Enya & the Memory of Trees
Gavin (USA) Issue 2089, 25 January 1996
With only three releases, 1988's Watermark, 1991's Shepherd Moons, and her latest, The Memory of Trees, (not even counting the recently re-issued The Celts soundtrack), Enya has built an impressive Irish, trans-European, Asian and American following, ringing multi-platinum in 15 countries.
After the December release of The Memory of Trees, a holiday flurry of three million copies sold pushed her worldwide total past the 20 million mark.
For such a top seller, Enya keeps an extremely low profile, preferring to let the music take the bows. She rarely grants interviews, scheduling conversation time only when a new album is completed.
Yet each Enya release has become a Gavin tradition, with the magazine having done cover stories on her last two best-sellers. Enya's staff penciled us in during their recent publicity stop in Los Angeles. Following a snafu at the airport car rental counter, I arrived flustered, 30 minutes late for our interview. Enya, strikingly attractive and dressed in green velvet, waved off my apologies with a gentle smile and an Evian. Here is the lion's share of our conversation
Enya: Absolutely wonderful. It's still the three of us. Nobody else has gotten involved, and we're happy about that. It's been remarked that when people gain success, usually something will change. What's changed for us is now we have our own studio. Actually, we had a studio when we made Shepherd Moons, but it was much smaller, and we had to go to London to finish the album. I found it difficult. We would work together as three (in Ireland), very intimate and personal. Then we'd be in a studio in London with so many distractions. It took me a while to adapt. But this time we had our own studio outside of Dublin - designed purely for us - where we could begin the album and finish it there with no distractions. It's very peaceful and quiet. Upstairs we have this long room with two big arc windows at either end with a piano looking out over the Wicklow Mountains.
Keith Zimmerman: Yet there was a four-year gap between Shepherd Moons and the new album?
Enya: Starting in late 1991, I was still traveling quite a bit doing the promotion for Shepherd Moons. Then we got involved with the soundtrack of Far and Away with director Ron Howard. After a series of one-off trips to places like New York and Monte Carlo, we decided (in 1992) we were finished with the promotion of the album. I took a year off, then we spent two years making The Memory of Trees. Your songs spring a life of their own. Besides the CDs, they enter into a labyrinth of rights, film soundtracks, and advertising campaigns. I feel the music is bigger than I am.
Keith Zimmerman: Bigger than your image?
Enya: Some artists enjoy being bigger than the music. But it's something I choose not to concern myself with. To this day, people don't recognize me if I walk into a lobby of a hotel. People know the music. "That's Enya." It's good for me and it's good for the music. I'm able to take success at a very slow pace. I don't give a lot of interviews. No endless public appearances. I let the music take over.
Keith Zimmerman: You started your recording career by composing for films. What would it take for you to score a major film with all new music?
Enya: Scoring takes a long time. So far, all we've gotten involved with is just a main theme or a main song. When I was working on the new album, any offers that came in were declined. I cannot do both. So it's really a time factor. I still enjoy doing soundtracks, but scoring is difficult. Directors can be difficult to work with. You write a melody and they want ten seconds cut off. The only way I could score a film is to have a director that's really understanding to the music. But that's difficult because it is his film, and he loves to enhance the film with music. That's the way he sees it. He doesn't see the music as important as I do.
Nicky Ryan cited Phil Spector as a major influence in recording. Phil Spector and the Beach Boys. That's where he got the idea for the multi-vocal. He loves the big vocal sound, but he was curious to see what would evolve with one person doing all the vocals. He knew I had a great love for harmony. My influences are so different from Nicky's, but the golden rule in the studio is to try everything, no matter how strange the idea might sound. There's a certain stage where you're not sure what's working, and that's why you need time to leave it and come back to it later. Sometimes the arrangement may be wonderful and clever, but you have lost the emotion that begins with the melody. You have to go back regardless of what's been recorded. If there's a hesitation, it's gone.
Keith Zimmerman: That can be disappointing.
Enya: But it creates an element of excitement when you're working like that. I enjoy not knowing what the end result would be. I end up going into journeys with the melody without any idea where it's leading me. When Roma listens to the melody, she can hear what I'm experiencing as well. Then she can relate the lyrics to the emotion of the melody. Roma was the one who suggested the title, The Memory of Trees. That inspired me to write the title track about two weeks later. Usually, most of the melodies were first to the title and lyric. The Memory of Trees is based on Irish mythology and relates to the Druids who hold the trees as sacred.
Keith Zimmerman: The lyrics borrow from many environmental images. Does Roma travel a lot for inspiration?
Enya: She reads a lot and writes beautiful poetry. In a way, she travels within books.
Keith Zimmerman: You play all the instruments on the album, and there are no guest soloists or traditional songs used.
