Interview with Terri Nunn of Berlin; talks about her love for electronica music, her career in music, and some of her faves

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Strong-willed and level-headed musician, Terri Nunn, is coming back in full force with her band Berlin and their new album, Animal. I was one of the first people that had the opportunity to chat with Terri, before the release of Animal, about her career in music, her turn as a radio host (which she still does), what she REALLY thinks of Berlin’s hit single from Top Gun, “Take My Breath Away,” and answers our popular “fun questions’ portion. The other singles audiences might also know her for are “Sex (I’m A…),” “The Metro,” “You Don’t Know,” “No More Words,” and “Masquerade.” Terri has also dabbled in acting, as well as providing backing vocals for the English rock band, The Sisters of Mercy.

Nunn is one of the original founding members of Berlin and the band has been dubbed as the number one electro-pop bands of all time. With the original members, Berlin released their first full-length studio album, Voyeur, in more than 15 years, releasing in 2002. Currently,  Berlin’s line-up of band members are:

Terri Nunn-Lead Singer and Vocals

Chris Olivas- Percussion

Carlton Bost- Guitar

Dave Schulz- Keyboards

Terri was a pleasure to chat with and her voice is soothing, as I mentioned to her on the phone, and she genuinely invested her time in wanting to know more about me and felt like long-lost friends catching up on old times. Berlin’s Animal hits shelves and online digital stores Tuesday, September 17. Pre-order and purchase yours HERE.

GGM: What was the recording process of Animal like? 

Terri: The recording process itself was really different for me because one of the guys I wrote most of the album with, Derek Cannavo; his set-up was so portable that we were able to do the stuff (vocals) in my house. That is incredible to me, because I don’t have a studio in my house. I’m not a studio person at all. I don’t love it, it’s a have-to for me, and I don’t care about technical gear. I don’t care about twiddling nobs, I just want to get in, sing my songs and get out. For me, the exciting part of music is the live experience, it’s the concert experience. That’s why I do this. I love it; it’s fun, it’s exciting, people are connecting, it’s very communal and we get out of our heads, and we dance, and we freak out and we have fun. For me, that’s the orgasm of my job. So, the fact that I didn’t have to go anywhere or be in a studio with no windows and sit around while people twiddle nobs, this was just incredible to me. That he could bring the equipment to me, and it was so portable and it sounds just as good as anything I ever did in an airless studio.

GGM: Were there any particular influences or are there any surprises in store for longtime fans of yours?

Terri: They can expect to hear the Berlin they know, but there’s also a whole new toy box of stuff that I find really exciting in electronic music. It’s a lot of what’s going on in EDM music, which to me is the new exciting wave. I haven’t felt this excited about music and what I’ve been hearing now, as when I first started hearing bands like Kraftwerk and Ultravox; when I met John and he opened me up to this world that was going on in the late ’70s. I met John in 1979. It was so exciting to me because I hadn’t heard anything like that before, and now a couple of years ago when I first heard Skrillex, I’m hearing stuff that I’ve never heard before. I started to get excited, because this is something I like. I just love unique music. I love bands that try to be unique, not just good, but different than everybody else. To me, that’s what makes art so magical, because people can be something that has never been in existence before. That is what I hope people find in this, is both connection with the Berlin they already know and a new Berlin that they’ve never heard before.

Terri and I then chatted a bit about several other EDM bands like Wick-It The Instigator, Basshunter and more, and about how she became more exposed to those types of bands beginning in January of 2012. She also mentioned that they play that kind of music on her radio show, which can be listened to at KCN.org. 

GGM: Speaking of your radio show, what made you want to start your own show and get into radio?

Terri: I’ve always wanted to be a DJ, pretty much anywhere. I’m a DJ slut, any time a station asks me to be a guest DJ all these years, I live for that. When I was a kid, I loved music, I had no idea if I had any talent, so my idea was if I didn’t have any talent, then I would get a DJ job. I would be able to play other people’s music that I liked. That was my goal, and my direction. Luckily, I did have some talent to make my own good music, and I still always wanted to be a DJ because I love other people’s music, too. {laughs} I love turning people on to stuff that I think is great, so the fact that this guy, he had heard me on another show as a guest here in LA, and he started working at the station. He contacted me about possibly doing a slot here, and I was just absolutely beside myself. He gives me total freedom, and I can play whatever I want. His only parameters are no heavy or hard rock or rap, because it’s a triple A station. So, it’s adult album alternative music. Other than those two, he said play whatever you want to play, and Wooowww! That’s total freedom. It’s so cool!

GGM: You have been in the music industry for nearly three decades. What experiences have you learned from the most? 

