Forty years since its inception, Berlin is still commanding the fascination of mainstream crowds and the synth-pop scenesters who propelled the group to fame. The New Wave band is best known for the iconic love song "Take My Breath Away" — which dominated awards shows and the charts after its infamous repeat appearances in 1986's Top Gun — but singles such as "Sex (I'm A...)" and "The Metro" have enshrined Berlin's place in the great dance-floor canon.
The California-based group is touring in support of its latest album, November 2019's Transcendance, in addition to celebrating its 40th year as a band. The victory lap will pass through Miami this Saturday, March 7, when Berlin performs at the Ground alongside fellow New Wave luminary Big Country.
Terri Nunn, Berlin's charismatic frontwoman, spoke with New Times by phone on her way to the band's concert in Santa Clarita, California, this past Friday. Like a cool aunt who values caution as much as she does commitment, Nunn began the conversation only after pulling over to the side of the road in order to give the interview her undivided attention.
Speaking of commitment, Nunn is quite aware that 40 years is a long time to dedicate to a single project. She says persevering with Berlin over the years — through good times and bad — has taught her several valuable life lessons.
“Commitment is a great thing, and anything that I’ve committed to has given me the best reward because it’s sticking with something," she shares. "So this lesson has been learned very well in this band, in this job. I've learned that happiness isn't a destination; it’s a matter of traveling, [and] I need to enjoy the whole process of where I’m going because I’ll get there eventually, [but] it’s about everything on the way.”
The 58-year-old Nunn is a strong believer in the adage that wisdom comes with age. When it comes to her career and time with Berlin, the four decades she has spent with the band have helped her gain a perspective on the group she might not have had if she'd left earlier.
“In the beginning, I really wanted to make it and I really wanted to be successful, and I missed a lot of what was happening around because I was too intent on getting somewhere," she reveals. "I think that’s part of what I really like about getting older too: learning to enjoy not getting anywhere as much as actually getting there. I would not go back to being 20. I appreciate what I've gotten out of the years and the experience more.”
Conventional wisdom dictates that old-school bands such as Berlin grow tired of playing the same songs over and over again, especially when it comes to hits as widely known and omnipresent as "Take My Breath Away." On the contrary, Nunn says she's thankful for the opportunity to play the band's biggest hits with the people who wrote them. Original members John Crawford and David Diamond recently rejoined Berlin, a development that has reinvigorated the group on the stage and in the recording studio.
“It felt better than it did before because some of us are older, more relaxed, and more appreciative of what we’ve got," Nunn says. "There is less of the fighting and the ego and the stress and the fear... and more enjoying and going along for the ride — whatever it is — together."
One of the main points of contention for the band, and one of the reasons for its initial separation in the late '80s, was actually “Take My Breath Away.” Perhaps because of the song's close association with Tom Cruise, Navy pilots, and blue-hued sex scenes, most people don't know it was co-written and produced by the one and only Giorgio Moroder.
“When we did 'Take My Breath Away' with Giorgio Moroder, John [Crawford] was scared," Nunn says. "He was trying to write songs that would be successful for the band; he was 21 years old and stressed all the time because the record label was always asking for better songs. When Giorgio came along with 'Take My Breath Away' and got a number one hit with us right out of the gate, John wanted to be happy. But he [felt] threatened that someone could do it so easily and he could not, so he wasn’t as open then to collaboration with other talented people as he is now."
Thankfully, Nunn says time has healed old wounds. "Now he sees it, he is older, he understands what happens, he sees the value that it gave us, and ['Take My Breath Away'] is a wonderful gift.”
The band’s new album, Transcendance, combines the classic Berlin synth-pop sound with a more modern take on electronic music. Lyrically, the record is deeply personal for Nunn — many of the songs relate to the passing of her mother.
“'On My Knees' seems to be the favorite of everyone," Nunn notes. "It’s going to be the next single. It’s a deep song — it’s about losing someone important and going through the fear, the sadness, and then going through the freedom of the end of the relationship. That one means a lot to me."
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Nunn also singles out the LP's title track as a song centered on her mother's death.
“She said many things. The first one was 'Did I love you enough?' and I got a lot from that because what was most important for her at the end of her life was that," Nunn shares. "I realized that if I just express love as much as I possibly can, I win. That's the meaning of life. And then the other thing she said that blew my mind was when I asked her how was it like, this transitioning to the next world [or] wherever she is going. She said, 'You know, Terri, I’m gonna miss you and everyone that I love, but this might be the most exciting adventure I’m ever gonna have, and I’m kind of excited about it.”
Even when speaking by phone from an entire coast away, Nunn can't help but exude positive energy. She knows how to hold an audience — whether it's an inquisitive Miami music journalist or a captive live crowd — and is always ready to share the lessons she's gained from a life immersed in music. “I want people to enjoy their lives, and music, for me, is one of the last things to bring people together.”