For over four decades, Terri Nunn has continued to captivate audiences around the globe as the lead vocalist & songwriter of BERLIN. Alongside bassist John Crawford, and keyboard player David Diamond, the iconic band will forever be recognized as the American progenitor of electro-pop music. Few bands emerging from the era of BERLIN have achieved as far-reaching and long-lasting an impact and, rarely, such a timeless array of musical grooves. The Los Angeles-based band made a splash with the provocative dance hit “Sex (I’m A…)” from the platinum-selling debut EP, ‘Pleasure Victim,’ which celebrates its 40th Anniversary in 2023. They would go on to solidify their signature sound with chart-topping hits like “The Metro” and “No More Words.” Of course, it was the unforgettable love song, “Take My Breath Away” that launched the band to dizzying heights of fame. The ballad’s defining role in the Tom Cruise film, ‘Top Gun,’ helped solidify BERLIN’s everlasting place in American pop culture. The song was a #1 international hit and received both the Golden Globe and Academy Award for “Best Original Song” in 1986.
Over the course of their journey, BERLIN’s creative output has resulted in twelve gold and platinum album awards. Nunn’s continuing influence on other legendary artists includes Lady Gaga, Shirley Manson, Gwen Stefan, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, and more, which earned her the #11 spot on VH1.com’s “100 Greatest Women in Rock.” BERLIN will soon hit the road this summer on a nationwide tour with Boy George & Culture Club and Howard Jones on “The Letting It Go Show.” The highly-anticipated tour, produced by Live Nation, kicks off its 25-city run in July 2023.
As you would imagine, with 40-plus years of rock ‘n’ roll adventures under her belt, Terri Nunn has quite a few stories to tell! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently connected with Terri Nunn to discuss her incredible journey as an artist. In the interview, she offers an inside look at her creative process, the challenges of keeping Berlin moving forward in the digital age, a new film project based on her romance with legendary KROQ DJ Richard Blade, and so much more!
You’ve carved out a very unique career for yourself. How did the arts first come into your life?
The first exposure I remember that I remember that had an effect on me was The Beatles. I was 3 years old when they played on Ed Sullivan. The music was all over the radio at the time. I remember I wanted to be Paul McCartney! Not to know him or meet him, I wanted to be Paul McCartney and do what he was doing way more than any of the women at the time. I wasn’t feeling the women as much. Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane hit me later on in the 1960s, but it was really the men who I gravitated toward because they had so much more freedom. Women were still a little repressed in the late 50s and early 60s. They weren’t as expressive, especially when it came to music and, more specifically, rock music. Janis Joplin would come along a little bit later. I just saw all the freedom, fun, and irreverence the guys were expressing,, and I wanted to do that!
Music has played such an essential role in your life. When did you first begin to write songs and explore that part of yourself?
Writing for me started around 10 or 11 years old, right around the time the hormones started kicking. That’s roughly the same time my daughter started to go dark for a few years. Things got a little weird, and her doctor said, “Yeah, it’s the hormones! Her body is changing, as well as her brain.” At that age, writing helped me stay sane and get out all of the stuff that was going on for me in my head and in my heart. Music was my friend. It was my lifesaver because we moved a lot, and I didn’t get to develop many friends, but my music was always there. That allowed me to come home, put on anything, and feel like I was okay again.
Is writing still as cathartic for you today as it was back then?
In a different way because I am different. I’m in another place in my life, so it’s exposing, revealing, and cathartic in different ways.
Ultimately, you found your footing in BERLIN. The band is celebrating 40+ years at this point. That’s no small feat for any band. How difficult was it to find your direction sonically when you first joined the band?
