Valerie Shanley speaks to Enya, a girl who likes to be different…

There is about her an aura of gentleness and tranquility. In the voice, there’s a faraway trace of beautiful and remote Donegal, and that county’s rain sprakling lakes are mirrored in intense green eyes. Eithne ni Bhraonain, better known as Enya, is different. And it’s a word she herself uses a lot, whether talking about music, or another of her passions, clothes.

It’s hard to categorise Enya within the genre of female singers/songwriters making a successful come-back in the late 80’s. Her work is light years away from that of bed-sit land balladress, Suzanne Vega, or simple and homely Nancy Griffith. For songwriter, substitute composer – Enya’s first major commision was a film score for David Puttnam’s short feature, The Frog Prince. Neither is she just a singer in the conventional sense. On The Celts, and also on the new album Watermark, Enya employs the multi-vocal technique – layers and layers of perfectly pitched and matched breathing of vowel sounds. Sometimes, she painstainkingly record a sound or word hundred times over. This results in a vast choral wave and gives life to the background music of synthethisers and digitals. In the States, where everything, it eems, must have a recognisable label, Enya’s music is described as New Age. Her style is so unusual, it led the B.B.C. to make a short film on the creation of the music for The Celts. (Her voice is also featured Sinead O’Connors’s album, The Lion and The Cobra, where she reads an extract from the Bible in Irish.)

Music has always figured prominently in her life. The musical talents of the Brennan family of Gweedore are well documented – her Mum and Dad played in a showband in the 50’s and her brothers and sister Maire formed the highly successful group, Clannad, while Enya was still at school. She studied music for five years.

“I really enjoyed the classical side of music,” she says. “I thought I would probably be involved academically nd amke career teaching music.”

However, in 1980, Enya was invited by Nicky Ryan Clannad’s sound engineer, to join the band as keyboards player and back-up singer. She got her first taste of performing live.

“I was literally thrown in at the deep end, but I loved it. I discovered the excitement and buzz of playing to a live audience.”

After nearly two years touring, practically non’stop, Enya exchanged her membership of the Clannad musical family for a new alliance with Nicky, and his wife Roma who had been involved in the administrative side of the group. The trio have worked well together. With Nicky’s recording studio at her constant disposal, Enya is free to experiment and lay down tracks wheneverthe mood and inspiration take her.

Since the completion of Watermark around mid-summer, Enya has been involved in a hectic whirl of photographic sessions for the album cover, promotional shots, etc. Her unique and original way with music and love of harmony extends to her own personal style.

“I adore clothes that are different. I like unusual features such as draped or uneven hems, off beat necklines, funny little buttons that fasten asymmetrically. The stylist who worked with us on the album cover showed me around some beautiful shops in London – the clothes were wonderful, sut and designed in such a way that they fletter the wearer. I wore some Yohji Yamamoto designs for the album shots and fell in love with them!”

Due to her petite (size 8) frame, a lot of her clothes have to be adjusted.

“I spend an awful lot of money on clothes, but always try to make sure I really like, and will wear it, before splashing out.”

Pet hates are nylon tights and high heels.

“They put you into that really grown-up category, if you know what I mean! I’ve always felt uncomfortable in high heels, they’re so obviously ‘all dressed up’.”

Black is still a favourite, but soft watercolours are now beginning to seep in. This is a reflection of Enya’s current creative direction, as water is the theme on the new album. A strong theme of journeys has also evolved throughout the album. Where does the inspiration for the musci come from?

“It’s not something that just happens. You have to keep writing and something will come. I constantly put ideas down on tape and go through them with Nicky – if there’s something outstanding, we recognise it straight away. The start is the important thing. Once you get the first chord, that’s it.”

Photography by Amelia Stein
Dress from Jasper Conrad, Jenny Vander, Louise Raymond

U Magazine: Valerie Shanley | Oct 1988
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