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| 17 March 2016 | Reply


By Shane Pinnegar

Berlin Terri Nunn 03

Performing as part of the Totally ‘80s Australian tour this July alongside fellow hitmakers Martika, Katrina of The Waves, Men Without Hats, Stacey Q, Paul Lekakis, Real Life and Wa Wa Nee is Terri Nunn of Berlin. SHANE PINNEGAR has the story.

From influencing the entire electropop genre with 1981’s The Metro, to outraging prudes with their provocative 1982 single Sex (I’m A…) and soundtracking Tom Cruise in Top Gun with Take My Breath Away, Berlin were the cult pop rock band it was cool to like, and Nunn is looking forward to mixing their hits up with some new material from recent album Animal when they hit our shores in July.

“We’re going to play the hits and we’re going to play some songs from the new album, Animal,” the singer reveals, “and then if we can fit in, we’ll do some of the deeper cuts, the more obscure Berlin tracks.”

Often labelled as electropop or new wave, Berlin always appeared more rock than most of their contempories. Nunn says they always wanted to mix things up sonically.

“We had guitar, and that was important for us to have, but we were considered an electronic band and we did fashion ourselves after Ultravox and Kraftwerk. Those were the bands that John, my partner, turned me on to – John Crawford [bassist & chief songwriter]. We were together 13 years.

“Anyway, in the beginning, he was really excited about that sound, and when I heard his music, I was like, ‘wow, where did this come from?’ Because there was nothing like it going on and he turned me on to these bands in Europe and England and said, ‘this is the kind of idea I’m thinking about.’ He had the synthesizer, the Prophet V, and it’s really expensive, and he actually got hold of one.

“When we played with the other bands of the time, people were like, ‘what the fuck is that?’” she laughs. “We were playing with punk bands and power pop was big, like the Go-Go’s and The Motels, the punk bands like X, Oingo Boingo, we played with The Police. It was power pop and stuff and ska was happening at the time. But electronic music didn’t really get into vogue ‘til later, so it was hard for us in the beginning. People just really didn’t understand it.”

Berlin Terri Nunn 04

Nunn says that Berlin had a scary experience supporting punk Godfather Iggy Pop at one point.

“That was terrifying,” she deadpans. “Absolutely terrifying. We played with them at the time when [the crowd] were spitting. I don’t know if you remember the time that people were really into spitting at each other and at the band. [That started with] The Sex Pistols, and Iggy was right in the centre of that, so when we played with him, already we knew we were weird and people weren’t going to get it. On top of not getting it with us, we were like ‘oh, shit.’ Luckily, they didn’t hate us, but they weren’t too friendly – but they didn’t hate it, so that was a plus!”

The single and video for Sex (I’m A…) was banned by some radio and TV stations, but was it deliberately controversial?

“I knew that it had not been talked about in a song before,” Nunn explains. “That was stuff that girls talked about… stuff that I heard, so I thought that would be kind of cool to talk about it in a song, because girls do talk about that stuff.

“I was going through it at the time with my boyfriend – just trying to spice up our sex life because it was getting boring and well, maybe we can do some role-playing and make it more fun. He was like, ‘you know what? I am just a guy. I don’t want to be your pirate, be a burglar… I’m just a guy. I just like normal guy things.’ And so I wrote the song around that. It’s like, ‘he’s always just a guy. [sings:] ‘I’m a man, I’m a man, I’m a man.’’ I was all these different things. I just kind of imagined myself as jumping around and it’s like, ‘I’m this, I’m that and the other thing. And you’re just a guy.’”

It’s a song that definitely puts the female in the dominant role, taking charge in the bedroom and in the relationship. Was that adopted as an empowering thing by women around the world?

“It was – and I loved it!” Nunn exclaims. “That was one of my favourite things about that song. It was polarising. Either people loved it or they hated it. When they loved it, my favourite part was just seeing women on dance floors with their guys, singing the song to their guys and the guys just loving it. Because that’s every guy’s dream: a woman who’s going to be a geisha and a little girl and a porn star, whatever. It’s fun. It’s exciting and I loved watching the guys dance with their girls and just look at them, singing the song, loud and proud, and being all those things. That’s just awesome.”

From electropop hit makers, we fast forward a few years to the apotheosis of Berlin’s rock n’ roll spirit: the Count Three And Pray album, released in 1986 and featuring guest appearances from huge rockstars like Ted Nugent, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, and the legendary Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, KISS) co-producing. Working with these huge personalities from the rock world was a career highlight, Nunn says.

“It was pretty amazing, especially David Gilmour. He’s my favourite guitar player of all time. I have never had, to this day, an experience like I did listening to him play that day. He had, obviously, Ezrin had done Pink Floyd’s The Wall with him, so that’s why he even bothered to come play on our record. He didn’t know me at all or any of the guys. He came out – we were in England… excuse me, no we weren’t. He flew out to do it, we were back in L.A. at the time, so he flew out and Ezrin would just make a loop of whatever part he wanted Gilmour to put a solo over and he’d just play it forever. It would just loop and loop and loop for 20 minutes at a time. I think he did that probably three times and never played the same thing twice. I sat there, my mouth dropped open. I was like, ‘I’ll have your children – I will do anything for you if you will just stay in my life and do this forever!’

