Imagine a place where a calm atmosphere surrounds your every step as you walk through exquisite rooms. A place where the echoes of history expand the heart and soothe the mind, and where the spirit can find repose. A haven of light. Picture then Ayesha Castle, a 19th century architectural gem, situated in Killiney, south Dublin, and now home to Enya.
Enya is one of Ireland’s greatest successes, consistently the top selling female artist since her number one hit twelve years ago. Since then, she has sold more than 44 million albums worldwide. What has puzzled the music industry ever since “Orinoco Flow” was released in 1988 is that Enya has sustained such achievements without touring to generate sales. This in itself is unprecedented in a business where exposure is everything, and yet it makes Enya the most successful solo Irish artist ever. I am left to wonder what her sales would be like if she had toured!
Enya has invited me to see her castle and has suggested that her producer Nicky Ryan and her lyricist Roma Ryan join us there. We meet on a fresh, autumnal morning, Enya’s elegant dress echoing the day in colors of greys and browns, her manner warm and friendly, and we move through the gates. Huge, makeshift, wooden hoarding serves as a kind of modern, suburban battlement for the army of builders who have been busy renovating the castle for the past two years. It has been a massive undertaking as Enya has redesigned the interiors and has paid meticulous attention to every detail of the castle’s Victorian origins. Enya guides me across the forecourt, heavily muddied after the falls of relentless rain over the past few days and says softly, “This will be my first real home.” Her sense of excitement is palpable. She continues, “I have tired of apartment living and need more space around me. The builders should be finished in a few weeks but I will be overseeing all the decorating and furnishing myself, I am not going to trust that to anyone else.”
Enya has taken the time to show me the castle in the short gap between finishing the recording of her most recent album “A Day Without Rain” and the first leg of the promotional tour that will take herself and Nicky to Milan, Tapei (where she will meet press from all over Asia), Japan, Canada and then to New York. The phenomenal success that has followed Enya to date continues with “A Day Without Rain,” as, according to Hassan Choudry, head of International at Warner Music UK, the first shipping order for the album has already reached the five million mark.
Originally built in the 1840s as Victoria Castle, it was renamed Ayesha in 1924 after the goddess “carrying the eternal flame, who was forever youthful” in H. Rider Haggard’s, novel She. Enya has renamed it yet again–as Manderley, after the house in the black and white classic film Rebecca based on the Daphne Du Maurier book of the same name. Ironically, both buildings, real and fictional, suffered damage by fire as Enya points out that her dining room was destroyed in the 1920s. Now it is both magical and majestic as honeyhued panels, with intricate designs, adorn the walls. As we wander through the spacious and tranquil rooms, past the amazing spiral staircase that extends the whole height of the castle, I ask Enya about recording “A Day Without Rain.”
“I realised the new album was more string oriented than before. I go into the studio with a blank canvas. I never plan what I’m going to write. The thoughts are in there, yes, but I never know anything about them until I actually come into the studio. I put no restrictions of time or outside distractions upon myself during this process in the studio, it is the only place where I’ve found I can work in the way I need to. The studio, is after, all designed around the way we work.”
The album is, once again, steeped in the rich and luxuriant multi-layered vocals that have become so characteristic of Enya’s music. Adding to this are strikingly vibrant string arrangements and a certain maturity in Enya’s vocal quality which can still move eloquently and effortlessly from the delicate and ethereal in a track such as “Fallen Embers” to the sonorously choral banks of sound heard in “Tempus Vernum.”
“I would sing Latin very differently to singing in Irish or English,” Enya adds, “You’re thinking choral, you’re thinking strong vocals. My favourite song on the album is `Fallen Embers.’ I knew emotionally it was a very strong piece but especially so when I played it to Roma. As usual she could feel the emotion I was trying to get across musically and when she handed me the lyrics it was so moving to actually sing them.”
As if on cue, Roma and Nicky arrive. They carry in with them the freshness of the autumn day, Roma’s face breaking into a warm smile when she sees me while Nicky moves from foot to foot with the air of a man just itching to get things done. He’s in pre- promotional tour mode. “Do you like the work on the castle?” he asks me briskly, “It’s behind schedule, but with Enya’s attention to detail it’ll be well worth the wait.”
