No More Words: Just the Sound of Two L.A. Grrls

No More Words: Just the Sound of Two L.A. Grrls Eating Burritos

Last month, a friend dragged me to a Berlin concert at the Universal Amphitheater and said, "You have to see Terri Nunn, ‘cuz you remind me of her." So I sat in my seat pouting about being forced to sit through an 80's revival show, until I was completely blown away by an amazing performance by said Terri Nunn, the lead singer of the band Berlin. It was literally the best live show I had seen all year. She jumped, cajoled, and threw herself into the arms of the audience; I felt as though I were watching myself with my fans (well, in a few years when my fan base graduates high school). I realized I was the y generation's Terri Nunn...and who wouldn't want to be compared to Terri Nunn? I remember as a kid watching her sultry performances on MTV, a video for each of Berlin's 4 top 20 hits: "No More Words", "Masquerade", "Metro", and the song from the Top Gun soundtrack that went to #1, "Take My Breath Away." Terri was 19 years old and on top of the world, literally. Then, at 22, found herself ignored by MTV, and no longer promoted by her label, Geffen. Following a series of miscommunications about musical direction between herself and John Crawford (the keyboardist), the final split of the band Berlin became inevitable. Now abandoned by the mainstream, Terri did what any real musician would do, she went independent. Financially destitute from "interesting clauses" in her record contract, Terri learned the business end of the business and dusted herself off and tried again. Terri reformed Berlin, with younger, stronger band members and began recording for an indie label. Berlin has a new CD called Voyeur, due out in February. Terri Nunn's music has always been ahead of her time, but with this new CD, I think the world has finally caught up to Terri. The Depeche Mode-like keyboard based music will establish Terri Nunn as the poppy female Trent Reznor. Considering, that 11,000 people showed up at the last Berlin concert, it seems Terri is rising from the dust like a phoenix. Throwing more dust, in the book, Deborah Harry, author Cathay Che unfairly calls Terri Nunn a "poor imitation" of Debbie Harry. But Terri will have the last laugh when she sees the movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The character of Hedwig does an entire number dressed as a "poor imitation" of Terri Nunn.
Let me sprinkle some fairy dust on this situation, I am Drama, the lead vocalist of the band, Switchblade Kittens. Upon sitting at restaurant with Terri, a passerby asked if this wise woman across from me was my sister. "No, I wish!" I said. But let it be known that when the Terri Nunn biography is written I wish to be called a "poor imitation" of Terri Nunn, or at least her younger sister. Recently, I found myself grappling with newfound issues of my band's rising fame and an impending international tour. Terri graciously decided to "do lunch" with me to sprinkle her magic dust of wisdom on my rain-bowed head. This is our conversation as Terri passes the phoenix feather, from one generation to the next...‘cuz we "poor imitations" have to stick together or there would be no strong women to compare us to. As I enter the Mexican restaurant, famous for it's burritos, Terri and I hug and laugh when we realize we are wearing the same shirt (a husband beater that says BERLIN). Similar in height, build, and coloring, and both Irish, we even have the same Hello Kitty wallet. Terri exclaims "Wow, you really are the younger me!" I realize at this point that I have to ask Terri some questions, because this is supposed to be an interview, so I ask,

D-How did you get started in the business?

T- I was a child actress, I played the "teenage girl gone bad" parts on a lot of television shows. I really wanted to do music and then a turning point came, do you remember that show Dallas? Well I was offered the part that Charlene Tilton had. They wanted me to sign a 7-year contract and I was thinking, 7 years! That is my whole life. I knew I would be stuck on a TV show and never be able to do music. I was 17 at the time, so I said "no" to the contract and answered an ad at a contact service for musicians for a band looking for a lead singer, that was Berlin. And you?

D- I was a child actress too.

T- No way!!!

D- Yeah, I think we are the same person, only we have managed to overlap in time. There is this time theory called the burrito theory, it states that one person can be on earth at two different times, or was that, time will wrap over itself when two participants are eating burritos ... In my version of the theory one of us will suddenly become a burrito. Anyway, If one us becomes a burrito, I vote for Terri (laughing). I starred in the musical Annie, not on Broadway but regionally. Then, when I was 14 I started getting in bands. I wanted to grow up and be Terri Nunn or Stevie Nicks.

