Singer and guitarist Caroline Bokman currently fronts the San Francisco-based punk metal band Dammit!, but she’s probably best-known by most fans as Caroline Blind, from when she was lead vocalist of Sunshine Blind. Described as a “goth/trip hop/darkwave” band, Sunshine Blind was co-founded by Caroline in 1991. Over the next 12 years, they extensively toured clubs throughout the US and released four studio albums before breaking up in 2003.These days, Caroline calls San Francisco home and she can be seen performing with Dammit! at many of the Bay Area’s premiere hard rock venues, such as Oakland’s Uptown Nightclub, Johnny V’s in San Jose’s and the City’s own DNA Lounge, where she reunited with Sunshine Blind for a show just last year.
What casual fans may not know about Caroline, is that she holds a BA in psychology and worked as a marriage and family therapist intern. She tells me her goal was to counsel bands and artists, who often have the same issues and dysfunctions married couples face, and those of us who have been in touring bands sure can concur with that. Caroline talks about that and more here in my recent interview with her. Other topics we cover are, why she doesn’t have a definitive home town, the possibility of further Sunshine Blind reunions, and her current gig with Dammit!, in which she now may be handling bass, as well as vocal duties, on a permanent basis.
CHRIS CHARLES: Always especially good to have a San Francisco lady here, Caroline, but on Sunshine Blind’s website, you’re described as “geographically rootless.” Where are you originally from?
CAROLINE BLIND: I’ve asked myself that many times! My father was an international salesman. He is an American, but my mother was from Columbia. They lived in different countries, and my siblings and I were each born in a different place. I was born in Venezuela, and we moved a lot after that, sometimes South America, a little time in Europe, but finally on the East Coast of the US; Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Since my really formative years seemed to have passed there, anyone meeting me would say I come across as just “American” and I do consider New Jersey to be “where I grew up,” but at this point, I have lived in California longer than anywhere else, by many years, even New Jersey, so, like a lot of people, I don’t have a cut and dry answer to the question!
CHRIS: I see. So, another thing I read on your former band Sunshine Blind’s page was that when the band’s label, Energy Records, folded, you had to “retreat to San Francisco under the weight of crushing debt.” These days, crushing debt, and rents, are usually reasons people flee San Francisco. Has it been a struggle for you to remain in the Bay Area in recent years?
CAROLINE: Back in 1997, it was considered expensive to live in San Francisco, but nowhere near what it’s like now. We were already living in SF, having moved from New Jersey three years before, but we were doing a good amount of touring, and all our resources; our home music scene, our record label, and even the recording studio we were working in, were are on the east coast. When the record label folded, we had lots of credit card debt from touring, which we relying on being reimbursed for, and when our income from the label stopped, we couldn’t tour, which means we lost that income, too. That’s the debt we faced. Basically, we couldn’t do music professionally again until we got jobs and made some money to pay off our debt, and developed local resources for gigs and recording, which, as you mentioned, would have been easier to do if we still lived in New Jersey, near our friends and families, for sure.
That band never did recover, we were forced to fold up. Lately, I’ve seen the Bay Area explode as far as cost of living, and yes, it’s very difficult. I’ve been forced to move out of the City, but I took advantage of the housing bust and was able to buy a house that was being sold at short sale. That should keep me here for a while, but I’m already looking into “where I’m going to live next,” because staying here doesn’t seem feasible. There are plenty of other more affordable and great cities. Lots of the cool places that made San Francisco great have been closing one after the other anyway, and it’s hardly recognizable or as fun as it was even 10 years ago.
CHRIS: Yes, sadly, I agree with that. There’s a Caroline M. Bokman, MFTI listed in San Francisco. I’m not sure if that stands for “Marriage and Family Therapist Intern,” “Minister of Foreign Trade and Industry,” or “Maryland Fur Trappers, Inc.” but ….it that you?
