NEW YORK – Berlin frontwoman Terri Nunn came by the FOX411 studios to sing “Nice to Meet You,” the seductive single from the band’s EDM-inspired new album, "Animal." Once everyone toweled off, Nunn sat down with FOX411 to tell us how the band helped pioneer electronic music stateside, what it was like to dominate MTV’s video rotation in the ’80s, and how she almost landed the female lead in Star Wars.
FOX411: You can see a through-line from bands like Kraftwerk, Ultravox, and Berlin with what’s happening now in electronic music. How do you feel about being a part of that legacy?
Terri Nunn: Proud. At the time, what we were doing wasn’t what was going on. It was the power-pop era: Skinny ties, the Plimsouls, the Motels, the Knack, and the Go-Gos… and we weren’t that. In the beginning, we really believed in it and we kept going, and then we got better as writers. Eventually it caught on, and it’s morphed into all kinds of electronic music. I’m really proud to have been a part of that, the beginning of it happening in America.
FOX411: “Nice to Meet You,” the song from "Animal" that you sang for us in the studio, has an EDM feel to it. How did you get into EDM?
Nunn: In 2012, a station in L.A. called KCSN gave me my own radio show for 2 hours on Saturday nights called “Unbound.” They let me play whatever I wanted, so I started listening to electronic music in every form. And EDM, to me, is one of the most exciting forms of electronic music that I’ve ever heard. It’s sexy, it’s completely unique, and it’s so intense. The sounds that Skrillex does, I’ve never heard before.
I mean, look at Nine Inch Nails — Trent Reznor’s sound started with a Roland TR-808 drum machine, and that was our whole first album ["Pleasure Victim," 1982], because we couldn’t afford anything else. So I thought there was a place for Berlin to have a voice in all this. And that inspired me to create "Animal."
FOX411: Berlin’s first hit, “Sex (I’m A),” comes from a strong, empowering female point of view. How did you decide to write it that way?
Nunn: Thank you! What a compliment! I wrote the song because I was in a relationship where we were at a crossroads, sexually. It wasn’t exciting. It wasn’t bad, but we were kind of bored, just going through the paces. I came in one day and said, “Well, why don’t we try role playing? I could be a damsel in distress, and you could be a pirate.” And he said, “Terri, I don’t want to do that. I’m not a burglar; I’m not a vampire; I’m just a guy.” I was like, “OK.” (laughs) So I wrote this song as a kind of slap in his face: “I’m this, I’m that, I’m a geisha, I’m a little girl, I’m a dream divine — and you’re just a guy.” And that’s what the guy sings through the whole song: “I’m a man.” Because that’s all he wanted to be.
FOX411: Does he feel like a man now?
Nunn: He did feel like a man, because he knew it was him in the song! Yeah, he loved it. (laughs)
FOX411: And then we had “The Metro,” which came with a high-concept, high-rotation video. How did you feel about having to be a video vixen in the vortex of the prime MTV era of the ’80s?
Nunn: It’s interesting you say “having to be a video vixen,” because I thought it was fun. It was another way to express the music. But there was an upside and a downside. The upside was, MTV had 24 hours to fill and not a lot of content on hand because nobody believed in it. We were one of the only bands making videos at that time, so the good side was they just kept putting our videos on over and over because they had to fill the time. The downside was, we had to play to them. If they didn’t like something, it didn’t get played, and we had to edit the video to fit their taste. Kowtowing to a corporation like that wasn’t fun. But now with YouTube, you can do whatever you want, as long as it’s not porn. (laughs)
FOX411: Before Berlin took off, you were an actress. And there was one potentially huge movie role where you almost got to wear the cinnamon rolls on your ears when you auditioned to be Princess Leia in "Star Wars."
Nunn: Yes, I had a huge shot at being in "Star Wars." George Lucas had no money at the time, and I remember I kept going back to this warehouse. You can see it on YouTube if you type in “Terri Nunn Star Wars audition” — I’m sitting in a deck chair next to Harrison Ford and saying things about R2D2 and Chewbacca, and Darth Vader is coming, and we really have to go… I didn’t know what an R2D2 was, or what he was talking about because it all hadn’t been created yet. (laughs)
George went with Carrie Fisher, and I’m so happy he did, because I would have never had this job as a singer if that had happened. Bless his heart, George has always been supportive of me. But I never would have had my dream come true of being in a band and making a living making music. I probably would have turned into a drug addict, upset that my life hadn’t turned out the way I wanted it to.
FOX411: Well, you got back into movies in a different fashion, by having an Oscar-winning song, “Take Me Breath Away,” in one of the biggest movies of the ’80s, "Top Gun." One of the things [we] like most about it is you took what could have been some very stilted lines and drew out the syllables to help bring out the song’s true emotion.
Nunn: I’m surprised you even know that, because you never heard the demo, and the demo was exactly that. Giorgio Moroder is an amazing writer, but for that song, the demo was very stilted. The melody was (sings in a staccato, robotic style): “Watching every motion/in my foolish lover’s game/On this endless ocean/finally lovers know no shame.” I was not the biggest or most popular singer to audition to do that song, but I think I got the opportunity because I elongated the melody so that it would be more romantic and beautiful (sings with each syllable drawn out): “Watching every motion/in my foolish lover’s game.” I just kind of pulled it out and made it swim over the music, instead of chopping through it.
FOX411: It must remain one of your favorite songs to sing today.
Nunn: “Take My Breath Away” is great for me for so many reasons. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, because people keep licensing it and using it for everything from "Borat" to the television show "The Goldbergs." Everybody has a different memory and personal history with it. That’s why I like singing it live, because I look at people and see how they go into a zone where they were when they first heard it — their first kiss, their first child, their first time having sex. It’s a soundtrack — not only to the movie, but to people’s lives. I get to experience what “Take My Breath Away” does for other people every night I sing it. It’s beautiful.
Mike Mettler is the former editor-in-chief and current music editor of Sound & Vision, and he interviews artists and producers about their love of music and high-resolution audio on his own site, Soundbard.com.