Terri: One thing that I remember the most was hitting the wall in the early ’90s. I had left Berlin and I had done this solo album with Geffen, and I hit the wall. It was about not liking myself as a boss because I was all about making it, money, achievement, and there was no life in there. There was no friends or family, or love or anything that didn’t have to do with my career. Everything fell apart. It was…money doesn’t hug you at night, it’s not love; it’s a fun game, but I had no connection. That wall, when I hit it, was such a reality check that I pretty much just withdrew from the music scene entirely, because I needed a life. I had gone too far in that direction for so long, that I needed a life, and so that taught me in the very difficult, depressing and scary way that life is not about money and making it. Those are games that you can play, but it’s about connection.That’s where bliss lies, for me, and it had to be done. I had to create it. I had to learn how to do it to survive.

GGM: Do you think music has evolved for the good, and how so?

Terri: Oh yeah, absolutely! It’s awesome. I’m really fortunate because the music that I like keeps evolving into different directions and that’s good for me, because I still have a job which is great. But, it’s also to me, so endlessly fascinating, because the electronic direction that started in the late ’70s in Europe, and then we got going in the early ’80s (we were signed in ’82). What I love is that whole genre of music is so exciting to me, because it’s endlessly diverse. It never can come to the end of how many sounds you can make and what you can do with it. Where before that, I loved rock ‘n’ roll; I mean, it’s definitely passionate music and it got me into music to start with, but it’s limited in what it can do. Guitars only sound like guitars; you can get a different guitar, add a little effect to it, but it’s still a guitar. Same with piano, same with bass, same with drums. So, this whole thing was like “Oh no, now we’re going to change everything. Now we can make sounds that can do anything.” That morphed into the New Wave that we came in on, then it morphed into ambient, trance and industrial, rap music and hip-hop. They were using all of those tools, and now EDM music. It’s just all so exciting to me, all the different things that you can do with it. So, I would absolutely say that music is evolving for the better. I’m excited by it.

**Fun Questions**

GGM: What was your first album on CD, cassette and/or vinyl?

Terri: Yeah! All of it!

GGM: Your first album, of what you can remember purchasing…

Terri: Oh, my first album that I bought?…

GGM: Oh yeah…

Terri: It was an album and it was The Flying Nun {laughs}. You’re too young for that show…

GGM: Oh no, I remember it…

Terri: You do?

GGM: Yes, I do…

Terri: Oh my God…Sally Field, Sister Bertrill; that was her name on the show. I was, I don’t know, could’ve been 4 or 5, and I loved that show, and I bought The Flying Nun album.

GGM: That was your first CD?

Terri: No, they didn’t have CD’s then, it was vinyl. They didn’t have cassettes then yet. We’re talking about the late ’60s or mid-’60s, maybe? I don’t even know if they had 8-track at that point. I think they had 8-track in the late ’60s, because my brother had it in his Barracuda. 8-tracks where like the song would fade out and come back again {laughs}. That was awesome!

GGM: Do you remember your first album on CD or cassette?

Terri: On CD…I remember my first 45. That was Ringo Starr, “It Don’t Come Easy.” Remember that one?

Terri sings for me the lyrics:

Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues,
And you know it don’t come easy.
You don’t have to shout or leap about,
You can even play them easy.

GGM: I do now! 

Terri: I love that song!

GGM: You still do, don’t you? 

Terri: Yeah, great song!

Terri wanted to know what bands I grew up with and I told her I grew up on Bobby Vinton, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, Roy Orbison, Conway Twitty, Jim Reeves, Don Gibson…even though I’m young, I know my music. She then commented that I “do know a lot of music.” 

GGM: Now, I might date you even further back: Who was your first concert, and do you have a favorite? 

Terri: First was The Grateful Dead. That was the first concert I ever saw. It was awful. It was horrible. I wasn’t a Grateful Dead fan anyways. It was a date. I think I was 15 or something, and this guy and I were having our first date, and he had tickets to this thing. I went “Okay, let’s go see what a concert is.” So, he knew somebody in the crew or something, and we got backstage passes, and we watched some of the show. iI was so awful, I didn’t know any of the Grateful Dead songs, and I guess they only really had one hit anyway that anybody ever heard. So, all they did was start a song, then start jamming, jam, jam, jam. It was just horrible. I ended backstage in a piano cover, and I fell asleep in it, that was on the ground back there. I was so bored. Who woulda thunk it? That I would actually have made a career out of concerts, because for me, they’re just the whole ball of wax right there.

GGM: Concerts are so much fun, and if you see a great band, it’s almost like a religious experience.

Terri: Yeah!

GGM: Do you have a favorite concert? 

Terri: In my life? Lots! To me that’s a great reason to live. One that my husband and I still talk about to this day, and we didn’t even see more than 20 minutes of it. It was the tour that Marilyn Manson did with Hole, and we had been told by a lot of people…I like a lot of Marilyn Manson’s music….we had been told by a lot of people you got to see this guy, you’ve got to see this show. So, we went to see it, and Hole opened and they were good. I’ve always been a Courtney Love fan; she’s a good writer, and I like the band. But, then the show started, and to this day, I have never seen anything more exciting in my life, and it ended in 20 minutes. Manson, he fell off of a side cabinet; he went up on a PA cabinet, and he fell and he passed out or something on the stage, and the band’s still playing, but he’s not moving. So, everybody’s (because it’s such a theatrical show), thinking ‘is this part of the show?’ Nothing happened, and then the crew started coming up on stage, and they carried him off. The show ended. But, that 20 minutes…it started with a cross on the stage, it was on it’s back, and it was made of TV screens that were set to white noise. He was strapped to this cross, and the cross slowly rose up off the ground with him on it; with the TV screens all in white noise, and he’s all dressed in black, because the light is coming in behind him. That was the beginning of the song, and he’s singing on this cross.