It wasn’t easy! [laughs] There wasn’t anything going on in America. A few bands were going on overseas, like Ultravox and Kraftwerk. It was a lot of hit-and-miss the first couple of years as we worked together just trying stuff. We had one synthesizer because that’s all we could afford. There weren’t many at the time, and they were costly when you could find one. So, we just tried a lot of different things. We played live a lot, and there were a lot of clubs going on at the time, which was really helpful in Los Angeles. It wasn’t pay-to-play yet. With that said, we didn’t make any money, but we could go play and try out different ideas, songs, or sounds. It was until “The Metro” that we found our sound, and that took quite a while!
What are the biggest challenges or obstacles you faced as a young band coming up in that era?
Being so unique that people were like, “What is this?” At that time, it was punk and power pop. There were bands like the Go-Gos, The Plimsouls, The Motels, The Cramps, and X. Punk and power pop were dominating, and we weren’t either of those! So, that was difficult to keep going. We did get some breaks, like when Iggy Pop was playing and got us somehow! He put us on his show to expose us to his audience. They were like, “What the fuck is this?!!!” [laughs] We were lucky we didn’t get spit on because that was what was going on around the time we played with Iggy. The Police are another big one. They put us on their show because they got it. It took time to get better as songwriters and performers. We really just had to stick with it and keep going!
Was there a particular time or moment when you felt like you came into your own as an artist?
No, no particular time. [laughs] I honestly didn’t think I was good for the first 30 years. I was scared a lot. I wanted it. I loved making music so much; I just didn’t have a lot of belief that I was great or that it would last. I was sure that at any moment that it would be gone! I loved it so much, so I feared it would go away. Finally, after about 30 years of it, I thought, “Okay, yeah. I’m good!” [laughs] I’m slow like that! I’ve been married to this guy for 25 years now. It wasn’t until about year eight that I thought, “This is going to last. He’s not going anywhere.”
Wow! That’s so crazy to hear because when we see you on stage, you exude confidence and seem to have it all locked down. It’s hard to fathom that someone like you would have those insecurities.
Well, thank you. I believe in the music, which helped me get up on a stage and stop thinking about myself. I believed in what I was doing. I believed in the music. I believed in John and what we were doing together. I loved the sound, so I could go there, mean it, and have my heart in it.
Obviously, you’ve all had your fair share of ups and downs. What type of impact have John Crawford and David Diamond had on you creatively through the years?
We have had our ups and downs, but that’s what I love about now. Doing these tours, having John and David in the band again, is so big for me. It’s all about that chemistry that you can’t explain or manufacture. It’s just there! Having that on a stage with them again is so much fun to experience. It’s fun to watch too! John’s aesthetic, his approach, is something that I emotionally mesh with. That is why we could write together, and I could sing his songs. He didn’t sing from a male point of view, per se. It was more of an emotional point of view and a human point of view. That said, it was easy for me to take it on and feel those feelings because I also have them. Then I can emote them in the songs for the world. I think that was our connection. David Diamond is just such a soundscapist. He listens to the song, and he can create the environment of it. It could be on guitar because he wrote a lot of guitar or keys, and then David would take it and do his David thing! [laughs]
What lessons did you learn early on as an artist that still resonate with you today?
To have thicker skin. That is one of the hardest things about being an artist because we are selling ourselves. We are the medium. It’s not a machine or a book. This is me; I am doing this song. The criticisms, were plentiful, so I had to learn to not take it personally and keep going. I need to develop a thicker skin because it wasn’t just criticism. If I just focused on that, I would die. There was so much awful stuff being said or written, but there was also good stuff, so it gave me hope that we didn’t suck. I developed that thicker skin to keep moving forward.
Being in the music industry for 40+ years, I’m sure you’ve seen it all. What does it take to keep a band like BERLIN moving forward in this day and age?
Love. Loving it and continuing to create. For example, we are currently writing all-new, original holiday songs for the album that will be coming out. Staying fresh and doing new things is so important. And it’s not just inundating a crowd with fresh stuff. When I go to see a band, I want to hear the songs I know; that’s why I’m going most of the time, so I want to hear that. I’ll listen to some new stuff, but I want the stuff I like, so that’s important. You want to be fresh but also honor the history that people have with us. They want to hear what has affected them in their lives.
