Caitlin McCann and Brandon Hagen Have Their Cake and Eat It Too

by Brandon Hagen

Photos Courtesy of Caitlin McCann

 
 

 

Caitlin McCann and I (Brandon Hagen) first crossed paths at a Districts and Vundabar show in Boston. Since then a fruitful, inspiring, creative, loquacious, outrageous, dour and downright reptilian relationship has developed. She's a photographer and I'm a musician. We've traversed the country several times together. In this interview we talked shop like two old friends on a park bench.

Brandon and Caitlin

Brandon and Caitlin

 
 

CAITLIN: Hit me with the questions.

BRANDON: Okay so, I have them numbered. Some are fun and some are not fun at all.

C: Some are not fun?! What!

B: No they’re all pretty fun.

C: Okay...

 

B: Sooooooo CAKE. Sun Club. Districts. Tour. Baltimore. Sun Club... what’s up with them?

C: What do you mean?

B: It’s my first question. “Sun Club...”

C: Is this like fill in the blank?

B: Yeah yeah talk about Sun Club. And the tour.

C: Well that tour in a nutshell was pretty sweaty and boozy.

B: Was it during the summer?

C: No it was this time last year. We were down south for a bit so it was pretty warm, like in New Orleans, Atlanta, and North Carolina. And Sun Club is a good time. They’re fun boys. Devin is crazy, he works out after every set. He’ll play drums and then go for a run and then do one hundred push ups.

B: He’s a very strong boy.

C: Yes very strong.

B: I was watching And The Kids’ Audiotree session and Hannah said “when someone’s a tourist they’re always looking up” and I feel like Sun Club is a group of people who are always looking up: wide eyed, child face. 

C: Yeah they’re always stoked about something. Whenever people ask about them I always use your description of the inflatable tube man.

B: Inflatable wacky armed tube man.

C: It’s totally accurate. 

B: Do they ever deflate?

C: Sometimes they deflate. First thing in the morning they are deflated. And then as the day goes on you can see them start to rise. And then by the show they’re inflated and wacky.

 
The cover of Caitlin's newly released zine, "Cake,"  which features photos from The Districts / Sun Club fall US tour.

The cover of Caitlin's newly released zine, "Cake,"  which features photos from The Districts / Sun Club fall US tour.

 

B: So my second question is: The Districts. Philly. So what? What’s the deal?

C: They’re like some of my number one homies ya know. We basically live together here and then live together on the road and it doesn’t feel much different. Which is cool except that we’re just living in a smaller space.


B: Right. How do you feel like Philly influences you as a person? With making art and taking photos?

C: I guess when I lived in New York, I felt really stressed out and overwhelmed all the time and like always constantly worried about money. But Philly is way more affordable and the pace is better because you’re not overwhelmed with clutter and people all the time. And I think the people in Philly have a different attitude. Everyone is nicer. It’s also a little rougher around the edges to some extent. But not in like a fake way. I feel like I saw too much of that in New York. I keep dissing New York but Philly has brought out a lot of positive stuff.

B: I feel like a lot of it is that you have to do the more commercial things when you’re in New York because it’s so expensive there. So there’s just certain things you can’t really explore and things that you don’t even have the time for. Ya know time is money!

C: Yeah and Philly is so affordable and not over saturated with anything. I mean there’s a lot of music and bands moving here but it’s not one of those things where it’s like “ah fuck there’s a million people doing this thing already there’s no hope for me.” It’s like there’s just the right amount of stuff going on in like every kind of field, art related at least. You can actually do what you want to do. You don’t have to sacrifice as much. I work a day job a couple times a week and the rest of that time is spent doing all my photo stuff. And I can still live comfortably. Then knowing all of that keeps me inspired because I’m not overwhelmed by other shit going on. It’s not a creative damper.

 
 

B: Well that leads into my next question... DYLAN MOSS.

C: YEAH DYLAN!

B: Total nut. Phantasmic art.

C: He is an inspiration for sure.

B: Yeah I was gonna say, how was it being on the road with him?

