Q+A: Terri Nunn
The Berlin singer tells Paul Kirkley about reuniting with her former bandmates and teases the group’s first new music in 35 years…
It’s 40 years since singer Terri Nunn joined songwriter John Crawford (bass, vocals) and David Diamond (keyboards) to form Orange Country new wave electro outfit Berlin. Raunchy single Sex (I’m A…) propelled their second album Pleasure Victim to success in 1983, and they scored their first Billboard Top 30 hit with No More Words, from 1984’s Love Life. Following Diamond’s departure, Berlin topped charts around the world with synth power ballad Take My Breath Away, written by Giorgio Moroder for the 1986 Tom Cruise-starrer Top Gun. A decade after the band’s 1987 split, Nunn reformed Berlin with a new line-up, but has now reunited with Crawford and Diamond for a new album, Transcendance.
This is the original trio’s first record since 1984. How did it come about?
Well, it wasn’t about music. John came to me because he was getting a divorce. It was a long marriage, over 20 years, three kids… It’s hard. And I’ve been through that, so he called me to get some support and advice. Then David’s partner of eight years left him around the same time. So the three of us held each other through that and, as we always did, we started throwing ideas around and playing music for each other. It just started happening again. When one door closes, another opens…
How has the band’s dynamic changed between then and now?
Speaking for myself, I’m no longer afraid all the time. I used to be afraid of everything. I was scared of people – of being caught out as a fraud, that I would lose this job, that I wouldn’t get to make music anymore. But now I’m enjoying my life. The ego is not so strong any more.
Transcendance’s title track is inspired by a very personal story, isn’t it?
My mom and I were very close, and when she was going through her passing in 2007, we talked about everything. I wanted her to describe what it was like. Then last year, her friend Judy went through the same process, and she said many of the same things my mother had told me. One thing she said, that changed my life, was: “Terri, this might be the most awesome adventure I’m ever going to have, and I’m kind of excited about it.” And I was like, “Oh my god, that’s what I want to feel like when the time comes.”
You and John have re-recorded your provocative 1983 duet Sex (I’m A…) for the album. Didn’t a priest once take out a TV advert to condemn you for that song?
It was the best thing that ever happened to us! He ran a local commercial in San Diego admonishing the community for having us play, because we had written this song and we were the Devil’s children. It was a 9,000-capacity venue and after the ad went out, it sold out in two hours.
The name Berlin alludes to the band’s love of European synth bands like Kraftwerk. As a kid growing up in California, did Europe feel exotic and strange?
It felt like the Holy Grail. That’s where we wanted to go. Europe – and England especially – had the music we wanted to be part of. It wasn’t really going on yet in the States. We wanted to be over there. We wanted to be you.
How would you describe your relationship with your biggest hit, Take My Breath Away?
That song is a gift that just keeps on giving. It just keeps going. It opened up the world to us. I mean, come on – this is just the most incredible song in my life. It won an Oscar! It’s got a life of its own.
John was less keen. Did the song contribute to Berlin’s 1987 break-up?
It wasn’t the reason, but it was kind of the nail in the coffin, I guess. We were already at odds about what to do with the band. We were tired. We should have just taken a break for a couple of months. So when Take My Breath Away came along, it was one more reason for John to say, “It’s not Berlin any more. It’s Giorgio Moroder.”
You and the guys are celebrating 40 years of Berlin. What’s your headline take on those four decades?
Gratitude. Pure and simple. I lost everything at one point to try this dream. I lost an acting career in my teens. They offered me a seven-year contract on Dallas – for Lucy, the role played by Charlene Tilton. When I said I wanted to try for a music career instead, my manager and my agent said, “Are you out of your fucking mind?”, and they dropped me. Everybody dropped me. But my mom said: “Terri, you’re going to regret it if you don’t try it – I’ll stick by you whatever you do.” I thought, okay, I’m going to give this music thing a year. And it was literally a year, almost to the day, that I joined Berlin.
A band is like a marriage: you hope it’ll last but you don’t know… my first one didn’t! So it’s incredible that we get to enjoy the ride for so long, and such a happy surprise that John and David came back into my life.