She might not grab the headlines with the regularity of a Madonna or Whitney Houston but Irish-born artist Enya, the quiet achiever, certainly matches them in record sales.
Since her debut release Watermark in 1988, Enya has sold a phenomenal 44 million albums, making her one of the past decade’s biggest-selling female acts.
With her hauntingly beautiful, ethereal sounds, she jangled an overcrowded market of grunge and pop-dance-rock into peaceful acquiescence. As well, her music – including the hypnotic Orinoco Flow – became every movie director’s dream soundtrack pick.
In the early 90s, an Enya track was a staple on a string of movies including Peter Weir’s Green Card, Steve Martin’s LA Story, Martin Scorsese’s Age of Innocence and the Cruise/Kidman Irish weepie, Far and Away.
But rather than court the attention, the dark-haired petite musician soon earned a reputation for aloofness and solitude.
“I think it was self-protection,” she says. “When I started on Watermark, so many people were telling me it would never sell, so I locked myself away in the studio to work. I didn’t want to hear any negative opinions.”
But with a new album, A Day Without Rain, her first new release since 1995’s Memory Of Trees, Enya is happy to finally unveil herself.
“I’ve been in the studio nonstop for two years,” she says. “There is no pressure from the record company. They know they can’t rush me into one album a year. They just have to wait for the call.”
Enya’s recording process is painstaking. She first sits at a piano on her own to compose the music. She then takes it to her two collaborators, Nicky Ryan (also her manager) who works on the arrangements and his wife, Roma, who writes the lyrics.
In the studio Enya is the sole performer – no session players or computerised equipment are used. Each track is meticulously laid over another. Often, hundreds of tracks are recorded for one song.
As she gently sips tea in her luxurious London Dorchester Hotel suite, she contemplates a theme for A Day Without Rain.
“This album is about life and love, mourning past relationships and searching for true love,” she says.
Set to turn 40 next year, Enya says she is undergoing many of the pressures women feel at that age.
“A lot of women freak about turning this age, especially when you are still not married or don’t have children,” she says. “In the past three or four years, I was topsy-turvy, putting pressure on myself because I kept thinking work was taking up too much of my time. Lately, I’ve come to the realisation that I love what I do and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve been through that panic but now I feel content. I love my work and if family happens, that is wonderful. If it doesn’t, that’s OK too.”
Not that she’ll ever be alone. She’s the fifth of nine children. Her father, a musician and band leader, had his brood performing from an early age at Leo’s Tavern which he owned in the small rural town of Donegal, Ireland.
Enya’s siblings, including her sister Marie Brennan, formed the renowned Celtic band Clannad. Enya joined briefly but it was not a happy union.
“I came from boarding school where I had learnt to be independent without any family members around,” she says. “I had immersed myself in studying classical music, then I agreed to join Clannad and I was on stage with them singing all over Europe. I suddenly thought, what was I doing?”
She maintains the departure was harmonious and that the Brennan clan is a tight-knit group.
“When I go home to Donegal, my parents expect the same old Enya to walk through the door,” she says.
In fact, catching up with family members fills her spare time and one of her thrills is visiting Sydney, where an uncle and her younger sister live. She expected to spend this festive season with them.
Her cousin, who runs a cafe in the north of Sydney, is getting married and her sister, a former chef, is due to have her second child.
“I travel about twice a year to Sydney – it’s a home from home and I feel I know it really well,” Enya says. “It’s such a great city, I love walking around the Opera House and Botanical Gardens.”
Familiar with the spectacular fireworks Sydney displays over its harbour, Enya was pleased when her record company recently closed the Thames River in London for a fireworks display to commemorate the launch of A Day Without Rain.
During the launch, Enya commented: “These fireworks are so good, they must be from Australia.”
The West Australian: 4.1.2001