Interview: Berlin's Terri Nunn talks cool concerts, new album
Berlin / Giorgio Moroder

You remember them for synth-pop hits like “The Metro,” “No More Words” and “Masquerade,” and for the chart-topping Top Gun movie ballad “Take My Breath Away.”

But Berlin outlasted the ‘80s, cruising at high altitude on the bodacious blend of gutsy guitars, vivacious vocal melodies and pulsating electronic elements that turbocharged albums like Pleasure Victim (1982), Love Life (1984), and Count Three & Pray (1986).

The group splintered in the ‘90s, leaving sultry singer Terri Nunn to record a solo album (1991’s Moment of Truth) at Prince’s Paisley Park studio while former members John Crawford (bass, guitars), Dave Diamond (keys), Ric Olsen (guitar), and Rob Brill (bass) pursued other interests.

Nunn revamped Berlin in the late ‘90s for tours with the Go-Gos (“Vacation,” “We Got the Beat”) and INXS (“What You Need,” “Devil Inside”).  The original band reunited briefly for a VH-1 special, but Nunn recorded 2002’s experimental Voyeur and 2004’s covers-heavy disc 4Play with fresh recruits.  2013’s adventurous Animal found the vocal vixen back in her comfort zone, weaving her sensual, come-hither vocals through palpitating rhythms and undulating grooves created by pro players from the Goo Goo Dolls (Dave Schulz) and Orgy (Carlton Bost). 

Now Berlin is back for 2018. 

Nunn and co. will team will fellow ‘80s auteurs The Romantics (“What I Like About You,” “Talking in Your Sleep”) for a special engagement at the Hard Rock in Northfield (Cleveland) Ohio next Friday, January 19.  Then she’ll rejoin old comrades Crawford and Diamond to record the next Berlin studio album, tentatively set for summer release.

We rang Terri this week to talk about the upcoming Ohio gig, the healing power of music, Berlin’s old days, and her plans for the not-so-distant future.

AXS: We’re excited for your show here in Cleveland next week, Terri!  Apparently, you were in town a couple months ago for a cancer research benefit for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

TERRI NUNN: Yeah!  That was the last time.  My godfather lives out there, so I came a few days early and hung out with him.  He’s over in Plymouth.  We hung out for a while; it was great to see him and his lady.  My mom’s from Ohio.  So I have a special place in my heart for Ohio.  And for Cleveland, too, because WMMS was the first station to ever play us in the country.  They played us when nobody was doing anything with us.  You remember that!  You remember that somebody gave you a chance and played you.  They helped open up peoples’ ears to us all over the country.  WMMS was like, wow, huge!  Everybody was watching them, because they were like the KROQ of the Midwest.  They were playing stuff that was really cutting-edge at the time.  Kid Leo and John Gorman were there.  They made a difference for us!

AXS:  Does this concert mark the beginning of a new tour?

TN: No, no!  This is actually a one-off for us.  When we did that show for Susan G. Komen, I guess the Hard Rock people just really liked the band made us an offer for that weekend.  I’m actually not doing any other shows, because we’re finishing our writing to get in recording mode.  It’s a new album with the original Berlin trilogy—John Crawford, Dave Diamond, and myself. We don’t really start playing again until March.  We’re going to Mexico; there’s a Mexico City show in February.  But I really wanted to focus on the new music, because I want the album out by late spring or early summer.

AXS:  How does the new material sound?  Still has that old mojo, I imagine. 

TN: It’s Berlin for sure [laughs]!  We’re working with an Australian production team that is really exciting to me because there are just so many new things to play with!  There are so many new sounds!  Electronic music is hot!  I really fell in love with EDM.  That’s what inspired me to write Animal, the last album.  That was our greatest album in twenty years.  And really there’s just so much to play with.  There are dance elements, but there are also the ballad elements.  I wrote a song about adopting my daughter and going to Russia to meet her family.  So that’s a ballad, and there’s another one about losing my mom and what that was like.  It’s kind of transformative.  You expect it to be awful, but it was transcendent.  We’ll give them a taste of the new Berlin at the show!

AXS: Does music still give you a sense of empowerment today?  Having come up in the business as a female artist in the era of “Me Too” in a male-dominated industry, one would think that sense of solidarity and expression are more important than ever.

