NEW YORK – Irish music superstar Enya says she doesn’t mean to be so mysterious.
It’s just kind of turned out that way.
The Emerald Isle’s bestselling solo artist, with worldwide sales of 75 million since her mid-’80s debut, has just re-emerged with her first studio album of New Age-Celtic-pop in seven years and her eighth disc overall, Dark Sky Island.
“The air of mystery – where that has evolved from was that with the success of Orinoco Flow (in 1988) – I was told that people loved the song but didn’t know if it was a band, if it was a male or female singer,” said Enya, 54, decked out in a beautifully tailored Erdem dress – a jewelled white top and black lower half – in a Canadian exclusive with Postmedia Network in a midtown Manhattan hotel recently.
“They didn’t know who it was, they didn’t see the face, they heard the music first. The success went to the music first, not to me, and as a musician that’s really important to me. Like, to me, fame, success, two different things… So in that regard I felt I was able to stand back from having to feel like I had to be at events or as a person to try and be famous. I felt I had a choice… That’s really where it has evolved from. It’s not me that I have purposely have hidden away. I had the opportunity to do it and I kind of thought, ‘Why not?’”
Fuelling Enya’s mystery is that she’s never toured as a solo artist although there’s talk that she might actually hit the road this time.
Just don’t hold your breath.
“You know, I’ve been saying that since 1988 but my answer is ‘I’m still hoping (to tour),’” she said with a laugh.
“I have to say that in 1988 what we wanted for touring wasn’t possible. Now the beautiful productions you see onstage with choirs, with orchestras, it’s quite normal to see a vast amount of people onstage… Musically that is something I would love because I was onstage when I was three years of age. We did singing competitions. This is not something that is foreign to me.”
Typically, Enya – a self admitted “slow composer” – takes three to five years between albums but after 2008’s holiday/winter collection … And Winter Came, she and her longtime collaborators – producer-sound engineer Nicky Ryan and lyricist Roma Ryan (the married couple are known as The Trio collectively with Enya) – decided they needed a longer break.
Enya divided her time between her “beautiful castle overlooking the Irish sea,” and her home in the South of France and some travelling to visit one of her sisters in Australia.
Located just south of Dublin, she renamed the 1840 castle Manderley after the one in Daphne Du Maurier’s novel, Rebecca, her favourite book.
“I have to say that it is very inspiring,” said Enya of the castle.
“It was known as Victoria Castle. It was built for Victoria. It was this very wealthy landowner and he lived just nearby in his big mansion with lots of grounds and he wanted to bring Victoria to visit his castle. So he got this magnificent architect to pick this spot on a hill that had perfect views. So it’s a tiny little road and it’s still called Victoria Road. But she never came to visit. And I also was very involved with the interior, the decorating, wanted to bring it back to a very romantic castle because that’s what it was.”
But the heating bills must be murder, no?
“The castle, it’s not like a Norman castle. Big windows, so you get all that daylight. It’s not dark. It’s a very sort of homey, warm castle; it’s not a cold castle. But the south of France is nice.”
In the downtime, Roma went back to writing her beloved poetry, in this case about the Channel Islands, including Sark Island, which was the first to be ever designated Dark Sky Area.
“She said that the people there really embraced the title that they got, “said Enya. “And what they did was, there’s only about 600 people on the island, they decided to never have cars, they only means of transport to the island is by boat. So there is not a lot of light on the island, so you can go there and view this beautiful sky. But when I went to the studio then in March-April (2012), this was the story that kind of evolved within the first melody… So we decided (on the title) Dark Sky Island because there’s sort of a theme of journey on the album.”
The trio recorded in a studio in an old church on the Ryans’ property not far from Enya’s castle.
It was Nicky who first developed Enya’s signature ethereal sound.
They met when he was working with her family’s band Clannad and asked her to join post-high school for a couple of years to play keyboards and sing harmony on record and tour before she broke out on her own.
“He said he wanted to use the voice as an instrument and in real time, not to sample it, to record it over and over and over and over,” said Enya.
“He’s a big Phil Spector fan, so the Wall of Sound, but he was creating it with a live performance of a vocal. And we just kept going, ‘What will it sound like? We just kept doing this layering, layering, and thus created what’s known as Enya’s sound.”
A peace-inducing sound that was and is pervasive at spas around the world.
There was a time in the mid-‘80s and all of the ‘90s where you couldn’t go for a massage without hearing an Enya song.
It’s even happened to her.
“Oh yes, it did happen,” she said. “It was very strange sensation to stand in a spa. It was myself and Roma and we went in for a workout class and we just stood there. But I was being called Patricia, my second name, and she was called Shane, it’s her second name, and the next thing they played Orinoco Flow and I just thought, ‘This is the last thing I’d ever do to sort of relax and do stretches to Orinoco Flow.’”
Still, she recognizes there is a kind of calmness that her music induces.
“I know, I know,” she said. “I feel it within the music myself. It’s to do with what we all bring creatively. Because musically for me my background is classical music but also traditional Irish music. Now what’s very strong in traditional Irish music is the sense of melancholy, not sadness, but melancholy and also the use of minor keys in a lot of Irish music… Again, I don’t impose on the music, you can’t really do that, so that’s really very inherent.”
Jane Stevenson | Toronto Sun | 22 November 2015