CAROLINE: It was. I went back to school to try and get a higher paying job. I became a marriage and family therapist intern, because I already had a BA in Psychology. I did counseling and therapy with clients for a while. Ultimately I wanted to counsel bands and groups of artists. Not many people who don’t do it, realize how much a band, or dance troupe or theater troupe is like a family, and like a marriage, and they totally have the same problems and dysfunctions, sometimes more so, because families are more of a parallel lifestyle, whereas bands and artist troupes are more in each others’ faces, working on the same thing, and possibly cooped up and traveling with the same people 24/7.
Having done it myself for so long, I thought I, and other people, could benefit from my insight! In the end, sad to say, it wouldn’t have paid my bills. Don’t even get me started on how little therapists make compared to how much they are needed. Add to that the vicarious traumatization that therapists can get from helping people, the burn-out rate among the people I worked with was sooooooo high. It’s very hard work, emotionally, and even though it can be very rewarding, I knew to do it long term would kill me, even though I’m pretty centered. Add to that stress the stress of poverty (an entry level therapist’ salary, plus living in San Francisco, equals poverty), and I didn’t see how it could work for me. Lots of material for songs out of it though, and I’d certainly be lying if I said I don’t use my therapist skills every day! CHRIS: Yes, as someone whose been in numerous bands, I know exactly what you mean. So, you reunited with two of your fellow original Sunshine Blind members in June of last year for a gig at the DNA Lounge in San Francisco. Did you feel you guys still had the same chemistry you did as in your early days? CAROLINE: Reuniting after many years is such a trip …a sentimental trip. It was fantastic to see those people again, The musicians and the fans, and so many people from back in the day came out that I haven’t seen in forever, we got to catch up, AND play music together. It was a huge thing …like a huge family gathering or a high school reunion, another thing that you go into knowing that the next week, or 24 hours, is going to bring you face to face with old friends, the old times, the stories, the memories, the dreams, the realities. People are going to tell you all sorts of things about how you influenced their lives that you don’t even remember doing, and you’ll remember how they influenced you. It was great, draining, enlightening, and great. ON TOP of all that, for me, it was like the very same week that I joined Dammit! as their singer, and it dovetailed beautifully into “this is not the end, this is a new beginning” sort of way, where I was able to re-live the old, and the Dammit! guys came to that show, and were able to see and experience a very important part of my past. I believe it helped to introduce “me” and “what I’m about” further to them ….give ’em a taste of what they were getting into with me.
CHRIS: Any plans on another Sunshine Blind reunion someday?
CAROLINE: Anytime! People just have to ask, really. If we can swing it, we will. We did the last one as part of Convergence XX; a big goth festival that is in a different city every year. Last year in Chicago. William Faith of the Bellwether Syndicate had the idea of us playing, with him filling in on bass, and submitted it to the committee that chooses bands, and we got selected. We had played that festival before, many many years ago, so it was great to do it again. It would be nice to do some of the festivals that we did in Europe again as well, but I’m looking forward to doing some of those with our new band, Dammit!, too!
CHRIS: So here’s a standard question: What are your musical influences?
CAROLINE: Rock. Metal. 80’s music. Gothic rock. New Wave. Oh, and big into Brit pop, too. Usually stuff with a male singer that comes across as more “intense.” Boring singing is boring. GUITARS are a must, Guitars, guitars, guitars. Jangly, like Brit pop, or just plain LOUD. Expressive solos for sure. Doesn’t have to be technically great, as long as I can FEEL it, you know? CHRIS: Another standard question: Who are your musical influences? CAROLINE: Some of the things I play all the time in the car at the moment now are Black Label Society, Oasis, Seether, Muse, and general rock radio. A few years back there were lots of good bands, and I listened to a good amount of new music. I still like things like Fallout Boy, AWOL Nation, and the Killers.
CHRIS: You’ve been compared to several well-known singers. Even been compared to one whom you though your sound and style was nothing at all like?
