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Enya rules her kingdom

Queen of studio albums is finally open to concerts

Source: The Boston Globe (USA) (December 15, 2000)
By: Steve Morse

New age goddess Enya is famous for her privacy - and she now has the perfect place to enjoy it in her native Ireland. She has bought a castle, built in 1840, surrounded by the Wicklow Mountains on one side and the Irish Sea on the other. It even looks down upon a home owned by Bono of U2.

"It's a small castle, as castles in Ireland go," says Enya, with typical modesty. "The exterior is a castle, but the interior is very much a home."

Enya, 39, has earned her retreat thanks to one of the most unusual careers in pop. She has sold a staggering 44 million albums without touring - a sign of loyalty that contradicts the music-biz axiom that says fans must see you on the road to ensure record sales.

"I don't take my success for granted," says Enya, whose ambient pop/new age music has a soothing, spiritual feel that has made her a cult idol. "Many artists have come and gone since I've been making music. There are so many bands out there, so I feel an artist should never take [success] for granted."

Enya, who writes the keyboard-based melodies and then refines them with the husband-and-wife team of Nicky and Roma Ryan (her producer and lyricist, respectively), has built a workaholic reputation since releasing "Watermark," her 1988 debut. That was followed by "Shepherd Moons," "The Memory of Trees," "Paint the Sky with Stars," and the new "A Day Without Rain." The latest is arguably her best work because there is more emphasis on her gorgeous soprano lead vocals rather than the lush, multitracked harmony vocals for which Nicky Ryan has often been known.

"One album sort of rolled into another - and we were always in the studio," says Enya, explaining why she has never toured. "But the way we worked on the new album, we took more time out. It was important to have some time for myself. I didn't need to be [in the studio] seven days a week. And I'm happier now. For this album, it was five days a week and I'd take the weekends off, which really suited me."

Having found a better balance in her life, Enya is now open to touring - or at least trying a worldwide TV concert, then seeing how that goes before committing to a tour.

"What might make a good start for her," says Ryan, "is to do a live performance with a really hot orchestra and some very selected voices, like a big choir, and using various age groups within the choir to get those textures right. It might make for a very interesting concert, rather than just trying to emulate what's on the albums, or just using tapes, which I think would be horrible and would alienate people rather than endear them to you.

"We could do a one-off HBO special," he adds. "We just met Roger Ames, the new boss at Warner's, and he didn't believe me when I said Enya didn't tour but has sold 44 million albums. He thought I was pulling his leg. Then he said, 'Look, we have to do a TV special.' At least he brought it to the fore."

"It's long overdue," says Enya, who used to tour in the 1980s with her family as the band Clannad. "I'm up for it. It's a new challenge."

Enya's positive spirit was translated beautifully onto "A Day Without Rain." She again spans English, Gaelic, and Latin vocals, but this time almost all of the songs are in major keys and "that creates a very positive feeling," she says. The album is also rife with uplifting imagery about nature and mythology. One song, "Flora's Secret," is named for Flora, the goddess of flowers, and is about "lovers in the long grass."

Enya, with the help of lyricist Roma, shares more about her own love life on the album, notably in bittersweet tracks "Only Time" and "Fallen Embers." She says the former is about "reflection and love and the pressure of trying to find the perfect love. It's been difficult with me and my lifestyle, but I wouldn't change anything. The relationships I've had haven't worked out because they weren't the right relationships, and that's a good realization to have."

The pivotal song is "Pilgrim," in which Enya sings: "You cannot change what's over, but only where you go. ... It's a long way to find out who you are."

"It was like opening my diary," she says of the album. "I've been asking myself a lot of questions - and I've been answering them through the music. Like in `Pilgrim,' I was asking myself: So many years have passed, am I happy with the way I am working? I think everybody comes to a stage where they sit back and think that. And I was doing that. And my answer is that I wouldn't change anything. I really love what I do."

Enya's increased openness, she says, is due to the comfort level with Nicky and Roma.

"We have an unwritten law between us that we don't work with other people," Nicky says. "There are no other collaborations. You'll notice that Enya does not appear on any Chieftains albums, or anything like that. That's no slur on anyone else, but we've just decided, in the parlance of New York, that if it's not broke, why try and fix it?"

"Emotionally, it's very difficult to be open to someone you don't know that well," adds Enya. "I know Nicky and Roma so well. They've been there from the beginning as far as encouraging me. That was really important because I was writing music that was quite different and they just said, `Go for it."'

Enya's sound is a dream-weaving blend of Irish music, church music, and classical music. She is considered an ambient-music pioneer, but she doesn't listen to other ambient legends like William Orbit, for instance. "I'm aware of the name, but no, I would not be listening," says Enya, who chiefly listens to classical music, especially Russian Sergei Rachmaninoff.

"I love him, and love reading about his lifestyle. And his melodies are lasting a long time," she says. "There's a little bit of envy there, because those melodies were written a long time ago. And it's a little like black-and-white movies. I'm a great fan of those, too. They are still classics. I think something that has great quality will last. It's something that I hope will happen to me."

Meanwhile, as her own cult legend grows, Enya is trying to keep her head on the ground by staying in touch with family and friends, and by decorating her new castle, which she'll move into this spring.

"The picture that people have of me is living a very private lifestyle," she says. "But I've tried to catch up on family and friends. That's always been important to me, to get back to my roots, especially after I travel around doing promotion. I go to Tokyo or Toronto or wherever, but it's very important to get back to Donegal and meet with family and friends. They are always going to treat me as Enya. They're proud of the success, but they're always going to just talk to me as Enya."

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