Lost '80s Live, Revived!
Berlin Returns with Original Founders

By Lee Valentine Smith

'80s retro shows are more popular now than ever but often the bills include groups with only one key member. Indeed, several acts on the current "Lost '80s Live!" tour feature the founder/vocalist, backed by recent recruits. And yes, for nearly 20 years, that was also the case with co-headliner Berlin.

Singer Terri Nunn joined Berlin in 1979, abandoning a burgeoning acting career in Los Angeles that included appearances in movies ("Thank God It's Friday") television (T.J. Hooker, and almost the role of Lucy in Dallas) as well as a now-legendary audition reel for the role of Princess Leia in some obscure science fiction film.

By 1981, Berlin was signed to a major label and relishing substantial MTV, college radio and dance club play, due to Pleasure Victim, their definitive debut album. With hit singles that eventually included "The Metro," "Sex (I'm A...)," "No More Words," and the massive "Take My Breath Away" from the Top Gun soundtrack, Berlin rode an impressive seven-year arc of commercial and artistic successes. A decade later, Nunn reclaimed the name and performed with revamped line-ups for nearly 20 years.

Fast forward to 2016. While commiserating over a series of personal setbacks, the original core trio (Nunn, guitarist John Crawford and keyboardist David Diamond) began working on new material and sporadic live collaborations. The revived outfit is currently mixing a full-length album while touring with an official, expanded edition of the group.

INsite caught up with the vivacious Nunn by phone at her home in southern California.

Your Twitter page teases that an album is on the way.

There's actually two! We're working on two albums at the same time, which is a first for me. One is a studio album with the original Berlin guys, John Crawford and David Diamond.

That's about as original as you can get, since the three of you are pictured in the only group shot in the first album package. How'd all this come together?

By chance, really. John was going through a divorce and contacted me. David had a breakup with his partner at almost the same time. We all just kinda commensurated because I've been through a divorce, too. It's awful, it hurts. But in the process of reconnecting over crisis, we started getting creative.

This is great news and the first I've heard about it.

Well it all came out of nowhere. I had no idea this was coming into my life again. But now we're doing the live shows and it's just incredible.

Obviously you know what it's like to go back into any sort of creative partnership. You guys tried it on the Bands Reunited show back in 2004. What was it like working together again, well over a decade later?

Way better! Because I'm way better. I don't sweat the small stuff like I used to. I'm not as scared as I used to be, so there's more of a relaxation about the process that I didn't have before. I was scared all the time, 'Oh my God, people are gonna find out I'm a fraud and I don't deserve this job' and on and on. I lived in that fear because I loved it so much and I was so afraid it would end. Now I'm more tolerant of myself. After having kids and living through so many twists and turns of the music world, it makes this so much sweeter. All three of us are that way now. We've gotten way more tolerant and compassionate and that makes everything better.

That wisdom comes with age.

And I love it! I love pretty much everything about aging except that I don't like the feeling that time is speeding up. I don't like the feeling that about every three months it's Christmas again. That's what it feels like now.

But tell us more about this album. On your site, it says it'll be out in September.

Well, we're still mixing it. You do what you can to impose deadlines on these things, but there'll probably be a single in November and then we'll release the album in January.

You've seen so many twists in the industry since 1981. It changes daily at this point.

The playing field is so different now. The artists can create their music on their own terms and you don't even need an expensive studio anymore, you just can do it in your bedroom if you want to. Yeah, it's still hard in some ways, but I really like the fact that I don't have to be pushed around anymore by a label. I can do whatever I want, on my own schedule.

Yet as the industry and consumer tastes have changed, the popularity of the music and fashion of the '80s has somehow endured.

It has, and I was fortunate because I grew up mad that my brother got the '60s. To me, the early-to-mid-'70s period just didn't have the same excitement. Of course, now I appreciate the '70s, with glam rock and Bowie and T. Rex and Roxy Music and all that. There was so just so much going on, and it was all over the map. But I grew up wanting to be Paul McCartney because there just weren't that many women who did it like he did. I wanted to do it all! I didn't want to just be pretty and play a guitar. I wanted to strut around the stage and sing about real stuff. I wanted to be sexy and I wanted to be loud. I wanted to be what all the guys got to be.

And you succeeded. Punk and New Wave came along and changed everything.

That's what made it explode! At that point, I was old enough to try to make music myself. By then all the stuff I was into could finally be heard.

Stylistically, Berlin took a bit of a different route for an act from the States. The whole New Romantic, Synthpop, experimental electronic wave was on the fringe, it was still considered very European and decidedly non-commercial at the time.

Yeah, it was all power pop here. We were trying to do our thing but it just didn't fit in to what was popular, but we kept working at it, got better and it started to happen.

Now here you are, all these years later.

I still can't believe it. Next year is the 40th anniversary of when I joined Berlin. I'm very lucky because you really don't know just how long anything's gonna last.

Berlin certainly has longevity. In '97, you reignited the project that you'd put aside ten years before.

That was hard because I was running it for the first time. In the beginning, when I was heading it and the buck stopped with me, I remember being freaked out a lot. I had to lay down every day for 20 minutes just to calm down. I was trying to learn everything about the business that I didn't have to know before. It was mine now and that was really intense.

So you've grown along with Berlin and your fans.

Yes and I still love all the configurations because they've all added something to it. Some people like Pleasure Victim the best, some love "Take My Breath Away" and some people love [Berlin's 2016 release] Animal. There's just so many different expressions of it. But for me, the best thing about music is the collaboration. Trying things together with different people and seeing what happens. And yeah, sometimes it doesn't work, but a lot of times it does. It creates a magic that you just can't make by yourself.

You said you have two albums on the way. What is the other one?

The next one will come after we release the one in January. There's a British company that's patiently waiting for the first one to run its course. The next one will be a Berlin orchestral album. It'll be our music with a Philharmonic Orchestra and I am so stoked! We did a few shows with orchestras last year and oh my God! We played and the orchestras played behind us. It sounded like God, basically, to hear my own music that way.

So this still beats acting, right? Do you ever regret leaving that career?

I left acting because I wanted to give music everything I had. By turning down Dallas, I knew I could give it everything I had because I lost everything else when I turned it down. I lost my agent, my manager; they were all like, 'Are you crazy? If you don't want this, then we don't want you.' I was completely alone after that decision and it gave me the freedom to try music. That led me to meet John Crawford and you know how it all turned out from there. That freedom of losing everything meant having nothing left to lose!

There's a song in there somewhere.

(Laughs) Yeah, I think so.

The Lost '80s Live! tour hits Chastain Park on August 5 at 7 p.m. Visit www.lost80slive.com for lineups, ticket links and more information.

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