CAROLINE: All the time. In general people tend to choose any female singer they can think of to compare me to, when actually most of my influences have been male singers like Bono, Noel Gallagher, Matthew Bellamy, or Chris Cornell. I actually can’t stand most female vocalists, don’t know what that’s about, but probably because not many put real power behind their voice, which I like to do. To say I sound like Stevie Nicks is just dumb. I sound nothing like Stevie Nicks.
CHRIS: You’re just credited with vocals in Dammit! but do you also play guitar on any Dammit! songs, live or in the studio?
CAROLINE: Funny you should ask! I joined Dammit! When they needed a vocalist. I’d always played guitar in my previous band, so it was weird to sing without anything in my hands for the one or two shows that I did that for Dammit! Well, I needn’t have worried, because it was only one or two shows before the band decided to part ways with the bass player they were using at the time. It was kind of awkward for me, because it was something that was going on before I showed up, you know how it is. Anyway, by some coincidence, I had taken up bass the previous year, and thought I could give it a go. It was hard work, but I think I am managing on bass. It may or may not be permanent, but it works for now! In any event, I’m not worried, because they didn’t hire me for my bass playing skills, they hired me to blow the roof off a place with my voice, so I try to do that, mostly.
CHRIS: Do you also have a hand in writing the songs?
CAROLINE: I’ve always worked in the past where someone will give me a finished work of music, and I will write words and melody/vocals over it, so that’s how I’ve continued for now, though I can and may write full songs any time now.
CHRIS: I fondly recall the Bay Area music scene during the mid-80s to early 90’s, when you could pick up a copy of BAM magazine and see who was playing at the Stone or across the Bay at the Omni, check the classifieds, which was THE pre-Internet go-to for local musicians looking for other like-minded musicians and bands, etc. What do you miss the most about the the music scene during that era?
CAROLINE: Actually don’t think I lived here in a pre-Internet era. I moved here in 1994. I think I had already missed the heyday of the I-Beam and the Mabuhay, and the Stone. They were all gone by the time I got here, and I don’t recall the live music scene in the late 90’s being anything to write home about, but I may be mistaken because even though I was technically “living” here, I was on the road a lot, until we weren’t in 1997 ….but I can tell you a lot about the music scene in New Jersey and New York City, and down the shore in Asbury Park, and the magazine was the “East Coast Rocker” and that’s where you placed an ad to find your people, and see all the listings for live shows. That and the Village Voice!
CHRIS: What are some of your favorite Bay Area venues to play?
CAROLINE: I love playing the DNA Lounge! It’s a great space, and all my friends are there! Truth be told, I haven’t played a large amount of venues here. Most of my history of playing is in dive bars and theaters across the country. Since I joined Dammit!, we’ve played all these places I’d never been before, and I love discovering new ones! There are so many!
CHRIS: Shifting gears here; you have a small role in the soon-to-be-released indie film Doll Murder Spree, directed by our mutual friend, Reyna Young of Last Doorway Productions. What was it like working with Reyna on that one?
CAROLINE: It was great! She’s a genius, and SO good with people, and as a Director! I actually just came along to help out on the set, all behind the scenes stuff, and show support for people doing their art, and it was great fun, she gets great people to work with!
CHRIS: Yes, everyone I’ve talked to who’s worked with Reyna speaks very highly of her. Do you plan on doing any more work with Last Doorway?
CAROLINE: Well, we are planning Dammit! music videos, so that will be coming up!
CHRIS: With that, I thank you again for doing this, Caroline. In closing, any shout-outs to anyone? CAROLINE: I think I included them here already! Thanks Chris, it’s been fun!
Music video for “Release,” off of Sunshine Blind’s 1996 Liquid album
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Chris flirted with the music business there and in Nashville before joining the U.S. Army and serving in South Korea. He remained in Asia for several years afterwards, teaching English, traveling, and covering the regional entertainment scenes. Currently in a mindset between Seoul and San Francisco, besides Idol Features, you can also catch his writings in the print edition of the monthly magazine, Effective.
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