C: I wish that I was on that entire tour so I could have been around him the whole time because he’s always drawing and is just super awesome and very inspiring because he was always making work. His work is amazing.

 

B: How does being surrounded by artists influence your approach? Does it influence your approach even if the medium is different? Do you learn from your subjects in shooting them and also having relationships with them?

C: Definitely. I’m very absorbent. Not to get all weird about it but with energy—

B: It’s true though! You can feel what’s going on.

C: Yeah and that totally effects the photos too. I learn more about the subjects through being around everyone all the time but also by photographing them. I also learn more about myself by photographing other people which sounds kind of weird but over the last few years I’ve tried to focus on behavior more. That’s why I don’t shoot live photos anymore because in the long run that’s not important. Focusing on behavior leads to focusing on the relationships that we have and especially when it comes to touring, it’s such a weird intimate setting and every relationship is strained in a way and it’s kind of about how everyone handles it. I guess that’s how I’ve figured out who some of my closest friends are too. We can be in that tense setting and still be friends. 

B: I feel like its a way to figure out if you love or hate someone.

C: Definitely.

B: It can be a great way to realize you really like a person or a really terrible way to find out you hate them. It’s a very specific way to learn a lot about people very quickly.

C: Exactly. When we went on tour for the first time, we had only met like 3 times before that. But then we went on tour and it was like okay, this is a friendship here we go.

B: Yes. Beautiful.

C: Yes. It’s weird because I don’t feel like I need to tour to get the photos I want it’s just that touring is super fun and I love music but it is the most intense and the best situation to be put in if I really want to get what I want. I could just take pictures of all of us hanging out at home but I dunno...there’s something about the closeness of having to be around each other all the time and only having each other. It just shows in the photos more.

 

B: How much does sleep deprivation play into your photos? As the person taking the photo and the subject and the print itself?

C: I like taking pictures of people when they’re tired. 

B: I feel like exhaustion is such a heavy theme in your tour photography.

C: Oh definitely. Exhaustion and being tired is one of those things where everyone shows it in the exact same way. It’s that one thing that everyone can relate to. You know when someone is tired ‘cause you can see it in their face and body.

B: Deflated tube man.

C: I also think that it shows the level of energy people are putting into this one thing. I like the exhaustion and showing that touring isn’t vacation or arts and crafts or writing jingles. It’s all mentally and physically exhausting and I feel like it’s important to show that. A lot of older generations who I’ve talked to about it have viewed this as like a fun vacation kind of thing. And I’m like NO it’s the total opposite of that!

 
 

B: I feel like with your books you always have some kind of narrative threading thru them. Do you choose the narrative based on what you want to display in your subjects or from what transpired during the tour or do you realize what the themes/narratives of the series are when it comes to developing and printing? When, if you do, do you conceptualize?

C: Usually it all happens after everything is shot and edited, when I’m coming down to sequencing the photos. I’m not a documentary photographer. I’m choosing to capture this subject in this frame for a reason. And I’m choosing to include this photo and not that one for a reason. So it’s very selective. When it comes to sequencing I try to approach it in a more poetic way and not a chronological way. There’s always some type of theme. Like realizing I took a lot of photos of a similar thing, like someone laying down... what else is part of this question?

B: Ummm I mean you kind of answered all of it. It’s just a matter of when you kind of conceptualize.

C: Yeah it’s always afterwards. I try to be very present when I’m shooting. So I wait to put everything together after.

B: Cool. Okay next question. We know each other very well... tell me one thing you hate about me and 3 things you hate about Drew.

C: Hahahaha WHAT!

B: Just tell me 4 things you hate about Drew.

C: 4 things I hate about Drew... I don’t hate anything about him.

B: Wrong answer.

C: Okay. His face, his face, his face, his face.

B: Hahahaha. I feel like the one thing about me is that I’m mean to Drew.

C: No that’s the one thing that I like about you.

B: Ahaha oh yeah.

C: Nah I dunno I don’t hate anything about you guys.

