A zeptosecond may officially be the shortest unit of measure of time, but in reality, the shortest measure of time is 15 minutes with Berlin singer Terri Nunn. Within seconds, interviews with Terri stop being interviews and become conversations — case in point: when we interviewed Nunn in 2013, we talked about Berlin, but also talked about Devo, Prince, Giorgio Moroder, Andrew Eldritch, Kylie Minogue, Thompson Twins, The Psychedelic Furs, Trevor Horn, and Kraftwerk — but with only 15 minutes, one must stick to the script, as it were. In this instance, the script was discussing Berlin signing with August Day Records to make the playful and gorgeous orchestral album Strings Attached. Oh, and two core members of the original band have since returned to the fold. Terri Nunn and Berlin are in a very good place.
But before we begin, Terri has a question. A 100% in-character question.
Hey, before you record, are we allowed to curse? Because one interview I did this morning. I did. And I thought, uh oh, I didn’t ask.
You can say whatever you want. Speak your mind.
How have you been?
I’ve been really well. You probably don’t remember this, but we chatted seven years ago.
Yeah, I remember you. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about, but…
Wow, I’m flattered. You were promoting (Berlin’s 2013 album) Animal when we last spoke. Can you remember how you imagined the future of the band back then, and compare it to where you are now?
Oh boy. I had no idea that the band was going to get back together, that John (Crawford, Berlin’s founder, bassist, and principal songwriter) would be in the band, and (guitarist) David Diamond, yeah, I didn’t see that coming. And, I didn’t see (then-songwriting partner) Derek Cannavo leaving, either. The guy that I wrote most of Animal with, his name is Derek Cannavo, and I just loved our collaboration, I thought it was great. That was our biggest album in 20 years. So all of a sudden, we’re working on the next album, and he found God again. His dad was a priest — is a priest — in the Catholic Church, and that’s how he grew up. And he was trying to get into the music world, and we met, and then he was like, ”I can’t work with you anymore.” And he wasn’t mad at me, but he said, ”Berlin talks about sex, and talks about drugs, and talks about things that I really can’t be part of anymore, because I found the Lord again,” and he was gone. And I was like, ”Shit.” [Laughs] We were in the middle of making an album. Finding collaborators is hard. I wish I could say differently, and maybe other people find it easier, but I can count on one hand the great collaborations I’ve had, in my lifetime.
So then all of a sudden, John Crawford is back in my life, and David Diamond, and we start writing stuff, and honestly, I didn’t go after this. The reason (Crawford) came back in my life because he was getting a divorce. And he knew I had been through one, obviously. And he contacted me because this was a long marriage, he was in it for over 20 years and they have three kids.
Yeah, this is a big deal. So I helped him through that, and then David Diamond who I had already — we’d already been friends and kept in touch — his partner left him right around the same time. They had just bought a house, and his partner had an affair, and that fell apart. And so we’re all just kind of like group hugging, like, ”Shit. This sucks.” And helping each other through that, and in the process, working on music, because we just thought, ”Well, what do you do? What do you like? What do you know?” Because that’s how we always used to do when we’re together. And so everything started to pop, and (Berlin’s 2019 album) Transcendence is the result.
Strings Attached is a type of album that a few of your peers have done recently, and I wondered if you listened to any of them, if only to make a list of things you didn’t want to do with an orchestral album.[Laughs hard] Honestly, I didn’t. The reason that I signed on with J.P. (John Pitcher, owner of August Day Records) and August Day is because the times that I have sung with orchestras — three times in the past — have been transcendent for me. I cried the first time I heard my music played by an orchestra. I mean, it’s overwhelming, it’s just so great! And before that, I think, hearing Led Zeppelin’s ”Kashmir,” That’s what made me go, Oh my god.’ And I never considered my music in that category. But then, being invited to sing and do a few of my songs with orchestras, then it was like, ”God, even my stuff sounds better.” [Laughs] So then this came along, and I’m like, ”Where do I sign up? I’m totally in for this.” So that’s really how it happened. It was a gift.
When it came to assembling a list of songs to do for this record, I’m going to assume that ”Now It’s My Turn” was at the top of your list, since you could finally unleash the Bond theme that has always been lurking within that track all these years.
It’s funny you say that, because we’re working on the video right now, that’s the first single. Remember ”Goldfinger”?
So, like, at the beginning and the intro, how these dancing bodies that are in shadow, and they’re projecting patterns and words and images onto the bodies as they dance? That’s what we’re doing, we’ve taken that idea and running with it. So yeah, you caught on, it’s very James Bond-y. But you know what, actually, I did not have a say in what songs were chosen. Of course, our seven hits are on the record, but beyond that…
Really? How did you not have a say in that?
