The 54-year-old is one of the best-selling artists ever. She tells Saga Magazine about her influences, plans for playing live and why she hopes to be making music in to her 70s.
It’s been seven years since your last album And Winter Came, why is that?
I didn’t know what to do next; I needed a break and so did the music. I’d never had a proper break since the success of Watermark so I took a few years. I travelled a lot and spent some time in Australia as I have some family there.
Then at the end of 2011 I knew it was time to get back in to writing music. I was curious to see whether the longing would come again and it did. We went back in to the studio in spring 2012 and it was a lovely feeling!
What’s a Dark Sky Island?
It was the first song I wrote and that came from Roma (her lyricist). She wrote a lot of poetry on her break, especially about Sark Island, which is just off the Channel Islands. It’s the first island to be designated a Dark Sky area.
It means that the view of the stars is amazing; you usually have landmarks like Saturn and Jupiter but this sky is unrecognisable. There is very little light pollution and only about 600 people on the island. It was an inspiration for me because I had the visual there.
How much influence does nature have on your work?
It’s there. The Humming on the new album is about how the recycle within the universe is on-going. The trees will fall, fungi will take over, water will evaporate and become cloud, and the winds come and go. But also the first sound of the early universe was inaudible to humans so scientists compressed it in to a humming sound, so it all links together.
We’ve always had elements of nature: Memory Trees, Day Without Rain, Echoes in Rain. I do a lot of walking and you take that moment. Diamonds on the Water is from one of my walks, when the sun causes the shimmering and the diamonds on the water. It’s very visual.
Read our interview with Sandie Shaw here
How many languages do you speak?
My first language is Gaelic and I think in Gaelic, so when I go home or meet my family, we immediately converse in Gaelic. I went to school to learn English. There’s also Latin and Loxian on the new album.
I’m very good at phonetically reading languages and getting the sound right because of my Gaelic so that’s why I’ve sung in so many languages. I’m always asking people if it bothers them they don’t know what I’m singing. But people seem to enjoy the music firstly and interpret their own emotions to it so it becomes their song.
You rarely play live. Why is that?
I do perform the songs for TV when I get the opportunity to do the one or two songs. I’m always being asked about when we’ll tour and I simply don’t know is the answer I have with each album. But there are a lot of projects we’re talking about; Nicky (her producer) would love to do a live recording with an orchestra at Abbey Road studios so that might be the first rendering to a live performance.
Echoes In Rain, Orinoco Flow and The Humming have been scored and you can hear the cello and violin playing their parts and the choir with all the harmonies. It would be a different rendering but I think the music would lend itself to it.
It’s been over a quarter of century since Watermark. What’s changed in the music industry since then?
It’s shorter contracts; you have to really prove your music on a faster pace than in my time. I don’t know if I’d get three years in between albums; it’s something that was quite unique in my contract and I don’t know if you’d get that today. But although I think the music industry went into great difficulty for a while, it’s as strong as I’ve felt it at the moment. It’s all about music again.
How much influence did your family have on your music and musical ability?
Being brought up with your dad and mum touring is quite unusual in such a rural area in Ireland. But my dad’s mum and dad toured and he joined them when he was 14, so it just goes on and on. My mum was a music teacher and she toured with dad first of all and so we’d wait for them to come back from a tour. I was three the first time I went on stage and me and my siblings were involved in a lot of singing competitions.
My mum played the violin and so we played that a bit but it’s mostly the piano where I write all my music. My dad plays the accordion so I play that a bit - there’s a lot of instruments. My dad was self-taught so there’s that instinctive feeling for an instrument right away.
Do you see much of your family?
Yes either my family come to visit me or I get home to Donegal. There are nine of us and I have 15 nephews and nieces! They love my castle as the exterior is very much 1840 and the grounds are beautiful - but inside it’s very much a home. I have a brother married to an Australian and two sisters married to Australians so it’s very difficult to get all of us together.
Do you encounter sexism and ageism in the music industry as a female singer in your 50s?
No I feel like there is a mainstream where there’s more focus on how you look, and I’m sort of in and out of the mainstream. I’ve always felt it’s more important to have held control of who I am and not to succumb to looking different just to be in the mainstream.
A lot of people are happy to be out there at the front, they like the adoration so are comfortable with it. But my music doesn’t put the focus on my image as such.
Do you hope to be recording in to your 70s?
Well writing music is so easy. Depending on if you’re writing a score or a project, it could be anything - so I’d imagine I would definitely stay involved in music to a good age. Taking a break has been a huge realisation for me about how much I really enjoy what I do.
Pre-order Enya's Dark Sky Island from Amazon for £12.99 - out on Warner Music on November 20th.