B: That’s a lie. NEXT QUESTION. This is a conversation we’ve had before and something that we saw when you were touring with us but what kind of misogyny have you come across while you’re on the road?

C: A lot of it. The number one thing is when someone asks “which one is your boyfriend?” And I have to be like noooooo I’m here to work, to photograph, and do merch and whatever else. I think showing up to a show with only dudes makes people assume that I have to be dating someone in the band. Which is fucked that that’s people’s immediate assumption and not that I’m working. I had an encounter with a doorman once where I went off on him ‘cause he straight up asked which one I was sleeping with. Narrowing it down to that is so insulting. It made me so angry. Assuming that all the time is fucked up because there’s plenty of badass women out there who are putting in the work and doing the damn thing.

B: There was a time in San Francisco...that Google guy hit on you or whatever.

C: With you guys?!

B: Yeah what happened?

C: The first tour?

B: Yeah the San Francisco Google man was like “I have a loft, it is very expensive...”

C: Whaaaaat...

B: Did that happen?!

C: I dunno but there was a guy on the first tour at that weird venue in San Francisco. The one where you were yelling at that guy on stage...

B: Ohhhh yeah that drunk guy who was like “I’m gonna kick your ass.”

C: Yeah. There was a guy who came up to me when we were loading out and he asked me if I wanted to get a drink with him and I had no interest so I was like “ahhhh I dunno I don’t think we have time, we have to go right?” and Drew was there and he was like “no we can totally stay for one more drink!”

B: Oh my god...

C: And I like froze up and looked over at Zack and he was shaking his head. After that he was like “we gotta come up with a signal or something.” Drew just had like no idea hahaha.

 

B: In terms of process, what attracts you not just to film but to your point and shoot? 

C: I like how small the point and shoot is. It’s inconspicuous. It’s not as distracting and not as threatening. A couple years ago, I was on tour with The Skins when they were opening for Jake Bugg. We were all hanging out in the green room after the show, and I had my digital camera with the big lens and the big flash. And Jake Bugg, the boy himself, turned to me and said, “I feel like you’re pointing a gun at me right now.” And I felt so bad after that. Ever since, I’ve always preferred the point and shoot. I do not want people to feel that way when I photograph them. And not everyone does but I dunno I feel like a lot of our friends don’t mind having their picture taken but no one is like super hyped about a giant camera in their face. 

B: I feel like I work for the camera.

C: The point and shoot is also easier to always have on me. Aside from the fact that it’s film, I like the quality of it better. It’s not too clean. No matter how hard I try with digital it’s always too clean and if I try to scuff it up it looks like I tried to scuff it up, you know? I think what matters most is that it helps make the subject more comfortable. How do you feel about it?

B: There’s definitely an awareness and an element of performance with a larger camera. Because with taking a photo, it’s not a fake moment but even if it’s a candid, to be aware of the camera can alter the way people act. I feel like sometimes when I know there’s a camera I might tense up a little bit. A smaller one is definitely easier to forget.

I think that’s also something about performance in general, in photo or any kind of art, it’s like an act of artifice that’s supposed to be sincere but there’s something inherently insincere about it. I think that’s part of the weird thing with touring and performing is that you’re doing something that’s on one side so deeply intimate and then also it’s kind of like a masquerade. I feel like your photos are moments where that doesn’t happen but sometimes an awareness of what will be made into content... I guess. The element of performance.

C: What do you mean in terms of content? 

B: I guess being used as art or being put out there to be consumed. I guess that’s the weird thing with performance. Like people are taking snip-its of you and using that as a whole to decide who you are. That’s something that has been weird for me recently. People think they have an idea of you. 

C: Can you tell when people are expecting something? Like when people approach you at a show and have never met you before?

B: Yeah! In general, I’m a pretty withdrawn, subdued person. That’s the way that I’m most in public. It’s weird meeting people and the assumptions people make sometimes is strange. 

