Terri Nunn (of Berlin) Talks ’Animal’
Terri Nunn of Berlin continues to musically strengthen her band’s signature sound on their latest release "Animal" with a charged circuit of new and modern electronic grooves. As the "electronic queen" of Berlin and the songs "Sex (I’m a)" or "Metro" and "No More Words, "Terri Nunn wanted to add a cutting-edge element to the new material. The resulting 12 tracks on "Animal" shine the spotlight on this electro/pop format while her voice continues to evoke the pure essence of what made Berlin so successful from the very start.
Here, for EDGE Media Network, Terri Nunn gives us a behind-the-scenes glance at the making of the new video for the title-track "Animal." She also shares a bit on the chemistry of working as a lyricist with new composers and weighs in with her thoughts on the essence of female sexuality in music from her perspective.
Making new music
EDGE: How did your new album fall into place initially and what excited you about making this new music?
Terri Nunn: When I look at the trajectory of how it was born, it really started when I took the job over at KCSN.FM. I did a two hour radio show there every Saturday night. It started in January of 2012. They gave me full reign to play whatever I wanted. It forced me to listen to what’s going on out there, because I’m the electronic queen, they wanted me to be that on their station. I was listening to everything.
I got so excited, Bill, by what I was hearing. Not only the new stuff but the fact that so many people from Skrillex to Metric to Gaga are doing sounds that we [Berlin] started with. They’re using 808 drum machines. That’s all we had at the time! I thought, ’Okay. It’s exciting but I can also see Berlin in this.’ I can see Berlin doing an album which is both what our fans want and like to hear and know us for but also we can bring in some cutting-edge stuff that they’ve never heard us do before.
Then from there, as I’m a lyricist. I write to composers. I’m a reactor. I needed to find composers who would give me the music that I could write my words to. That was the next thing. John King from The Dust Brothers was the first one to come along. We started working together on ’Break the Chains’ and the album came out of that. He’s amazing but he was working on other projects and I needed to move on...so then I met Derek [Cannovo].
EDGE: What was the first song you created with him?
Terri Nunn: ’Animal’ was the first song we wrote together. That was like ’holy fuck’ and it just completely blew us both away. We knew this was it. I basically chained him to my office desk and fed him once in awhile (laughter). It was like that for three months.
Making the ’Animal’ video
EDGE: ’Animal’ definitely has all the elements of a great Berlin song. Please tell me about choosing the visual themes for the video for ’Animal’ and what you enjoyed about creating it?
Terri Nunn: The original idea was to have people of all ages and as many different types of people as possible in the video. That’s what I wanted. I didn’t want it to be a lot of pretty people. I wanted it to be people enjoying their bodies and I wanted dancing. It’s a dance song and that’s a great way to get out of your head and into your animal nature.
Then, when I met director Chad Michael Ward, he brought in the whole kinky aspect of it. He comes from Marilyn Manson and Combichrist... he’s a guy who is very kind of twisted. We shot it at a working dungeon in downtown L.A. We brought in people like his friend from The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence from San Francisco and a dominatrix who brought her friend who was a gorgeous redhead and walked in on a leash. You’ll see her in the cage in the video (laughter) It was ALL this cool, twisted weird stuff! On top of all of the people... the youngest being nineteen and the oldest is seventy-six.
EDGE: It’s wild and you’re leading the pack, huh?
Terri Nunn: I’m kind of the ringleader of all of this. I brought in my favorite transvestite friend Raven. I met Raven on The RuPaul Show when I was a judge. When Raven came out on that show, my god, he was both one of the sexiest men and women I’ve ever seen. I fell in love with him and we hit it off and I brought him in to do the video with me and we have some fun together.
EDGE: The video suits the energy of the song really well. Now, ’With the Lights On’ has a playful fun vibe... you also wrote this with Derek Cannovo.
