For Enya the fairytale may very well be complete. Since gliding into public consciousness with Orinoco Flow nearly ten years ago, the Donegal singer has sold an incredible 33 million albums and seduced hearts all over the world and now … well now Enya has bought a castle deep in the heart of South County Dublin.
The castle which overlooks Bono’s house, is called Ayesha, meaning from the ashes, after the goddess in Rider Haggard’s adventure story She. And while it isn’t quite a gothic pile, Ayesha is the perfect home for Enya, the creator of floaty celtic music and *the* voice of Ireland – at least as far as advertising agencies dealing in cars, mineral water and moisturisers are concerned.
Since her break from Clannad in 1982, her subsequent work on movie soundtracks and the breakthrough of her debut LP proper Watermark in 1988, Enya with husband and wife team Roma and Nicky Ryan has become one of the richest women in Ireland as well as one of the biggest-selling female artists of all time.
A touch of an American accent tinges her Donegal tones but Enya (now 37) remains a delicate, self-contained individual. Don’t expect a new studio album from her until 2000 but in the meantime her fans can savour Paint The Sky With Stars, a ‘best of’ collection that spans early soundtrack work on BBC documentary series The Celts to 1995’s The Memory of Trees. A boxed set of her work called Oceans, Ivories and Stars is also on the way for Enya completists.
Paint The Sky With Stars serves as a stopgap before she gets down to the more arduous and painstaking business of producing a brand new slew of songs. In studio Enya is not a perfectionist – that’s too small a word for it. On Angeles from the Shepherd Moons album, for example, Nicky Ryan created a song with nearly 500 vocal tracks on it. That might seem rather pointless but that’s just the way this team works.
While producing an album, the holy trinity of Enya, Roma and Nicky are cloistered away in the studio honing a sound that is possibly the musical equivalent of the Book of Kells. But there can be ructions.
Enya makes no secret of the fact that the intensity of the trio’s working methods can sometimes leave her in tears. “I find there’s an advantage and a disadvantage with just three people”, she says. “The disadvantage is that it’s very hard to judge what’s going on because everyone’s so involved. You’re so closely associated with the music you feel like you’re part of it and that’s why we take so much time over it. When you’re working on something very intense you can get overwrought and somehow you have to let go”.
No screaming matches, then?
“Well, I try not to”, she says demurely.
BBC radio are about to make a documentary on Enya, Roma and Nicky’s arcane studio technique. Incredibly for the rest of the time, their aural playground lies dormant, almost as if they think that outside artists may infect the delicate atmosphere, or change the perfect balance they’ve achieved. “Well,” Enya reasons. “The studio is for us, we’ve got it the way we want it and when I’m not in the studio looking for the melodies… it’s not like I have all these melody ideas buzzing around in my head all day. What will happen, though, is that I’ll feel inspired while I’m travelling, like in Donegal.”
It seems a long way from the house in Artane where Roma, Nicky and Enya toiled to produce the first few albums. However, Enya denies that her massive success has changed the trio’s relationship or their working methods. “It’s still the same. It’s still me, Roma and Nicky. We don’t feel the success going on. The success was there from the beginning, why bring in the experts when we bevame even bigger? Aside from having greta musicians we’re still the same team. I write the melodies, Roma the words and Nicky does the production.”
The path to success on this scale usually involves huge world tours and a promotional regime that would leave Bon Jovi gasping. Enya never plays live, keeps a hermit-like media profile and isn’t exactly controversial when she does have something to say or flog.
“It’s not that I feel it’s strange,” she says uncontroversially. “It’s just the way it happened. You don’t really sit down and plan your destinies. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to take it quite gradually. I felt it was gradually because there was a great gap between Watermark and Shepherd Moons. We didn’t want any pressure on us to do the second album immediately the following year. In fact we did the exact opposite! Hahaha, four years in between, that’s as long as the second album took and we didn’t work constantly.”
