Album cover: Watermark

 

Watermark

Press release issued by Geffen Records for the
January 1989 U.S. release of Watermark

Geffen Records (USA) January 1989

ENYA

Sitting with one black shoe on and the other slipped off, Enya is talking about a big band of sound. This isn't a big band in the Glenn Miller or Tommy Dorsey sense but a gigantic choral swathe, painstakingly built up from sometimes hundreds of overdubbed vocal tracks into aural cathedrals, megaliths, ocean horizons, deep water currents, shafts of light in a pagan electronic forest.

"I don't think you could do it if you didn't enjoy it," she says, reflecting on the hours spent alone singing in front of the microphone, constructing these acoustic images with layer after layer of perfectly tuned, perfectly matched vowel sounds. "It's very intense work."

Not that Enya (christened Eithne Ni Bhraonain) shuns intense work, or is in any way unaccustomed to it. In 1980 she left home in Gweedore, County Donegal, Ireland to join her elder brothers and sisters in the folk/rock group Clannad and tour continuously for two years. "It was going in at the deep end," she says, "like going from A to Z. I found myself on stage for the first time in front of a few thousand people."

Since leaving the group in 1982 she has applied a similar intensity to a new career as a solo composer, keyboard player and singer, working as part of a three-way team with her producer, Nicky Ryan, and lyricist Roma Ryan.

Watermark, Enya's newest album - and her debut for Geffen Records - was recorded between June 1987 and April 1988. When released in the U.S. in January 1989, Watermark had already scored #5 on the U.K charts, while the single 'Orinoco Flow', held #1 there for three weeks.

"Between Nicky and Roma they both manage me. We're best friends and we work together," she laughs about her single-mindedness. "We sit down to dinner and talk about work, work, work, work. There's time for little else. For the past few years I've basically been working on music. The three of us took a big chance on doing something we all wanted to do. It's not going to happen just by putting in a few hours. You have to keep chasing it."

The musical "family", based and working in Dublin is like an extension of the actual family in which Enya grew up. "Music was always there because my parents were involve in music. Mammy used to enter all the family in different categories in competitions. We used to enjoy this and it was part of out life. But we also did the family group where we used to do harmony together, singing Irish traditional songs and ballads. There's a very strong harmony background. I think that's why I have a love for it, because from a very early age we'd be singing four-part harmony. It's hard to say when you became aware of it when it's there all the time, because music was so natural for us.

"Daddy was always an entertainer. He was in a showband called Slieve Foy, and he used to play the hits of the Fifties and Sixties. Then he retired from that. He found that the travelling became too much. He bought a pub and entertained there, and he still does." Enya's mother played in the dance band and when this finished she took up teaching. Enya also considered a teaching career. She studied classical music and piano at college, being drawn towards composers who wrote strong, simple melodic music.

"I actually thought I'd go more into the academic side, teaching, and I wasn't interested in the stage aspect of things. Clannad were touring when I was still at school. It always looks different when you're at school. You know, when people ask you what you're going to do when you leave school, you can hardly say, 'I'm going to join a group.'"

When she was offered the chance to do exactly that, she found herself saying she would try it, just to see what it was like. Her contributions, first on Wurlitzer electric piano and then on Prophet 5 synthesizer, added a new dimension to the previously all acoustic sound of the group. It was this blend of traditional and high-tech that she developed in her own music.

"I started writing in '82, going into '83," she says. "When I left Clannad it was Nicky and Roma who believed in me. I was learning saxophone and doing some classical piano. I still knew I was going to be involved in music but I had no idea what it was going to be -- whether I was going to get a band together or what. I really didn't know what it was, so Nicky and Roma set me up in their house. At that stage the studio was just a big room. The piano was there and they just said: 'Why don't you concentrate on sorting out the area of music you want to get involved in?'. From playing the piano and the classical stuff - recording it and listening to it - I ended up just improvising and writing my own stuff from there. When Roma heard the music, first thing she immediately saw pictures and thought about the film world. After my first six or seven pieces she sent off a few tapes and she got a telephone call from David Puttnam saying he liked the music."