What fuels your creative fire these days, and where do you seek inspiration?
For me, inspiration still comes from music. The music itself, hearing great music, is truly what inspires me. When I hear a great piece of music, I write words and melodies because the music inspires me. That has never changed! While I’m not always writing, I will throw ideas down on my phone, whereas they used to be on pieces of paper I would throw in a drawer. I will jot down great lines or a great song idea. So, when I hear that piece of music, I will return to those ideas and say, “Okay, is there anything here that I’ve got in my little toy box that I can bring out for this piece of music?” If not, I will think of something current or something emotional that the piece of music makes me feel. That’s my process.
You’ve been a part of so many great songs through the years. How have you most evolved as a songwriter?
There is less fear. That has been the biggest evolution for me. In the beginning, I had so much fear that it was hard to collaborate and do things in a room with other people because what if I sound stupid or it’s a dumb idea? Now, I have less fear, and it’s okay if it’s a dumb idea; there are plenty of dumb ideas floating around. Most of them are! We only need a few good ones! [laughs]
You mentioned that BERLIN is currently writing for a holiday album. What has that experience been like for you?
The holidays are a really emotional time for me. Writing, for me, comes from strong emotions that don’t always have to make sense. That is why I am enjoying tackling writing holiday songs. Typically, they are so nice, and everybody is so happy, and we all have our eggnog, and it’s so fun. [laughs] Yeah, it’s not always so fun! It’s a lot of different things. Holidays bring out a lot of varying family emotions, personal losses, and everything else. I’m not saying it will all be dark, but I want it to be real!
What else do you have cooking with the band? What is the outlook for the future?
Well, one exciting thing that came out of nowhere is a movie in the works! Richard Blade is a DJ from KROQ here in Los Angeles, and he wrote a book called “World In My Eyes.” That book has been optioned by a producer and a writer. They decided they wanted to make the movie about a part of his book, our romance. Our “rock and roll nightmare,” as they call it! [laughs] It’s true! Our story together has got all the elements, good and bad! They want to call the movie “No More Words.”
Wow! WIll you have any creative input into the project?
Yeah! They are bringing me on as executive producer. It’s fun! I’ve never done a movie before.
That’s terrific news. I love seeing you taking on new challenges! As we chat today, we will only scratch the surface of your life and times. Any chance we might one day see an autobiography from you?
Yes. [laughs] And that’s all I’m saying! [laughs]
I’ll take it! [laughs] I’m sure you’ll have much to discuss, so I can’t wait to catch you on the other side of the process. Let’s change gears and discuss Berlin’s “Strings Attached” box set. It’s a phenomenal work that brings new life to your classic tracks. How difficult was that one to pull off?
I had never done an album with a philharmonic orchestra before, so I had a lot to learn. Initially, I thought, “Are we going to be in a room with 60 people for 6 weeks making this stuff?!!” [laughs] No! The writer, composer, and conductor create the parts, and it is compiled in a studio on a computer. All of these parts are happening in a room with us and a computer. So, we get together, try stuff and throw stuff out. Then, we brought the finished parts, the sheets, to the philharmonic orchestra, and they played it. It was a fantastic experience, and I didn’t know you could do that! I should’ve known, but that was entirely new for me. I thought it was really great!
There was a big moment for you recently when you reconnected with Sisters of Mercy after 30 years. Tell us a little about what was going through your head leading up to that and how it all went down.
