Terri Nunn will take your breath away this summer as Berlin hits the road

Christine Fitzgerald 25 Min Read
25 Min Read
Terri Nunn
Photo by Louis Rodiger

If you love music, this is the summer for you. Among the many artists taking their talents on the road this season is Terri Nunn.

Terri and her band Berlin are joining 80s legends Howard Jones and Culture Club for The Letting It Go Show. The tour kicks off its 25-city run on Thursday, July 13 in West Palm Beach, Florida at iTHINK Financial Amphitheatre, with stops across North America in Atlanta, Nashville, Toronto, Chicago, Austin and more before wrapping up at the legendary Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles for two shows on August 25 and 26. .

Terri began her career as an actress, appearing on TV shows including James at 15 and Lou Grant and the 1970s disco movie Thank God It’s Friday. She went on to be a co-founder of Berlin with bassist John Crawford and keyboard player David Diamond. The band exploded on the scene and introduced the world to their infectious electro-pop sound with the release of their 1982 EP, Pleasure Victim.

Terri Nunn
Photo by Josephine Piano

Thanks to the success of songs such as “Sex (I’m A),” “The Metro,” and “Masquerade,” the band cemented itself in pop history. “Take My Breath Away” (from the Top Gun soundtrack) was a number-one international hit and received both the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1986. Berlin’s discography has achieved twelve gold and platinum album awards and Terri was named 11th on VH1.com’s “100 Greatest Women in Rock.” 

We had the chance to talk to Terri about her career, how a VH1 show got the band back together and, of course, her stint as a mentor and judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race in our exclusive interview. 

You did a lot of acting before you got into music. Why did you make that move?

I wanted to be a singer since I was three years old but I wanted it so much that it scared me. I was afraid to try it because if I failed I would be devastated, so I tried other things – and I actually was able to make a living doing some acting in television. But then this show called Dallas came along and I guess the producers had seen some of my previous work already, so they didn't audition me. They just said, “Here's the contract. Do you want to do this part in this new series?” And it was a seven-year contract and I was 17 and I thought, oh shit, you know, if I sign this contract, I'm not going to get to try this music thing. It was the part that Charlene Tilton eventually took.

So, I went home to my mom and I said, “Mom, what do you think?” And she said, “Well, Terri, If you really want to try this music thing, then you probably should, you know, because you're always going to regret that you didn't try it.” So, I told my agent and she was so pissed, she dropped me instantly. She was like, “Are you out of your fucking mind? This is going to be a big show and you're not going to do it.” So, I had no agent and my manager heard about it and he dropped me too. I had nothing. I laugh about it now but at the time I was like, okay, I guess I might as well try it, you know? So, I did, and it took me a year to meet John Crawford and the reason that I went back into acting, he and I started working together and I loved the band, but then we both had a problem with the guy who was funding it at the time, and it fell apart. And then I needed money, you know, I needed a job. I'd run out of money. I wasn't making money from Berlin. We were just playing clubs that long ago. I had some money saved, but then that was gone. So, I went back into doing some television to make some money, and then John came back to me.

We broke up in 1981. He came to me the end of 81 and said, “You know, I have these songs and I just think we had something. And I would love to, just you and me, maybe try to record these songs.” They were “The Metro” and “Tell Me Why.” We hadn't written “Sex (I’m a)” yet. That came later. But they were the nucleus of Pleasure Victim. So, we recorded those songs and wow, things really started to change at that point for us and for Berlin. So, I was able to work full-time with John.

Terri Nunn and Berlin
Photo by Louis Rodiger

Who has influenced you musically?

You know, I just saw this on a TV show a couple of days ago, and I'm trying to remember what it was, but the person said that people have let me down, but music has never let me down. And that I felt too, growing up, because we were a family who moved a lot, we didn't have a lot of money. And my mother, instead of, you know, constantly cleaning after two kids, we would just move. So, the problem with that, for me personally, is I couldn't develop any friendships that lasted. They were always new people. I kind of went into myself and music was always there for me. I had my records and I would come home from school after eating alone in the cafeteria or wherever it was and listen to music.

I learned so much from it and it fulfilled me. At that time, it was everyone from the Beatles to Jefferson Airplane, Grace Slick to, you know, going into the seventies, David Bowie and the New York Dolls and T Rex, Pink Floyd, you know, these were my friends. And we had a record store for a short period of time before all the big chains happened. We were a Mom and Pop record store, and I would run the cash register. I was eight years old and I would run the cash register and check people out, and I got to be there after school and play anything in the store that I wanted because we had to have music going.

