Enya: Conjuring up More Studio Magic
Music Week (UK) 20 November 1995
Conjuring up More Studio Magic
Ensconced inside her specially built Aigle Studio in the swish Dublin suburb of Dalkey, Enya pauses to explain why she chose this particular location, with its spectacular view of the looming Wicklow Mountains.
According to Enya, fresh from a photo session in a green and black velvet ensemble, the decision to set the studio within these four acres was made because they offer absolute silence.
"Listen. It's so quiet here," says the woman who is now Ireland's biggest musical export outside U2, having sold close to 20m units worldwide since her Eighties breakthrough with The Celts soundtrack and the Watermark album, which went quadruple platinum in the UK and spawned the global megahit 'Orinoco Flow'.
"I really need silence," she stresses. "When you're working day in, day out on an album you just hear the music in your head all the time and there isn't room for much else."
Such sentiments reflect the approach of this unique and contradictory artist, who never performs live, even though she hails from a long line of traditional music performers; never collaborates with anyone outside a tight-knit circle comprising herself and husband-and-wife team Nicky and Roma Ryan; and who only writes and records the tracks which appear on her releases. Not for Enya an anthology-style boxed-set of previously unreleased material.
Her new album, The Memory Of Trees, took two years to complete as she, producer/arranger Nicky Ryan and lyricist Roma refined and burnished the 11 songs, adding seemingly endless layers of sound and multitrack vocals.
"Two years was necessary because I perform everything," says Enya. "There is only so much a person can do. The melodies can take you to different places and you need time to see if you're going in the right direction." And, as Nicky Ryan ruefully admits, "We need a long leash to develop because pieces aren't completed chronologically. Instead we keep going back to tracks maybe six months later and reworking them. It would go on forever if somebody didn't say, 'OK enough'."
The man who calls a halt is Rob Dickins, the Warner Music UK chairman who signed Eithne Brennan when she left her family's group Clannad - who had been managed by the Ryans - in the mid-Eighties.
"Enya and her team record and we stay in touch until there is something for me to listen to," says Dickins, who is credited as executive producer on Enya albums. "I then provide an outside view. She is a genius in the studio, comparable to somebody like Brian Wilson, but she and Nicky can be their own worst enemies at striving for personal best all the time. I guess that's the price of perfectionism."
Dickins says he signed Enya for the love of the music. "I wanted to provide a bridge between her creative genius and the music business," he says.
In this way he spotted the potential which had not been noticed in the raw material for the track which eventually became the new album's catchy but mysterious first single Anywhere Is.
"I first heard the new album in August and it was virtually complete, apart from this song, which was absolutely to die for, but was only a backing track. They admit they can't spot singles so I encouraged them to work on the lyrics and complete it," says Dickins.
'Anywhere Is' also provides a prime example of the media's difficulty with popular yet uncategorisable artists. The single was added to the Radio One playlist only in the week of release, an indication of Enya's lack of credibility with British programmers according to Dickins. "The media doesn't really 'get' Enya, but the public does. She has the same problem as The Beatles, in that she appeals to everyone from five to 95."
To back this Dickins cites the 8m units sold of 1988's Watermark and the 8.5m sales for 1991 successor Shepherd Moons, which vied for the top of the alternative chart with Nirvana's Nevermind at hip US radio stations such as LA's KROQ. "Enya's tracks are regularly top five on US college radio. They understand that her music is broadly alternative, even though she has across-the-board appeal," he says.
Such international popularity has been bolstered by Enya's work in TV and film. Having risen to public attention by providing the musical accompaniment to the BBC series, The Celts, she has since worked on soundtracks for features such as Scorsese's The Age Of Innocence and the Tom Cruise-starring Far And Away.
"My music can provide a landscape and set a mood," she says. "Because I started out writing for films I still think in terms of themes. I enjoy soundtrack work and hope to get back into it."
But the coming months will see her focus on promoting The Memory Of Trees, which ploughs a similarly indefinable path to her previous releases, with tracks sung in Latin, Spanish, Gaelic and English, and music ranging from reflective piano pieces to multi-tracked new-age classicism, via Orientally shaded instrumentals and crystalline vocals which recall her work as a traditional Irish musician.
"When I start on a project I have nothing prepared, apart from a few melodic ideas," says Enya. "We don't have any set rules or plans - if I want to sing in Latin or Spanish then I do it."
Meanwhile, Enya is at last showing a willingness to perform live, swayed perhaps by her popularity - Shepherd Moons went platinum in 18 countries including Taiwan (eight times), Spain (quadruple) and Japan (double), while Watermark has sold 4m units in the US alone and went platinum in 14 countries, including Australia (six times) and Norway (twice).
Nicky Ryan, who cut his teeth as a sound engineer for acts ranging from Thin Lizzy to Tom Paxton, says they want to avoid recreating recordings with backing tapes or synthesizers. He also reveals that Industrial Light & Magic - the special effects powerhouse run by Star Wars director (and Enya fan) George Lucas - has pitched ideas about how to present Enya live.
She is keen, albeit cautious. "We thought about it after Shepherd Moons and we're still talking about it," she says.
It's possible that live performances would enhance Enya's credibility and dispense with her music's image as a studio-bound confection of new age-isms. Dickins quotes a music TV boss who told him recently, "We pretend we like the music we play during the day, but listen to Enya at home."
Her proven longevity and continuing popularity - exemplified by the number 12 chart placing for 'Anywhere Is' - could see the TV man and his colleagues listening to Enya when they are at work as well.
Note: Transcriber: Steven Holiday. Originally posted to Everywhere Is Fan Club