He finished the song, he jumped off of the cross, and the cross blew up. Then, he did the next song, while the cross is in flames behind him, and then he came out again on stilts. So, he’s…I can’t even describe how high he was…they were really, really big stilts. So, he’s walking around, on stilts, singing his song and we’re just looking around, I mean our mouths were open, we couldn’t even talk. Even though it was only 20 minutes long, it was the best concert I have ever seen. Every single song was a different thing. Oh, then he was Hitler, and then the last song before he fell off the PA, he was Hitler…they brought out this podium, and they put this jacket on him that was a military thing, and he gets up on this podium, yelling at the people about the devil and Marilyn Manson stuff. That was great, and I think that’s when he fell of the stage and broke something. I don’t know. He’s a performer! I love theatrical, but I also know a great show is about connection. I’ve seen a lot of theatrical shows where the artist isn’t really connecting. It’s just about spectacle, and that doesn’t work either. It’s got to be a communication concert. I want to feel as an audience that they give a s***, that they’re standing in front of me; that it’s not just ‘oh, whatever USA,’ or ‘ I don’t care what city I’m in, I’m just doing my thing, and I just happen to be here.’ That’s not a great show to me. I want to feel that they care, and that it matters to them that we showed up.

GGM: What five bands or artists would you not want to live without? 

Terri: Okay, I would have to say that I can not live without…Nine Inch Nails, maybe I should just say Trent Reznor, because he’s done a lot of different projects, and pretty much everything I’ve really loved that he’s done, even the movie work. So, maybe I should just say Trent Reznor. What else? Hmmm…that I cannot live without?…

Goldfrapp. I love Alice in Goldfrapp. I think she’s one of the greatest talents going. When I have a party, I can’t get through the party without playing her, so I don’t think I want to be without her.

That’s two, what else…

I really love Metric right now. I don’t want to live without them right now. Everything I hear of them is so excellent. In fact, everything that speaks highly of them, is at my radio station at KC FM, there are many different shows. Nic Harcourt has a show, he’s an iconic DJ from KCROW, Jed the Fish from KROQ has a show there, and every single show, which is completely different, plays Metric. That speaks highly that their music speaks to so many different tastes. I notice that.

Let’s see, what else…

Berlin. I wouldn’t want to live without their music that I created and that I’ve co-created. That’s exciting to me.

Okay, one more…

Hmm…

My mother’s voice. I have to live without it now, because she’s gone. But, that sound, of her voice singing, it just…

Okay, I’m going to have to add another one…

My daughter. My daughter singing or laughing is the most beautiful music I can not live without it. It’s so beautiful to listen to it, that it’s music to me.

GGM: Do you ever get tired of hearing your single, “Take My Breath Away”?

Terri: No, I don’t. I admire that, too, just like everyone else does. It’s a beautiful creation, and I’m honored to have been a part of that. It reminds me of, every time I hear it, of where I was at the time. It wasn’t a good place. That honesty in my voice, I hear it every time, I know where it came from. It was loneliness, harping back to your other question, “What I learned from the most?” That was both the height of my achievement goal and the depth of my loneliness. I had nobody. At the time, I had been celibate for four years in my twenties. It’s hilarious, it’s pathetic, and so I sang that song from a position of lack. I can hear it in my voice. It’s this sadness in my voice, singing about this great love that I don’t have, and I have never really been able to sustain with anyone. So, when I hear that, and remember where I was, and where I am now, in a 15 year marriage with kids and a family; with love in my life, it’s such a memory and a reminder of where I could have gone. That I actually pulled myself out of that, and created a loving, real life for myself. That’s what I hear when I take that song.

GGM: Thanks so much for the interview, Terri! I enjoyed chatting with you! You have a fan for life. 

Terri: Thank you, Lindsey, and it’s nice meeting you. Thank you for having me on your site.

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Lindsey is an avid music enthusiast, and has worked in every capacity that music and entertainment have to offer. Because her parents had her young, she grew up on mostly '70s and '80s music, which was a staple in their household every day. She has interviewed a wide range of artists, actors and authors, including Lzzy Hale (Halestorm), Jake Kiszka (Greta Van Fleet), Beth Hall ("Mom," "Mad Men"), Chris McNally ("When Calls the Heart"), Anna Todd (After), among numerous others. Catch her on Instagram and Facebook @talentinborders.

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