C: Pat [Cassidy] and I have talked about this before. He was saying how weird and interesting it is that my art is his life and how The Districts live. He was like it’s cool but so strange when you actually think about it. And when you put it in that perspective I feel super weird about that but I dunno, these are my closest friends so essentially it turns into photographing my life too. They’re the ones in the photos but it is our life. I’m trying to get better at putting myself in my work. I dunno if I’m ready to put myself in the photos yet but I’m trying to figure out other ways to incorporate myself so that the relationship is understood more and I’m not this person with a camera who just happens to be there. 

B: Right. I think there’s definitely a sense of a relationship in your work. It’s a self-portrait in the sense that these are the things you’re experiencing. I feel like that comes thru. ‘Cause you couldn’t get the intimate shots you get otherwise.

C: Yeah I feel like if I were to put myself in the photos more it would become too contrived. 

 
 

B: You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to but Rider suggested putting this in because it’s something they like when they’re reading photography interviews. What are your influences?

C: Hmm I could tell you that earlier today I was gluing inspiration photos in my notebook of this photographer, Andreas Lazslo Konrath who runs Pau Wau Publications. POND actually did an interview with him recently. But his photos are awesome and the fact that he runs a publication and makes his own books is incredible. He’s a current influence. I’ve also been really into Stef Mitchell’s work lately. I looked at a lot of her photos on the tour we did over the summer. Cole Barash obviously. I’ve told you about him before. He’s the reason why I don’t photograph live music anymore ‘cos he did the same thing with snowboarding photography. I kind of just took his advice and stopped photographing the action so I could focus more on the lifestyle and finer details. I think my friends inspire me the most though. Being constantly surrounded by everyone... we all kind of go through certain things together. One night, Robby [Grote] and I were talking about how we both had gone through a shitty creative slump and how frustrating it was to keep making work ‘cause you know that you should, but to not be liking or valuing it. The best thing is knowing you’re not alone when you’re trying to make art and that you’re friends are probably going through the same thing. I think also because my work revolves around my friends so much, that’s where the inspiration comes from in the first place. 

 

B: Totally. One more question! Your photography and touring itself captures the state of liminality, the in betweens, the traveling by car often leads you to interstate gas station, green room, road side stops, etc.. Places that are all different, but all the same. How do you find a sense of place in what from this perspective might be called “a non-place.” Does this relate to your fixation on the desert? 

C: I think the idea of a non-place helps focus on the relationships more. ‘Cause that’s the one consistent thing when you’re constantly on the go. To put it in perspective, I struggle the most with shooting when I’m home; because I’m in a set place. The idea of not having that on the road makes it easier to hone in on the people I’m with instead of the places because they’re constantly changing yet still the same wherever you go. Being everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Did I answer that? What else is in that question? 

B: Kind of. Yeah. Could you elaborate on the desert thing? I feel like your photos also document things outside of the people from time to time. Like that photo of the refrigerator and the broken glass [from Callous Croon].

C: I think growing up so far away from the desert has made me always have a fascination with it. Also I love things that are warm and dry, the sun and cacti and the color all appeal to me aesthetically. With going on tour, since I don’t live in a desert, if we’re out there, I’m gonna photograph the shit out of that because I don’t have access to it at home. I think it’s a weird romantic thing. It’s that thing I’m never around so I just romanticize about it you know? In terms of photographing random things like the refrigerator, that’s where I try to interject my perspective and what I’m experiencing while traveling. The little random things we run into that create a setting without having to take pictures of the place itself and only focusing on the small details.

B: Yeah. Beer. Mood. Geese.

C: Yeah so if you’re looking through a book and you’re like “I’m so tired of looking at Brandon’s face” then you come to a picture of a refrigerator and you’re just like—

B: Thank god!

C: Thank god yeah hahaha.

B: Better than Brandon but not as good as Drew.

C: Exactly.

B: I think we did it.

C: I think we did.

B: Was that good?

C: Yeah those were good questions!

B: Cool. 

 
 

Follow Caitlin's work on her Instagram and see more of Cake on her website, as well as Callous Croonher zine while on tour with Vundabar. And of course keep up with Brandon and Vundabar on the 'gram as well and listen to their tunes here.