Enya: It's a Beautiful Day
Irish Voice (USA) 29 Nov - 5 Dec, 2000
Already Ireland's most successful female entertainer, Enya has a new album hitting the airwaves. Irish Voice music columnist Mike Farragher listens to A Day Without Rain, and reports on the intensely-private singer, who discusses her Clannad days, the recording process, and hints at a tour to come.
Enya has always been synonymous with a peaceful, easy feeling in my house. When the nerves of my blushing bride were tangled in knots on the day of our wedding, the gentle piano bliss of "Watermark" kept her knees from kicking long enough to walk down the aisle. Enya's CDs are permanently embedded in the boomboxes of the kids' rooms to induce slumber, and we never leave the house without a copy of "Shepherd Moon" because our hectic schedule sometimes requires our kids to nap in the car.
With that in mind, I packed Enya's new album, A Day Without Rain, into the suitcase for use during a recent business trip. I was about to battle with the most punishing traffic tie-up ever conceived by a highway authority. Since my type-A nervous system cooks up my blood to a rolling boil during traffic. I couldn't think of a better way to road test the calming effect of the Irish chauneuse's newest release!
My body locked in tension as I popped the CD in the player and hopped in the rental car at Logan airport. I knew that the "Big Dig" was ahead on the horizon. "The Big Dig", as it is less-than-affectionately known among the residents of Boston, is a seemingly endless construction project that will eventually improve the traffic flow in the central arteries and tunnels of the city.
For the time being, it is a befuddled hunk of steel that clogs traffic in ways that even the most withered Manhattan traveler could scarcely comprehend. As my car crawled through the construction like a slug through a rotten peach, the title track wafted through the cabin of my sub-compact rice burner. The organic piano plucking and gentle hum of Enya's multi-layered vocal went to work on my throbbing temples, and images of foggy Donegal landscape danced before my eyes. I was so wrapped up in the peaceful imagery that the turn for my exit passed by without notice.
The spirited string arrangement of "Wild Child" was a great inspiration as I recklessly cut off other motorists to merge onto Route 93. There was a sudden hairpin turn to the interstate, and my heart was under stress not seen since Dick Cheney started fretting over Dade County "hanging chad" ballots. I raised my fists in victory as the lights of the construction project blinked in my rearview mirror. The windshield wipers kept time with the low sawing cello that anchors "Tempus Vernum" as I basked in the victory's glow after conquering the Big Dig.
Getting this writer through the treacherous Boston traffic is just one of the many success stories associated with this goddess of New Age. She was born Eithne Ni Bhraonain into a musical family that would eventually form the influential band Clannad. In the event that Regis ever asks for your final answer on this, Clannad means "family" in Gaelic.
"Myself and Roma were managing the road show for Clannad in 1979," says Enya's producer and manager, Nicky Ryan, in a video-taped interview released to coincide with the release of A Day Without Rain. "We asked Enya to join the band. During the tour it was plain to see that she had the potential of having her own solo career."
Contrary to popular belief, the phenomenon known as Enya is not the work of one woman. Enya works with Nicky and his wife Roma (she writes all of the lyrics) in a tight-knit group that fashions the Enya sound. "There would be no 'Enya' without those two," affirms the singer. After the success of the Clannad tour, Enya and the Ryans regrouped and begun recording the unique blend of beautiful orchestration and abstract poetry that has become Enya's trademark. "We started working together in 1982," say Roma Ryan, "and we put together the studio in our house. Enya was living with us and all these melodies started to come out and I was inspired to write these poetic lyrics. I thought the music was very visual and that inspired me greatly."
The trio decided to use film soundtracks as a means of getting their unique music out there. Enya eventually recorded the score for the BBC-TV series "The Celts". An eclectic blend of classical, folk, and New Age sounds, the soundtrack was released in 1986 as her self-titled debut. Enya's 1988 follow-up Watermark (Geffen) was an unexpected success, propelled by the single "Orinoco Flow," a No. 1 hit in Britain.
"The song 'Orinoco Flow' was an important record for me because it introduced me to a worldwide audience," says Enya. "It took us forever to arrange that track. We'd work on it for a while and really believe in it, and then we'd shelve it and work on something else. We had no idea who the audience was, or how it would sell. We certainly never dreamed that the song would be a single!"