“It was so fucking amazing. Everything. I don’t even know how Ezrin picked his stuff, but he would just take the loop, he would take the 20 minutes of each one and splice it together into a solo.”

Berlin - Take My Breath Away

Don’t expect to hear the tapes anytime soon, though. Nunn doesn’t know what happened to them.

“I wish I just kept it all, yeah,” she says with no little regret. “That would have been pretty great.”
From Sex (I’m A…) through to Take My Breath Away, the video clips make it look like a hugely glamorous time for Berlin: hit records, glossy videos, high-profile collaborators. Nunn says he reality of the life they were living was somewhat different.

“I basically worked. It looks glamorous because that’s the way the record label wanted it to look. They take pictures of you in all different places and it’s like, ‘woo, I’m just living the high life.’

“But no, we were not living the high life. We were working our asses off and didn’t even have time to find our asses, let alone have any kind of life! I don’t blame the labels because they’re just riding the gravy train, and they’re working hard, too, and they don’t know how long it’s going to last, so they don’t give kids in bands any breaks. There’s no break. We’re too young and dumb to ask for a break because we don’t know how long it’s going to last, either. It might be over tomorrow. We’re so excited to even make a living at music that we didn’t stop.

“But the problem is,” she continues, “then we either take drugs and become addicts and kill ourselves, or we’re so tired and we need a break, and we just fight with each other and break up that way, which is what John and I did. We were so tired by the third tour, we hated each other. We hated everything. We hated the fans, we hated ourselves, we hated our lives.

“Looking back, all we really needed was some time off, and if we had that, we could have come back fresh and started anew. But we didn’t, so we just imploded. We fought and stopped speaking altogether and the whole thing fell apart.”

Berlin Terri Nunn 02

It’s a story I’ve heard countless times from bands: slipping into addiction or fighting and broke up because they just never had any breathing space because the record companies were pushing them so hard. It happened over and over again back in those days. Nunn might sound bitter about this mistreatment, but she emphasises that that is not the case.

“It’s business, and I wish that I had a manager who would have stood up to them and said, ‘wait – these kids need to go home and get a life.’ I didn’t have sex for four years, seriously. I did not have a relationship for about four years in that time. There was no time. I didn’t really want one night stands, and that’s all there really was time for.

“I wish I could tell you it was glamorous. It really wasn’t. It’s a lot of fucking work. Believe me, I’m grateful. I’m so grateful because that work has been the basis for an amazing career that has gone on from 1979 to now, with a little break in the ‘90s, but not much, and thank God. Who knew? But I’m not going to tell you it was easy or that it was fun or glamorous or we’re partying all the time. No, we weren’t.”

Nunn has repeatedly thanked her lucky stars in interviews over the years that Geffen were totally on board spending money on Berlin’s albums and investing in expensive video clips for the band. It really has been the basis for her to not be short of work all these years later.

“Yes, I agree with you. I mean David Geffen was an amazing man,” she states emphatically, “and we were smart enough, at least on that front, to take it because he didn’t offer the most money. He offered us three albums, instead of two albums. The others all offered two, but for more money. I’m glad we went with David because of his commitment, because he stuck with the band and created a foundation for us that has lasted to this day. That was David Geffen. I mean having a record label that stood by us for that many years, that’s a big deal. We were on Geffen for 11 years – that’s a long time!”

Animal was released in 2013 and it is again a canny blend of electronics and rock and roll.

“I do love electronics: I’m not going to make a record without them at this point,” she confesses. “I would never do a straight-ahead rock record. I’ve done straight-ahead rock with other people, as a guest, but my own thing, Berlin, I think, is electronic.

Berlin - Animal

“It’s funny you say that though, because a lot of people criticise Animal as being a little too rock. They think for EDM [Electronic dance music] it has too much guitar on it. That’s a valid point, but I like guitar, so the electronics on it are tempered with more guitar than you usually hear. I mean a lot of the electronic songs now on the radio – I hear them all the time because my daughter listens to it 24/7 – they don’t have any guitars. They don’t even really have any real drums. It’s all programmed and it’s all keys and loops. I don’t want to do that, either.”

TOTALLY ‘80s – Australian Tour 2016
Starring Berlin, Martika, Limahl, Katrina, Paul Lekakis, Stacey Q, Mean Without Hats, Wa Wa Nee, Real Life

Tuesday 12th July – BRISBANE Eatons Hill
Thursday 14th July – GOLD COAST Jupiters Theatre
Friday 15th July – MELBOURNE Palais Theatre
Saturday 16th July – SYDNEY Enmore Theatre
Sunday 17th July – CANBERRA Royal Theatre
Wednesday 20th July – PERTH Astor Theatre
Thursday 21st July – ADELAIDE The Gov
Friday 22nd July – HOBART Wrest Point

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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