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Interview: Berlin

12 min read

They helped introduce America to electronic music. They were pioneers of the age of the music video. Along the way, Berlin helped shaped the eighties into one of the most inspiring decades in pop music while solidifying their place in the history books with a handful of iconic synth-dressed gems and chart toppers including Sex (I’m A), No More Words and the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award winning number one Top Gun soundtrack power-ballad, Take My Breathe Away. Before the band could bask in the phenomenal success they achieved by the end of the decade, the wheels came to an unexpected halt and all was over for Terri Nunn fronted outfit.

While the formation of the original line-up has not been seen since their hey-day, Nunn returned to music following a few solo releases in the 2000’s and recent Berlin studio album, 2013’s Animal, showcases a leading lady still at the very top of her game.

Berlin joins a long list of fellow 80’s icons this month for a special Totally 80’s tour of Australia where all the hits will be performed for fans – as well as material from the Berlin vault – and we were given the amazing opportunity to speak one on one with lead singer Terri Nunn about the bands return to music, their upcoming shows alongside Martika, Katrina and the Waves, Limahl and more and also the bands early success and hit singles. Here is what she had to tell us….

Brendon Veevers: How are you and where are we speaking with you from today Terri?

Terri Nunn: I’m at home today. It’s Santa Rosa Valley in California. It’s about an hour north of Los Angeles.

BV: You are part of the upcoming Totally 80’s tour of Australia in the coming months. Have you started rehearsals and how have they been going so far?

TN: Actually, in terms of the set list; it’s interesting that you just asked that because I just asked my manager to check in with them. To find out who long of a set they want. Every show is different you know. Sometimes its quick. Sometimes they want a full set. Sometimes they want it broken up. So it’s always different, you know. He just got back to me and he said they want a 35-45 minute long set so because you called I was just writing down some ideas for the set list.

BV: In terms of what you will be playing, what you hope to gain from being a part of Totally 80’s and what type of show you will be putting on, what does this tour represent for Berlin?

TN: For me Brendon, it’s a reconnection with Australia. Because we haven’t been there since 1984. Yeah, so it’s been a long, long time so I am thrilled because I remember that tour and it was a big deal for us and this one is huge for me because its been a long time. Its about reacquainting ourselves with Australia, because I’m sure its changed quite a bit since then and its also about reacquainting Australia with us. I mean, they haven’t heard Berlin music in a while so we’ll be playing the hits, of course, but we’ll also be playing a couple of songs from Animal; the new album, so they’ll get a sense of where we were and where we are.

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BV: Berlin were enormous in the eighties but everything came to a halt around 1986/1987; just after the release of Take My Breath Away which was a huge hit for the band. What happened there and why was there such a huge gap between 1986 and the early 2000’s when you decided to make a comeback?

TN: Yeah, we stopped it all in 1987. That was the year of our last tour. We just stopped it. We just blew apart. It really was our own fault. We were lost and we didn’t know what to do at that point, with the music. We were tired and we didn’t know – being as young as we were – that you’ve got to have breaks and you’ve got to take a step back and you need to have a life and you need to have a partner and that you need to do stuff besides music, you know (laughs). And we didn’t have any of that for about 10 years straight and the record label was just thrilled with that. As long as we would keep working and not stop – they would love it. They don’t know how long the wave is going to be ridden and so they just wanted us to keep going. They didn’t try to give us any kind of break so it was up to us but we didn’t do it and then we just turned on each other and it all just imploded. And now that we look back, its so clear that if we just had a good nights sleep and had a relationship in our lives, then things would have been a lot easier to deal with and we might have stayed together. So that’s basically what happened. And then I stepped out and I did a solo album. And then I stepped out of music entirely; I got a life. I got married. I worked with people on their records. I just got off the treadmill that I had been on for, god, almost 15 years.

BV: You just used a word that comes up so frequently for bands who have disbanded and many acts that I have interviewed over the last few years have used that word in our conversations: Imploding. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to a rising artist of today about the journey they are about to take?

TN: There is so much to be said about passion. That’s one of the things that propelled us forward and that gave us the response and the success that we had but it was also so single minded and single focused that we lost track of event ourselves. We lost track of our health. We lost track of our balance in life and friends and family. I mean, I was never home. I could never have a relationship. I could never make time for anything else but the music and the job.

My advice would therefore be that before a person gets to that point where there is nothing else in life, try to have balance, because that balance of stepping away from work, from music, from the passion, and doing something else, actually makes the work better because a person can have longevity then. And then you can step back and go “it’s not the end of the world here, its just we’re tired and we need a vacation for a week or two, you know.. I mean, its so important and its just not something that we knew then or that we applied then. I would recommend that to any band.

I’ve had other friends in bands where the same thing happened like with Perry Farrell from Janes Addition. He just said “well screw them. I don’t like Eric Avery (the bass player). I’m not gonna do this anymore. I’m gonna do something else. Screw them”. And I was like “yeah, but Perry, this kind of magic that you’re having with Janes (Addition), with Dave (Navarro), with Eric (Avery), with Steve (Perkins) and you, it doesn’t happen every day. It’s a special thing. And to just throw it all away because you might be frustrated or tired – just give it a minute. Step back. Take a break and come back to it. Don’t throw it out”. Because that’s what I did. I mean, I’m glad I got a life but I think I could have done it concurrently.

That was a very long winded answer, sorry (laughs).

BV: Was there every a defining moment for you personally where you decided enough was enough?