So, I didn’t see Andrew Eldritch of Sisters of Mercy until we walked onto the stage! [laughs] He didn’t come to soundcheck; he doesn’t do that. Two guys in his band that I had connected with did the soundcheck and ran the song I was doing with them, which Andrew asked me to do. The song was Ofra Haza’s “Temple of Love.” She was absolutely phenomenal on that song, and I don’t sound anything like her. Andrew said, “That’s alright. Do it as you would do it.” Okay! [laughs] So, I worked it out and did it with the band, and Andrew was nowhere to be found. Literally, we were walking on for the encore, and he was there. He said, “This is going to be great!” as he walked by me and onto the stage! [laughs] The band said, “We don’t look at Andrew unless he looks at us. We don’t interact with him on stage unless he does with us.” I was like, “Fuck that!” [laughs] I walked right up to him and threw my arms around him! It had been 30 years since we had connected, and he took it. We did the song. Then I hugged him again and walked off. After the show, we connected, and I said some things that I had wanted to say for a long time, and he heard them. Then he said some things. It was great. Time really does heal everything. Not that we had big wounds or anything, but we had lost connection, and we had a hit 30 years ago with “Under The Gun” in the UK. It was just nice to see him again and tell him I love him.
That’s amazing! And what a great moment to have caught on tape. I watched it this morning as I was prepping to talk to you. Knowing what I know, I can’t wait to see it again in a new light! You’re about to hit the road once again for a tour with Boy George and Culture Club. He’s another iconic figure. How did the two of you cross paths initially?
We played together in the early 2000s for the first time. It was an amphitheater out here in California but nothing after that until last year. We did a couple of couple of shows and then a few more this year, and they went incredibly well! We all really liked each other, so it all fell into place. I really like their show! Boy George is a really nice guy and a lot different than he was in the early 2000s. I don’t know what was going on with him then, but he’s much more approachable and friendly. He’s genuinely a good guy. It’s a privilege for me to play with Culture Club and Howard Jones because they’re such iconic artists. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event for me!
Tours like these take you to a lot of unique venues and audiences around the world. What do you consider the high water mark when it comes to your performances with BERLIN?
For me, it’s a lot about the events. That’s why I really like doing concerts and tours with other bands because for me they are events! I get to be a fan, and I get to be a performer at the same time. Like the US Festival, that one stands out because of the lineup. You had Bowie, U2, Stevie Nicks, Joe Walsh, and The Pretenders all in one day! What?!! [laughs] Cruel World is a great example as well. You had Souixsie, Morrisey, Bauhaus, Gary Numan, John Lydon of P.I.L, come on! That’s incredible! Those are really the ones that stand out the most for me. Getting to have that concert experience in both directions is really special.
The US Festival just celebrated a big anniversary as well.
Yeah, 40 years!
The US Festival had such a significant impact on those who attended. What do you remember about your time there?
I remember looking out, and this hasn’t happened again since, and there was no end to the people. You couldn’t see the back row. They literally went over the horizon. It was out on dirt, so they just plopped down this one stage, and the people just kept going over the horizon. It was incredible. I also remember that I forgot my panties. I was on stage and, luckily, it was a longer dress. It was down to my knees, but during “Sex (I’m A),” when I was doing the show with John, I got down between his legs, and I was kicking my feet up. Luckily, my feet were facing the back of the stage, so the audience didn’t see that I was wearing no panties, but a photographer did. He took a picture of that! So, I was doing my show and saw my manager run across the back of the stage and grab the photographer and his camera! He said, “I’ll take that; thank you!” because he saw it too! [laughs] I was so excited I hadn’t finished my outfit! [laughs] It was all just so exciting!
You incorporate some awesome cover songs in your live sets. What Speaks to you about the songs you cover and what might be in store for us in the near future?
One of the songs we are doing right now that people enjoy is a cover of The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary.” It’s such a great tune. It really is. I remember taking ecstasy one night, and that song came on. When the song powered down into that chorus, it was like, “BOOM!” [laughs] All of a sudden, I am on, like, “Wooooooooooow!” So, whenever we play that song, I get to go back to that feeling. It just has that feeling, and the band loves playing it. It’s all about feeling!
You’re an artist with a solid connection to your fanbase. What has that experience been like for you?
