Terri Nunn is the voice of the grossly underrated rock band Berlin. She has produced a crazy, large body of work from her time as an actress, to belting the signature song from the Tom Cruise, behemoth of a movie Top Gun. She has been keeping the Berlin fire warm touring with her own version of the band for some time. Terri has recently reunited with writing partner, and original Berlin member, John Crawford to record and tour behind a new album. She also took some time to sit down for a lengthy interview with RARA’S farm to discuss her acting career, the song that put the band on the map, and her love of Heart’s Ann Wilson.
When you first started out you actually wanted to be an actress kind of fell into music, can you talk about those early years?
Terri Nunn – “The TV thing I started doing in my teens. I got very lucky with it very fast, and the music thing, it was a hobby. The music thing really scared me because I wanted it so much, but I really didn’t have a lot of confidence like my idols; Grace Slick, Ann Wilson, and Stevie Nicks, and these women that I idolized, they were goddesses to me. And so the possibility that I could have any talent and make a living at it with the idea of failing was too devastating to even try it. So I tried other things and the television thing happened pretty fast.
“I got lucky in a number of different ways, while I was still in school. And I was singing in a bunch of different local bands, actually one was, crazy enough, called L.A., another city name for a band, and we did covers, it wasn’t much of an original band but they gave me a chance to sing with them, so I did. But I wasn’t serious about it yet.
“So then the TV show Dallas was casting, and the casting director knew me from previous shows she booked me on and she showed the producers my work, and I literally didn’t even have to audition. They brought me in, and asked if I wanted to do a part on the show, but I would have had to sign a contract for 7 years. So, I looked at this, and, at the time it was a hit show so nothing against the people, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do in that world at all, and I was even questioning whether I wanted to do television, or try this music thing. If I sign the contract, it’s gonna be this, and that’s my choice. There would be no music, cause with acting there are 18 hour days, and they tell you what to do, and when you’re not shooting you’re doing promo work and photo shoots.
“So I went home and told my mom my dilemma, and she said ‘you know Terri, if you don’t try this music thing you will regret it’, She didn’t know if I was any good, but she supported me. So I went back to my manager and my agent and said no, and they both dropped me instantaneously. My agent was like ‘Are you out of your fucking mind, do you have any idea what kind of offer this is?’ They decided that they didn’t want to rep me, so then I had nothing, but I had nothing to lose. So I gave myself a year, give it a try full blast, get something going that is real, and see if I can make a living. It was a year later to the month that I met John Crawford from Berlin and he gave me the job as singer with the band.”
Terri Nunn – “So I was full out on doing Berlin and had saved some money from television so I was able to sustain myself while I looked around. John and I got together with a third party who was funding us at the time. We had a falling out with him and I walked away, cause it wasn’t fun, and I didn’t like the way this guy was conducting himself. So I left, and I had nothing again, and went back to television and found another agent from a different company. She took me on, and I went back to acting, did shows like TJ Hooker, films like Thank God It’s Friday, and Time. After a while John came back to me and said ‘you know I thought you and I had something really good together, and what if we did some demos and tried to get a deal?’. And I said I would love to because then it was just John and I. And I had always respected John a lot. We did the demos, which then became Pleasure Victim.
“The major labels didn’t want us, they didn’t understand us at all, but there was a little label called Enigma Records that just started, and they signed Motley Crue and us at the same time as their first two signings. They really cleaned up, cause when our record took off, all the labels came back, with Geffen Records buying us out for quite a bit of money. Motley Crue also took off and they got bought out too. Alan Niven, our A&R guy, went on to manage Guns N Roses, all very talented people.”
Terri Nunn – “No….. not yet….. I mean…. There was one show that came along at the right time, I wasn’t touring, but I had the time. It was for MTV, and was called Kaya. It was about a young girl trying to make it in the business, and they wanted me to be a mean, ruthless, established singer who tries to lead her down the wrong path. It came at the right time, and I took it, but generally, no… It’s a craft, it’s something that you have to be on top of. You have to be good at it, and you have to work at it.”
You had a string of great records with Berlin including Pleasure Victim, and Love Life. You were approached with the song “Take My Breath Away”, when that song blew up, do you think that it hurt the band’s image in any way?
Terri Nunn – “No…I can’t blame the song… and it wasn’t the effect of the song. As a matter of fact, that song is the song that keeps on giving. Back then it opened up the world to us, we had only been successful in the United States, Australia, and Japan, but no one else was gettin it. No one was really into Berlin. Then that song came out and we could really do a tour internationally for the first time. It cracked open the entire world for us
“The split up was internal, it was John and I basically being exhausted and sick of each other, and sick of doing it. And not knowing enough to take a break and step away from it so we can have a normal life other than work. That’s what we should have done. What we did instead was say ‘Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you’ and blow apart. We are working together right now on a new album, which is unbelievable, but looking back it had nothing to do with outside forces. It was really just us being too young and dumb to know that we needed to communicate with each other, and listen to each other, and take breaks. The record label wasn’t going to tell us to take a break. They were all about riding the gravy train as long as it would run. They were all about keep working, and I don’t blame them, it’s a business, they want the money while the money is good.
“So, it was up to us and our team to say, ‘hey, they are tired, let’s just take a little time off and come back to it later. I do notice that the bigger bands do that, they are smart… work is great, but it’s not everything.”
And don’t forget that song won an Academy Award, which is a whole other level…
Terri Nunn – “Yes… and to this day people license it… I mean I just got asked to sing for Congress, which was new to me…. I’ve never been asked to sing for a government body, it was like ‘holy shit’ it was unbelievable.. I was terrified. I don’t really get scared any more because I’ve been doing this for three decades, but… Congress? What are they going to be like?”
