A Siren for a new age
The Calgary Herald (Canada) 1 February 2001
Enya seeks a balance between life and music
For the past 15 years, Enya has made her mark in the studio, selling more than 45 million copies of her ethereal, meticulously produced albums without singing a single note to promote them on the concert stage.
But with the release of her latest album, A Day Without Rain, the Irish singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist says she may actually consider performing live for the first time since 1985,  when she left Clannad, the band formed by her siblings and uncles.
"It'd be a really great thing to do," the 39-year-old Enya says.
She reports she's being nudged back toward the stage by Nicky Ryan, her chief collaborator and the husband of her lyricist, Roma Ryan. The support of Ryan, who was also Clannad's sound engineer before Enya struck out on her solo career, is essential, because many have questioned whether her intricately layered music could be recreated outside of the studio.
"We've first been talking about trying to at least do a TV special performance," she says, "having the setting, say, in a cathedral or something, and involve quite a few people -- orchestrating the music, having a choir. It'd be fantastic to try.
"You can't emulate the same sound," Enya admits, "but definitely the music can cross over to a rendering for a live performance. We're both very confident about that."
That would provide a new twist on a low-key but remarkable career that began when Enya -- born Eithne Ni Bhraonain, pronounced "Enya Brennan," in Ireland's Gaelic-speaking County Donegal -- was a child. She was, in fact, a solo performer of some note even before hooking up with Clannad, which she left after she started to feel stifled by her older relatives.
There was some degree of risk involved in that, too. Enya says that when she started making her own music -- first for the BBC documentary The Celts (1986) and then for her own albums -- she encountered nonbelievers, particularly among the executives at her record company.
"Their reaction to the music was 'Oh, it's nice, but it's not very commercial, is it? What are you going to do with it?' " she recalls. "It wasn't very encouraging, you know?"
Those executives have long since eaten those words, of course. The moody, lush and atmospheric soundscapes crafted by Enya and the Ryans may at first have seemed hard to sell to the masses, but they've found a ready and enthusiastic audience since the release of the hit Watermark (1988). Enya has proven herself capable of producing songs with hooks as catchy as any standard-issue pop single, including her ubiquitous first hit, "Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)", and "Pilgrim", the concluding track of A Day Without Rain.
A Day Without Rain -- which debuted at No. 23 on the Billboard Top 200 chart in November 2000, with first-week sales of nearly 119,000 -- is Enya's first album of new music in five years, following her compilation album, Paint the Sky With Stars (1997), which sold 8.5 million copies. She cites no particular reason for the lengthy hiatus, however, merely the vagaries of the creative process.
"I have no idea what I'm going to write about when we start," she says. "I just know I'm going to try and express myself in some way, musically, but that's as much as I know. . . . This is why I do it," she concludes. "It's an adventure."
Putting together the Paint the Sky With Stars compilation inspired her to reflect on her career, she says, and reviewing her work only reinforced her feeling that she was on the right path.
"Working on this album," she continues, "there were key factors I was asking myself as far as 'Would I change anything?' The song, Pilgrim, is about that, about each one of us being our own pilgrim and asking yourself 'Is this the journey you hoped for? Would you change anything?'
"When I finished the album," Enya concludes, "one of the things I said was that I wouldn't change anything in the last 12 years. Each step I've taken, I've done it very happily. It's a nice sort of realization, to sit back and say 'There's nothing I'd like to change.' "
If her career doesn't seem to need much tweaking, the same isn't necessarily true of her private life.
Single but with a steady boyfriend, Enya says she made a point of taking a bit more time off during the making of A Day Without Rain -- "living a normal lifestyle, taking weekends and stuff."
With the new album out, Enya is looking ahead to future projects, including music for the Keanu Reeves film Sweet November, which will open nationwide Feb. 16 and feature her new song "Only Time".
Then there's that live television special which, if it works to her satisfaction, may lead to more concert dates and perhaps even a full tour.
"On a musical side, it'd be absolutely wonderful to be surrounded by musicians playing all those parts," she says.
"It would be such a challenge, but on the other side it would be so wonderful to sing in front of a live audience. I would enjoy that moment."
Note: Originally transcribed by Troman. 1. Enya left Clannad in 1982.