3LO Radio Interview
Interviewer: Elaine Canty
3LO Radio Program (Melbourne, Australia) 5 Dec. 1991
About a minute of 'Evening Falls' is played
Elaine Canty: The Irish have always been associated with distinctive music, and what's been happening on the Irish music scene in the last decade is little short of staggering. Apart from figureheads like Van Morrison and the Chieftains, there's also been U2, Hothouse Flowers, Bob Geldof and Mary Coughlan - something of an Irish renaissance. Well, you can add to that list the name of Enya. Her 1988 album Watermark and her single 'Orinoco Flow' have established her as a major new talent, and Enya is now online from our Sydney studios. Good afternoon Enya, and welcome to Australia.
Enya: Thank you very much.
Elaine Canty: Is this your first time here?
Enya: No, actually I was here before, about three years ago but it was quite brief as well unfortunately.
Elaine Canty: Is that when your first album came out?
Enya: Yes, I was promoting Watermark.
Elaine Canty: Right. Now, "Enya"? Is that your given name? When did you decide to go for just a single name for career purposes?
Enya: At the beginning, I found E I T H N E was difficult for people to say "Enya" with because it's Gaelic and the T H in Gaelic we don't pronounce, so I was always known as "Enya". And, I did a phonetic spelling of this name so as I would always be called "Enya". But the second part is very difficult, it's "Ní Bhraonáin" (1), so I decided to keep it brief, and just keep "Enya".
Elaine Canty: So, Gaelic's a big part of your family is it? Do you actually speak Gaelic?
Enya: Oh yes, I was brought up in County Donegal which is the northwest of Ireland in a small little area called Gweedore, and it's also in the Gaeltacht area which means that you're brought up speaking Gaelic as your first language. So, when I will phone home to speak to my mother or my brothers and sisters I will speak in Gaelic with them.
Elaine Canty: Oh, that's fascinating. In fact I only found out today that "Clannad" is the Gaelic word for family, and that of course is your early years in the music scene as a member of the group Clannad. Now, were the other members of the group all family members of yours?
Enya: Yes, sisters, brothers and uncles.
Elaine Canty: How many of you?
Enya: There was at one stage one sister, two brothers and two uncles, and now some of them have parted as well, going their own way musically as I had done. So umm, but it's still very much family. But I think it comes from the fact that my grandmother and my grandfather used to travel in... within their own band years ago, and my father was with them, and then eventually my father got a band together and it was kind of inevitable that somebody in my family would start up a band, it's kind of a tradition. So music's very much a part of your childhood?
Enya: Oh yes, I loved music and I listened to a very strong variation of music as well which was very good.
Elaine Canty: So what sort of music? Not traditional Irish songs, judging from the way your style developed.
Enya: Well, in the Gaeltacht area, traditional music is very strong but I went to study classical music, and also there's a strong influence from singing hymns in church. I would have sung them in Gaelic or Latin, and I love the simplicity of the hymns, the melodies. Because my first love is of melody.
Elaine Canty: Now you compose the music and the words don't you?
Enya: I compose the melody but another lady called Roma Ryan writes the lyrics with me.
Elaine Canty: Now that Roma Ryan's related to Nicky Ryan who produced the early Clannad albums I believe.
Enya: Well they're together and they have a family.
Elaine Canty: Right, now when you were wi... You were the youngest member of Clannad at one stage, was it hard for you to have to express your musical views at that stage? And to contribute to the song writing?
Enya: Well at the time they didn't compose their own music, basically we were travelling with arrangements on old traditional songs, and I wasn't composing at this stage at all, so it was a case of... I had been studying classical music, had decided to be with them for a while but it was always, for me, the fact I was passing through. I knew I wanted to do something musically but this wasn't what I had sort of envisaged would be my career. And I...
Elaine Canty: So how long were you with them?
Enya: I was with them for two years and I travelled to Europe a lot and I was on stage. But after a while I felt I had done it, and I really wanted to start on my own work.
Elaine Canty When you started on your own work, now you had the critics falling all over themselves to try and describe your sound [Enya chuckles] I think we've had everything from Irish ambience to ethereal. How do you describe it?
Enya: Well, I feel it's very important for an artist to have a distinct sound. A sound that you can recognise as an artist and I have developed a sound with using my voice, whether it's singing a solo or whether it's singing with layers of my voice, one on top of the other. And I feel that this has established what I call an "Enya sound".
Elaine Canty It's certainly a unique sound, Enya. Now when you brought out your first album, Watermark, it became an instant hit. Is it difficult to reproduce your sound on stage or is it virtually impossible to recreate on stage?
Enya: Well I haven't done it yet because of...
