Originally published in 2002.
by David Chiu
It seems like not a day goes by without hearing the familiar tune of “Always Something There to Remind Me,” covered by the British synthpop duo Naked Eyes. Their biggest hit from 1983 still remains the best-covered version of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David love song, and that lays in the fact that it is not only played on ’80s music programming shows but also on mainstream radio as well.
A lot of acts came and went during the synth pop ’80s, leaving nothing but only a novelty song and big bad hair. However Naked Eyes–the duo of vocalist Pete Byrne and keyboardist Rob Fisher–made some substantial music and had some big hits during their short time together. Though the music relied heavily on beats and electronic quirks played to dazzling effect by Fisher, it was Byrne’s yearning vocals and honest lyrics about the trials and tribulations of relationships that made the music resonate more.
Naked Eyes was formed in the late ’70s by Byrne and Fisher from the ashes of their old group Neon (which featured future members of Tears for Fears). Utilizing the technology of the time, the two crafted elaborate electronic pop music that was melodic and danceable. Their 1983 U.S. debut album Naked Eyes (titled Burning Bridges in the U.K.) not only contained their breakthrough hit “Always Something There to Remind Me,” but another devastating relationship song “Promises Promises.” Accompanied by some eye-catching videos that were in rotation on MTV, those two songs turned Naked Eyes into a hot act in 1983.
However, that brush with success was short-lived when Naked Eyes released Fuel for the Fire in 1984. Aside from “(What) In the Name of Love,” the album never quite caught on with the public, and soon afterwards, the duo quietly broke up. The Los Angeles-based Byrne did some session work, while back in England, Fisher hooked up with Simon Climie to form Climie Fisher, who had a hit song in 1988 called “Love Changes Everything.”
Slowly but surely, the duo reconnected in the late ’90s and started writing and recording songs as Naked Eyes, with enough material to fill an album. At the time, Fisher was seriously ill. In a cruel twist of fate, as Byrne approved the deal with the record company the day before, Fisher passed away in August 1999.
Byrne continue to work in music albeit as a solo artist. Having recorded a record called The Real Illusion, he is now working on a covers album with him on guitar. Byrne also went into the vaults for what turned out to be a new collection of Naked Eyes rarities. Entitled Everything and More and released in late October 2002, it contained remixes of “Promises, Promises” (featuring vocals of a then-unknown singer and hanger-on named Madonna), “Always…”, (What) in the Name of Love,” as well as the early singles when the duo were part of Neon. And Byrne is not finished–he promised the long-awaited collection of new Naked Eyes songs that he and Fisher were working on for release in 2003.
Affable and outgoing, Byrne spoke from Los Angeles about the duo’s music, that encounter with Madonna, and his future plans.
How long did it take to have this new collection of rare Naked Eyes tracks out after so many years?
It took longer than I thought, it was such a big project. But it turned out quite nicely. It was fun doing it.
One of the key highlights in this collection are Madonna’s vocals on the “Promises, Promises” remixes. How did you and Rob hook up with her and producer Jellybean Benitez?
Jellybean was introduced to us through our management. They were in New York, and we came over and did a couple of remixes with him. And he was going out with Madonna. She would come to the studio everyday and hang out basically.
It was suggested that she do this sexy voice over thing (laughs). She did it and that was the end of it. We never released it. It was something I’ve always wanted to delve into. I had to go to Abbey Road and Los Angeles to get all the stuff together. Nobody knew anything about the mixes. I think it’s really cool. They sound bright, so that’s what the record company thought. In retrospect…they sound great.
Another key thing her are the tracks when you and Rob were in Neon. What are your feelings about hearing these songs after all these years, and are you impressed how Naked Eyes’ sound evolved from Neon.
I had the masters in in my car for about two months. I basically go to those tracks at the end because they have so much character. They were done when synthesizers were really in their infancy. Rob used to play all that stuff by hand. And they kind of had a garage feel to them. Listening to them now, I love them. They’re just full of attitude–it sort of shines through. The innocence of youth…it was just amazing in retrospect.
What inspired you to cover what is considered your memorable song “Always Something There to Remind Me?”
Rob and I just kind of had it with bands. We went into a studio and we started recording the songs we’ve been writing. At some point we thought Why don;t we do a cover just for fun. We were working in the studio for 12-15 hours a day. It was a very exciting time. There were a couple of songs from the ’60s that I love that we could do a good version of. That was one, and the other was that Dusty Springfield song “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” We made a demo of “Always Something There to Remind Me” and played it for EMI. They loved it. [“Always Something There to Remind Me”] got a life of its own.