Enya: On this album I played light percussion and some strings. I played a little bit of cello and violin. I'm not a solo violinist, but I can play basic chords. It works well for layering sounds. The piano is still the main instrument. It's there in every song, even if it's not so apparent in the mix. Nicky loves to layer synthesizers and create a new sound that doesn't singularly exist. That big, ominous sound in 'Pax Deorum' is an example - it's a combination of blended sounds, not just one. It may sound like a live instrument, but it's a combination of strings and synthesizers. Sometimes there's a huge blend of voices doing string sections. People tend to think they're strings, but we're using the voices like an instrument.
Keith Zimmerman: That calls for flawless execution.
Enya: Even with a song like 'Anywhere Is,' there is no click track. Once I write a melody, it's free time. We found that a click track takes a huge chunk of emotion out of the song. Playing free time gives you so much feeling within the melody. Even though I'm going to layer my voice and play the instruments, I can still do that because I know the time. I can layer it perfectly without the click.KZYour first single, 'Anywhere Is,' nearly didn't make the record. What happened?
Enya: It had started as a staccato, march feel in the initial melody. When we work in the studio, we don't have any idea which track is more commercial than the others. It's still very different to anything you hear on the radio. 'Orinoco Flow' is still different. We're unaware of potential singles, so after a year and a half we involved (Warner Bros. UK chairman) Rob Dickins. We felt we were coming to the end of the album and wanted to hear his opinion. We had to set a date because of worldwide release commitments. Rob immediately saw potential for 'Anywhere Is' as a single. I worked on the melody and we finished it.
Keith Zimmerman: 'Anywhere Is' was the final song you finished?
Enya: I was sitting with Roma and I said to her, "This is strange. 'Orinoco Flow' was the last song we finished on Watermark. 'Caribbean Blue' was the last song done on Shepherd Moons. There is this stage when things get up tempo in the studio, lyrically and melodically. After 'Anywhere Is,' things were coming to an end. It's happened that way three times."
Keith Zimmerman: You wait until the very end to come up with the lead hit single.
Enya: It's not like we have 30 tunes to pick from, and we'll choose number ten. I spend weeks and weeks in the studio just writing one melody.
Keith Zimmerman: Regarding 'Pax Deorum' and 'Athair Ar Neamh,' what's the correlation between using Latin and Gaelic in building a mood?
Enya: Roma and I knew I was not going to sing 'Athair Ar Neamh' in English. Although Gaelic is my first language, I don't try to impose it on the album. I like when it happens, as it did with that song. There's a song in Spanish called 'La Soņadora.' Roma and I listened back to it and thought it was a very different melody. We like to use the Latin on songs like 'Pax Deorum' because Latin has a very classic feel to it. Gaelic was very soft, and I knew English wouldn't be suited to it at all.
Keith Zimmerman: Is Roma fluent in Gaelic?
Enya: No, she was actually brought up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. After she's written the lyric in English, I sit with her and we adapt it into Gaelic, because you can lose emotion through direct translation. With 'La Soņadora,' Roma suggested we use Spanish. She told me there was a connection between Ireland and Spain in history, with the Spanish Armada and so forth. A lot of Spanish people settled in the West, hence a lot of dark-haired people in Ireland. Then Roma found a connection between Spain and Ireland in mythology. The first Druid, Amergin, came from Spain and the shores of Iberia. Upon landing on the coast of Ireland he recited a poem. She based the lyric of 'La Soņadora,' translated 'The Dreamer,' on his poem. "I am autumn / I am winter / I am the echo."
Keith Zimmerman: You experimented with outside recording on 'Hope Has a Place.'
Enya: This was another case of the lyric coming first. Roma was visiting the north of Ireland on the way back home to Belfast. She had read about a beautiful place called the Silent Valley in the Mourne Mountains in County Down. She wrote the lyric while she was there. "Hope has a place in the lover's heart." A love song? It was actually a song about love, as opposed to a love song. There is hope when it doesn't work out, or someone has lost a loved one. I wrote the melody, but I had to see the Silent Valley. Nicky and I went to visit the Silent Valley, and he decided to record the lead voice there. If you listen, there's a different atmosphere around that lead vocal.
Keith Zimmerman: 'On My Way Home' sounds like a blend of two different musical ideas.
Enya: It was written as one piece, but the chorus did change from the arrangement. Sometimes if it's too subtle a chorus, it's not dramatic enough. 'On My Way Home' is about all those wonderful memories and fond moments that you have when you're on your way home. I know it's that way for me, and we're trying to get across that very positive feeling in the chorus.
Keith Zimmerman: On 'Once You Had Gold,' I hear chord progressions from hymns. I can think of another composer who borrows hymn chord progressions and that's Elton John. Do you also borrow chord structures from hymns?
Enya: I think so. I was brought up singing hymns from church. Those progressions are so grand, simple and very beautiful. You're right. I know that influence is in some of the melodies. It's a calming feeling for me. Sometimes melody is beautiful when it gets complex and takes off in another direction. But it's also so beautiful when it's very simple.
Note: Provided by Steven Holiday with thanks to the Everywhere Is Fan Club.