If you grew up in SoCal, you listened to KROQ’s Richard Blade and his Flashback Lunch. As one of the many interns who survived the request lines in the time of no internet, there are certain songs that will always take me back to those calls lighting up all six phone lines: “What song is this?!” “Who sings this song?!” Naked Eyes are responsible for two of these memorable songs.
With its grand church bell intro, “Always Something There to Remind Me” stood out among the electronic music of the day. Originally written in the 1960s and recorded by Dionne Warwick in 1963, the duo of Pete Byrne and Rob Fisher made it their own in 1983. It hopped onto the US charts and put Naked Eyes on our radar.
Their other let’s-make-the-request-lines-go-crazy song, “Promises, Promises,” was on the same album, “Burning Bridges.” The album was also home to “When the Lights Go Out,” and from that, they become legends of the ‘80s.
Unfortunately, Fisher has passed away, but Pete Byrne has carried on releasing music, including last year’s “Disguise the Limit.” We spoke to Byrne about the upcoming Lost at Sea ‘80s Beach Party and he promises we will hear their classics.
Traci: Is this is Peter?
Pete: You can call me Pete. My mother used to call me Peter, my family do, but nobody else does.
Traci: What if I think you’re in trouble?
Pete: I’m always in trouble! Don’t worry about that. (laughing)
Traci: I see you have a busy year ahead!
Pete: Yeah. I’m pretty much playing all year; Chicago, Florida, Denver. It’s about 20 or 25 shows. But it should be fun. Obviously with COVID and everything, we haven’t been able to get out and tour properly. We’ve just been doing drips and drabs. We had a couple of fun shows last year.
Traci: How are the crowds? Are they coming back in full force or is it tentative?
Pete: I’ve just done a handful of club dates around L.A. and they’ve been fantastic. People are out, people are dancing, people are having fun. It’s back to normal, really. Let’s hope it stays like that.
Traci: The music from the ‘80s reminds me of a happier time and enjoying music, so I look forward to Catalina.
Pete: This will be fun, and I’m looking forward to it.
Traci: What was the first song of yours that you heard on the radio?
Pete: The first time I heard one of the Naked Eyes songs on the radio was in the news agents. They sell newspapers and tobacco and things like that in England. They somehow got hold of one of our demos, and they played a song called “Fortune and Fame,” and I couldn’t believe it because it wasn’t even out. It was just a demo, but it was a thrill. Maybe I did an interview with a radio station in Bristol or something, and maybe I played them some of the tracks. Maybe that’s where they got it, but I remember that distinctly.
Traci: These days, it is so easy to share music, but back then? That’s a physical cassette being taken around.
Pete: Exactly. That was one of the things that was a problem back then, because the quality wasn’t very good. When you made your demos, slight mistakes meant you had to record the whole thing again. You couldn’t drop in and just patch it up or anything. So there were always those moments, especially when you’re dealing with record companies and you’re trying to get them to sign you, where you’d be playing one of your songs on the cassette. Rob and I knew when the mistake was coming up, so we would both try to divert attention at that point, like, say, “What beautiful curtains!” or something.
Traci: Technology has changed so much since you started. How do you write a song with unlimited sounds available?
Pete: With much difficulty! It’s changed to the point now where everything is left to the last minute, because you can change it anytime you like. It doesn’t help the songwriting process; I suppose in many ways, it kind of makes the record sound better. But our first album, Rob played everything by hand. There weren’t any computers, there weren’t any sequencers. You couldn’t program a part. The only things he could program were the actual sounds, which is what he did, of course, and created some incredible sound. But it’s changed a lot once everything became digitized and available to everyone, which is a wonderful thing. Democratization of it all is great. Except, on the other hand, a lot of music coming out of bedrooms is not as interesting.
Traci: How did you do in in the ‘80s?
Pete: We used to record all our stuff to a two-track machine which had the ability to do sound on sound. Rob would play chords and the bass line, and I would sing the main part, and then we would bounce that to track number two, and he would add top lines, and I would add harmonies and things like that. So it was pretty ingenious, but very elementary recording quality. I mean, really bad, actually, but they’re kind of fun to listen to because it was just us writing songs and recording them the best way we could. Of course, that’s all out the window now. Everyone’s got unlimited tracks and unlimited instruments.