T- I wanted to grow-up and be Stevie Nicks too! I remember where I was when I heard the song, Rhiannon, it changed me. It was so magical and mystical. I thought, “ Oh my God, I wanna do that!” I went to the record store…

D- What's a record?

T- Funny (hits my arm). I was trying to buy their record and I asked for the girl from Fleetwood Mac and they didn't know what I was talking about-they gave me Christie McVee.

D- Oh no. They gave you the whimpy one.

T- Well, the music was happy and lovey-dovey and I was thinking this can't be right. Well, I finally got the right record, and I bought all those lace dresses and did the twirly thing with a tambourine just like Stevie. I was so cool. The other strong female influence in my life was my mom (I give her a weird look). Everyone should love his or her mom (she gives me a strange look). My mom helped with Sex I'm a ... I sang it for my mom and I was running around singing very sweetly, "I'm a slut" and "I'm a geisha." She told me I sounded very unconvincing, that if I was going to sing a song about sex, I needed to be more hot for John (the guitarist singing the male part on the recording). I knocked down some apricot brandy and got real drunk and after awhile he looked a little cute so we recorded it. My mom said it sounded much better. Sometimes you need help when you have to perform.

D- I am straight edge so I don't drink, although I can relate because one time I had stayed up all night after drinking 6 espressos before a show and I was jumping around like crazy. I jumped in the audience and no one caught me; I landed on the ground and broke my nose (Terri looks horrified). It is good being semi-famous because people catch me now. Espresso can do it to you.

T- I love coffee! My last addiction. I don't do anything crazy anymore; I stopped having the rock'n'roll lifestyle. They were booking me for 5 or 6 shows and I would drink every night and then do a show the next day. If you drink every night then try to sing the next day, you will kill your voice. I had to see a specialist and be taught how to sing to save my voice. It is hard because you want to party ‘cause everyone else is partying, but really you ARE the party and this is your job. So you have to say good night early and really watch your drinking if you want to have a voice past this tour. Don’t let them book you with a show everyday your voice needs to rest, and you need a day to yourself; now I know I can do 3 to 4 shows. You have to find a balance. I’ve changed a lot, I am a vegetarian, and I am on the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) board. I really strongly believe in that, and I ended up getting my degree in human nutrition.

D-I can’t believe it, we are the same person again, I minored in biochemistry. Yay, body chemicals! But it is kool that even though your band broke up and you were destitute, instead of doing drugs or feeling sorry for yourself you got a master’s degree. Aren't we so smart? (I pull Terri in for a hug).

T- We are smart and that is the point. Don't forget how smart you are. This is my advice to you: Don't let the press get you down. They started to say I was a bimbo, and I was slutty because of the way I dressed. The bigger you are the more they are that way. They attack YOU ‘cause you are the girl. This happened to me so I started to wear sweaters up to my neck and long dresses, so people would think I was smart. Men can wear tight leather pants and they don't say anything, but when I did it, I was called a slut. They also said that I didn't write any of the songs, that the MEN in the band did everything for me. They said John wrote all the songs, he just puts words in my mouth. He was the brains. So I tried to be bookworm girl and it wasn’t me.

D- I know, it never fails. We have one guy in the band, Pep, and every time we go into a meeting they talk to him and ignore me. Now, talking to Pep is like talking to a table.

T- You are so nice!

D- Well what I mean is he plays in the band, but when you are asking business or image questions he doesn't know anything about it. I do all that. He will turn and ask me and then I will answer. He will then repeat what I just said to him when we are all in the same room! I feel like saying, “Hello! Over here! All of the brains of the band are stored in my Vagina.”

T- I am the same way. I do it all myself. I started the band again, handle the gigs, I do all the interviews and publicity, I remember in the OLD Berlin the other members of band would start crap like "you get all the attention and it is always Terri, Terri, Terri". Then I would say to them, “what did YOU do? You get to sleep till 4:00pm and I have to be up at 8:00am to do interviews!” When I had an idea they would say, “Oh no, the girl has an idea.” But I learned how to handle guys and how to be taken seriously in the band. You have to take them aside and work it out. You can’t say, “that sucks” in front of other guys, it is a macho thing. Men are not complicated. I still work with men because I know that if I stay in their pecking order they will stay in mine. I am the boss now and I still have to handle male band members this way.

