Enya: red velvet jacket

Out Takes

Enya chuckles about the irony of her accomplishments. "Back then, I actually thought I was still more likely to end up teaching music than making it," she says.

Enya: Memory, Myth & Melody

Timothy White

Billboard (USA) 25 November 1995

The Druids of Celtic history are named for dru-vid (or derw-ydd), Welsh for "oak-knowledge," since the people of this ancient culture worshipped the woodlands as the eternal source of earthly wisdom. And like Merlin of Arthurian legend, Druid priests made wands of branches from the sacred yew, hazel, and rowan timber to orient this botanical sapience for supernatural purposes.

So when ethereal Irish singer/songwriter Enya decided to call her new album The Memory of Trees (Reprise, due Dec. 5), it was not an ecological homage to a plant form that could die out, but rather out of regard for what the foliage may one day recall about our fleeting activities.

"I love the ambiguity of the idea," says Enya, laughing, who poured her impressions into the record's opening instrumental title track, "but it's got more to do with what the trees have been through and their awareness of us, instead of our awareness of them. That's why the Druids placed great importance on trees and their spiritual power."

This belief led to the earliest form of Irish writing, called Ogham or "the tree alphabet," its characters composing a secret script with both ordinary and otherworldly meanings. According to legend, the system was devised by Ogma, god of eloquence and literature. Enya herself perceives great importance in legend, its relationship to Irish heritage, and its modern impact on its people.

"I get inspiration from the countryside," she says. "I live in northwest Donegal on the Atlantic coast, and it's quite wild, with mostly mountains, moors, and brown bogs filled with rushes. There's something terribly breathtaking about it, and it moves me to write melodies that can be uplifting, but which I personally find can be very emotional and draining.

I'm a verr-y private person," adds the publicity-shy, seldom interviewed artist, her halting English laced with the curled Donegal articulation of her childhood Gaelic. "I have to go so deep into myself to compose, so the place where I perform is not in public but in the studio." Since 1982, her collaborators in this cloistered process have been producer Nicky Ryan and his lyricist wife, Roma, who met Enya in 1979 when Ryan was managing Clannad, an Irish group in which Enya became a junior component.

"It was Nicky who asked me to join Clannad," says Enya, "even though it was a true family group [Clannad is Gaelic for family], with two of my brothers, Pól and Ciarán; a sister, Máire; and two uncles, Noel and Pádraig. So I did keyboards and backing vocals." She participated, uncredited, on Clannad's fifth album, Crann Ull, in 1980 and was made a full member for the follow-up in 1982, Fuaim.

"All the while," Enya continues, "I loved Nicky's wonderful concepts of the layering of vocals, and Roma had wonderful stories from Irish mythology, so late in 1982 we decided to leave Clannad to see what we three could evolve together. Our first project was the theme music for David Puttnam's film The Frog Prince, and then we did the soundtrack for a six-part BBC television history of the Irish called The Celts."

The BBC was sufficiently excited by the results to issue it in 1986 as the singer's solo debut, Enya, its innovative ambient Irish folk milieu attracting a U.A. licensing deal with Atlantic Records.

But it was not until October 1988 that the elusive, nonconcertizing Enya became a superstar with the British release of 'Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)', the single from her then impending WEA/Geffen album Watermark. The song seized the Irish airwaves the week U2 was to unveil its Rattle And Hum opus, and this writer was in a Dublin cab en route to the local premiere of U2's companion film when RTE broadcast that was soon to be the No. 1 record in the U.K. U2 was forced to share its country's collective pop consciousness that fall with Enya because, as Dublin's citizens openly confessed, they'd never heard anything quite like 'Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)'.

Recalling the explosion of interest in the song, with its multifarious abstractions concerning Venezuela's Orinoco River, the shores of Tripoli, and Avalon, the fabled Celtic afterworld known as "the land of eternal youth," Enya chuckles about the irony of her accomplishments. "Back then, I actually thought I was still more likely to end up teaching music than making it," she says. "And what's funny, too, is that unlike Clannad, whose background was in traditional Irish songs, my background was in classical music. Yet Nicky's influences were totally different! He was a fan of Phil Spector and the Beach Boys. And Roma was a serious poet studying Irish folklore. None of us really knew what was around the next corner" - specifically, cumulative world sales of 18 million units for Watermark, 1991's Shepherd Moons, and The Celts, which Reprise reissued in 1992.

As with much of Enya's music, the melody for 'Anywhere Is', the addictive first single from The Memory of Trees, was the impetus for Roma Ryan's stanzas about the search for the temporal heaven all cultures call "home."

"That's a subject I understand the best," says Enya, "because I can't compose unless I'm home... in the Gaeltacht area of Donegal."

Enya was born Eithne Ní Bhraonáin on May 17, 1961, the daughter of musician/bandleader Leo Bhraonain and the former Maire Duggan, a music teacher at Gweedore Comprehensive School in County Donegal. From age 11 to 17, Enya (she adopted the phonetic spelling in the early '80s) attended a convent college in Millford run by the Loretto order, studying music and art (she excelled in watercolor landscapes), before immersing herself in the sounds reverberating from Leo's Tavern, a pub her father ran in rural Meenaleck that became Clannad's proving ground.

"I was brought up Catholic," says Enya, "but as you grow older, rather than attending Mass out of habit, you decide for yourself what you want from religion. I'm the same with music, in that I can go for months without playing a radio or a CD, but when I do, it's usually to hear something like Rachmaninov's 'Piano Sonata No. 2' or his 'Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini.'

"My taste in music is like my choices of where I want to spend my time: climbing a hill overlooking the ocean or visiting Spain to see flamenco dancing because of my mother's Spanish roots, dating back to when ships of the Spanish Armada were wrecked off Ireland [in 1588] and her ancestors settled on Tory Island.

"The Druids understood the meaning of remembrance and that the purpose of art is to bind people around a belief in continuity. This music is the sound of something that is passed on."

Note: Transcriber: Ted Harrington.  Posted to Enya Mailing List - 26 November 1995