August 21, 2019 Interview – Terri Nunn of Berlin
Beginning over forty years ago, California’s Berlin has enough compelling detail in their story to write a novel. One of the first bands in America to experiment with Synthpop styles during the early ’80s, their pioneering attitude would lead them to success with 1981’s “The Metro,” 1982’s “Sex (I’m A…),” 1983’s “No More Words,” and the 1986 mega hit “Take My Breath Away.” Forever etched in the bedrock of what was the New Wave movement, there of course have been peaks and valleys along the way, but Berlin continue to go strong with their brand new album, Transcendance.
The first studio record since 1984’s Love Life to feature the classic lineup of Terri Nunn, John Crawford and David Diamond, fortunately for fans, the tale of Berlin is still being forged. Excited to celebrate the past and look toward the future of the band, leading lady Terri Nunn recently sat down to chat the history of Berlin, the work behind Transcendance, plus a whole lot more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in entertainment as an actress and musician for pretty much your entire life. With Berlin, you attained a mass of success during the 1980s with chart-topping singles. Briefly tell us, what has your journey been like as a performer?
Terri Nunn – It’s been a real lucky one. I had parents who supported all the different pond hopping things I wanted to do. (Laughs) I love that, and as a parent myself, that is one of the things I carry on because I believe in it. I see the value of supporting a kid to do what they want to do, for as long as they want to do it. As a parent I have no idea what their life is going to be, but now looking back, I see everything I did led up to the long term because it gave me tools and skills I needed to use in the long term that came later, which is music.
All of those other things taught me ways to work and be that I use in music, and I think that’s why this has been going forty years now. That’s what my trajectory as a performer has been and it is largely based on the incredible support I got from my parents early on to try different things and be there for whatever they became – whether short term, failures, or successful. That’s what a journey is, it’s all of that.
Cryptic Rock – It’s great to have parents who support what you want to do creatively as a child. It nurtures the child’s ability to excel.
Terri Nunn – Right, exactly! Some things were short lived – the figure skating thing I was terrible at. I wasn’t really good at competition, I was more of a performer; I was good with the exhibitions and I loved doing that because I could be more creative. I didn’t last in skating, then television came along with acting, but I didn’t like the lifestyle of it and constantly having to get another job. I did, however, like that acting taught me about honest emotion in a situation and that I had to bring it in a scene that was either ten minutes or thirty seconds. That taught me in music, with a song that is three minutes, that I have to bring it right now while I’m singing this song; whatever the emotion is, I had to feel it and communicate it right now. That discipline really helped. There are more steps, but that is an idea of the steps I took to get to a long term career in music.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting. What is compelling about Berlin is as a band the style changes from album to album. You had massive success with songs like “Take My Breath Away” in 1986, but also had hits with other tunes such as “The Metro” in 1981 and “No More Words” in 1983. What was that period like for the band?
Terri Nunn – Early on it was exciting because we were trying something that wasn’t really happening yet in America; it was completely open for us to do whatever we wanted with it. That said, it was also rejected by most everybody because they were into Power Pop and Punk. In the late ’70s that is what was going on in America, we were not going on. They didn’t understand synthesizers and electronic music, it was like, “What the fuck are you doing, where’s your guitars?” In that way it was hard getting a chance to be heard, but we loved it and within the band we kept inspiring each other to keep doing it. That is really what it felt like in the beginning, and then when it took off, then it was, “Okay, how do we develop this?”
Then by our third album together it was like, “I want to do something different, we’ve kind of done this,” and the record label said, “No, keep doing that, because that’s what’s selling for us.” That became a real problem in the band because John (Crawford) agreed with the record label. As my partner, he was not wrong: it’s good to keep your sound, hold onto it, and develop at the same time. Depeche Mode is a prime example of that: they’ve developed but they’ve also kept who they are; you put on a Depeche Mode album, it’s Depeche Mode.