D- I put my band together, did all the publicity, I posed half-naked for the poster, it is my naked bum hanging there on the wall for all to see (nods at Terri). You posed half-naked too for your poster. We do everything and get no credit from our bands. So how do I go on this year and half tour, in a small bus, and not kill them?

T- You have to talk out your problems, you can't hold it all in; it will just explode one day. Berlin (the first incarnation) broke up because John and I didn't talk out problems. We had musical and personal differences and we kept it in so long that it was impossible to fix. Get a neutral person that loves you both to talk out the problems, between the two parties. Why the band broke up is actually one of the most common questions people ask me at ASK BERLIN, on the website Anyone can e-mail and ask me advice questions, etc.


T- Don’t tell me you have an advice column too?

D- Yes, I have an ASK DRAMA column... well now I think it is called DEAR DRAMA. It is on the website but it is also a regular column in ROCKRGRL magazine. I give advice on what not to do in the music business; I guess you talk more about Berlin. Speaking of Berlin tour problems, were you having mic problems?

T- Yes, my mic was going out. But I am using a Seinheiser now, wireless mics changed my life. It has altered the whole show. I can get on my security guy’s shoulders and walk into the audience and sit on them and be near them.

D- ahh togetherness, I agree I use a SHS wireless. I can stage dive into the audience and still sing; I can also roll around on the floor without pulling out the bass player's patch chord. Do you play an instrument?

T- I write stuff on a piece of shit Casio. In the early 80's nobody used keyboards, people thought the noises I was making on the keyboard was the weirdest thing in the world. People actually told me that a band based around keyboards would never work. People used to come see our show just to hear the weird instrumentation.

D- I hear ya sister. When I was creating the “bassorama”, some people took it really personally and were adamantly against a bass that sounds like a guitar. It seems like we both like to make weird sounds. Do you like to EXPERIMENT in the studio?

T- I don't really like being in the studio. I love experimenting live. I prefer the interaction with a crowd and the organic way a show changes with the audience. I love the audience and I love being able to be with them and the way we can get off together in the music. There is no drug as cool as that. In the studio you don't have the interaction and I always think that my tracks in the studio could have been better. I used to agonize over it. Ric Ocasik (from the Cars) told me that you just have to let it go, because you will always hate what you did a year ago. You listen to the tracks you did on your first CD and you say "Eww, how could I have ever let that out in public", but you did and you grow and your CDs always get better. So you just have to let it go.

D- On the subject of the studio, you and I have to go in the studio soon...How do you feel about Switchblade Kittens' doing a cover of “No More Words”?

T- I love it when bands do covers of my songs; it is such a compliment. System of a Down did a cover of “Metro”. I was happy about that. (Happy is an understatement. When Terri found out we were doing a cover of “No More Words”, she could not have been happier, she ran up and hugged me, and she agreed to sing on our version.)

D- You are amazing. I think we will put in on our new CD.

T- When is your new CD coming out?

D- December. We were thinking we could grab the Christmas/ Hanukkah crowd.

T- You shouldn't do it in December, the business is dead in December; everyone is gone and they freeze the play-lists. You won't get the promotion you need. Be different. Ours is coming out in February.

D- Well, you are the wise one, February it is. Maybe I can get the huge Valentine's Day crowd.

T- Of course. Now we will have our CDs come out on the same month.

It was then that Terri stood up to leave. We noticed that all eyes were on us. I guess our womanpower was ultimately captivating. Apparently Terri wanted to leave the restaurant patrons with a good show because she kissed me, full on the lips! She then pranced away to get ready to have a meeting with her fabulous female lighting designer for her upcoming show. As I looked to my left, the smiling woman was gone and all that was left was a half-eaten veggie burrito with no cheese, PETA style. So my burrito theory is true, Terri did turn into a burrito. I can’t wait to overlap in time with her again.