Enya on ‘Breaking Bad,’ Dustin Hoffman, and Her First Album in 7 Years

·Writer

(photo: Warner Bros.)

When enigmatic pop singer Enya speaks, she draws the listener in with every word – closer, closer, until the two individuals are at a distance that would be uncomfortable for most people who aren’t romantically involved. It’s not that Enya is revealing any intimate secrets. It’s just difficult to hear her from more than a few feet away.

Her voice is warm and soft, gentle like a spring breeze, and even though she’s mostly speaks about her music and her new record Dark Sky Island, which comes out Nov. 20, she doesn’t sound rehearsed in interviews. She sounds like a friend.

Occasionally, Enya exposes a sliver or two about her personal life. She’s a big fan of Breaking Bad and its offshoot Better Call Saul, and is excited by the rumors of a Breaking Bad theme restaurant opening in New York City.

“I might have to make a special trip back here to go there,” the 54-year-old Irish songstress says, sitting on one side of a black leather couch in her Midtown New York hotel.

Also, Enya admits, she was rendered almost speechless when she and Dustin Hoffman were on the same TV talk show and he told her he was a big fan. “That was a wonderful surprise. He said, ‘Please keep on doing what you’re doing. We love it.’ It was lovely. He’s such a great actor. I was very flattered.”

That’s about all the private information she reveals. For the most part in her interviews, Enya is all business. She won’t let interviewers take photos of her for their collections, and she doesn’t have any interest in acting like a celebrity, causing many to miss out on her sense of humor and continue to perceive her as an ethereal being with the voice of an angel.

“There are so many aspects of me that I’ve chosen to keep quite private, and that’s fine for me,” she explains. “I have chosen that, but I don’t correct people and say, ‘No, I don’t live life on my own. That would be very sad.’ It’s fine if people have misconceptions about me. I feel I’ve chosen to stand behind the music. So I didn’t push the fame side of thing. The music sold itself before anybody knew who I was. So therefore, there’s no pressure on me to be photographed, to be famous or to be in certain places.”

YAHOO MUSIC: All of your music is majestic and celestial. How did you want Dark Sky Island to be different than your past albums?

ENYA: It’s different, because it’s an album created after a long break. This is the first proper break I’ve taken in my career. To a lot of people it looks like I took a break after each album, because the records take such a long time to make. It’s a very beautiful, slow process. We take a long time and we have a lot of breaks. But nothing like the three-year break we took this time.

Why did you take a long break after releasing 2008’s And Winter Came…?

I knew I wanted to do a winter- and Christmas-themed album, but after that I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I thought about it and I decided I needed an extended break. And the music needed a break. So with this album it’s quite fresh, and it felt like I went into the studio because I wanted to and the inspirations were there from having taken such a long time away from the studio.

What kind of journeys or adventures did you have during your time away?

I went to Australia quite often and I bought a place in the south of France. That became a home away from home for me. It gave me time to reassess what I wanted to do. In the past I didn’t have that quality of time because I was focusing on each album that was coming up.

What did you discover about yourself?

A lot of that is personal. But after a while I definitely felt a calling to return to music. I wanted to experience writing and performing again and to get immersed within music. When you really genuinely miss something, it’s quite exciting to approach it again. You’re going in to work because it’s something you’re passionate about.

Was it easy to jump back in and start working on Dark Sky Island?

There was actually strangeness to it, because I was experience life from a different aspect. You’re not under pressure to write a song or perform. You step back from it and it becomes like a test. You’re a little bit anxious to see, “What am I going to be drawn to?” That was a moment of personal revelation.

Did you hit any speedbumps while working on the album?

It felt like we had six songs forever. I’d write one and then I’d have to rewrite it. So every time I looked at the list it was like, “Why are we stuck at six?” The number six was there all the time. The first three songs happened in the early stages and there was a gap. We were concentrating on the arrangements and lyrics. But I felt like there was a moment of, “Wow, I need to get more songs written.” I was little bit anxious because of that. For me, it’s important to work towards the completion of a song. It’s necessary to look and feel what it is, because you’re there with all the inspirations and sometimes something’s not quite right, and a piece will come back and you’ll do a rewrite and you’ll go, “That’s it!” You have to keep listening to everything that you’re writing and you know it’s there somewhere, but it can be a little bit of a circle to find it at times.

Is working more like an escape or a job?

It’s very therapeutic. If it was a job I’d say, “Wow, I have the best job in the world,” because I do what I love. But when I’m sitting there on my own I find myself reliving moments through the music: It could be a conversation, a person, a landscape, a place I’ve traveled to. It’s all there and it’s a little bit like a diary.

You’ve built a successful career without performing live. Why haven’t you toured to support your albums?

After we did Shepherd Moons [in1991], the record company was quite anxious about the next album, so they asked us not to tour. When we signed it was very important to us to have time to make our records. We warned them it would take two years or more. We don’t go in and have an album ready within a year. So before we signed the contract I said, “I’m a slow composer and we need the time and space to create in order to be happy with the end results.” We asked if they were OK with that arrangement. And they said, “Yeah, that’s fine.” Now, I was an unknown artist when we signed for 1988’s Watermark. But after we finished that album and it was successful, the record company felt that if I was going to take three years to make the next record, maybe I should skip touring and start working on it right away. At the launch of the album, the record company asked what we would do to tour because we had presented an album that was quite elaborate. And we told them we’ll have an orchestra and a choir, and the record company went, “Why don’t you sit onstage with a piano and just have a few people with you?” And we said, “That’s not going to justify the music. The rendering would be totally wrong.” So because we were already successful. they felt it wasn’t necessary to tour. That continued for a while.

Isn’t it ironic that your producer and manager Nicky Ryan used to work in the field of live sound before you two started working together, yet you don’t tour?

Yes, but he brings that to the music. When I perform it’s very much of a recital on the piano, rather than a technical recording. And that’s why there’s this emotional aspect there. Even though it’s one person performing, it’s recorded over a long period of time and there is that sound that evolves that Nicky helps shape.

After all these years, do you have any interest in performing live?
There will be performances on TV programs, and again we’re back to the drawing board of saying, “We took a break. Is this the album we might end up touring to support?” I don’t know. I don’t have that answer. It’s something we have to discuss because the album is just finished now. I don’t know what’s next, whether we’ll work on a film, a tour or something else entirely. And being in that position where you don’t really know what is going to happen next is quite exciting.