THERE TO REMIND ME
RETROCRUSH INTERVIEWS PETE BYRNE
THE LEAD SINGER OF NAKED EYES
Pete Byrne was one part of the dynamic duo
in the 1980s that brought us the hit cover of "Always Something There To
Remind Me" and the hit single "Promises Promises". With
two upcoming 80s invasion concerts in
Bakersfield California Pete spoke with us about Naked Eyes, and his
upcoming acoustic albums.
did the name "Naked Eyes" come about?
It was just one of those
things where we were looking for a name. We wanted something that
signified two because there were only two of us.
You felt youíd do better as a duo?
Rob had an idea to do a duo.
I had no clue. I was used to sort of bands. I didnít know that much about
synthesizers either. I didnít think that much about it. He had this idea
to do just a synthesizer and a singer. I thought well weíll just write
songs and see what happens. We were quite prolific and we got a lot of
publishing offers immediately within a month of working with each other.
So it wasnít a struggle to go door to door and shop your
I had been trying to get
deals with my previous bands so I had an idea of how to go about it. I
knew about 90% of it is bullshit anyway. I just started doing what I was
doing before, but this time we had a new sound that we had with
synthesizers. It just sort of took off. If anything it was just sort of
Synthesizers were relatively new and you were trying them
They had been around for
awhile, but in more esoteric ways. In those days you actually had to know
how to play. There werenít sequencers. It wasnít a programming job like it
Iíve heard it was very manual.
we got to our second album there wasnít any midi so there was no way of
sequencing anything. Rob was a classically trained pianist. He knew his
way around a keyboard in any event. If you listen to our stuff thatís what
sort of separates it is he was such a great player. Heís an incredible
talent. A lot of the bands in the mid 80ís were using sequencing. You
didnít need to know how to play a piano or keyboard in order to make a
At what point during Naked Eyes did you know youíd hit
I think there was never
really a point. It was just what we did. We were pretty serious about what
we were doing. We didnít think it wasnít going to happen to us. It wasnít
possible if you know what I mean.
You had a good mindset.
Just stupid I guess. We
would work all the time. We had these publishing offers very quickly. The
record publishing thing was a little more difficult. We werenít really
marketable. We didnít go out of our way to look like everybody else. We
didnít have silly haircuts or wear makeup.
You didnít like the gimmicky things?
We absolutely didnít and we
wouldnít do any of that. I think that hurt us. A lot of bands were getting
play because they looked whatever.
Maybe you figured the music would speak for itself?
did yes, thatís exactly what we thought. We knew that in retrospect that
the stuff would look ridiculous. We stuck to our guns to our detriment
because people thought thereís no marketing you guys. There were just two
of us and they had no idea how to do that. It was difficult for us to
figure out how are we going to do the stuff live. We just stuck to what we
believed in and it worked out in the end.
There was one point actually
after we made our first record and it was released in England to
underwhelming acclaim. It wasnít doing very much when it was first
released. Suddenly we got a call wanting us to go to Portugal of all
places. We arrived in Portugal and we didnít know, but we were #1 in
Portugal. It was madness. It was screaming girls and the whole thing.
That must have been surprising at the airport.
When we got to the airport
there were screaming girls everywhere. It was very funny to us. It was our
first real taste of the possibilities of what happens in this business.
How did you decide to do the cover of "Always Something
There To Remind Me"? Where there other covers you were considering?
We really didnít develop any
others. A friend of mine had become our manager and had booked us all this
studio time. We were in there recording our demos. It got to the point
where we were thinking about doing a cover. I remembered the song from
when I was a kid. It was a huge hit in England by
Sandie Shaw. I thought that might be interesting by doing something a
bit different. I changed the lyrics somewhat to make it a male vocal. That
was it. We recorded it. We thought the demo was pretty good. Then we had a
couple of record offers. We went to New York and signed with EMI.
That was the song that made you a hit?
yea. Those were just the demos. In those days you made demos because you
couldnít afford to make a record. You couldnít do anything other than a
demo. Itís not like it is today where everyone has a small recording
studio in their living room.
The creator of the song Burt Bacharach likes your version
Yea, in one piece he was
interviewed and he said originally he didnít like it. I took a lot of
liberties with the melody and various aspects of the song. I think it was
a bit of a shock to him. I think there are 28 versions of that song.
I remember hearing a Dionne Warwick version.
Dionne Warwick was the
original American artist of that song. Itís was recorded that way like a
Samba or something. It was always like that very staccato and on the beat.
I changed it quite a bit. I changed some of the lyrics as well.