I got to hear all of the new stuff that was happening right when it was happening. I remember when Sgt. Pepper came out, we had the record store and there was a line literally around the block to buy that album. You know, we kept selling out. We kept having to buy more, and it kept selling out, you know, so it was a really exciting time musically.

Terri Nunn
Photo by Erica Vincent

I just watched Bands Reunited in anticipation of this interview did that have any impact on the trajectory of Berlin?

It was huge. It changed everything because before Bands Reunited, I had not spoken to John in seven years. We had a falling out. We tried in the 90s to work together again. We had a falling out. We didn't agree. He kind of wanted to go on with Berlin without me, and that really hurt and I kind of took over Berlin. I bought the rights to the name, and that really hurt him.

Anyway, we separated and after seven years, how do I say this? I not only missed him, I just wanted to thank him for everything that we'd gone through together. I mean, the music that we created initially was making a college education fund for my kids. You know, I mean it, we had something so great together and I was sad that we weren't connected anymore, and so Bands Reunited came along and it's like out of nowhere that show put us back together.

When they came to me and said, do you think John will do this? I said, probably not. He's not even in music anymore. He was doing a completely different job and career out of music and I didn't know if he wanted to see me or talk to me, and he did. And we reconnected. I remember walking into the room and I walked by him. He didn't look like John and I walked by him into the studio and from behind me he said, “Terri, hi, it's John, it's me, John.” And I turned around and he put his arms out and I started to cry and it was such a blessing. Richard Blade was the producer and creator of that show and he was a DJ from K-Rock from a long time ago. Thank God he did that because John and I reconnected and that's probably the only reason that the nucleus of Berlin is back together is because of that show.

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Was it hard being the only woman in a band?

I like guys. My husband says I'm a guy on a girl's body sometimes. I just like working with guys. They're easy, you know. What you see is what you get. They don't play games. I love being a woman and I love women as friends, but working sometimes together, girls are harder to get. Like, if something's wrong, you ask “What's wrong?” And they say, “Oh, nothing”. And you're like, oh God, now I’ve got to fucking figure this out. And guys are not like that. There are definitely a lot less women in music. But for me, that was okay. I find it easier to work with men and so it wasn't that hard for me.

Now you are touring with some of my other favorite 80s acts, Culture Club and Howard Jones. What is it like for you being an eighties icon?

You never know how long you're going to get in a band. I mean, you look at the Beatles and they sold the publishing to their music because they didn't think that it would be any longer than maybe 10 years that those pop songs would be popular. And, you know, all of us feel like you have no idea how long you're going to get. So, I think besides the huge gratitude that I get to feel now all the time to get to do this at all, still with the two other band members, John Crawford and David Diamond, that we started the band together and now we're getting to play again together. It's being in it this long, we celebrated over 40 years recently of Berlin. It's like, if you're in it long enough, you get a different kind of respect that you didn't have before. So, that's really wonderful.

I thought in my twenties that I knew everything, and why aren't I getting that respect now? Well, now I know why. I mean, I had a few things going for me, but, you know, I had a lot to learn and I didn't know that yet. So, yeah, it's really wonderful to know more, to be more relaxed in life, being older, just generally, you know. To not feel so in competition with everybody else and just be able to appreciate each other. And I think that's one reason that Culture Club called us for this tour because we just recently did a few shows with them and they went really well. Everybody got along so well and the shows did so well, and it's just so nice to be at this place in my musical life.

Terri Nunn
Photo by Erica Vincent

You have so many hits and so many songs that probably mean so much to you. What is your favorite song to perform live?

I think “The Metro” because that song to me, it never gets old. When we first wrote that song and it finished it, it was like, okay, that's what Berlin is, because didn't know yet what Berlin is. We knew we wanted to do this kind of music, but what is our style of this music? You know, it, there's a lot of floundering around in the beginning, you know, writing stuff and trying stuff and things not working or not being feeling us or whatever. It took a while and, and when “Metro” happened, it was like, that's it. You know? We found our identity because it was dark, it was weird. It didn't sound like anybody else. It was intelligent. John wrote those lyrics. It was just an intelligent song and it was sad and it was emotional and it was deep and it was everything about it I loved, and I'm still not tired of that song. And when we play it, people explode. They lose their shit. There's something about that song that people relate to and I'm so happy about that because I did immediately.

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You were on one of my all-time favorite episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race (the rocker chick challenge from season 2). What was that experience like?

