Irish Echo (USA) May 10-23, 2001
She may not be everyoneís Ďcup of teaí, but that does not bother her one iota. Having sold over 50 million albums, and currently enjoying a new lease of life with her latest album, A Day Without Rain, Enya is back in the public eye once again - five years after her last studio release. Michael Finn found that despite the fame and success, Enya is still Enya.
WHEN this rare interview with Enya was first pencilled in, her publicity people were quick to point out that her recording career to date has yielded sales of over 40 million albums worldwide, elevating the Donegal native to the top echelon of Irish music artists.
By the time I sat face to face with this enigmatic and hugely popular member of the Brennan family (that also spawned Clannad) some two weeks later, global collated sales ó including her latest album, A Day Without Rain ó had swelled to a whopping 50 million units. Not a bad fortnightís work by any benchmark.
There might be those who believe Enyaís music to be dull and repetitive, and more at home in an elevator than in a personal CD player, but there are equally more who think exactly the opposite.
"I donít expect everybody to listen to Enya," she said simply when asked about criticism of her music. "Thereís a lot of diverse music out there and that can only be good. I just enjoy what I do, I love the success and enjoy the fact that people listen to my work: itís very satisfying."
Ever since the release of the groundbreaking Watermark album in 1988 ó which included the huge hit "Orinocco Flow" ó Enyaís recordings have sold an incredible 10,000 units per day, in all corners of the globe. Considering such a statistic, she could be forgiven for letting it go straight to her head.
But, having spoken with the woman whoís ranked among Irelandís richest persons, what is beyond debate is that despite the fame, Enya is still Enya. "You know, thatís something I think I can sincerely say. Anybody who knows me knows I havenít changed because of the success. That tends to happen when you come from a good strong family background ó they wonít let you change!"
The day set aside for this interview was perfectly apt. It was 27 degrees and rising on an exquisite March afternoon in Sydney, and Enya was in town to promote her new album, A Day Without Rain.
"We do get a lot of rain in Ireland, in all seasons and we had this run where it had done nothing but rain. Then one day, the sun came out and it was then that I wrote the title track ó what else could I call it?" was how she explained away the title of her fifth album. It follows a distinguished line of million-selling works such as Watermark, Shepherd Moons, The Memory of Trees and Paint The Sky With Stars and has already gone double platinum (over 140,000 units) in Australia since its release last November.
The 11-track A Day Without Rain album, produced in association with long time collaborator Nicky Ryan (The Bothy Band, Planxty) and lyricist Roma Ryan, has been described as "a heavenly mix of ethereal vocals, cinematic atmospherics and lush harmonies".
Like the work of Nana Mouskouri, therapists have identified an almost healing quality in Enyaís recordings which goes some way to explaining why her fan base is so diverse.
"People listen to the music and sense what it is about. Sometimes they know exactly what the songs are about, sometimes they interpret their own meaning to the music, and thatís great when this happens because it shows itís striking a chord.
"A man once wrote that I saved his marriage through music. He and his wife had stopped talking to each other. Theyíd lost control of their world. He bought Watermark and they started to listen to the music, and then they started to talk. Through that conversation, they started to rediscover each other and their relationship. Itís humbling to be so warmly embraced."
Because Enya is not a conventional artist (she doesnít churn out CDs every couple of months), a lot goes into the production of an album. Itís been five years since her last studio offering, The Memory Of Trees, and much of the intervening time has been spent on A Day Without Rain.
"Itís quite a slow process for me ó transferring thoughts into music ó but thatís the way I like it," she says.
Originally, she started on soundtrack work before being approached by Warner Records to do a solo album in 1987.
"I thought about it and felt that if it was at the same pace that I liked working at ó where I was the one to decide whether or not there would be an album this year ó why not. When I laid out the conditions that were important to me, they said Ďfineí, and whether they regret that now, I donít know. But itís worked really well for me. I know there are gaps there [since the last recording] but the priority is to work on the music and ensure the end result is something that I am very happy with."
The usual process for an Enya album involves her working alone in the studio, sitting at the piano and letting her thoughts and emotions roam freely. Then, itís time to let producer Nicky in on her ideas about instruments and arrangements. "Iím quite anxious at this point, because itís really an act of laying your soul bare."
"Layer upon layer, itís like painting a picture ó you dab a little bit here and there, and sit back and, in our case, listen. Sometimes in tracks like 'Deor Ar Mo ChroŪ,' or 'Fallen Embers,' there were originally a lot more elaborate vocal parts but it was a case of taking them out upon listening back - they werenít needed. Itís very important not to lose sight of the emotional content of the melody. Thatís why itís a slow process. Weíre not afraid of stripping things off and starting again. Itís the end result that matters."
With such a long time in between drinks, the risks with a new album are many. But up to now, the fans have remained loyal and appear content that Enya continues to produce albums, not bothering too much about the time-span between releases. "Enyaís never been a frequent artist or one who competes with the flavours of the moment: she has always stood firmly on her own ground," producer Nicky Ryan believes.
And because there has been such a long hiatus since the last studio album, Enya believes itís like starting all over again and being challenged to be more creative. "You feel youíve got to prove yourself again and you only find out if youíre successful if people [buy the album and] listen to it. Itís wrong to take success for granted. After two years, though, we felt it was time to step out of the studio ó it was time for the album to have its life out in the world."
In recent years, Enya has garnered a reputation for being something of a recluse, preferring the solitude of her Killiney castle ó "itís only a small one" ó to the gaze of the public spotlight. Deserved or not, this is something that now amuses rather than annoys her.
"I have always been a very independent person, and I attribute that to having gone to boarding school. I was the fourth youngest in the family and up to then, I had my sisters always answering for me. In boarding school, I was the one making the decisions."
Following the phenomenal success of "Orinocco Flow" and Watermark, Enya embarked on a promotional blitz that took her all around the world ó from the States to Japan. After several months on the road, she felt she needed to take time out.
"So, I decided to stand out of the limelight. I didnít think there was a rulebook which said that because I was now a success, I had to go to all these premieres, photo shoots and nightclubs. I thought, why do that if I donít want to?"
Instead of all that, she immersed herself in her family and friends in Donegal and, subsequently, became the focus of attention for the British tabloids.
"They decided how strange it was that I didnít want to be famous. But thereís a difference between fame and success: you can buy fame, you canít buy success. My being with family and friends in Donegal was not sensational enough for them," she pointed out, which led them to develop this culture of mystique around her.
"It wasnít really a conscious decision on my part, but it just felt like the right thing to do. Because of that, Iíve been able to retain a private lifestyle. The music always sold before people knew who I was and the music has always been the important aspect of Enya."
Note: Originally transcribed by Troman.