Traci: You released a new album last year, correct?
Pete: I did, yes. Not with the old fashioned way, though, but with the new fashioned play with unlimited tracks. My guitarist, Neil Taylor, was in Bath and I would send him my songs, the basic tracks, and he would add the guitars to it and then send them back, and then we’d mix it here in Los Angeles. It’s a totally different world, obviously, but it still gets me fired up, I love to do it.
Traci: As a songwriter, is your brain always churning?
Pete: Yes. I have more scrapbooks and more notes on my iPhone than you can imagine of just ridiculous things. Eventually I collate it, put it all together. When I start my next record, that’s what I’ll do. I find things that make sense to me now that I maybe thought of a year ago, and then I’ll develop it into the song. It’s just the way it works. Sometimes you think of a title. If you have a good title, that’s a great place to start. “Promises” was written as I walked from my place in Bath, over the hill to Rob’s. By the time I got there, I had the whole song written and I sang it to him and he said, “Well, how about this?” and started playing some keyboard parts, and we had it in about an hour. It’s an unusual process that doesn’t happen very often, but that’s just particular to that song. It’s always different. But as a writer, you’re on all the time. You’re listening to people in pubs or in restaurants and hoping to hear something that will make you go, yes, I know how to do that.
Traci: You said your “next record.” Do you mean in general or do you already have something ready to go?
Pete: I have the concept of it ready to go, and I’ve got so much material and so many kinds of scraps of ideas that I want to do it quickly. I’d like to get it out early next year, but we’ll see. I’ve said these things many times before, then two years later, you’re still struggling with it. But I’m not going to do that. I’m going to try to keep it really simple and just have fun, which is the only way to make music. I just treat myself to some new toys and start working.
Traci: That’s another great thing about technology; you don’t really have to wait for a record label. You can say, “You know what? I want to release a song today.”
Pete: Somebody was talking to me about how some artists release something virtually every month as a Spotify stream or whatever, and then put the album together – vinyl and CD and everything – at the end of the process. I’m thinking maybe going down that road just so I can keep people aware of what’s going on, but at the same time still put out a vinyl record, which I don’t know what you feel about vinyl, but to me it’s just the best way to listen to music.
Traci: It does sound better.
Pete: It does, so I want that to happen, but I don’t want people to have to wait two years while I talk about it.
Traci: In the meantime, we will see you live all over the country, from Massachusetts to California, to Alaska. But next week in Catalina with “Always Something” and all things ‘80s.
Pete: It’s fascinating, isn’t it? I have a ridiculous amount of streams on Spotify, like 60 million or something, and it’s just incredible. Even now, people still want to hear them. I do interviews and people will say, “Are you sick and tired of singing those same old songs?” And the answer is no, I’m not, because every time I go out on stage and sing those old songs, the crowds go crazy. It’s beautiful. I’m thrilled. Thinking back in the early ‘80s, we were performing in England mainly, but we were playing to people who didn’t know our music so every show was like trying to get their attention, trying to get involved. Now I play a couple of chords on the guitar and the chants go up. I’m very lucky and I appreciate it. I’m very grateful.
We thank Byrne for talking to us and look forward to seeing Naked Eyes and all of the other bands playing the Lost at Sea ‘80s Beach Party on Catalina Island: English Beat, A Flock of Seagulls, Missing Persons, Oingo Boingo Former Members, Dramarama, Wally Palmar of The Romantics, The Untouchables, Annabella’s Bow Wow Wow, Tommy Tutone, Stacey Q, Kon Kan, Josie Cotton, Shannon, Musical Youth, Burning Sensations, and Trans-X. Tickets are on sale now for the Memorial Day weekend event.
If you can’t go to Catalina, you can still catch Naked Eyes on select dates of the Lost ‘80s Live 20th Anniversary Tour which is traveling across the US and includes multiple SoCal shows.