Irish singer Enya, who broke out internationally in 1988 with the release of Watermark, is releasing her first album in seven years.
Dark Sky Island is the solo artist’s eighth album.
Enya has always avoided the spotlight—her last interview with the Irish press was also seven years ago—but the singer says she is not hiding away but rather protecting her privacy.
“I’ve done interviews for all the albums,” she told The Irish Times, “but I suppose it depends on where I am [in the world]. I’ve already been to New York, America, Germany, London . . . so sometimes it’s only maybe been two interviews, and it could be to London and [dependent on] the availability to get journalists to go there. So it’s actually a chance to do more Irish press for the first time. It wasn’t a case of I had to or I hadn’t; it was just a case of right place, right time.”
She explained how she has managed her public persona: “From the beginning, with [breakthrough album] Watermark, the success came with the music,” she explains. “People loved enjoying listening to Orinoco Flow and then the album – but they didn’t know if [Enya] was a band; they didn’t know anything . . . Because the focus was on the music, firstly, I didn’t know that I had to become famous to sell it. There’s no rulebook, so I felt like if I was younger, maybe I would have done things differently. But I was 27, I was really excited about the music – and therefore, I asked questions about the interviews and the promotion that I was doing. I’d say, ‘What does this entail? Does it focus on the music? Or is it going to make me more famous?’. And sometimes, when it was more focused on me, I actually would refuse, because I didn’t feel the necessity. I wasn’t looking for the fame; it was more the success that I enjoyed.
“I’d do the promotion and I’d enjoy talking about the music – but then it was back to work on another album. And it was important to me to retain privacy, because I was kind of worried that fame might interfere with my writing, with my music; that it might have changed what I was working on. I was guarding everything really carefully and closely.”
Enya, who has sold a reported 80 million albums worldwide, says she tries to leave her past achievements at the door when she enters the studio.
“As soon as I walk into the studio, the last piece I was working on is all I think about, therefore you don’t bring all that with you,” she says, shaking her head. “I felt it was wrong to think, ‘Oh my God, Watermark was so successful; I need to do another Watermark.’ I thought that it was best to leave the expectations and all of that outside the door. When I’m told figures and things like that, and the longevity of the career, it’s only moments that I think of it. But I’m certainly amazed that I’m here so many years later – especially with the seven-year gap. The patience of the fans is tremendous.”
She took three years off before commencing work on Dark Sky Island in 2012. She traveled for a while and bought a house in the south of France — where she spends her time when she’s not in Dublin.
“I just did things that I wanted to do,” she says. “All of these inspirations you get from a landscape somewhere else, a story you were told by a person, anything at all. I still felt, ‘I’ll go back to the music when it’s time’. Then it was 2012, March, April; that was it. I thought, ‘Oh. I have to be somewhere else’. I wanted to be back recording music, performing music.”
She acknowledges the the music industry has changed significantly since she signed her first deal in the late 1980s.
“1988 was a very different time,” she says “Even signing a record contract, for me – an unknown artist signing with Warner Music UK – I said that I needed three years between each album. You wouldn’t get that kind of contract today. I was very excited about being signed for a solo album, but I still also thought, ‘I can’t do an album a year, if that’s what they expect’. I was always thinking about the music.”
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Another change since her last album was released is the existence of streaming services such as Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music. “The last few years have been really awful – but to me, they’re finding their way back again,” she says of the record companies. “I feel that things will settle down. When the Kindle came out, everybody rushed . . . but now, the sales of books are still good. I think it’ll never go back to what it was, but I think it will settle down from this intense rush of everybody having to have everything immediately. I think it can’t keep up at this pace.”
Regarding her cultural identity, the singer, who is from Gweedore, Co Donegal, says: “I would meet up with other [Irish] musicians more on a private basis – but the musical influence of being Irish is always going to be there. Being brought up in the northwest of Ireland in a Gaeltacht area with Gaelic my first language; I know I’ve studied classical music, but the roots of traditional music will always be there, because there’s this sense of melancholy that’s within the music. I always think that Irish music is very passionate, it’s been passed on to generations and has a great history – so I feel that is always going to be with me.”
Enya has worked with her lyricist Roma Ryan and producer Nicky Ryan for the past three decades. The Ryans have been instrumental in her success.
“I get to work with people who have always encouraged me,” she says. “They have brought it to where it is; they have believed in me, and as a singer and a musician, you really do need people around you that believe in you from day one, instead of going, ‘Now you wrote that – can you write something like this?’. They just kept saying ‘Go for it!’ . . .
“Any album you’ve done, it’s not that you’re trying to recreate what you’ve already done. For some people, they say, ‘Oh, but it sounds similar’ – but that’s because it’s my voice. I feel that every time I go to the studio, I have this great sense of freedom. I can go in there and write whatever I want – so in that regard, I’m really happy with the situation how it is.”
Regarding her long career, she says: “Longevity is all any artist dreams of. It is something you really feel good about, when your albums are still listened to.”
Dark Sky Island will be released on Friday, November 20.