Q&A With the Naked Eyes' Pete Byrne, Playing at the Norton Museum on Thursday, July 9
With 1980s playlists all the rage these days, you don't have to be of a certain age to appreciate the tuneful joy of Naked Eyes' 1983 "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me." But it helps. If only for the fact that you can count yourself among those who were there when the song first exploded across America.
Then again, since the song was originally written in the 1960s by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, originally recorded by Dionne Warwick, and originally became a hit when British singer Sandie Shaw got a hold of it, even you who were there when can't officially count yourselves among the first where that tune is concerned.
Not so with Naked Eyes' second smash hit, "Promises Promises," even though that track shares a title with a Bacharach/David musical. No, "Promises" is pure Naked Eyes -- resolutely tuneful and relentlessly upbeat. In fact it remains such a catchy representation of the era that Lady GaGa herself sampled it for 2008's "Poker Face."
Naked Eyes was a synth pop duo out of Bath, England who were among the
first to combine ultra-modern technology and old-fangled songwriting.
With the 1999 death of co-founder and keyboardist Rob Fisher, the duo
became one, singer Pete Byrne. He continues to carry the name with
both solo shows and, on occasion, backed by a full band. Byrne's about
to release a new LP of all original songs called Piccadilly, the first since 2007's Fumbling with the Covers.
But whereas that last album featured songs from the songwriters Byrne
finds most compelling (Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Elton John), the latest
finds the pop operative compelled again to compose on his own.
got with the Byrne by phone from Los Angeles where he's preparing a
summer jaunt that will include an unplugged set at the Norton Museum of
Art. Here's what he had to say.
New Times: First, may I offer my condolences on the passing of Rob Fisher?
Pete Byrne: Thanks.
It was one of those things where he hadn't been in good health for
years, so it wasn't a total shock. But it still, uh, you know...
You two were still in touch, right, even though you weren't playing together?
Actually we were working on a new Naked Eyes album.
Oh, right. And you used some of that stuff on 2008's Movies I Dream EP?
I used one of the tracks, yeah. And two or three of the songs are going to surface on Piccadilly. I'm just having them redone.
Was the song "Piccadilly" from those sessions too?
No, "Piccadilly" itself wasn't. "Piccadilly" was a song I wrote about six months ago.
I heard it on your site -- it's a terrific tune!
Why, thank you.
In fact I kind of figured it would be about the London neighborhood, which I've always dug.
It's beautiful there isn't it?
It really is. It's odd though that Naked Eyes had more success in Canada and the United States than in your own country.
it's one of those strange situations. We did really well in North
America, and we did really well in other countries too -- South Africa,
Australia, New Zealand.
So, mainly, all the English-speaking countries outside of your own...
but our own, yeah. I think the problem was that EMI, which was our
record label at the time, was really into all the hair groups -- you
know, Kajagoogoo, Haircut 100, that sort -- and Rob and I were like
kind of the antithesis of that. We basically considered ourselves to be
songwriters who used synthesizers to produce our music and who were
lucky enough to get a record deal. So we weren't really a part of all
that. And I think in England, especially at that time, bands would kind
of come and go every week, and it was sort of the image thing more than
anything else that really hurt us there. We wouldn't go for it.
actually brought in a stylist who said 'you should do this.' And I said
'if I wanted to look like you, I would've become a stylist!'
Naked Eyes bio mentions that you were among the first acts to use the
fabled Fairlight CMI sampling synthesizer, which Peter Gabriel, Kate
Bush and Yello also used to great effect. Had did that come about?
because we were one of the first sort of synth duos, we had just about
everything you could imagine -- mainly on rental of course. But when
the Fairlight came out our producer I think got one of the first ones
and it was only a natural progression for us to spend all our money on
one as well. (Laughs)
Yeah, if I recall there were quite expensive, especially for the time. Who was your producer then anyway?
A guy named Tony Mansfield. He was responsible for the group New Muzik. ["Straight Lines" 1979]
And who's producing the Piccadilly stuff?
Actually, I'm producing all of that myself.
Are you also playing all the instruments?
I'd brought in a couple different synth guys. And about six months ago
I started redoing everything with this new guy that I found who's
really amazing. He's an absolute synth nut; he's got everything you
could imagine, including the old original Moogs. I think he's got like
50 or 60 different synthesizers altogether!
What's his name?
And how did you connect with him?
I met him when I was doing a show in Vegas. It was a crazy show, a
corporate show, with the singer from The Tubes, Dave Wakelling from the
English Beat and a guy from Motley Crue. We'd all go up and sing our
hits with this backing band. It was a fantastic band, and James was the
musical director and keyboardist.
Anyway James came up after the
show and said 'I love your stuff and if you ever need anyone to do any
programming, let me know.' And I did.
Who was the guy from the Tubes, Fee Waybill?
And it was Vince Neil from Motley Crue?
Yeah! And Mike Score from Flock of Seagulls was there as well! It was crazy!
Sounds it. Didn't you do a 2008 U.S. tour along with Belinda Carlisle, ABC and Human League? How did that go?
was fantastic. Some of the shows were better than others, but most of
the time we had a really great reception. Actually one of the best
shows was the one we did in West Palm, at the Kravis. Unfortunately by
that time Belinda and Human League had left for Europe. But I think
they brought in Missing Persons to take their place.
It was a really great show.
of shows, I see that you'll be performing unplugged at the Norton. I
imagine you'll be doing your hits. But what else can people expect?
be doing a few tracks off Piccadilly. And I'll be doing a few tracks
off Fumbling with the Covers as well. The Fumbling album was really
like my favorite artists -- I did a Dylan song, "You're Gonna Make Me
Lonesome When You Go" from Blood on the Tracks; I did the Beatles' "Cry
Baby Cry." So I was looking for songs that weren't necessarily their
most famous songs, but songs that I could re-interpret. And someone
asked if I could re-interpret the Naked Eyes songs, so I ended-up doing
those as well.
Naked Eyes (Unplugged) at Art After Dark.
Thursday, July 9, 7 p.m. Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Avenue,
West Palm Beach. 561.832.5196; www.norton.org
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.