Enya takes a deep, cleansing breath before she speaks. It's the end of a long, arduous day of preparation for the Nov. 21 release of "A Day Without Rain" (Reprise/Warner Bros.), her first album in five years, and she's admittedly feeling a little anxious.
"Only a small number of people have heard the music at this point," she says, unwinding in a suite in a Dublin hotel. "And no matter how pleased you are with the finished recording, the first few times you share it with anyone are somewhat nerve-racking. The emotional stakes are extremely high when you create a piece of work that is so personal."
The stakes are even higher when you're an artist whose work clearly strikes a chord with your audience, which reaches far beyond the standard artist/fan context. Enya's fans don't merely enjoy her music; they take it to heart. Some even tend to use it as a catalyst for changing their lives.
"The letters I get are truly remarkable," she says, her voice trailing off as she mentally revisits a particularly memorable note. "A man once wrote that I saved his marriage through my music. He and his wife had stopped talking to each other. They'd lost control of their world. They'd forgotten to live a little. He bought [the 1988 set] "Watermark,' and they started to listen to the music. And then they started to talk. Through that conversation, they started to rediscover each other and their relationship."
Enya pauses, as if to fully consume the magnitude of the tale. "It's humbling to be so warmly embraced."
At the same time, though, the artist asserts that she does not consciously strive to have an impact on the lives of her fans. In approaching "A Day Without Rain," for example, she simply set out to compose music that reflected her heart and perspective. By revealing her innermost feelings, Enya believes, "people are then inspired to empathize and interpret their own emotions into the songs. They truly open their hearts."
And that's when those nerves start to seriously kick in -- especially given the fact that Enya's been away from the public eye for quite a while. Although a portion of the five years since 1995's masterful "The Memory Of Trees" was spent assembling and promoting a greatest-hits compilation (1997's "Paint The Sky With Stars"), the artist spent the better part of the past two years ensconced in her Dublin castle, painstakingly crafting the compositions that would eventually evolve into the elegant "A Day Without Rain."
As usual, she collaborated exclusively with producer Nicky Ryan and lyricist Roma Ryan, the pair with which she has created such timeless recordings as 1991's "Shepherd Moons" and 1998's "Watermark," among several others. Collectively, Enya has sold 44 million albums worldwide, according to Reprise. It's a figure that the artist says "never enters into our consciousness in the studio. It becomes completely irrelevant. For me, each album feels like the first. The process of creation has never changed."
The process for "A Day Without Rain" started with the artist working completely alone. "For a long period, I sit at the piano, and I just let my thoughts and my emotions and my ideas flow freely," she says, noting that the next step is to introduce her instrumental creations to Nicky and Roma Ryan. "I'm quite anxious at this point, because it really is an act of laying your soul bare. The good thing is that there's tremendous trust between the three of us. We are always as gentle with each other as we are honest."
From there, Roma Ryan begins to add lyrics to the material, while Nicky Ryan and Enya start weaving her melodies into full-bodied arrangements. "It can be a gradual process, but the music requires such a pace," says Nicky Ryan. "We never take shortcuts."
Nor do they employ a team of session players or piles of computerized instruments. Every note of "A Day Without Rain" was performed by the three. The result is a richly detailed effort with a degree of warmth that is missing on most contemporary recordings. "The element of live performance in the studio is crucial," Nicky Ryan explains. "You can't get that kind of texture from computers."
While taking such an extended period of time between studio recordings might be commercially dangerous for some acts, Ryan says, "we trust the fans to be loyal. Enya's never been a frequent artist or one who competes with the flavors of the moment. She has always stood firmly on her own ground."
And such commitment to sound has also kept the artist's work studio-based. To date, Enya has yet to take her music on the road, an idea that Ryan and Enya believe may finally come to fruition.
"It's certainly something that we have certainly been considering quite seriously," Ryan says. "The issue is -- and has always been -- finding an effective and realistic way of mounting the music in a live setting without compromising its integrity."
Among the options being pondered is staging a special one-off concert, or a several shows, that would eventually be aired on TV. "The idea of a live performance is quite exciting to me," Enya says. "I've long wanted to be in the same room as the fans and share my music."
The artist's interest in stepping onstage is in line with the vigor she feels on the completion of an album. "We know when we've reached the end of an album," she says. "After two years, it was time to step out of the studio. It's a lovely feeling to be done. I feel complete and content that I've given 100% to this project. It's time for it to have its life out in the world."
Will fans have to wait another five years for another full-length Enya recording?
"To put music on a timetable is a mistake," she says, taking another deep breath as she concludes her day of work on this project. "If you're fortunate, each day brings a little bit of inspiration. And as you travel around, you pick up ideas that you bring into the studio. How and when those ideas will take shape is not always easy to define. For now, I'm happily anticipating what the world will bring next... and I'm excited to [learn] what it will teach me.
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