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Wow. Okay, I'll just come up with a few things that come up to me now because it was a huge experience. I think what really struck me immediately was RuPaul because he was so interested in everybody, he was right there with you and I meet a lot of artists and performers and I expect them to be into themselves. They're selling themselves. They're promoting themselves. They're using themselves as a vehicle for whatever message they're doing. So, I see a lot of that, but he was not only brilliant and intelligent, but interested in everyone around him and, I felt his attention and his focus on me and that was, well, wow.

I remember feeling that about Dolly Parton too. We did one of her shows and she walked in with those boobs and I was like, I mean, it was like, whoa. But then behind the boobs is this person, and she blew me away even more than the chest. She was just so interested and friendly and warm and knowledgeable about my band, my little band, you know?

Those kind of people are few and far between in the entertainment world. So he was first and then…these queens. You know, I've been a woman my whole life and I'm constantly like, I don't wanna fucking put my makeup on today. I don't wanna get dressed up. I'm so over this. And these guys love it so much. They are so into every single detail and perfect and they revel in it, and they made me a better woman just watching them love it and do it. I was inspired by these queens and most inspired by Raven, who you probably know, I hired later to star in my video for “Animal”, because he was amazing as a man and a woman I wanted in both ways. He made me wanna be gay when he was a woman. He made me want him when he was a man. He was just a star. And what a, what a guy, what a woman, what a everything. So, yeah, I was so honored to get to coach all of them, but especially him. And then he came out as me at the end of a show and I didn't know that was coming and he was nastier than I'd ever been. He wore this skirt that was halfway up his ass and I was like, oh man!  It was great. He’s a star, Raven's a star.

Terri Nunn
Photo by Louis Rodiger

You've done so much, you've done radio, you've done music and acting. Is there anything that you haven't done yet that you still want to tackle? Would you want to write a book?

Well, it's funny you should ask that because out of nowhere, there is a movie in development about us. A producer and writer optioned Richard Blade's book World in My Eyes and they've decided that they want the story to be about the rock and roll nightmare of our relationship. That is the movie and it's going to be called No More Words. That, I'm very excited to see because, I mean, our story has everything you could ever want – bad and good happened with us and yeah, I do get asked a lot about a book and that will happen before I leave this earth. Yes. I'll tell the story. There's a lot.

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Terri Nunn Answers the Socialite Seven

Who has had the biggest influence on you?

My mother. Her philosophy changed my life, changed a lot of people's lives.

Who would your fans be surprised that you are a fan of musically?

Okay, because I'm even surprised by this. I hated them when they came out. It was way too pop for me. It was not deep, but I now get how good their songs are. ABBA. I gotta give 'em props. Those are good songs. I don't know if I'm a fan, but I'm definitely an admirer of their music now.

What talent or superpower would you like to wake up with in the morning?

The ability to be aware and accept everything that happens without judgment or fear.

What are three things you can't live without?

Love, my family and my friends. 

Terri Nunn
Photo by Erica Vincent

Who would you want to play you in your biopic?

They're looking at a few actresses that I like. Julia Garner, the lady that was in Ozark, the blonde. Florence Pugh is also very interesting to me. She would do a good Terri Nunn, you know, you need an intense person. Oh, and that lady that was in the chess movie, what was her name? Anna Taylor Joy. She's really cool too. She could do it. Julia Garner was off the table they told me because she was going to be Madonna but then that movie fell apart. So, she's also back in the running for it.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment?

Being a better mom – and I thank COVID for that because I'm embarrassed to say that before COVID, I didn't realize my daughter – she was 16 at the time – I didn't realize she was depressed because I wasn't home. And COVID grounded me and gave me a relationship back with my daughter because we could talk and we could be together, and she could tell me what she was going through and when I asked if she would like help and therapy, she said, yeah, and she's so much better now. So, thank you, COVID. I would never wish that on anyone. I lost a family member from it, but the gift it gave me was being a better mom and being there for my daughter.

What is the best piece of advice you've been given?

The universe has benevolent. My mom said,” Terri, look back in your life. Has anything ever happened to you that wasn't immediately or ultimately for your greatest happiness and benefit?” and that sentence does prove that the universe has benevolent, so that helps me give up a lot of fear.

Bonus: Terri talks about her favorite acting roles.

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Catch Berlin, along with Culture Club and Howard Jones on The Letting It Go Show Tour this summer. Tickets are available here.  Follow Terri and Berlin on YouTube, Spotify, Facebook,Twitter, Instagram and on their website.

  


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