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Singer Terri Nunn discusses Berlin

With a wide array of musical venues and the annual Folk Music Festival coming up next weekend, Claremont is known as a cultural oasis. It’s not every day, however, that the town plays host to a New Wave legend.

The band Berlin will be giving a free performance at Rhino Records on Saturday, May 30 at 1 p.m. The synth electro-pop quartet is appearing in support of their latest album, “Animal,” which they released this past September, some 27 years after “Take My Breath Away” graced the “Top Gun” soundtrack and topped the charts.

The COURIER recently caught up with Berlin frontwoman Terri Nunn. Still luminous at 52, she talked about her band’s staying power, changes in the music world and striving for ongoing relevance.

“I re-inspire myself by listening to new music continuously,” she said. “To keep playing the same thing over and over gets really boring. It’s about having that infusion of new sounds with the old—people want to hear that.” 

The digital age has leveled the playing field, making it possible for musicians to craft a hit without leaving their home office or breaking the bank. Sites like YouTube have simultaneously created a platform for emerging artists to gain widespread exposure.

“The downside is that music is free, and that’s hurt a lot of people. It’s hurt me in some ways but, because I love doing concerts—that’s what I get off on—it’s worked out.”

Fans still turn out in droves for live shows where they can sing along with Berlin’s classics. (Many a fan of alternative rock has belted out “Metro”—“I remember hating you for loving me”—when the song hits the airwaves.)

Continuing to love Berlin is not an exercise in nostalgia.

“One of the fortunate things about Berlin is that electronic music is still going. Not only is it still going, but a lot of bands that play today are using the same sounds we started with,” Ms. Nunn said.

Berlin has continued to produce new music over the years, releasing seven studio albums. When performing, Ms. Nunn is careful to strike a graceful balance between fresh material and old favorites like “No More Words” and “Masquerade.”

“It’s tricky. It’s like a puzzle for me, putting a set together,” she said. “People will listen to new songs, but they came to hear the songs they love. I’m the same way. I want to hear the songs I know and love. That’s why I bought the ticket.” 

Ms. Nunn broke into the music scene with a song called “Sex (I’m A…)” and has continued to push the envelop by singing about the pull of pleasure. It’s a subject that matters, she said, and with which she’s comfortable.

“First of all, when we started out, I was 19 and the majority of us were in our 20s, so that’s all we thought about—getting laid, trying to get laid, not getting laid,” she said. “That’s the way it is being 20.”

The sexual frankness she has displayed since Berlin’s 1978 founding can also be attributed to Ms. Nunn’s upbringing.

“I grew up in a household where sexuality was okay and not something that you hid under the rug,” she said. “My father painted nude women and those paintings were displayed in the house. My parents were very okay with human sexuality and its role in our lives.”

She’s still okay with talking and singing about sex as the years pass. In fact, the title track of the album, “Animal,” is about a vigorous bedroom romp.

“Now, I not only have it as part of my life, I’m in a really good marriage,” she said. “It’s an active part of our marriage and I’m grateful for that.”

In a time when singer Miley Cyrus can proclaim to interviewer Matt Lauer that people “don’t have sex anymore” after they turn 40, Ms. Nunn feels it’s important to emphasize that sex not only doesn’t disappear with age, it can improve.

“It changes. It’s different,” she said. “I wouldn’t go back for a day to when I was in my 20s. That was good and this is another good.”

Ms. Nunn has no plan to step off stage anytime soon. Some people like to mock the idea of the aging rock star. By contrast, Ms. Nunn, whose latest album was produced by electro-music pioneers the Dust Brothers, thinks it’s wonderful.

Canoodling with the other women musicians who emerged in her era—such as Pat Benatar and Joan Jett, both of whom she will perform with in Laughlin this Sunday—is “a huge thrill.”

In fact, Ms. Nunn confesses that she is more than a little star-struck by Blondie frontwoman Deborah Harry, with whom she has recently become friendly.

“She came into my dressing room,” Ms. Nunn said. “She had no makeup on and was wearing a cap and orange high tops and it’s like, ‘She’s Debbie f*@#ing Harry! She doesn’t need to impress anyone.’ What a wonderful, still-inspiring icon for me, and now a friend.”

After a talk in which they compared notes on life as a lead singer, Ms. Harry took to the stage.

“She’s amazing, like 66 years old, wearing miniskirts and looking hot and loving it,” Ms. Nunn said. “She’s doing what I always hoped people would do with rock music. I had always hoped that the artists I loved would continue making music.”

—Sarah Torribio