The Enigma of Enya
Irish Times, 30 December 1995
Yes, Enya is a real person, not just a disembodied voice, as Kevin Courtney discovers when he is granted an audience with the queen of ethereality.
Eithne Ní Bhraonáin probably doesn't belong on this earth. A perfectionist in an imperfect world, a seeker after truth and beauty in an ugly morass of lies, Enya seems more like a work of fantasy than a real human being, an angel conjured up by a child's fertile imagination; a mythical fairy godmother who makes sweet music to keep the evils of life at bay.
But even though she is mostly hidden behind an air-brushed image, camouflaged by layers of overdubs and secreted in a studio to weave her complex web of musical imagery, Enya is indeed a real person. And she is about to emerge from her velvet cocoon and shake the rough and scaly hand of the music press.
Enya has just released her third "proper" album, The Memory Of Trees, and Warners has arranged a launch party which befits the majesty of the lady's music. A crowd of journalists and broadcasters from all over the world have gathered at Charing Cross Pier in London to await the arrival of the Silver Barracuda, a pleasure boat which will take us down the Thames.
At Greenwich, we are brought to the Queen's House, a beautiful building, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and adorned with maritime paintings by Cooke and Gainsborough, and relics of Britain's sea-faring history. It's the perfect setting for Enya's impending return into the spotlight, chosen partly for its grandeur, and partly because it stands at the geographical meridian zero - what better starting point for Enya's musical journey than the world's centre of longitude?
While the guests sip champagne and nibble on canapés, Nicky and Roma Ryan mingle and chat among the crowd; Nicky no doubt discussing aspects of production, and Roma offering insights into the lyrics which she writes for Enya. WEA boss Rob Dickins announces the arrival of his protégée, begging our indulgence for this shy and private person who may feel a little uneasy in a crowded party atmosphere. Like a ghost from the past, Enya emerges from behind the vast columns, and is brought round the room like a queen, to meet and greet her loyal media subjects.
Some of us have been granted a private audience with her the next day, so tonight we content ourselves with a brief exchange. The party ends with a spectacular fireworks display - ladies and gentlemen, Enya is back with a bang.
It's difficult to dictate the direction of an interview when the interviewee already knows what she wants to talk about. With Enya it comes down to one topic: her music, and this is broken down into sub-topics such as the writing, the recording process and the different roles which she and her professional partners, Nicky and Roma, play in the creation of the sound which sells millions around the world. Strangely, for such a global phenomenon, Enya talks like someone who has been shut away from the world for too long, and only knows what she sees from her window; every now and then, however, you get a glimpse into her inner world, one which sometimes seems wider than the real one.
When Enya discusses the painstaking studio work which went into The Memory Of Trees, she speaks with almost religious fervour, as if those long months spent doing multi-vocals and overdubs have imbued her with a sacred spirit. She talks about melodies as though they were diamonds falling in perfect formation from the sky, and she speaks of instrumental precision as though it were the path to salvation. You could nearly believe that the studio is her cathedral, and that somewhere within its echoing layers of sound she can almost find God.
Does she really spend much of her time in blissful solitude, and does that make it harder to come out and face the mad whirl of promotion and marketing? "There are times when I can't have any distractions, because I just cannot deal with certain things when I'm in the studio. And sometimes even outside the studio, I have to have a little time to myself. Like, say, last night at the launch, I wouldn't be able to do it if I just walked out of the studio and all of a sudden I was at the launch. I actually need some time to myself.
"In that way I'm quite happy with what I do then, because I feel like I'm really in control to talk to these people, and I'm going to enjoy it, because I've been in the studio for over two years, and that was fine, and I'm happy with the album, but now I want to move on. For the next few months I want to do something totally different. And it's even great when I appear, say, on Top Of The Pops or do a video - it's so different to what I've been doing, so I tend to enjoy it. Just enjoy that moment, because that moment will be gone, so why not go with it."
It's not hard to surmise that Enya is eminently comfortable in her own company, and that were it not for the necessity of promoting a new record every four years, she would happily head straight back to the shelter of the studio. Her legendary inaccessibility has done her image no harm, however, and as her mystique deepens, so her album sales soar. Lately, however, there has been talk of the possibility of Enya doing live shows, and discussions are now being held as to the best way of presenting this singular artist in a concert setting. Besides the logistics of recreating her music on stage, does Enya dread the prospect of finally having to meet her public face-to-moshpit?
"Not with music. That's where I actually am not private: with music, in the studio. I'm so open -- you'd have to be, because I wouldn't be able to write melodies if I wasn't at ease in the studio. A lot of people, like actors, actresses, celebrities, are very shy people, but when it comes to performing on stage or if it's in a movie, you forget it, because you're actually involved in something and you just go with that.
"You're also where you're very happy, because when you're with the music, you're very open, you're very content. So if you're on stage performing, of course you'll be quite happy. If I had a problem with that, I wouldn't be doing videos or album covers."
Because Enya spends so much time away from the glare of publicity, the media have found it necessary to fill the gap with conjecture and speculation, much of it maliciously off the mark.
And four years after the release of Shepherd Moons, Enya is still a mystery to most. But now that she has taken her first tentative steps back into the arena, is she worried that she might again become the target of wild fantasy and conjecture?
"If you'd asked me that four years ago I would have said yes, but I have mellowed out so much and I'm able to separate myself a lot from what is important and what isn't. It took a while for me to be able to do that, but I have to think about myself. I'm not going to be stressed out because somebody has said something terrible about me that isn't true. I'm the one who's going to suffer in the end. So over the years I'm more at ease - I didn't do it consciously either, it just actually happened to me.
"At the beginning I just tried to hold on to what I would be happy with, and therefore people just couldn't understand what was happening, wondering 'why is she not out in nightclubs, why is she not doing what other pop stars do?' But I was actually just doing what I wanted to do. Just because you're a pop star, it doesn't mean that you have to be seen in nightclubs. And I find it really strange. A person has to have a choice, and my choice is to be somewhere else."
"As far as the last six-to-eight months on the album, I was getting up at seven or eight o'clock and working late. A lot of musicians don't work like that. But that's the way I wanted to work. I was happy with that, to give as much as I could. I gave 100 per cent to that album and that's a wonderful feeling. That's better than, say, having spent endless nights sitting in a nightclub. That side of fame has no attraction for me."
For the moment, however, fame demands that Enya continues to promote her new album around the world, and after this interview she is scheduled to go to Italy, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands, where she will probably have to overdub more answers on to the ones she's already given. She's spending Christmas at home with her family in Gweedore, Co Donegal, before jetting off to America, Australia and New Zealand.
By the time it's all over and the platinum discs have been handed out, she will no doubt be once again ensconced in her beloved studio, searching for the melodies which will form the basis of her next multi-million seller. Enya's music remains open to interpretation, but Enya the person is still her own property, private, secluded out of touch with the world but still in touch with the purity of her spirit. My impression is that Eithne Ní Bhraonáin is a warm, wonderful, shy and generous soul - but she should get out of the studio more often.
Note: Transcribed by Paolo G. Cordone.