It’s so exciting to be directly connected with them via social media. If that had been going on as a teenager, I would have been stalking Bowie! [laughs] I mean, if I knew that there was a possibility that he would read what I wanted to say, you couldn’t tear me away, and that’s happening now! There is a direct connection! People contact me via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I see a lot of it; not everything because I am on the road and working, but I do see quite a bit of it and can respond. There is a direct line now. Getting to hear that directly from people who care about the band or like the band for whatever reason is something I really love. You also hear from people who don’t like the band; we get that too! [laughs] I really love that the line is open!
BERLIN’s ‘Pleasure Victim’ album also celebrated its 40th anniversary earlier this year. What springs to mind when you think about creating that album, and what does it mean to you all these years later?
Wow! Yeah, that’s right! Ya know, there was such a freshness to everything. That’s something I work on cultivating. Whenever I think, “Oh, I’ve done it all.” Well, no, I haven’t. There is always new stuff that keeps coming up. Whether it’s a new concert, festival, or tour like the one with Culture Club and Howard Jones, these are all new, fresh things in my life. When I think of ‘Pleasure Victim,’ I think of that time when everything was new and fresh. I had never done an album before or toured an album before! Everything was really new. How exciting is that to go out there and try it! Nobody knows what they’re doing. Nobody! We’re all just trying it wherever we are! [laughs] We fail, and it’s like, “Okay. No problem. Try something else!”
As I said earlier, we are only scratching the surface today, so I have one more question before I let you go. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
Do what you love because none of it would have mattered. If we were successful or not, if we didn’t love it, none of it would have mattered. I’m fortunate to still love music so much, and it’s still interesting. The kind of music that I picked to pursue is interesting to me. It’s electronic, so you can have any sound you want. It keeps the palette completely endless. So, really do go after what you love to do because, whatever you pick, it will be challenging at times. It’s better to pursue something hard that you love than something you don’t love anyway.
Terri, I couldn’t be more excited for you and all you have going on creatively. I can’t wait to cross paths again to see where it all has led!
I appreciate it! Thank you for your time. I really enjoyed your interview. Thanks for having me!
THE LETTING IT GO SHOW 2023 TOUR DATES:
Thu Jul 13 – West Palm Beach, FL – iTHINK Financial Amphitheatre
Sat Jul 15 – Tampa, FL – MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre
Sun Jul 16 – Jacksonville, FL – Daily’s Place Amphitheatre
Tue Jul 18 – Atlanta, GA – Cadence Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park
Wed Jul 19 – Charlotte, NC – PNC Music Pavilion
Thu Jul 20 – Nashville, TN – Ascend Amphitheater
Sat Jul 22 – Bethel, NY – Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
Sun Jul 23 – Wantagh, NY – Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theatre
Tue Jul 25 – Mansfield, MA – Xfinity Center
Wed Jul 26 – Holmdel, NJ – PNC Bank Arts Center
Fri Jul 28 – Bristow, VA – Jiffy Lube Live
Sat Jul 29 – Darien Center, NY – Darien Lake Amphitheater
Sun Jul 30 – Philadelphia, PA – TD Pavilion at the Mann
Tue Aug 01 – Toronto, ON – Budweiser Stage
Thu Aug 03 – Tinley Park, IL – Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
Fri Aug 04 – Clarkston, MI – Pine Knob Music Theatre
Sat Aug 05 – Cincinnati, OH – Riverbend Music Center
Tue Aug 08 – Kansas City, MO – Starlight Theatre
Thu Aug 10 – Dallas, TX – Dos Equis Pavilion
Fri Aug 11 – The Woodlands, TX – Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
Sat Aug 12 – Austin, TX – Germania Insurance Amphitheater
Mon Aug 14 – Rogers, AR – Walmart AMP
Fri Aug 18 – Phoenix, AZ – Talking Stick Resort Amphitheatre
Sat Aug 19 – San Diego, CA – North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre
Sun Aug 20 – Concord, CA – Concord Pavilion
Tickets on-sale now here: Click Here!
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