I look back on that and I feel like I wanted to go crazy and do Rock. We got Bob Ezrin to produce Count Three & Pray (1986), but the problem was we lost people, they thought, “Who’s Berlin now?” It was very Arena Rock sounding and I thought it was great and something different, but it was our lowest-selling album. People wanted Berlin from the prior albums, they liked that sound. That’s kind of an idea of the creative trajectory of the band.
Cryptic Rock – You live and learn, but it still leads us to a very successful overall story of Berlin. Now celebrating forty years, you recently released the brand new studio album Transcendance. This is the first record you have done with John Crawford and David Diamond in thirty-five years. What was the writing and recording process like for this album?
Terri Nunn – It was interesting. It takes a lot longer now because we all have families and the band was playing shows at the same time we wee recording. It’s not like the old days where the record label would say “Make a record” and it would literally be done from start to finish in six months maximum; then they had to get us on the road and make more money on us that way. It was very concentrated, but now we all have lives and they are all going on at the same time.
We started the process two years ago when John, David, and I started writing stuff together, but people weren’t crazy about it. We met this guy who had a label on Capitol and he introduced us to the Mak Brothers, an Australian production team. We sat down with them and they were great, they gave us the tools we needed because we weren’t technically in the Electronic music world. I listen to it, I love EDM, but I don’t know how to do it. I know how to write a song, but they came in and helped us with the tools to create Berlin electronically now.
They helped give us our identity for what Berlin is in 2019. We’re not going to make Berlin 1983, we did that; we wanted to develop. We wrote the songs and they worked on the productions with us. We had ideas, but they helped with fleshing out the sonic landscapes. We didn’t love all of it, but we loved a lot of it, and that is really what sparked people. When we played that music we got two record deal offers immediately.
Cryptic Rock – The album came out very well. You can tell this is Berlin, but it is very modern as well. With the song “Show Me Tonight” you immediately recognize Richard Blade’s spoken voice on! A very interesting track, what inspired it?
Terri Nunn – That song is about me learning to accept all the changes my body’s going through and living in a world that tells us all, everyday, we’re not enough; we’re not thin enough, young enough, we’re not enough. I came up with the idea of the sleazy TV announcer who starts out really cool and smooth, but then by the end of the song is meaner and meaner – just taking it to the ultimate of what these TV and radio spots tell us.
Richard Blade was fantastic! We’ve been friends for thirty years, so we asked him to be this sleazy TV announcer and I gave him a few ideas, but he went off and ran with it. He did twenty minutes on it, he was so awful! (Laughs) For me it’s really a statement of, “My body’s fine and I’m going to show me tonight, this is me.”
Cryptic Rock – It is a good statement to make. Popular culture gives people impossible self images to strive for. There are so many contradictions when it comes to what the media says. It is also very harmful to young people.
Terri Nunn – It is, and they are definitely targeting young people because they are easier to target; they don’t know yet and they have disposable money. Then with anybody else who isn’t young, well, they are going to have to put you down for not being young, because they can’t own you, they can’t sell to you, your smarter, but you’re not cute either, you’re fat, ugly, and you smell! (Laughs) We hear that from the advertising world, it’s not easy, but that’s what the song’s about.
Cryptic Rock – It works well. Amidst all the new songs on Transcendance you do a re-recording of “Sex (I’m A…).” What led to the decision to remix the classic song in a new modern arrangement?
Terri Nunn – That is originally a remix by Derek Cannavo who produce and helped me write most of the last album Berlin album, Animal (2013). He had done that remix and it was fantastic, but the record label at the time didn’t want to put any songs already known by Berlin on that album; they wanted all new songs. We didn’t put it on, but it was actually Richard Blade who said to me, “That’s an amazing remix, you should release that.” We decided we would put it on this one, so we took Derek’s original remix, added a few things such as John’s iconic vocals, and we were off and running.
Cryptic Rock – It is an awesome version of the track. With the album out you are now back on the road doing headlining some gigs, but also sharing the stage on some shows with the B-52s. How excited are you to be back on the road again with this new material?