Because I love all our songs. I knew we’d do all the all the hits, but I didn’t know how much of a fan [J.P.] was, because he took songs from not only the first album, but all the way through to Transcendence. So it’s really quite a trajectory of Berlin’s musical history
Speaking of the song from your last record, ”On My Knees,” that fits in so well with the other songs that at first I thought it was a track from an earlier album that I had overlooked.
How was ”You Don’t Know” not a bigger hit? That’s a good tune, and the version here is gorgeous.
Thank you. It was [a hit] overseas. It was a single over there and it did pretty well, but for here, I don’t know. The record label here didn’t hear that as a single, so it wasn’t released here. We had two different record labels. We had Geffen here, and then overseas, it was Phonogram, and they had a completely different feeling about ”You Don’t Know.” They thought it was a worthy single so they put it out, and it did well. I agree with you. That’s one of my favorite songs of Berlin of all time.
Was everything re-recorded for this?
That’s really impressive, because I’m listening to the snare drum sounds in ”Like Flames” and comparing it to the album version, and you did a remarkable job of recreating those tracks.
Wow, thank you. You’re very detailed, aren’t you? You’re getting into the snare sound, wow.
It just had a very specific sound to it, and it doesn’t sound like most snare drums sound now. That’s what stood out to me. Their trying to replicate it made me wonder, well, they’re not using the original tracks. That wouldn’t work here, would it?[Laughs] Yeah, we don’t have them anymore.
I was going to ask if there was a song that just missed the cut, but you made it sound like someone else picked the tunes, so…no.
Yeah, I was just happy to be there, to be honest with you.
I also found it interesting that Count Three and Pray was represented five times on the album. I didn’t know if the band had reassessed the record…[Laughs hard]
…or what the decision was that that album was so well represented.
Is it, really? Okay, (starts naming tracks from the album) ”Will I Understand You,” ”Like Flames,” ”Take My Breath Away,” what were the other two?
”Hideaway” and ”You Don’t Know.”
That’s right. Wow. I didn’t even know that. That’s almost half the record, isn’t it?
That album has definitely come into its own since then. It was not well received when it came out, because it was so different than anything Berlin had done before. But yeah, the songs, when we play them live, they really hold up for people
Tell me about the orchestra, they’re from Prague. How did you get hooked up with them?
Through the record label, because they I guess they have done other albums with this philharmonic orchestra. They did one with Rick Springfield, Cutting Crew. And I’m sorry, I did not hear those albums, but I guess [the label] really liked working with them, so they were tapped to work with us.
And it was really cool, because technology makes working with live orchestras so much easier, because rather than going in and just, you know, okay, here’s everybody, let’s try stuff, you know, with 30 people on different instruments, that’s a lot. You’d be there for weeks making an album. But Sare [Havlicek), the producer, is so brilliant at orchestral arrangements that he created the ideas for the parts first, in his computer. He played them digitally. So we listened to that and tweaked that, you know, take this out, or that’s a little much, or this is great, let’s do more of that. And then he wrote the charts, and then the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra played from that, so that the tweaking was minimal. Some of the things live were not quite the same, so we had to tweak it a little, but it was basically done when we got there, and they played it. So that was really cool. I mean, that was the difference of weeks to days of work.
I saw you at Summerfest a couple years ago, and after the show, David and the band were out on the grounds, in line for beer with the rest of us.[Laughs]
And I’m thinking, ”Wait, do they not have access to that stuff backstage?”
I don’t remember. Some places, not many, but some places, they just have issues, I don’t know if it’s union issues, or religious issues, or what, Like, for example, Disneyland. We were actually booked to play Epcot, three nights last spring which [were cancelled because] everything shut down, and of course there’s never any alcohol backstage. They have decent food, really good food. But yeah, some places, they just won’t supply something like that.
Okay. I just figured Summerfest would be more open to that kind of thing.
Maybe. I don’t remember. There’s so many shows. So thank you for having me, I appreciate it.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. It was good to see you in person (Note: this was a Zoom call) rather than me in the audience and you on a stage. Speaking of which, you just came through here [last summer]. We saw you with OMD and the B-52s, where you played a set that was like 20 minutes long. But you and OMD killed.
Thank you. It was a great tour for us. Great people, all of them.
Best of luck with the record.
And thank you so much. Best of luck to you, take care of yourself.