Puttnam's interest led to a commission to write music for his 1985 film, The Frog Prince. Was it nervewracking? "Of course! Especially since it was on the basis of the first six or seven piece I'd written, but I seemed to cope with it a bit better having gone in at the deep end before."

Then it was suggested that she submit music for The Celts, a BBC series that was in development. "They'd been working on The Celts, researching for two years, and they decided it was about time they started getting the music in. They had lots of tapes from different composers and didn't like any of the music and so Tony McAuley rang (he's a BBC producer in Northern Ireland) and said, 'Are you interested in this project and if so, could you write us a piece of music and send it yesterday?' So myself and Nicky went into the studio for five or six days and came out with 'The March Of The Celts'. We just went to town and decided to do what we liked. Nicky said, 'Let's do multi-vocals, let's try this' and we just tried everything we wanted and sent it off. There was silence for a few days and the next thing we heard they all loved it. What they were gonna do initially was have a composer for each program, but when they heard our piece of music they commissioned us to write the whole 70 minutes of music."

Some of Enya's music was used, in fact, as a stimulus for filming - with the cameraman equipped with headphones as he shot the film. Its quality of timelessness - technically advanced music with an atmosphere of archaism - was not exactly what the director was looking for. But it struck a popular note with viewers of the TV series, and the BBC release of Enya's soundtrack music was successful in its own right - in Ireland it was only kept from the top of the LP charts by U2's The Joshua Tree. Although Enya is reluctant to analyze the appeal of her music she attributes some of this popularity to the effective multi-vocal sound, nevertheless becoming evasive again when comparisons are drawn with ecclesiastical choirs, nuns singing Gregorian chant and all the other obvious analogies that suggest themselves to anybody grasping for a way in which to pin down her music.

"That sort of thing baffles me," she admits. "It's hard to put the music into categories. When people ask me - my parents - what the album's like I can't explain it to them."

The new LP is certain to provoke a degree of stereotyping on the lines of Irish New Age or Celtic Ambient, but for Enya it's a record of stories, atmospheres, moods, sounds. She talks about bringing music alive with coloration, softening technology with a human voice or taking simple ideas and sound qualities, even a technical aspect of a synthesizer, and building this into a piece through trial, error and experimentation.

"A lot of themes ended up as home themes. Journeys. That was a word that came up a lot."

Despite its pastoral qualities and its evocation of distant horizons, landscapes and seascapes, Enya denies any direct influence from her homeland. "Donegal is the wild country, they call it. It's in the northwest, at the very top and it's very beautiful. I just get extremely relaxed when I go home but I don't stand there thinking, 'This is the next piece.' It doesn't do that to me, but I'm sure if affects me when I go back to work."

Despite these denials, as she describes the songs on Watermark she is immediately talking about Gweedore. "The one with the clarinet," she says referring to an elegaic song named 'On Your Shore', "is about a beach at home and it's really close to me." She laughs shyly, betraying a reluctance to expose herself except through music. "It's really beautiful."

Other songs are about childhood, ghost stories, movement and returns. Their mysterious and occasionally ritualistic air is augmented in some cases by the use of Irish vocals. "I'm a native Irish speaker. Irish is my first language, even though at home now it's become very much a dying language. It's only in certain areas where they still bring up the children to speak Irish first. Then you go to school to learn your English like I did. When I'm singing I can express myself a bit more in Irish because I still think a lot in Irish."

Away from the music, away from the graft of layering those identical one-note overdubs 80, 100, 120 times to create the ethereal sounds that characterize her recordings, Enya likes to sit quietly in silence. "We figured that we were going to have to work really hard for it and now it's paying off. Sometimes we thought this is not working, but it's finally getting there."



Note: Transcribed by Dave Allum from a copy made available by Ted Harrington.