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Posted January 18, 2018 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Terri Nunn: Back to Berlin’s Beginnings

Berlin
Berlin

New Wave band Berlin issued its first single, “A Matter of Time,” in early 1979 on Zone-H Records. As the group struggled to find a record label willing to sign it, singer Terri Nunn pursued an acting career (and reportedly turned down a part on Dallas). She’d return to the band, which, thanks to the success of the sultry hit “Sex (I’m a…),” would go to become a huge success. Recently, she and original members bassist John Crawford and guitarist David Diamond, reconvened to start touring and working on new tunes together. We spoke to Nunn via phone from her L.A. home.

Talk about how the band formed.
I answered an ad that John Crawford, who wound up being my partner for 13 years, put in through the Musicians Contact Service in Hollywood in 1979. You looked through who was looking for who. They had an ad in there that said they were unique. They absolutely were. There wasn’t anything going on in America that was like what they were doing. It was electronic and had synthesizers. I thought it was great. He sent me a tape. Remember cassette tapes? He sent me one of those with their music, and I thought it was awesome. I auditioned and joined the band. I was based in L.A., but they were based in Orange County.

How instrumental was KROQ in turning “Sex (I’m a…)” into a hit?
It changed the whole game for us. Our first single wasn’t “Sex (I’m a…).” It was either “The Metro” or “Tell Me Why” that they started playing there. We gave it to a DJ by the named of Richard Blade. He was doing graveyard shift at another station. He was knocking on the door at KROQ and they gave him a weekend when their DJs went to Hawaii for a promo event. He took over, and they liked him. He brought our single over. He played it, and they played it a bit. But when we finished “Sex (I’m a)” and gave it to them, that exploded. All the record labels that didn’t like us had said, “We don’t get it, and you need to go sell shoes or something.” They came back to us. They said, “You just sold 25,000 copies in a month. We think you’re great.” Then, it became a bidding war. It turned around from us being scum of the earth to the next best thing.

What inspired the tune?
It’s about my boyfriend at the time. We were in a rut sexually. I was trying to get him to role play and one day, he said, “Terri, I’m not a pirate and I’m not a burglar. I’m just a man, and I like normal man stuff.” That’s what I did. I wrote the chorus, “I’m a man, I’m a man, I’m a man.” I liked playing different roles. It was about our relationship but that had never been said in a song before. People were up in arms about it. It was fun. We sent it to KROQ because they liked either weird or sexual. We wanted to get played on KROQ and we wanted to do something sexy.

That was before Madonna.
Yes. She was a member of our fan club. We had a club called the Masquerade. Mike Crown, the guy who ran the club, ran into her in line for one of the shows were doing and then later realized who she was.

Did disagreements over “Take My Breath Away” cause the band to split up?
No. it was something more that was a problem for everybody for different reasons. We were imploding. We were splitting up anyway. That was the third tour. We weren’t talking anymore. We disagreed on where the band should go and how we should get there. We were tired, really. That was the main reason. If we had taken a break we could have kept going. We had no idea about balance and having a normal life and the record label didn’t want us to have a normal life. Now, looking back, we should have said no. We should have had a manager who said no but the manager was also making money.

It’s one of the reasons that the record industry preys on kids and signs kids. It’s easy to push them around. We were scared so we did what they wanted but we kind of imploded.

I like that song, even though it’s a departure.
Thanks. I do too. I love Giorgio Moroder. We were so thrilled. Initially, it was just one song we got to do with him. He had worked with Bowie and Blondie and Donna Summer. We didn’t have a hit yet when he worked with us. He did one song and it became a hit, of course. “No More Words” was the first time we worked with him. Luckily, we were in the room when he got the job with Top Gun. He didn’t offer us the song at all. I don’t even think we were fourth or fifth choice. We had no hits. We were an underground band that was just known on the West Coast at that point. Paramount approached a few big stars for the song, but didn’t like them. He finally said,“I’m working with this new band. They don’t have a hit yet but they’re up-and-coming and they have a girl singer. Want to try them out on it?” We got lucky.

What made you want to relaunch the band with a different lineup in 1997?
I was inspired by what was going on electronically. When it fell apart, I didn’t know where to take Berlin or what to do to keep it fresh, so we didn’t do anything. From when we split up in 1987 to 1997, we had industrial and electronic and ambient. There were so many different directions that electronic music went that inspired me. I loved that, and I thought I could do something with it. Again, it happened right before Animal. I got inspired by EDM. I was doing a radio show, and I was the electronic girl. EDM was to me one of the most exciting new music going on. It’s sexy and different and exciting. There’s so much to it. It inspired me to write “Animal” and that whole album. I just loved what was going on.

I like the music video you did for “Animal.” Talk about the concept.
There’s a funny story. The thought I had was to meet some hot girl in a dance place whatever that is. She’s gorgeous, and you find out at the end of the video that she’s a man. The director loved the idea, but I wanted to ask Raven, whom I met judging RuPaul’s Drag Race, and is amazing as a man and woman.  He’s just great, but when he showed up he was so over the top . . . there was no way you’d think it was a girl. He had padding and big ass lips and huge hair. I told the director to tell him to tone it down a little bit so we could make it seem like it’s a surprise. The director asked him to do that. He said, “I am toned down. This is toned down.” The deal was blown. We decided to shoot it anyway. It’s still very sexy.

You and the original members began working on new material together in 2016. What was that like?
It’s happening. We got a record deal through Deep Well Records with the Capitol label. We’ll begin recording in February. It’s the original Berlin team. It’s exciting. It came out of nowhere. I didn’t expect it all. We got together talking because John was going through a bad divorce. I’ve been through that. He needed a shoulder to cry on. David Diamond came in because he’s also a friend of John’s. We got creative and really liked it. That started to develop and now we have Deep Well behind us.


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.