Cali Thorhill Dewitt

"Anyone could love their friends and make it an important thing."
Interview by Asher Penn 
Portrait by Susan de Witt 

ZMFTW graffiti by Remio, 2011

How did you meet the Zen Mafia?
I met Jesse and Jenna at the same time about seven years ago. Soon after that I met Deanna and the twins. Nate and I were already friends. We’d already been hanging out, all of us, all the time. They all kind of changed my life. Like, Jenna and Jesse, they were only twenty-one but their level of honesty was shocking to me. I was really into it. I didn’t really realize it at the time, but they did teach me a lot in that realm.
How did the name Zen Mafia come about?
The first time I heard the phrase was at a party in the Hollywood Hills. Deanna started screaming it. 
Why did she start screaming?
It wasn’t unusual for her to start screaming at a party or anything. It was just a funny thing at the time. But then a couple of days later Anthony started the Tumblr.
Who was on the Tumblr?
We all had access to it. Everyone posted whatever they wanted, but it worked within the group well—we were communicating with each other. We would also gas on kooks and lame local trends, whatever. It’s a place to dump the Internet garbage can. A place to collectively say “fuck you.” Everyone has their own style on there. We did that for a while and the name stuck. We all made hats and shirts and shit over time. Crew gear.
I feel like you’re downplaying it a bit. 
Maybe? I think it’s the just the name of our family. The idea that you make your own world with your friends is really important. I love the world I live in, but it is a creation of me and my friends...

Jasmin Romero after Bike Accident, CTD, 2013

Which is like a family.
We treat each other like family. We tell each other the truth. Sometimes it’s mean, but we take care of each other. I want this house to be somewhere where anyone could come over and there is food and a place to hang out and be safe.
And people do.
Yeah. Like yesterday Jasmine just had that crazy accident on her bike, and today she called me and asked me to take pictures of the wounds. Then it turned out she hadn’t been able to wash her hair because her arms were fucked up, so then Jenna fills up a bucket with warm water and washes her hair while we’re taking pictures. I just think that’s so special. I also think that anyone could do that. Anyone could love their friends and make it an important thing.
What do you think Zen Mafia has allowed creatively?
I think it gives everyone permission to go all the way. When you have a group of people you respect, you can tell them your ideas and they can tell you what they think, and then you can build from there. You can go as far as you’re comfortable going. People will tell you the truth but they’ll also up you. It’s really good to have people upping you all the time. And I will do whatever I can to help anyone in this game to do their thing. The main goal is to feel good about what you do and to make your friends laugh or feel something—to make your friends feel good about what you do. It can be confusing when you go out into the rest of the world, but that’s okay.
Because some people don’t get it.
Some people shouldn’t get it. I don’t want to appeal to everyone. I don’t like everyone.  There’s a lot of fucked up people out there, a lot of vampires and scumbags, which makes it even more important to strengthen and embolden yourself with your group of friends. It's more important than ever to reject things, and to only allow what matters to you into your life

Zen Mafia - KCHUNG Mixtape, CTD, 2012

To collectively say “fuck you.”
I think of Zen Mafia crew as the ideal modern American. Because we’re telling the truth, and we love each other, and we’re not going to do any of the fucked up shit that we’re supposed to do, and we won’t lie to you or fuck you over. People should know up front how you feel and what you will and won’t take part in. If someone expects something out of me that they shouldn’t, I think of it as my fault, like I am not communicating my ideas/ideals clearly enough.
Was the Zen Mafia show your first radio show?
Yeah pretty much.
How did you find out about KCHUNG?
I think because of Fishbeck. I had already known him from putting put out a Lucky Dragons album. He sent out an email invitation. Initially the Zen Mafia show was supposed to be all of us, but over time it became mostly me and Jenna. A lot of people got their own shows. Any one of our friends can show up any week. At this point there’s at least fifty hours of the shows archived and downloadable, which is pretty rad.
The aesthetic of the show was always very raw. I had never heard radio like that before.
Right off it was like a party show where everyone wanted to talk on the microphone. I feel like that’s so unprofessional that it’s good. We always have the mics turned all the way up. Musically it was so many different kinds of music. I have so many records, that for the first year the idea was to never play the same song twice. We would just bring twenty or thirty records from home that I hadn’t listened to in a while.
You’ve been making music videos recently, right?
That’s a new thing. I hadn’t been pursuing it but I like doing it. 
What was your first video?
Dunes, who are an LA band. 

Still from Dunes,Living Comfortably video, CTD, 2011

That video’s great.
Thanks man. I put out a single from them. They were doing a project where they wanted to make ten videos, so they asked me to make one. My friend, Dan O'Sullivan, who is this awesome cinematographer and editor, had always said I should direct a video and he’d shoot it. So we made it and it was a good experience. We wound up making five or six more in the last year. 
Where do you get your inspiration when you make your videos?
It’s always different. For the Hoax’s video my inspiration was The Long Goodbye. See how far off track I got? I need a starting point and then I see what happens. 
You were always taking photos before you were making videos.
I love doing that. I think that really started for me with Nan Goldin. When I was nineteen, with a skateboard and a backpack just staying on people’s couches and stuff, I always had a black book for drawing and The Ballad of Sexual Dependency in my backpack. It’s weird, her friends are really important to me, because I looked at the photos of her friends so often. I feel that way about my friends.  
Her photos really glamorized drugs and violence. I feel like your photos are different from that.
Well, the fucked up glamorization of sex, drugs, and rock and roll style is so boring to me, and so prevalent. It sells so much. It’s such a dead end, because if you die young, you lose. So I do believe in playing a more positive part, but positive on your own terms. Like maybe a lot of people wouldn’t recognize my life as positive but I see it that way.
How long have you been showing your photos?
The first time I had a show by myself was on my thirtieth birthday. I took Polaroids every day for a year, and then I put them up on a wall in order. There were like four thousand Polaroids or something and I whittled it down to like fifteen hundred. It was totally insane. 

Photo from 'This Natural World', CTD, Family Gallery, 2010

You’ve been having art shows lately, right?
For sure. For years I’ve been putting things on the Internet and some people have kept up with it. I’ve gotten opportunities from that and it seems to be more lately. The only negative part for me… I find that when I do them I don’t feel great right afterwards.
Yeah, it always feels weird after doing a show.
I just try to do it in a way that I’m happy with it, and have no expectations. I’m less fearful every year, and as that’s happened I’m more free with my thinking and my creativity. I am a very late bloomer you know, and so there’s a little bit of an underlying franticness because I feel like I’m just getting started. Luckily people in my family seem to live to like ninety-five on a diet of hamburgers and gin, so I think I still have a lot of time.

From Sex Magazine #4 Summer 2013
Labelled Life