Courtesy of MLT Events Production
The Romantics and Berlin, two New Wave/pop bands that were popular in the ’90s, both benefited from exposure in Cleveland.
The Romantics regularly played the Agora when they first started touring in support of their power-pop hit single “What I Like About You,” and Berlin songs such as the slinky “The Metro” and the salacious “Sex (I’m a…)” received airplay on WMMS well before other stations in the country started to play their music.
The two groups will share a bill at Hard Rock Live, where they perform at 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 19. In separate phone interviews, the Romantics guitarist Mike Skill and Berlin singer Terri Nunn spoke about their lengthy musical careers.
How did the band come together?
Me and drummer Jimmy [Marinos] have played together since high school. We played in his basement in Detroit with [singer-bassist] Rich Cole. We didn’t do the bar band scene, which was just ending, with the cut and paste paper doll bands. When we got out there, we were always writing our own songs. This was in the greater area of Detroit. Iggy [Pop] had moved to L.A. The MC5 had broken up. The music scene was started to shift back to shorter songs, more like the '50s and '60s, and we were all about that. I saw a photo of [the British mod band] the Jam in Melody Maker
, and I thought they were like the Who, which is what I grew up on. I took that photo and a Flamin’ Groovies album to Jimmy’s house. I said, “We could do this.” We talked to [singer] Wally [Palmar] and started putting the band together. It took off from there. We had punk hair and we were wearing re-sale store clothes — tight pants and greaser jackets. We just hit the road. We played the Agora in Cleveland and stayed at [the hotel] Swingos and all that. Radio wasn’t playing New Wave at the time. But Detroit started boomeranging and coming back, and new bands were coming out. Toronto was smoking at the time too. It was a Midwest kind of explosion.
I answered an ad that [bassist] John Crawford, who wound up being my [songwriting] partner for 13 years, put in through the Musicians Contact Service in Hollywood in 1979. They had an ad in there that said they were "unique." They absolutely were. There wasn’t anything going on in America that was like what they were doing. It was electronic and had synthesizers. I thought it was great. He sent me a tape. Remember cassette tapes? He sent me one of those with their music, and I thought it was awesome. I auditioned and joined the band. I was based in L.A., but they were based in Orange County.
How did you wind up with hit songs?
Nothing was getting on the radio. Some cities had good DJs. We had a Sunday night program in Detroit that played original music for two or three hours. That’s all you had. It was all Genesis and Yes, which we loved, but it wasn’t high energy enough. We were just a new crop of guys coming up. It was 1978 when we wrote ["That's What I Like About You"]. I didn’t have a car at the time. My mom dropped me off at band rehearsal. I got there early one day and told the drummer I had these chords and rhythm. It was just three chords with a big catchy hook. He just started singing something, and I came up with the guitar intro. His verse was on the other side of the beat. He was always adlibbing on stage. We recorded it on the first album. It was the second or third song that was released. It blew up to the middle of the charts and then started dropping off. The song took off when we did a commercial for Bud Light. We caught some heat for that. Now, you see everyone doing it. They called us “that band that does that beer song.” We never paid anyone to promote it. It was an organic thing, and it still is. I’m happy that we didn’t have to hype it. We never had lots of money for promotion like someone like the Knack. We just worked our butts off on the road.
Our first single wasn’t “Sex (I’m a…).” It was either “The Metro” or “Tell Me Why” that [the L.A. station] KROQ started playing there. We gave it to a DJ by the named of Richard Blade. He was doing graveyard shift at another station. He was knocking on the door at KROQ and they gave him a weekend where their DJs went to Hawaii for a promo event. He took over, and they liked him. He brought our single over. He played it, and they played it a bit. But when we finished “Sex (I’m a...)” and gave it to them, it exploded. All the record labels that didn’t like us said, “We don’t get it, and you need to go sell shoes or something.” They came back to us. They said, “You just sold 25,000 copies in a month. We think you’re great.” Then, it became a bidding war. It turned around from us being scum of the earth to the next best thing.
Are you working on new material?
Samantha Kives from Ktel Records came us to recently, and she really loves the band. She wants us to do some cover songs. We weren’t too sure about doing that, but it's worked out. We did “We Gotta Get out of this Place” by the Animals. An odd choice was “Daydream Believer.” I liked the Monkees, but I never thought I’d record one of their songs. They had great writers, however. We did [Deep Purple's] “Hush.” There are eight or so songs on the album with a couple of originals. It still needs one more song. That will come out as soon as we can finish it up. I’m already ready to move on to fresh ground.
It’s happening. We got a record deal through Deep Well Records with the Capitol label. We’ll begin recording in February. It’s the original Berlin team. It’s exciting. It came out of nowhere. I didn’t expect it all. We got together talking because John [Crawford] was going through a bad divorce. I’ve been through that. He needed a shoulder to cry on. [Guitarist] David Diamond came in because he’s also a friend of John’s. We got creative and really liked it. That started to develop and now we have Deep Well behind.
The Romantics, Berlin, 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19, Hard Rock Live, 10777 Northfield Rd., Northfield, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $29.50-$52.50, hrrocksinonorthfieldpark.com.