Ever since the success of her 1988 single "Orinoco Flow," Enya's been one of the world's most popular artists, quietly selling more than 50 million albums while staying, for the most part, out of the spotlight. But now, with her latest single the gently reassuring "Only Time" becoming part of the soundtrack to the post-September 11 world, Enya's very much at the center of attention.
The singer's elegant, evocative and ethereal A Day Without Rain, released almost a year ago, will hit #2 on next week's Billboard 200 albums chart, right between rappers Ja Rule and Bubba Sparxxx.
"It's pretty incredible, isn't it?" the Irish singer and composer said from her studio in Dublin, Ireland. Her previous chart best was #9 for 1995's The Memory of Trees. "I don't quite know what to make of it, myself."
Several U.S. radio stations have put together mixes of "Only Time" that include sound bites from news coverage of the attacks. While Enya had no comment on those remixes, she said she's happy her music can provide comfort to people.
"When people got in touch with me and told me about what had happened with that song, it was very strange at first," she said. "But it's really quite incredible. That's the big bonus I get. People will tell me about a song and how it helped them with their own emotions and lives. It's good to hear that my music is there to comfort in joyous moments or sad occasions."
Enya said she's heard similar comments about her music from fans throughout her career. The 40-year-old singer joined her brothers and sister in the Irish group Clannad in 1979 but left to pursue a solo career in 1982. She teamed with producer/arranger Nicky Ryan and lyricist Roma Ryan for 1988's Watermark, which included the hits "Orinoco Flow" and "Storms in Africa," and she has worked with them ever since, taking time between each album to nurture her muse.
Enya said she thinks her fans sense from her music that she likes to have that time and space to create, and she said they've told her often about ways her music has helped them. "I think my music helps people take time for themselves," she said. "Then they start thinking about their lives or the decisions they have to make. People want more in life than just work. They need to feel like they're really living, and one of the ways to do that is through music."
Despite her fans' deep connection to her music, Enya said she doesn't think about how people will respond when she goes into the studio. "It's kind of scary to be, in a way, responsible to my listeners in that way. I have to be unaware of all that in the studio," she said. "If I were to try to write music that would lend itself to those moments, it wouldn't happen."
She said she finds inspiration for her melodies in her world travels and by isolating herself from any distractions, including her success. She just finished work on two songs for the soundtrack to "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," which she sings in Sindarin, one of the fictional languages of author J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy world (see "Enya Not Led Zeppelin Leads 'Lord of the Rings' Soundtrack").
"It's so beautiful to sing in a language that no one's ever heard, to do something that no one's ever done before," she said of "Aniron (Theme for Aragorn and Arwen)," a love song written for a romantic scene between an elf played by Liv Tyler and a man played by Viggo Mortensen.
Because she went to New Zealand to work on the film soundtrack almost immediately after a tour for A Day Without Rain last fall, Enya said she's taking a break from recording for a while.
"I have to distance myself from the music. I need to get back to life, to feel what I'll write about next," she said, adding that she needs the several years she takes between albums to allow material to evolve. "Then I'll get a feeling and a desire to write, but when I sit down at the piano or begin to sing a melody, I don't know what's going to evolve. If I was leaning on what I'd done before, or a formula, I'd call it a day."
As odd as it might seem to see A Day Without Rain sit side-by-side with hip-hop, Enya isn't entirely surprised. "People are being very choosy about what they listen to now, but at the same time they're more open to different music," she said, acknowledging that her mix of new age and folk music isn't for everyone. "People just go for what they need. There are a lot of teenagers out there who adore Britney Spears and rap, and I'm glad that music is there for them."