Terri Nunn – We are playing thirty-two cities in The States and then we go to Europe in November-December to play all headlining shows in five countries over there. It’s pretty thrilling and it’s thrilling for me to go out with the B-52s – I have nothing but complete respect for them. I still remember seeing them in my teens on Saturday Night Live. I remember sitting there looking at Kate with her red beehive hairdo, and Fred walking around talking like he does; it was so unique and different!
I have such huge respect for unique bands – Pink Floyd is another one. They don’t sound like anybody else and because of that they never age; you can’t place them in any time because they weren’t in that time when they were there. It’s hard to do that and keep doing that. Getting to play with them is mind-blowing.
Cryptic Rock – They certainly are a one of a kind band. The touring lineup also includes OMD as well!
Terri Nunn – OMD are great too! I don’t know them as well, though. We did a show with them earlier this year, so I met them for the very first time and they are really great guys. I love their music, but I don’t have the history with them because they are an English band, but I’m very happy they are on the tour as well.
Cryptic Rock – It really is great touring package. So you have the forty-year anniversary, a new album, and reunion with original members. What led to all of this happening for Berlin?
Terri Nunn – Tragedy and crisis, interestingly enough. I didn’t see this coming in my life at all. John was getting a divorce a couple of years ago and he called me. It was a long marriage, over twenty years; they had three kids together, and it was falling apart. I have been through a divorce, so he reached out.
Then David Diamond, at the same time, within months, had his partner leave him; his partner had an affair. They bought a house together, he thought this was forever, then his partner dumped him. We were all holding each other going through this. (Laughs) Then, as we always did, we were playing music for each other. John is so prolific, he had written forty more songs before we even completed recording Transcendance; he’s a writing machine. That’s when we started making music together again and going through that journey for the new album.
Cryptic Rock – It’s unfortunate things happened like that, but it is positive that it opened the door for a new album together.
Terri Nunn – Yeah. Isn’t it true: as one door closes another one opens?
Cryptic Rock – It is very true. As we spoke earlier, you have done acting in various TV shows, etc. Would you consider act again or is it something you have moved past?
Terri Nunn – I’m more interested in music than anything. I know it’s been forty years of it, but I’m still not bored. I guess it’s the genre that we do, the Electronic music world is so interesting to me because the sounds can be anything. You can put anything into a song; it’s not limited to guitar, bass, drums, vocals. It’s so fascinating to me to create sounds: I get excited by soundscapes. I write lyrics and melodies to music that inspires me and turns me on. It’s endless how exciting it is and I’m not bored. I love doing television, but this is good.
Cryptic Rock – It’s great that you are still so inspired and passionate about music. Last question. If you are a fan of Horror or Sci-Fi films, do you have any favorites?
Terri Nunn – A matter of fact, recently at our show in Costa Mesa I dressed up as Daryl Hannah’s character Pris from Blade Runner (1982) to honor Rutger Hauer. Do you know the iconic scene where Hauer’s Roy Batty is dying? I still remember when he said, “When you die, your memories die with you.” Well, did you know when he did that scene it was supposed to be 2019 in the movie when he died? Isn’t that fucking creepy! Rutger Hauer actually died in 2019. Anyway, I dedicated a song in his honor.
Cryptic Rock – Wow, it is really strange how that turned that way in real life. Blade Runner is a fantastic film though, perhaps even underrated.
Terri Nunn – Yes, I’m a huge Ridley Scott fan. Alien (1979)? Come on! It’s so amazing!
Cryptic Rock – Alien is a great mix of Horror and Sci-Fi. It also is a pioneering film because you see a real female leading hero with Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.
Terri Nunn – Yes! The Terminator (1984) was as well with another female hero. I love that they put Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in the new film, Terminator: Dark Fate. As far as Horror, The Exorcist (1973) is the only movie my mother forbid me to see. There were movies out that were sexy that my friends didn’t get to see, and she was okay with that, but The Exorcist was the one she was not okay with me seeing. When I finally saw it it scared the fuck out of me! I couldn’t sleep at night.