum and dad are musicians, and both played in my dad's dance band. Even my grandmother played drums. The whole Clannad involvement has been so distorted over time. The fact is, at the time I took up with Clannad, Nicky and Roma were managing them. It was Nicky who invited me to join the group. It was after Nicky and Roma ceased to be a part of Clannad that I left the group. I did not want to be part of the group without having them in charge, so I left the Clannads and entrusted my future to Nicky and Roma, which obviously proved to be a very wise decision. Initially, I lived at their home in Dublin, which made sense as they had a studio there where I could develop my music.
What was it like during your early solo days? Was it tough "breaking in?"
E: Not really. I was just happy to be given the opportunity to begin a career in music. Nicky stopped his work as a live sound engineer, for which he was quite famous, and set up a studio at their home in Dublin. Roma did the administration, while also working on her poetry and art. During the times when the studio wasn't busy, I worked on my music there. Roma eventually spoke to Tony MacAuley, a BBC producer and good friend, about a six-part documentary titled The March of the Celts. It was initially intended that there would be a different composer for each program in the series, but after hearing our demo, the director, David Richardson, gave me the full 70 minutes of the soundtrack. The BBC then released the soundtrack, and it was this album that brought me to the attention of major record companies.
Tell us about the new album.
E: The title refers to the mood of a particularly peaceful day on which there was no rain. As you know, we do get a lot of rain in Ireland, during all the seasons! We had had a run of days where it had done nothing but rain. Then one day, the sun came out. It was then that I wrote the title track, so what else could I call it? I do think that the abundance of pizzicato on the album was also inspired by the pitter-patter of rain. We have a large room above the studio, which we use for resting between recordings, and the sound of rain can be heard quite clearly there. With regard to the creative process on each album, there are three creators -- Nicky, Roma, and myself. We all have different ideas about the music and look at it from different angles. I am mainly concerned with the composition of the music; melody and harmony are very important to me. Nicky is obviously concerned with the sound and is always looking to push the borders. Roma, naturally, is primarily concerned with the lyric, and the subject matter and sense of it. Usually, Nicky and I will work on a piece, get some sense of arrangement into it, and feel which direction we would like it to take. The melody, the rhythms, and the sense of the composition will dictate, to a degree, which path Roma chooses to follow. None of us sets out on an album with a particular theme. It happens. It evolves. I am inclined to treat each piece individually, to work on it as a piece in its own right, rather than part of a collection.
What inspires you? What in life causes you to feel the way that your music makes your millions of listeners feel?
E: Many things inspire me when I am composing, most of which come from thoughts I have about special moments in my life -- from memories, from my childhood, from my family, and from people I know from the landscapes of my native Gaothdobhair. Gaothdobhair is very beautiful; it is in the Northwest coast of Ireland, set against the Atlantic Ocean. The name translates as "Plain of the Winds," which may give you some idea of its character.
Fans of many different styles of music share a love for yours in particular, even if they don't like a lot of music that's similar to yours. Why do you think this is?
E: Like anyone else, I have good and bad experiences in my life, and I know that these moments must be reflected in the music, in the same way Roma applies her own feelings and experiences in the lyrics. What you have then is a combination of these inner thoughts and emotions. Added to that is Nicky's way of interpreting those moods through his recording and production techniques. I think a lot of people relate to this, regardless of their tastes and preferences, as emotion is a common bond for all of us.
One of the best known facts about Enya is that you very rarely perform live. Why is this? Do you see any live performances in the future?
E: When I was with Clannad, I did many concerts in all sorts of venues. With my own music, however, it is very different. Everything you hear on an album is played by me, and every voice and harmony is sung by me. It would be a huge undertaking to perform live, and we worry that the music will be a very different thing on stage. I would dearly love to perform; the question is really of logistics and time. Nicky is very keen to tour; as I've mentioned before, he was famous as a live sound engineer. We have been approached by the best in the business, and we are seriously considering it. In the past, it has mainly been because of lack of time rather than anything else, as making an Enya album takes up a lot of time. So, hopefully in the future, you will see a live Enya concert.