Even if some of Paint the Sky with Stars sounds dated, like some Vangelis soundtrack from the mid eighties, the timeless appeal that Enya often speaks of is not lost. “For me this album is like a musical diary”, she says. “It’s not so much I feel it’s dated, it’s more to do with the fact that each melody has a little story and I live through that whole story from the beginning. I can remember writing the melody, working on the song, having Roma put words on it and if you read a diary, especially if it’s your own diary, when you read a particular day, your mind goes back to that day and what you were thinking.”
She says that her fans would be offended by a sample of her track Boadicea on the Fugee’s Ready or Not which the American rappers lifted without permission. Enya was in Australia doing press for the Memory of Trees when she heard the track. “I thought they were rap”, she says. “But they’re, em, hip hop, aren’t they? I was angry, yes. Rap bands have their albums labelled because they may contain bad language, or whatever. I was really worried about that because of my fans. But I was a little bit worried for this group because they were riding on this really successful wave at the time, their album was No. 1 in the US and I didn’t want them to pull the album because they had used my track.”
Eventually The Fugees published an apology to Enya on the album, but why her fans might have been offended isn’t quite clear. “I’ve got fans from the age of seventy to two years of age”, Enya explains. “It’s not like I have teenage fans, my fans are younger or older than that. It just felt strange for me being on that Fugees song”.
Her contact with those fans, whatever age they might be, is certainly limited considering she has never played live. Many of them take to writing heartfelt and even disturbed letters to her. When asked about this, Enya is coy. “Usually they thank me for the music or relate a story that has involved my music. I won’t be doing it so much on this trip, but I will be doing various signings in some countries I’m visiting.”
Her fanbase share one thing in common – they find Enya’s music very comforting, calming and spiritual. She makes an otherworldly sound that seems to hark back to a different age – one of innocence. “That’s something I see when I read the letters,” she says. “Everyone has a different interpretation for themselves through the music. It’s so different for each person…”
Enya once described herself as “a piano teacher type person.” She is shy and retiring and extremely gracious and charming. But inscrutable and enigmatic are also words which could have been coined for Enya. It’s an image, like that other Donegal native Daniel O’Donnell, that has never done her any harm. In America, where her music circulates like snuff at a wake, she’s seen as a spectral, mystical figure at odds with pretty much anything else in the music charts. “Well, sometimes I get strange headlines and in a way that’s what you get for not doing endless interviews or not having a huge public profile. I don’t mind talking about the music as such, that’s relatively easy to do but because I think that’s enough… No, I don’t have a very high profile.”
After the first rush of huge success at the turn of the decade, her profile was sufficient to earn a fair amount of criticism of her music in this country. “Sometimes when something is directly on your doorstep it’s harder to understand,” she explains. “In other countries they believe it quicker than here. Here, when it’s on your own doorstep and it’s someone you know quite well it’s different…”
There are untold riches of course, but Enya’s only obvious extravagance is her love of expensive designer clothes. Today, she is dressed in velvet finery of autumnal hues as she perches on her chair. But how does she feel when she reads that she is the third richest woman in Ireland? “I wish!”, she laughs. “I don’t know where they get all their figures. All that money has to go to copywriters, record companies and other people too. Ireland is an expensive country.” That’s why she’s about to live in a castle in Killiney. Enya laughs loudly. “Ah yes!”
While she’s on the promotional tour with Paint the Sky with Stars, Ayesha is being renovated. “It’s not an intimidating castle,” she says, banishing visions of Enya patrolling its marble halls at midnight. “It’s not full of huge ballrooms. It’s very cosy. As soon as I walked in I felt very, very at home and I knew I wanted it.” That’s a mighty big castle out there in Killiney, have you none to share it with?” I say, attempting to breach one of Enya’s biggest secrets. “At the moment, em, ahem, no,” she says, smiling politely once again. “I’m taking time to myself now.”
Article by Alan Corr published in RTE Guide, Ireland on October 31,1997
Transcribed by Shea