How were you asked to sing for Congress?
Terri Nunn – “ASCAP does this thing every year for Congress where they bring in a singer and songwriter for a particular song. This time I was the singer, and Tom Whitlock was brought in as the songwriter. And then we perform the song that they know, and explain to the government body how it happened, and how we created it. It’s sponsored by ASCAP, and the point of it is to keep the importance and funding for music in schools, and wherever else it is needed flowing. It connects the government, and the people with the money, with the music. It shows them that it’s not a frivolous thing that you do when you’re out drinking, and it’s on. There is a connection with music that is so important to people… So I got asked to do this, this one year with that song, and it was absolutely fabulous.
“Those Congress guys were so much fun. They were rockin’, had their ties off, and dancing, and had fun. We have a good government, I really enjoyed being with them and meeting them, and it helped me too…. You always think, ‘Ah… these government people, they’re not for the little people, they are all about themselves, and the power, and all that bullshit we get told by the media sometimes is generally not true, there are some in the world that are really trying to do good.”
Terri Nunn – “Yes, it is a total connector, music is a total connector for me. There is a lot of social ineptness within a lot of musicians, and the way they compensate for it is to make music, it’s a way to connect, it’s a way to get laid, it’s a way to have people be interested in you, and enjoy something together. So… for me, that is really what it has done, and I have noticed it with a lot of people in music.”
You tackled EDM on the 2013 record Animal and had the chance to work with John King from the Dust Brothers, how did that come about?
Terri Nunn – “I think my manager at the time had some kind of relationship with the guy who repped John, and the guy who repped John said ‘Terri Nunn on the new Berlin album is looking for collaborators, would you be interested?’ and luckily John said yes. I’m a huge fan of Fight Club, and his Beck work, and his work with the Beastie Boys. That guy just has a vibe, and it’s so edgy and interesting, and so I was thrilled when he agreed to work with me.”
Did you make a conscious decision to sit down and make an electronic album with Animal and push the envelope of what a Berlin record sounds like?
Terri Nunn – “I fell in love with EDM when I got the radio show, when I was a DJ for two years, so I got to play anything I wanted. And electronic music at the time was killin’ it. For me, it is one of the greatest offshoots of music I have heard in a long time. It’s edgy… pumpin’, and just cool. So I was playing a lot of it on my show and thinking… What it was missing were words, and I wondered ‘what if I could add a message to this kind of vibe.’ So that was my goal, to add that EDM feeling, but to actually tell stories within that vibe.”
You talk about Stevie Nicks and Ann Wilson as early influences on your sound, who else influences you to make music?
Terri Nunn – “Certainly early on those were my influences and they got me going. They really made me feel that I wasn’t going crazy because early on when Ann Wilson came out, she had no competition. We really didn’t have a lot of female rock singers, she was one of a kind, and that was what I wanted, but I was in my teens and just didn’t hear any women tackling rock in a ballsy way that was just as fun and irreverent as the guys, it just wasn’t out there. Grace Slick had did it in the 60’s, and Janis Joplin… they call her a rock singer, but she was blues, and she could belt it… but I wanted to do rock music, I wanted to do that kind of passion, and aggressiveness and when I heard Ann Wilson do it I found the sound I was looking for. I thought ‘this is what we need in rock music, and I’m not crazy, she’s successful, she’s killin’ it, and I can do this.”
And now you’re working with John Crawford again, and recording new music together as Berlin. How different is it working with him now than how it was in the 80’s?
Terri Nunn – “It’s slower than it was then… We were 20 and had nothing else going on, there was no life other than the music and each other so everything was right now… what else were we going to do other than sleep and eat. But now… I’ve got a family and I’m playing a lot, he’s got a family and he’s got his other business… so it’s slower.”
“But what I love about it is that the ego’s are gone and we aren’t as scared anymore. We’re not trying to prove anything to each other anymore. We made it, so now there is more of an appreciation of the process and enjoying each success and achievement as we are doing it along the way, where before it was a constant go, get to the next thing… and it was so stressful…So I love this time because I enjoy all of it more. I’m more relaxed, which is a perk of getting older. I’m more comfortable in my own skin, I am more relaxed with myself. I’m a better boss to myself, a kinder person to myself and to others, so there is more enjoyment for the whole process. One of my biggest regrets is that we had all that time in the past, and we didn’t really enjoy it. Not taking the time to really notice it as it went by. All those great things just went by. And I wished I had honored them with appreciation during the times when they happened.”
What’s next for Terri Nunn and Berlin?
Terri Nunn – “John has committed to touring…..I really didn’t know if he would, his orgasm was always being in the studio. Mine was always being on stage, so it was a good partnership because we needed both and I hate the studio as a thing. To me, they are man caves that you are stuck in… they have a lot of stuff, and gear, and techy stuff…and I don’t care about it. I’ll just record and get out… For me the fun is in the concert experience and the connection with people, and being happy and dancing, and that whole wonderful party vibe of a concert is the best drug that I have ever had whether I am watching it, or doing it.
When he said that he would write with me again, I wasn’t expecting the touring part because he has never liked to tour. But his life is at a point where he can do it and he’s interested again. So… it’s gonna happen, but… no dates yet. He only committed to touring after the album comes out. We are currently smack dab in the middle of the recording process, and it sounds very Berlin.”
Berlin featuring Terri Nunn is playing the EPCOT center Garden Rocks Concert April 30 – May 1 in Orlando, FL.
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