Enya: b/w publicity still for TMOT

Out Takes"I loved my dad's music," she says. "He used to tour so much. He was away constantly. If I was listening to him perform, it meant he was home rehearsing. It was special, kind of a warm feeling, to hear his music and know he was nearby."

"When I was approached, I was able to hold back and say, 'Well, I'm not sure I want (a record deal) because my particular sound isn't commercial,' just to make sure they didn't try to change anything. I couldn't work with somebody trying to impose something alien on my music just for the sake of sales."

Nicky: "When there's any doubt, we press the erase button. It might seem terrible to wipe out 500 vocals, but it's far better to make a fresh start than to be too dependent on the hard work you've done. Our rule is: Get rid of it."

But melodies are never discarded.

"Enya never writes a bad melody," Nicky says. "That's first and foremost her secret."

The Ethereal Energy of Enya

Edna Gundersen
Photo by Steven Seifert

USA Today (USA) 23 January 1996

An artist as elusive as her musical style
'Memory of Trees' and other studio-based hits sprout from Celtic roots


Studio soul: 'Despite all the technical aspects, I like the music to be as live as possible,' Enya says. 'It's important to keep the emotion.'

LOS ANGELES - "The music is much bigger than I am," Enya says of her dreamy, technically sophisticated soundscapes. "It's a big advantage - people know the music but they don't know me. I can actually cope with success, because there is no Enyamania."

No one tag adequately defines her mystical multilayered, Celtic-hued sound, so the record industry has simpl dubbed the genre Enya. Radio formats from alternative rock to easy listening spin her haunting tunes, and stores display her records in new age, world music, classical and pop bins.

Enya's current album, The Memory of Trees, is No. 13 in Billboard and on the same trajectory as two preceding huge sellers. Fueled by global hit single 'Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)', 1988's Watermark sold 8 million copies worldwide and is No. 22 on Billboard's world music chart, where it has resided for 217 weeks. And 1991's Grammy-winning Shepherd Moons, in its 204th week on Billboard's pop chart, sold 9 million copies (4 million in the USA).

The popularity if her untrendy sound has been a left-field surprise, especially since she refuses to indulge the media, collaborate with outsiders or perform live. Even some of her most enraptured fans have no idea what this ethereal, reclusive creature looks like.

Raised with love of hymns and traditional Irish music

Enya, named after a Celtic goddess, has wide hazel eyes, a girlish grin and a slim, delicate frame, draped today in silver and black. Her speech is soft, Gaelic-accented and nearly formal as she sits pertly and sips bottled water in her hotel suite. Flamboyant she isn't. But that's not the only reason her music supercedes her personality.

"I get a lot of letters from people of different ages and cultures around the world, and the one strange thing I notice is they all talk about themselves," says Enya, 34. "They thank me for the album, but don't discuss the songs in music terms. They relate personal stories."

A young English woman told how her father bequeathed his piano to her, on the condition the she play at least one Enya tune a week. She wrote the singer requesting written music so she carry out his will.

Last week while visiting an L.A. radio station, Enya heard a tearful caller share details of her son's battle with AIDS. Before he died, he gave Enya's records to his mother with the instructions, "Listen to this, It will help you later."

Such exchanges with fans are one incentive for the singer's current emergence from her cloistered existence in a Dublin suburb.

"I miss being with people," says Enya, who spent two years as a studio shut-in toiling on 'Trees' with producer/arranger Nicky Ryan and his wife, lyricist Roma Ryan. "Being in the studio that long is emotionally very draining and isolating, but a necessary sacrifice. I can't have any distractions when I'm working."

I was quite anxious to get out and travel and talk about the music," she says brightly. "But you won't find me doing endless interviews and public appearances. I'm very private."

Enya Brennan (née Eithne Ní Bhraonáin) is a native of Gweedore, County Donegal, Ireland's Gaelic stronghold. The sixth of nine children, she made her stage debut at 3 and studied piano fervently at a nearby convent.

"I always heard music when I was growing up," Enya says. "My dad was in a show band that played everything from Glenn Miller to Irish ballads. It was very much a family band. My mum played the piano. My dad's brother and sister joined, and then his brother-in-law. It was inevitable that the rest of us would get involved in music."

Unlike her teen peers, Enya adopted her parent's tastes, favoring hymns and Irish music over rock.

"I loved my dad's music," she says. "He used to tour so much. He was away constantly. If I was listening to him perform, it meant he was home rehearsing. It was special, kind of a warm feeling, to hear his music and know he was nearby."

After leaving boarding school, Enya toured for two years with Clannad, a folk group that included three of her older siblings and two uncles. Yearning for independence, she quit and for six years lived with the Ryans in Dublin, where she composed a score for the 1985 film The Frog Prince and then recorded The Celts, a soundtrack for the BBC series. The album prompted Rob Dickens, Warner Music's U.K. chairman, to sign her in 1986. By that time, Enya's sound and creative process were cemented and non-negotiable.

She recalls: "When I was approached, I was able to hold back and say, 'Well, I'm not sure I want (a record deal) because my particular sound isn't commercial,' just to make sure they didn't try to change anything. I couldn't work with somebody trying to impose something alien on my music just for the sake of sales."

She and the Ryans work undisturbed at the Aigle studio, their fortress on Nicky's estate in Dalkey, Ireland. Enya begins with a basic melody, usually on piano. She sings all vocal parts - as many as 500 on a single song - and plays all instruments: keyboards, strings, percussion. She and Nicky, 47, collaborate on the meticulous arrangements, and Roma provides lyrics on Gaelic, Latin, and English.

"It's a magic triangle of three cultures coming together," says Nicky, a Dublin native whose passions span the Beatles, Beach Boys, Phil Spector and opera. Roma grew up in Belfast loving poetry, language and mythology. "We never ask anyone else's opinion. That's important, because you'd crack the triangle."

Tempers are frayed by the painstaking work and lengthy seclusion.

"We're only human and we get a bit touchy," he says. "When there's any doubt, we press the erase button. It might seem terrible to wipe out 500 vocals, but it's far better to make a fresh start than to be too dependent on the hard work you've done. Our rule is: Get rid of it."

But melodies are never discarded.

"Enya never writes a bad melody," Nicky says. "That's first and foremost her secret."

The orchestration process is arduous but not mechanical. Sequencing and programming are forbidden. In layering backing vocals, Enya may sing an "ah" 50 times for each of seven harmony parts, a disciplined task that still leaves room for spontaneity.

"As she goes along, she'll start changing the dynamics, pushing here and there so that not everything is perfectly in unison. It adds a texture you can acquire only from having different voices. The variations lead to interesting quirks. It's an integral part of the Enya sound."

The studio sequestration imposes hardships on her personal life - she has a boyfriend she rarely saw during recording - but Enya cherishes her tight triad with the Ryans. "I'm happy with the environment because I'm able to experiment and open completely emotionally."

She's less brave in the broader realm of pop music's fast-lane glamour. The antidote for promoting activities and industry shmoozing? A return to County Donegal.

"People there are proud of my success, but they treat me exactly as they did when I was growing up," she says. "It's a wonderful way to get your feet back on the ground. When things get too glitzy, I go home."



Note: Transcribed by Andy Ford.