Terri Nunn: That music on ’With the Lights On’ was the first music I ever heard of Derek’s. It was played to me by another famous songwriter. We’ve known each other since we were both nothing in music. He’s gone on to write for Aerosmith and Sheryl Crow, he’s more of a rock guy. I called him and said, ’Do you know anybody who is doing some really hot electronic dance music? That’s what I’m into right now.’ He said, ’Yeah, I know this guy.’ He played me Derek’s music and that music became ’With the Lights On.’ That song is about how I like watching my man striptease for me.
Playful and sexy
EDGE: It’s definitely playful and sexy in that regard. Hearing another song on this called ’Nice To Meet You,’ I love the upbeat tone of it but lyrically it’s kind of cautionary.
Terri Nunn: It’s a dark theme but I wanted it to be hopeful in the chorus, to be the person coming out. It’s really about my fear of people and how ’dorky’ I feel especially in party situations, when there’s no music there to bridge the gap. I feel lost and scared... I’m better, but that’s always been a problem for me. The chorus, ’it’s so nice to meet you’ is me coming out, pulling out of that fear and trying not to live in it.
EDGE: What are your thoughts on the balance of sexuality in the presentation of your music since the beginning of Berlin and how you see sexuality being played out today in music/persona?
Terri Nunn: One of the things I like about women today is they’re just coming across as smarter. I like that. I like that people are accepting that. That’s one of the reasons it’s happening because people want it. I’m not talking about Miley Cyrus...that kind of ’sexual what happened’ at the award show, yeah okay, come on. I got the tongue the first four seconds and now it’s going on for four minutes. She’s at the point where she wants people to look at her as a woman, because she’s horny, cause she’s young. For me, that was Berlin in the beginning.
We wrote all those songs about sex because that’s all we talked about. I was twenty (laughter). That’s what was going on! I was kind of an idiot but I had some thoughts. But the general thrust of my life was relationships and sex, getting both and dealing with both. That was me and I think that’s where Miley Cyrus is.
That said... a lot of the women now from Lorde to Lady Gaga, I just see more of intelligence in the music that they’re putting out and I like it. It’s sexy but it’s also smart. I think that’s wonderful.
EDGE: Where it’s not pushing the envelope, just for the sake of pushing the envelope.
Terri Nunn: Yeah, right.
EDGE: When it comes down to it, there’s a maturity when it’s done right.
Terri Nunn: Right! Exactly and that’s what I like. That’s they are not afraid to be smart, to look smart, to sound smart and to write smart. Sex is great but so is intelligence. It’s very sexy.
EDGE: There is also a very personal subject you present on the song ’Blame It on the World’ that you wrote for your father. Was this cathartic in having this song on the album?
Terri Nunn: ’Blame It on the World,’ that was written in 1991 for my solo album. I didn’t have the guts to put it on there. I wrote it but I wasn’t ready...when you put music on an album, you gotta get out there and promote it. I wasn’t quite there yet. I had a really contentious, really tough relationship with my dad. He killed himself when I was fourteen. It was tough just to deal with it all these years. He was a painter and I just now in the last year, put up one of his pictures in my house. That’s how long it took to be okay with it. It really took this long to be okay with singing the song. I’m older, I’ve forgiven him a lot, I’ve forgiven myself a lot. I’m at a place where I can sing that song.
EDGE: The lyrics really say it all and it’s a quite striking song.
Terri Nunn: Thank you.
EDGE: Berlin will be performing through the spring of this year. How has the energy been doing the live shows and discovering new and true audiences again?
Terri Nunn: I love it because it’s expanding the audiences. I love seeing families there. When I was growing up, I never went out to concerts with my mother. I’m seeing not only young kids and old kids but young kids with their parents. It’s coming out to be that this is fun to do as a family, not just as ’this is my music and this is your music.’ I can’t believe it! I think that’s really cool. That’s one of my things I love the most about it is how it’s spanning different generations now.
Berlin ’s next performance is March 8 in San Tan Valley, Arizona at Encanterra (Good Life Festival) followed by shows in Washington, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York. For venue information and additional tour dates or to purchase "Animal" visit berlinpage.com.
Watch the video of "Animal":