No Rain, No Gain - The Enya Interview
BMG Music (USA) December 2001
You can call Enya's music anything you want — new age, world music, ambient. Just make sure you also call it successful.
Since the 1980s, when she left Clannad, the Irish group formed by her siblings and uncles, Eithne Ni Bhraonain (pronounced Enya Brennan) has sold more than 44 million albums, which makes her in Ireland's top-selling solo artist ever (yes, that's Van Morrison somewhere in her multi-platinum dust). And she's scored at least one acknowledged worldwide smash with 1988's Orinoco Flow (Sail Away).
Working with producer Nicky Ryan and his wife, lyricist Roma Ryan, Enya has carved a niche for herself with music that's moody, lush, and ethereal. She does more of the same on her latest effort, "A Day Without Rain," which is also her first album of all-new music in five years, following 1997's "Paint The Sky With Stars" compilation.
"Rain" again finds Enya and the Ryans meticulously crafting soundscapes and airs for the 11 songs, sometimes taking weeks on each one, because they insist on recording each of the instruments rather than relying on samples and loops; on the album-closing Lazy Days, however, she comes up with her hookiest melody since Orinoco Flow.
Besides hawking her new album, Enya has other projects in her pipeline, including the possibility of some live performances, which heretofore have been the missing ingredient in her otherwise celebrated career. Until then, however, she continues to happily paint the sky with her own distinct brand of musical magic.
Your last release, "Paint The Sky With Stars," was a compilation from your previous albums. Did you feel like that album cleaned the slate for you and opened doors to other musical avenues?
Enya: I don't know; I actually hadn't thought of that. I think there has been, certainly, a different feel to this album, and maybe that's because, as you're pointing out, the last one drew it out of me. I definitely know there were key factors where I was asking myself, "Would I change anything?" Asking yourself, "Is this the journey you hoped for?" And when I finished this album, one of the things I said was, "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." And I think you're right — that kind of questioning probably was spurred on by working on the best-of.
What did you set out to do on "A Day Without Rain"?
Oh, I have no idea what I'm going to write about, ever. I just know that I'm going to try and express myself in some way, musically, but that's as far as I know. I don't know if it's going to be a piano melody I'm going to write or a song in English, or a song in Gaelic. I have no idea, and I like that. There's a lot of excitement inherent in working that way. You go into the studio and sit there, and I write the melody and, basically, I don't know what it's going to be. Then I play it to Nicky and Roma, and they ask, "What is this song about? What does it mean?" Even when we're arranging I would discuss with Roma things regarding the lyrics, what is suited to it. It's quite exciting.
How hard is it to make sure Roma Ryan comes up with lyrics that you feel comfortable singing?
There are certain lyrics that are more sort of obvious than others. Like the song in Gaelic (Deora ar mo Chroi), when I wrote that melody, it was very much in the frame of a traditional Irish song, very much in the frame of a lament, where the women used to lament the loss of someone or someone emigrating.
That's the feeling I got, that the song was going to have that feel and be sung in Gaelic. And Flora's Secret, that was totally a theme inspired by Roma listening to the melody and the arrangement as it was progressing. She thought this was a very positive, lively piece of music, and when she came with the lyrics and the title, I immediately asked, like everyone has been asking me, "What is Flora's secret?" She told me that Flora is the girl's name, and she's in the long grass with her lover — this is their secret place to meet. They're surrounded by flowers, and the goddess of flowers is Flora, too, and she's the only one to know the secret of these flowers and these lovers. I thought, "Wow, what a wonderful theme."
What about Lazy Days, which closes the album? That's atypical, almost poppy.
It's quite uptempo, yes. That is something that has evolved, a positiveness within the melody, quite a bit of rhythm within the string section more so than other albums. Lazy Days and Wild Child have a positive kind of beat to them. It's basically a song about taking a day to chill out; it's important at the pace we go at this stage, when we're focused too much on work, it's important to take a lazy day.
Sounds like a little bit of self-help advice.
Oh, yes [laughs]. I felt at one stage, with the success of "Watermark" and "Shepherd Moons," there was a lot of work in the studio. This time I felt that, as far as weighing out my lifestyle and sacrifice, I didn't want to lose out on living a normal lifestyle. So I'm taking weekends and stuff; that's where I'm at, at this stage. Basically I'm catching up with family and friends. When I'd take a break, I'd travel. It's really good to be able to do that.
That might explain some of the more generally upbeat tones on the album.
That could be. I think it's because I am within myself. As you pointed out, with "Paint The Sky With Stars," that had me thinking quite a bit, musically and on my life in general, asking a lot of questions. Basically the answers have been very positive answers to myself and have come through the music. That's how I'm feeling at the moment; it's a very positive feeling I have. That's why I feel it's evolved through a lot of the themes on this album, even down to the fact that they're all in major key signatures, except for Tempus Vernum, which goes major to minor, major to minor. The minor keys have more of a sense of melancholy to them. I just feel this is the way I was actually feeling, and that's come through the melodies, which has been great.
Will we ever see Enya in a live setting?
That is something that myself and Nicky talk about — mostly Nicky because before he worked with me, he was working with live sound. It'd be a really great thing to do. We've first been talking about next year, trying to at least do a TV special performance, 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, but definitely the music can cross over to a rendering for a live performance. We're both very confident about that. On a musical side, it'd be absolutely wonderful to be surrounded by musicians playing all those parts. It would be such a challenge, but on the other side, it would be so wonderful to sit in front of a live audience. I would enjoy that moment.
Note: Transcribed by Troman.