In 1991, Enya released Shepherd Moons and it went on to sell over 10 million copies. Four years lapsed until the release of Enya's next album, The Memory Of Tress, which was followed in 1997 by the greatest hits package known as Paint The Sky With Stars.
Her catalog has sold an astonishing 44 million units, making Enya Ireland's richest female entertainer. (Riverdance creator Moya Doherty holds a distant second place). Enya's personal fortune is estimated to be in the neighborhood of IP 36 million.
A recent in-depth investigation in Ireland's Evening Herald reveals that Donegal native "prefers to bathe in the anonymity of foreign shores going on frequent family shopping trips to Paris or heading to Australia to see her beloved sister, Olive. If she want to head to the family pub Leo's Tavern in Meenaleck where there are plans for a shrine to Clannad and her own musical career then she rents a private jet."
What makes this success so astonishing is that Enya is an intensely private artist who shuns the media. As a result her personal life remains a mystery. She is reportedly very shy and fears being fed to the media sharks. The unwanted advances of a crazed Italian stalker only added fuel to her phobia of the outside world. In a sad statement, she is planning to add three-foot thick blocks along the four-foot high spikes on to the perimeter wall around her IP 2.5 million Ayesha Castle (the house is named after the goddess who carried the eternal flame and was forever youthful).
Enya is stepping outside the confines of her private shell to grant interviews with the "media sharks" in an attempt to promote A Day Without Rain. The thought of getting a "peek under the sheets" of Enya's creative process had my dorsal fin standing at full attention!
Her new promotional outlook may be coming in the nick of time, as the critical reviews of the album have been less than kind. Many reviews chastise Enya for putting out an album that sounds exactly like her previous recordings.
The influential mag Rolling Stone was not kind to A Day Without Rain. In their latest issue, they give the New Age chanteuse's new release a paultry "2 star" rating (5 being the highest). They remark that "after the course of several albums, each like the one before, the Irish-multi-instrumentalist-singer-composer's skill at ephemeral sonic watercolors has grown wearisome, like a relative who tells the same stories every holiday. You'd think that after taking stock of her career via '97's best-of-collection, she'd try something different, like trip-hop or trance or chamber music."
Indeed, the Irish superstar does not break any new ground on her new release. While each song is beautifully crafted, it will not win over any new fans. If you want to hear this genre in a more lively setting, you may want to seek out the newest release from her sister and Clannad lead singer, Mairie Brennan, On Whisper To The Wild Water, her album that was released earlier this year. Brennan combines the trademark multi-layered orchestration and breathy chants with flamenco guitars and Brazilian rhythms to create an inspiring sound that richly rewards the listener.
"I look at each song as a story," says Enya. "Only when the album comes together that you're aware of the differences between these albums. I think the main differences here musically is that there are more strings on the new album."
"There were a lot of new elements on this album," counters lyricist Roma Ryan. "I think that with anything creative, you never throw anything out. We'll try everything and in that process you find out what gives you the greatest creative result."
With the dense layering of vocals and instrumentation, it's no wonder that there is such a long gap between Enya's releases. "Nicky and Enya spend very long hours inside the studio, mainly because they are both such perfectionists," say Roma. "if something is not right, they will go over it again and again. It's a very long process. When you hear Enya sing, every layer is Enya singing. There are no samples or overdubs."
"I begun work on it in the Fall of 1998," says Enya, "For some people, that would be a long time. For us, that's as long as it takes. We will usually work on something, leave it for a while and set it aside. We forget about it and write another melody. When you go back to the first piece of music, you are a listener for a short time and you decide what works and what's not working."
One of the other elements of a successful musical act is a relentless touring schedule. To date, Enya has avoided going on the road to support her releases. Enya hints that there may be some live gigs in her immediate future.
"I think there are a lot of strings on this new album, and I can definitely hear orchestrating it in a live setting. I don't know how we'll be able to re-create the vocal side of it. It's got to have the emotional feeling in some way. Someone will have to do it. We'll probably have to use a choir along with a small orchestra to reenact the record."
The task seems a bit daunting, but the superstar is clearly up to the challenge. "Going onstage to greet an audience that was there just to see you would be just amazing. I'd love for it to happen."
Note: Trancribed by Harry Sarkas.