Originally, I donít think Burt knew what to make of it. For some reason
itís just captured that period. Itís one of those songs that played on the
radio all the time. In fact itís playing on the trailer for the new
Jennifer Aniston movie.
Songs that were alternative back in the 1980ís have
drifted into the mainstream.
I never thought of it as an
alternative song. I thought it was a mainstream single, but I know what
you mean. Some stuff has crossed over, but that song in particular even
more so than my other big hit which is "Promises Promises".
Thereís a great depth to that song.
I still like it. I love
playing it live as well.
What was the inspiration for the song "Promises Promises"?
That was one that came very
quickly. Rob & I got into a groove thinking it was sort of a dance song.
It went through a couple of rewrites. The original English version is much
more left field. Itís really quite nice actually. Itís got a lot more
elements to it. We re-recorded it as the second single in America.
You did a few changes
like taking out a reference to drinking tea.
of the lyrics werenít as direct as they could have been. We did a couple
of re-writes of it. Not only that we change things around quite a bit. We
tried to make it more of a mainstream single.
We were looking to see what
we were going to release for our second single because we had this huge
hit. We wanted something that was going to fit with that. "Promises" sort
of lent itself to that. The original English version is nice. Itís got
more depth to it. Itís more experimental I suppose.
Iíve only heard the American version of "Promises
Do you have a copy of the
English one? Itís on "Promises
Promises: The Very Best of Naked Eyes"
A lot of your songs are about love and relationships.
You write about what youíre
doing. Of course I was young and going through all that stuff. Itís a
natural topic. Music has always been about love and relationships.
Are there other songs you thought were going to breakout
and become a hit?
In England the first single
and I chose it was "Voices
in my head". It was a song about alienation. It was off the normal
relationship/love angle. It didnít catch on at all in England. It was
never released in America. I always liked that song.
never know whatís going to hit or not.
Itís anybodyís guess. The
more time I spend writing and recording. The more I realize itís a matter
of opinion and nobody knows. There are so many talented people that never
get a break and itís whether they donít go to war on it or whether itís
bad luck. I think everybody gets an opportunity at some point. Itís a
matter of being ready I guess.
Jellybean did a lot of your remixes.
He did "Always Something
there to Remind me" and a "Promises Promises" remix.
What were your thoughts on Madonna who was Jellybeanís
girlfriend at the time?
She was really nice. She was
still putting material together for her first album. At the time she was
literally just hanging around the studio.
Did you wonder who this woman was?
are always people hanging around. It was a normal thing. At some point
someone suggested why donít we put something in here like a sexy female
thing? I donít know if youíre heard it? Itís on the "Everything and More
album". I put both the 12" and 7" versions of Madonna doing her thing.
Itís really cool. In fact I do her part live.
Are you serious? You do?
I donít do it in her voice
You also appeared on such programs as Solid Gold and
meeting Dick Clark on American Bandstand?
You have to remember that I
was English. To me it didnít mean a damn thing. I didnít know who he was.
Why do you think Naked
Eyes continues to be popular?
We came out with a lot of
other synth bands and were a part of that British Invasion of the early
80ís. I think the main reason is we werenít trying to be part of that. It
was just one of those things. I think that our stuff is mainstream pop
I did a gig in Florida where
people buy tickets for the season. The audience was the biggest mix of
people Iíve ever seen. There were kids there of about 12. There was one
woman in the front row who was 85 or 90 years old.
Was it surprising? Sort of like when you see an 85 year
old at a horror movie?
just thought this is one of those places where they have "Willie Wonka and
the Chocolate Factory" followed by Chamber Music, followed by a classical
guitarist or a folk singer. We had been booked in here and we were part of
the entertainment. It was fantastic. The sound was unbelievable. It was
For me as a performer it was
just the best thing. What Iím trying to say is this old lady new my song
and was singing along to it. That to me is the thing. I doubt that old
lady would be singing along to Soft Cell or the Human League. You know
what I mean?
It appeals to so many people of different ages.
Thatís what it is. I do have
a lot of people who are synth pop fans or I get people who are pop music
or music fans. I like that. It gives it longevity.
Thereís been a resurgence of interest in the 80ís.
I suppose thatís true. I
really donít know much about that. A ton of people keep telling me that.
The people in the early 1980ís before sequencers and computers took over
they were good musicians and songwriters. I think that stuff transcends.
Itís difficult for me
because I didnít like much of what happened in the 1990ís in terms of the
grunge thing. Those kinds of song are not the same in many ways. I donít
think they had the same crossover appeal. Just like the 1960ís for me was
the golden age of pop music. All the best songs were written and the best
records were made then.