Here is a creative relationship–producer, composer and lyricist–that has sustained itself over the past fifteen years despite the rigors of media scrutiny. They will openly admit to encountering the musical differences that must derive from living and working so closely together, but they are obviously at ease with how instinctively they understand each other, as close collaborators can often be. We continue the guided together and I ask Roma about her method of writing lyrics for the albums. “The music can keep changing so I try not to write too early in the process. I let the music dictate how I think about the lyrics and always discuss my ideas with Enya as to what the music suggests to me. To a degree a lot of them are based on emotions rather than actual events or stories.”
When Roma is not writing lyrics she writes poetry and has a substantial body of work which she calls her own and which is totally separate from the albums. “There have been talks surrounding publishing offers,” she adds modestly, “so all in good time.” We make our way through to what was once the entrance to the carriage and stable building but is now home to what Enya calls her “Winter Garden,” a gracious room situated near the heart of the castle and completely bathed in light. Two of the four walls of this room are comprised of glass, housed in magnificently crafted, Victorian, wooden frames and they stretch from ceiling to floor. From the south facing window can be seen a fairytale courtyard complete with an original fountain Enya “found” while traveling in Europe and beyond that views to die for. Through the gap in the woodland, which is part of Enya’s garden, Killiney Bay lies like a coruscating treasure, spread at the foot of the magnificent Wicklow Mountains. “I love to watch the sea,” Enya tells me, “I was brought up close to the Atlantic Ocean in Donegal and it doesn’t get much wilder than that. The sea inspires me.”
With the three of them together now stories begin to fly as we sit in the “Winter Garden.” Nicky recalls, “When we met the Pope I remember thinking he looked so frail, but there was no denying his presence and the effect he had on the room when he entered. The late John Denver was there and before the Pope arrived he came rushing over to ask if he could meet Enya. He told me, `I’m as nervous about meeting Enya as I am about meeting the Pope.’ That’s what he said to me! Enya was also invited, along with Stevie Wonder, to perform at the King of Sweden’s birthday party as a surprise guest. It was a superb, informal occasion and she found the Swedish Royal family particularly warm and very down to earth. She also met Princess Diana on several occasions, some in private. “I still cherish those moments,” says Enya. For the first time she seems lost in her thoughts and I know she will not elaborate so I do not press her. Roma picks up the conversation, “We also heard that Ayrton Senna, the world famous Formula One racing driver, used to listen to Enya while preparing for the Qualifying! And all the stories about Enya’s music being relaxing, well, it’s true. The amount of mail she gets from fans who just want to talk about the music and the effect it has on them is incredible. Enya is very taken with the fact that people see her in that light.”
Talking as we move down the long corridor which takes us to Enya’s music room, the air is convivial. The trio have fun in recounting anecdotes to a willing listener. I soak it all in. The music room is where Enya plans to keep her signed photograph of Rachmaninov, a favourite composer of hers. The room seems to shimmer in the light which pours through a sweetly shaped cupola above. Close by are her gym, her morning room where she can write her letters, and her library that will house yet another favorite collectible of hers–first editions.
As we walk back towards the spiral staircase I mention that some people see Enya as having no life outside of her music. Enya is quick to reply, “But I have a very rich life outside of music. I have a wide circle of family and friends and enjoy their company regularly.” Although she has relationships she says she does not talk about them under any circumstances. More recently Enya has taken to hosting fancy dress parties at Humewood Castle, near Blessington in County Wicklow–by all accounts her Cleopatra costume was very impressive! Enya also enjoys watching old black and white movies, walking, reading, and she has a passion for art–her collection includes work by Jack B. Yeats, Louis Le Brocquy and a painting by Albert Goodwin that was recently held at London’s Tate Gallery.
We reach the main doorway of the castle. I ask, finally, what plans they have for the future. Nicky is first to reply. “Well, one of the tracks from the new album, `Only Time,’ is being used in Keanu Reeves’ new movie Sweet November, which is due for release in the US in February of next year. The question is still being asked as to whether or not Enya will tour. The answer is yes, if we can get the thing right. So far no one has been able to come up with a production plan that will match the expectations of the fans.” With `Manderley’ almost near completion Enya will at least have a haven of peace to return to after the busy schedule of her promotional tour and she is looking forward to that. `I’m really happy with where I am today. There’s nothing I would change, and that is the feeling that has evolved from this album.” The words from one of her new songs “Wild Child” say it all: Ever close your eyes, Ever stop and listen, Ever feel alive and you’ve nothing missing, You don’t need a reason, Let the day go on and on.”
World of Hibernia: 22 Dec 2000