TN: It completely empowers me.  When I saw Grace Slick on TV I was just a kid.  I was like five or six years old, but I still remember that.  I remember the power that she had and the freedom and the voice.  I didn’t know what I wanted at the time, but I knew I wanted thatAnn Wilson from Heart and Stevie Nicks, these women were saying things.  They were sexual and strong and powerful and standing up for themselves!  I saw a lot of men doing that, because most of rock ‘n’ roll is men.  But having that in rock was different and special.  I’m lucky enough that I have that role now, and have had it for a while.  And I’m grateful!  You don’t take it lightly!

AXS:  Have you been contacted by the people shooting the Top Gun sequel about contributing new music, or perhaps about reusing “Take My Breath Away?”

TN: There are talks going on right now, but there’s nothing firm yet because music is usually the last thing they put in the movie.  They’re looking at a 2019 release.  So we’re talking, but they’re not even sure what they want yet [laughs]!  So we’re just in communication at this point.

AXS:  Giorgio Moroder has written lots of great movie songs but says in interviews that your song was his favorite.

TN: He said he feels it’s his greatest work, which threw me to the ground because—I mean, c’mon—that guy has worked with Bowie and Blondie, and he’s got Oscars for Flashdance and Fame and Cat People!  I thought it was incredible! 

AXS:  Would you still feel compelled to make music if Berlin hadn’t taken off?  Lots of artists—musicians, writers, painters—insist it’s something they must do to keep sane, to exist, regardless of commercial success or failure.

TN: Probably, yeah.  I’d have to make a living, so I wouldn’t be able to do it as much.  But it’s one of the best reasons to live for me.  Like you said, as an artist the music is so important to you, and I remember putting on music and just literally walk in a circle for hours!  My mom told me she’d put music on, and I’d be fine!  She could clean or work, and I’d walk in a circle for hours until the music stopped!  It was like a trance [laughs]!  I was maybe four years old.  I remember doing that and being transported by what I was hearing, and nothing else was important.  Everything was wonderful because I had my music!

AXS:  Is live performance cathartic for you?  Do you get a sense of fulfillment and collective healing from interacting with audiences?

TN: For me it’s a means of expression, but there’s also that connection with people.  I’ve had social issues for my whole life.  I never really admitted that to myself until my forties.  But I realized that for me a concert is a way to connect with people, whether I’m in the audience or on the stage.  It’s this great music that we all love and that we’re all there for, and we get to hear it and play it and just be together in it for a time, and it makes everything okay!  I can communicate and connect, and all those social issues just go away.  But as soon as that’s over—like at a normal party—oh, God!  I used to be paralyzed!  I’m better now, but I used to have really bad issues connecting with other people.  But music…that’s the bridge.  That’s the connection that gives me a chance to be with people.  It’s what got me over stage fright in the beginning.  But people are good, and audiences are mainly good.  They just want a good time!  They want to feel good and enjoy the music like I’m enjoying it, and we’re all there for the same thing.  That helped calm me down and get out of my ego, out of my head, and helped me enjoy it! 

AXS: How has touring changed for you from the ‘80s and ‘90s?  It seems like lots of bands from back in the day now keep healthier lifestyles.  What’s different for you?

TN: [Laughs] Well, I’m not twenty anymore, so I can’t party all night anymore and wake up looking awesome!  Remember twenty?  Oh my God!  We could eat whatever we wanted, we could smoke and drink all night, get little to no sleep, and we’d wake up feeling great!  But that’s over [laughs]!  I’ve got to work!  I’m there for a job now!  I’m paid a lot of money to entertain people, and I show up and give a hundred percent!  But in other ways, it’s easier, because I no longer have to just sit on a bus anymore for months at a time.  We had to build an audience when we started on those first big tours!  That’s hard, and we had to keep our noses to the grindstone and keep playing and getting out there.  But after you build your audience you get to a certain point where it’s like, well, I don’t have to do this to eat now, so what do I want?  What excites me now?  For me, now it’s about collaboration.  I like getting to work with other people and write with people who are exciting to me.  Where it’s like, ‘I’d love to write a song with them, or sing with her!’  It doesn’t always pan out, but that’s exciting for me, and it can generate some really great music.  So that’s what’s different now.  It’s not about survival anymore.  It’s more about play; there’s more sense of fun.  And it’s nice to be here at this point after struggling so long [laughs]! 

For Berlin tickets and band information, visit their website at  http://berlinpage.com/tour