Are there a couple of groups you liked back in the 1960ís?
Actually, I donít know if
you know I just finished doing a covers albums.
Is that the one that is all acoustic?
Itís called "Fumbling with
the Covers". The idea is I would do songs of my favorite artists, but
their lesser known songs. Rather than doing "Paperback Rider" by the
Beatles I did "Cry Baby Cry" which is a song from their White album.
I did hear an acoustic version of "Promises
Promises" and "When
the Lights Go Out" on your website.
This is what Iím doing right
now. Itís a real coincidence because the album is finished and ready to
go. I suddenly got a call from this label that is releasing an album of
acoustic 80ís songs. "Promises Promises" is on that. Itís coming out in a
The acoustic version of "Promises Promises" is cool and it
Thatís the mandate I gave
myself for the others. Every song I would do had to be different from the
original. Iím not interested in re-doing the song the same. I just have no
interest in that. It took me a while. I worked on the album for probably
over two to three years. It was just a process of finding songs that
worked. I recorded a lot of stuff that didnít make the album, but the ones
that did are like, "Little Wings" by Jimmy Hendrix. Do you know that song?
I know Jimmy Hendrix, but I donít think Iíve heard that
Thatís what Iíve said itís
one of his lesser known songs. Itís a beautiful song. One of the nicest,
best songs he wrote. Itís very simple. I did that with acoustic guitar. I
did an old blues I knew from the Stones. I did "Promises Promises" and
"Always Something there to Remind me" I covered my own songs so to speak.
The only one I did that wasnít a lesser known song was right at the end of
the project I woke up one morning and started playing "Rocketman" by Elton
John, but that one is so different from his version. Itís just acoustic
guitar and vocal.
It sounds like something everybody should pick up.
So far the reaction has been
very good and Iíve got a couple of independent labels that want to do it.
Now Iím doing this thing which involves the 80ís compilation album with a
lot of other 80ís artists on it.
For awhile you were working as a producer.
I did a couple of bands. I
produced one other synth band from LA. It worked out quite nicely. The
most well known thing oddly enough was the Olsen Twins.
Were they little kids at the time?
I think they were 6 or 7 at
the time. They wanted them to do another album and something that wouldnít
drive the parents crazy. They asked me if I could write a song for these
twins. I didnít know much about them so I wrote a song, "I am the cute one
and the other one is my sister." It was a kind of a comic type song. It
They made a video of it and
it was the biggest selling music video of all time. It was so great and it
was a cool song as well. I wrote it like Iíd write anything except I wrote
it for the twins. Hopefully, I did what I was trying to do without driving
the parents crazy.
What direction do you see "Naked Eyes" continuing?
Weíre able to go out and
play shows. Weíre going to start a full blown "Naked Eyes" album over the
With your partner you came up with a lot of the songs for
the new album before he died.
We recorded a lot of them in
demo form. Some of those will be redone. Some of them I might put on as
they are because they had touches that only Rob could do. Some of them
will make it as extra tracks.
What originally caused "Naked Eyes" to break-up?
Sort of the chain of
people/events and things in the records business, thereís so much luck
involved. We were signed by somebody who was later removed. The new people
who come in really have no interest in you. They donít get anything if
youíre successful. Theyíre only interested in their band. It happens to
everybody. It was like a marriage we were going through a bad time. We
were sick and tired of each other. We were working all the time together.
We were traveling everywhere.
You can get on each others nerves.
We got on each others quite
a lot actually. It was a natural sort of thing. Our album had tanked. Our
single hadnít done too badly. By most peoples standards it was top 40.
Most people would die for a top 40 single. We didnít do too badly. The
label just wasnít behind us.
Did you like to play any early videogames?
idea of videogames is Space Invaders.
Did you play Asteroids?
That was a good one. We had
a pub near us. Rob and I weíd spend all day working and then go to the
pub. Then weíd play Asteroids.
Then weíd play Snooker. Itís
like pool. Itís a different game. Itís a lot more serious than pool. The
tables are too big for pubs. You have to go to a Snooker Hall. We use to
do that a lot as well. Weíd write all day and then go to a pub or a
Snooker Hall and have a few pints.
What else would you like to say to your fans?
Iíve never been to Stockton
so Iím looking forward to it.
Well, California is always great.
Come see "NAKED EYES" along with "MISSING PERSONS" and "A FLOCK OF
SEAGULLS" at the upcoming 80's Invasion Concert in Stockton (May 19th) &
Bakersfield (May 20th), CA.
Buy tickets for Stockton show
Buy tickets for the Bakersfield show
THE NAKED EYES WEBSITE