Elaine Canty Is that why you haven't done it?
Enya: Well, because of promoting so long for Watermark I felt the priority would be to go into the studio to work on the next album. And at the moment I am promoting yet again for Shepherd Moons. But I know that it would be very difficult to take the sound that is on the CD, the album, and take this to stage. And I think it would be wrong because what works for the ear doesn't necessarily work for stage. So what I'd like to do is take the music and the feelings, the emotions within the melodies and arrange it for stage. And very much in a classical sense, that I'd have an orchestra, a choir and very strong impact on the acoustic side.
Elaine Canty When, as you do, you supply nearly all the instrumentation and the vocals in your album, as in Watermark, how difficult is it to record an album like that?
Enya: It's umm ... as far as time, there is a lot of time spent on looking for the right arrangement, but it's very rewarding when you've finished. For me, first of all, when I've finished composing a melody that moment is very very special to me, and then after that, all I want to do is enhance the melody and the emotions within this melody. And this takes time, and I like having time in between working on each song. Because I don't like to have any other opinion aside of Nicky and Roma's. And it can be difficult at times to be able to see, is this arrangement what I want? So, if I leave some tracks for a while, forget them, listen back to them, you can be quite critical of it, and you can decide, yes this is working, or it's not working.
Elaine Canty Enya, when you listen to The Celts - you wrote the music for the BBC TV series, The Celts - it's possible to hear some of the elements that made your later work so original. Do you look on that soundtrack as the blueprint for your current direction?
Enya: Ah, yes you're right. It was a project where I was allowed to experiment and it was so important because this is where I establish the "Enya sound". And also the way of working was established through The Celts project.
Elaine Canty When did you start out with your sound? It's not the sort of sound that... you don't start out in the pubs scene, like many other singers because it's... because of the instrumentation, because of the effect that you supply, the vocals. How did you start, how did you come to the attention of the record companies?
Enya: It was through soundtrack. My first project was with David Puttnam on a film called The Frog Prince and it was a very good move career wise, but musically, I didn't get to arrange the melodies, and I felt a bit disappointed, but I still felt it was worth it as far as getting started, and after that it was The Celts project, and WEA England, in particular Rob Dickins had heard The Celts album and had approached us, had approached me, to see would I be interested in a solo career with this music. And Watermark was next.
Elaine Canty And then after Watermark, Shepherd Moons, tell us about that. That's your new album.
Enya: Well with Shepherd Moons it was basically a continuation of where I'd left off with Watermark. It was new melodies, new emotions for me, and also I recorded two non-original songs. One of them is 'Marble Halls' and it's written by an Irish composer called William Balfe and it's from an opera called Bohemian Girl and a hundred years old, this song. And I felt it was a challenge to sing it, as it had only been sung by an opera singer. And the other song was 'How Can I Keep From Singing?'. This is another song that's very old, it's two hundred and fifty years old and it was written in America by the Shaker sect. And I felt the melody was very beautiful, and the lyrics were very strong. They talked about the trouble in the world, the strife, the turmoil, but at the end of each verse it simply said "how can I keep from singing?". And I believe this in music, that sometime at some stage you've got to try and forget the trouble that is around you and try to enjoy music.
Elaine Canty Would you like to do more in that direction Enya? Non-original songs that are set in the past like that, that you think has a message that we can listen to now?
Enya: Well, as far as ummm... It was so different for me to sing an unoriginal song and I felt first of all I decided because of the melody but I was kind of worried as far as whether would I be able to perform it with the same emotion as I do with my own melodies. But I felt so strongly about both of these songs, 'Marble Halls' and 'How Can I Keep From Singing?' and also the fact that they're old has a lot to do it for me.
Elaine Canty What do you do away from your music Enya? Do you have any interests that are completely divorced from music?
Enya: The time I have is quite brief, but I found while I was recording Shepherd Moons, I took a little bit more time off than I would have done with Watermark and it helped me to be more creative in the long run, so I tended to take myself off at some stages where it was quite difficult in the studio. And I enjoy walking, and basically meeting up with my friends and family again.
Elaine Canty And how do your family view your success, your success as a solo artist? Because I mean, although Clannad are successful, sales wise your work has easily outsold theirs. Any sort of sibling rivalry these days?
Enya: [chuckling] Well unless they're lying to me, they seem to be extremely happy about my success.
Elaine Canty Well I'm not surprised, and I hope it continues. It's been lovely speaking to you today.
Enya: Thank you.
Elaine Canty Enya. And Enya's new album is called Shepherd Moons.
about a minute of 'Book of Days' is played
Note: Transcribed by Jagg Groeg. ELO was a daily current affairs/general interest program.