What is the story behind “Promises, Promises”? It sounds like it was inspired from real life?
It’s kind of weird because that song to me was such a throwaway. We wrote that in an afternoon and it was one of those songs [that] didn’t require a lot of thought went into it. We recorded the album not knowing which tracks were really going to be a single and “Promises” was just another song as far as I was concerned. But I’ve been doing the guitar version of it [with guitar] and the lyrics were really strong, and the people identify it. The lyrics really hold up. Rob and I used to work everyday. We were very prolific. It was just from experience, I really think.
Another great song is “(What) In the Name of Love,” which was significantly remixed by producer Arthur Baker? How was it like working with him?
Arthur’s incredible producer and mixer. The original version with just Rob and I–we recorded it in our own studio but it was really a demo. And we needed a B-side for “Promises” in England, and we went into Abbey Road and [recorded] it for the B-side. We were doing the second album Arthur wanted something that was a little more of a dance groove to it. We suggested that track–the thing was totally recorded to quite an incredible effect.
So why did you guys break up after the Fuel for the Fire album?
After living and writing together 24 hours a day for four or five years…we needed a break from each other. Record companies change, people that sign you move on, new people come in.
What did you do in the meanwhile, as Rob hooked up with Simon Climie as Climie Fisher?
I did some stuff with Stevie Wonder [on “Part-Time Lover” from the 1985 album In Square Circle] and worked with his producer. That was really exciting. It was a great experience.
So what brought about you and Rob reuniting again? Did you guys write and record new material before Rob passed away?
A friend Neil Taylor–who played guitar for us and later for Tears for Fears–he came out to Los Angeles and he ran into Rob, and Rob had some ideas. I had to go to London and I called Rob. We got together and we started working together again. It was like the old days. We enjoyed working with each other so much. We worked really well together. It was difficult to work with Rob toward the end because he was in failing health. We got a lot of stuff in the can that I’m going through.
Are most of the new tracks finished?
Pretty much, perhaps a little more. Some of the stuff is pretty complete. They sound pretty good.
There was a song on your MP3 site called “No Ordinary Girl,” a lush ballad, which musically sounds worlds apart from what most people think of Naked Eyes sound. Can you explain something about that song and will that ever be committed on disc?
I love that song, It was one of the songs that would have been in our new album. We were happy to put that one out, along with “I Just Can’t Get Over Losing You” and “I Can’t Make You Mine.” I ‘m hoping to get this out in the spring.
What else can we expect on the new album?
I may include [some of those early demos] depending on the quality of them.
Any chance that your first two albums Naked Eyes (Burning Bridges in the U.S.) and Fuel for the Fire will be reissued on CD?
It’s always a slow process. I would love to see those albums in their original form an remix them for DVD audio. In reality we’re talking about three or four years away.
How do you explain the chemistry between you and Rob?
We both insisted on the best from each other. We were brutal with each other, if he had an idea and I thought it was rubbish, and I would hell him, And he did the same with me (laughs). We just tried to impress each other with what we could do.
You have already recorded a solo album The Real Illusion and you are now working on an album of covers
I’ve been doing this version of “Promises, Promises” for 18 months now, which came about by accident. I started playing it on guitar one day and I as sort of shocked because it was never written on guitar. I went into a guitar shop one day and ended buying the most beautiful guitar they had. Now I thought I got this amazing guitar I might as well [use it]
There are a couple of covers of my own songs as well, [like] Willie Dixon’s song that I always love. I recorded this Beatles song called “Cry Baby Cry” from the White Album. and I’m doing an Elvis Costello song called “Man Out of Time,” just a song I really like . I’ve got about eight or ten songs I’m getting to.
Have you reconciled the fact that most people will think of Naked Eyes forever as a synthpop bands of the ’80s? Do you look at those times with fondness or nostalgia?
I don’t mind that. In Los Angeles, they play [“Always Something There to Remind Me”] a lot, not like on an ’80s show. We get played in all the mainstream pop stations here. Although I do look back and enjoy being part of some synth New Wave thing, our plan was to just write songs and not really be a part of anything. The songs stood the test of time and it’s still played on the radio. I’m very pleased with the way things turned out.