TN: The last tour was really hard. It was REALLY hard. We were opening in Europe for Frankie Goes To Hollywood and that was 1987 I think. I mean, and they were imploding too; Frankie was in his own bus and Frankie’s band was in another bus and they didn’t talk to each other. They were going through shit and we were too with each other and it got to a point where John and I – John my partner John Crawford and the band; we weren’t even talking to each other anymore. We were just getting through the tour. And both of us were like “who needs this?”. It wasn’t fun. It was just a lot of aggravation and disagreements and not speaking so both of us, at the end of that tour, were ready to hang it up for sure.

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BV: While only for a brief period of time, Berlin achieved a lot and you releases some songs that are timeless and staples of the 80’s. Tracks like Take My Breathe Away and No More Words. What’s it like for you to be performing songs like Take My Breathe Away and No More Words after 30 years. Are they still exciting tracks for you to play and do you think they have stood the test of time?

TN: Yeah, I really do. I not only like the songs but I’m such a huge Giorgio Moroder fan and we were so honored to get to play with him.

It’s funny that you mention those two songs because he produced those two songs and wrote Take My Breathe Away. He produced No More Words – that’s how we met him – and he came in with Take My Breathe Away because he got the job to do the Top Gun soundtrack while he was in the middle of producing No More Words. So he brought it (Take My Breathe Away) in and said “what do you think”, and I just love it. I mean, I just love the guy. He could have farted and I would have sung it (laughs). He is one of the greatest talents of all time and has since stayed a lifelong friend which is also amazing and wonderful.

So yeah, I just love the music and I really love getting to connect with people because those songs are iconic to their lives. I mean, after shows and I talk to people and they tell me “Take My Breathe Away was in my wedding” or “it was my wedding song” or “it was my high school graduation song” or “it was playing when I had sex for the first time”. You know, they all have a story about the song and to me; I used to dream about having songs like that because I have those songs in my life, that were seminal to me – that were soundtracks to my life. To be able to have that for someone else – I’m honoured. Its much more than just a song to me; its a connection with people that I had always dreamed of having.

BV: When Berlin really broke into the mainstream, electro-pop and power pop music was still a relatively unexplored genre. Was it intimidating or challenging for Berlin to really break through when you did?

TN: Yeah, it is a good point you are making there Brendon because when we started out, it really wasn’t happening in America at all. It was just starting out over in Europe; in England and Germany. Those were the two places that had bands that were doing this kind of electro-pop that were were really excited about but it wasn’t going on here so when we started doing it, and then playing clubs, I mean, people were scratching their heads – they didn’t understand it. They’d never seen a synthesizer before. They didn’t know what that was and they didn’t know what these new sounds were. “Why aren’t you power-pop”?. “Why aren’t you just using guitars or playing big arena rock?” (laughs).

Nobody was getting it and it was kind of our fault because we weren’t really good at it at the start but we were really trying and we got better. As time went by our songwriting got better. Our grasp of how to use the electronics in our style of music and what we were writing got better and it all came together. But it was slow and the record labels; they were like “what?” – they didn’t get it at all. We were turned down by everybody in the beginning. The we released Sex (I’m A) on our own and a station out here picked it up and started playing the shit out of it and that was it – game over. We sold 25,000 copies in one month of Sex (I’m A) and then all of the labels started calling and saying “hey, what are you doing?” (laughs), “we love you guys”, “you’re the best” and then it was a whole new story (laughs).

So yeah, it was hard. It was hard being different in the beginning but over time its really good because you cant be replaced; there’s nobody like you. You’re irreplaceable.

BV: Berlin were very early music video pioneers with the popularity of MTV really taking off in the early 80’s. Did the band have much creative freedom in terms of how you were visually represented?

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TN: Yeah, we did actually. Yeah, in those days – because video wasn’t big yet – they gave us a lot of freedom because they didn’t know how important it was going to be so we went with David Geffen because he gave us a budget for music videos. He believed in it and a lot of other record labels did not so that was one of the other pluses for us in signing with him. We believed in video and we wanted a record label that would too so he gave us a budget – not a lot, but he gave us a budget and he gave us a lot of freedom in how we wanted to present ourselves like what type of story-lines we had and stuff.

It was actually MTV that came down hard on us. Because they were the only game in town; they would constantly be sending back our videos saying “we don’t like this”. They would say, to the No More Words video and the Bonnie and Clyde thing: “you cant have people with guns like that” and “you cant have shooting” like that, “you have to take it out”. And then with the Sex (I’m A) video; they were all over that. “you cant have people eating food like that” they would say. “It’s very suggestive”, “we don;t like that”. They really didn’t like the food scene. People are eating food because we have this whole spread of food and people are eating suggestively and like, enjoying the food. They were like – “you can’t do that so take it out because we don’t like it” (laughs). But the thing was; if we didn’t do what they said, they wouldn’t play the video so we would be constantly editing to their tastes and then they would play the video.

BV: What would you say has been the highlight of your career to date? If you could chose one single moment or achievement – what would it be and what would you want Berlin to be remembered for?

TN: That I represent a strong woman and helped other women be strong and to say what they wanted to say and to be who they are. That would be one. And two: that we did pioneer electronic music in America and brought it to the country in a way that had not been done yet and that I am proud of because Brendon, it wasn’t easy (laughs)

BV: Thank you so much Terri. It’s been a pleasure and we can’t wait to see you on tour very soon.

TN: Thanks Brendon, its been fun.

Terri Nunn and Berlin will be joined by fellow 80’s acts Martika, Limahl, Katrina and the Waves, Paul Lekakis, Me Without Hats and Stacey Q on the Totally 80’s tour throughout Australia starting 12th July 2016. Details below…

Totally 80s