It’s a nerve-racking, soul-searching business making music to soothe the world. You’d think that 70 million album sales, four Grammys, an Oscar nomination and a legion of fans would make the creative process easier. No so for Enya.
Every time she sits down in her studio to compose a piece of music Enya is paralysed by anxiety. “I’m a very slow composer and I get anxious because it is so slow,” says the musician who forged a successful solo career 20 years ago with the hit single Orinoco Flow.
“When I read how many artists can work so quickly and have so many songs to choose from for an album, and I’ve taken years to finish a dozen, I feel even worse.”
Ireland’s best-selling solo artist needn’t worry. Two years since Enya began working on her latest album, And Winter Came… is finished. Song after song, her glorious voice soars over a hypnotic score. Its release has prompted Enya to travel from her Victorian castle home on the outskirts of Dublin to the other side of the city for press interviews. She is said to be retiring and reticent about her private life, but the interview process is part of the job and she approaches it with grace and charm.
FAMOUS, JUST QUIETLY
Born Eithne Ni Bhraonain in County Donegal, Enya is a petite, alluringly dark-haired woman with a ready smile and, as it turns out, is not reticent at all. She is happy to talk about her music, her family and the castle home she restored and named “Manderley” in homage to her favourite novel, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.
She discusses the pathology of stalkers with a compassion and understanding that is rare in someone who has been so persistently stalked. One thing she will not discuss, though, is romantic relationships.
“My life is really very normal,” Enya says. “When I’m not writing music I catch up with family and friends. I read; I particularly like Daphne du Maurier and Alan Bennett. I go on holiday. I have dinner parties. I fix up my house.
“I go to Pilates, and because my back gets so tense from being hunched over the piano all day, I have lots of shiatsu massages. I’m not that reclusive. I like going out. I love red carpet events like the Oscars and the Grammys but I don’t like my picture in the paper for the sake of it.”
A disciplined worker, Enya goes to her studio every day at 10am and leaves at around 6pm.
“I never say to myself, ‘I don’t feel like writing today, I’ll do something else.’ If I don’t feel like it, I’ll do it anyway,” she says. “My music is very personal. It’s to do with inspiration from life, a country, a landscape, an event. Life in general is very inspiring, but not then and there. The inspiration comes with me and it might be two years before I compose something. It’s important not to lose sight of what the song is, and that’s the advantage of time in the studio.
“I’m incredibly fortunate. I’ve never had to sell my music. People make a lot of that, but actually I’ve never needed to. The music sold without me being there. The music is far more successful than I am famous, so I don’t have to get up in the morning and say, ‘I’m Enya the famous singer.’ The music has never changed me. This is the way I’ve always been.”
Is this what a US business expert dubbed “enyanomics”, the phenomenon of doing what you want at home and getting paid huge amounts of money for it? One of Ireland’s richest citizens, Enya laughs, “I just compose my own music. I never listen to anyone’s opinion. I just let the music come to life itself.”
The people whose opinions Enya does trust are her musical collaborators, Nicky and Roma Ryan, who have been with her since before she launched her solo career in 1987 on the back of performing in her family’s band, Clannad. The sixth in a family of nine children, Enya has been involved with music all her life.
While she doesn’t have children of her own, she has 15 nieces and nephews. “It was very important to me when I was doing up my house that the place was child friendly,” Enya says. “I didn’t want my nieces and nephews to feel they couldn’t run around and be free.”
The notion of freedom is close to Enya’s heart because, despite keeping a low personal profile, she is not totally free. Three years ago her home was broken into by a stalker.
Earlier in her career a stalker stabbed himself when he was thrown out of her parents’ pub in Gweedore, Donegal.
Of the extra security measures she has been forced to take (including bodyguards) Enya says, “It’s not what I would like ideally, but I do have to take care. It’s irresponsible not to.
And yet I do feel some sympathy and understanding for those people who are compelled to stalk others. They are sick and they need help.”
When Enya visits Australia she enjoys being completely anonymous. “One of my sisters lives there. I visit often and no one ever recognises me because I’m with my family. I walk through the Botanic Gardens. I go to the Sydney Festival and listen to opera under the stars. It’s wonderful.”
MindFood | Nov 28, 2008