Stephen and Sylvia Jensen of F3 Studios and Wornstar Clothing
by Alex Barbieri
Outside of Chicago, tucked away in a suburban Illinois neighborhood, is a husband and wife creative team who are two of the most sought after photographers and designers in rock ‘n roll. Give two horns up to Stephen and Sylvia Jensen of F3 Studios and Wornstar Clothing, as they share what it’s like to dress and photograph rock stars, then sit down to a nice family dinner. You are now entering Planet Jensen …
HRH: Stephen and Sylvia, thank you for answering some questions for us! This is a little different from a traditional band interview, but should be very interesting for the Hardrock Haven audience. Tell us some of the bands and artists you have photographed and designed clothing for.
STEPHEN JENSEN: Thanks for having us Alex. I’ve been designing and shooting in the music industry since the early ‘90s. I’ve designed artwork, guitars or photography for Megadeth, Dimebag Darrell, Dope, Leslie West, Nonpoint, Hellyeah, 311, Five Finger Death Punch, Alice Cooper, Ronnie James Dio, Anthrax, Whitesnake, Shinedown, Sevendust, Zakk Wylde, Kerry King, George Lynch, Static-X, Soil, Powerman 5000, Dirge Within, Slipknot, Stone Sour, Heart, Saliva, Survivor and the list goes on. I’m proud to be working in this industry with such a diverse group of artists.
SYLVIA JENSEN: We officially started Wornstar Clothing in late 2009, but I had been styling artists for Stephen’s photo shoots for years before that. I started doing custom clothing at the request of a few artists that we’d been working with. Between that and some of the graphic design that Stephen created for printed shirts, we decided to start our own clothing company. Since then I’ve designed clothing worn by Megadeth, Nonpoint, 12 Stones, Dirge Within, Alice Cooper band, Saliva, Uriah Heep, Soil, Dope, Five Finger Death Punch, Danger Danger, Tango Down, Kevin Chalfant, Dimmu Borgir, Bombay Black, Enuff Z’Nuff, Warrant and Panic Cell among many others.
HRH: Stephen, you’ve taken some incredible pictures of Dimebag Darrell. What was it like working with him? Any cool stories you can share for fans?
STEPHEN JENSEN: Working with Darrell was surreal. He was such a larger than life personality but the most down to earth, genuine person that I’ve ever met … bar none. I only photographed him one night live in Chicago, but worked extensively with him designing guitars and guitar graphics for his return to Dean Guitars in the latter half of 2004. I had always wanted to design guitars and had been working for Dean Guitars for about 6 months when I got asked to have a go at designing some artwork for Dimebag’s new Razorback guitar that Dean Guitars was going to release.
The first thing that I came up with was the Rust design that became the first Razorback to be released. I sent several options for a rust guitar. The next day, I was on a conference call with Dimebag with him telling me how much he loved the design. I spent the next two weeks designing more ideas for the release. I then spent a day with Darrell in a hotel room in the Ambassador Hotel in Milwaukee designing dozens of ideas together and fine tuning some existing designs. I was just getting back into photography when I photographed his band Damage Plan the next night in Chicago. He raved about my work, both design and photography. He was my inspiration to start focusing again on photography. Unfortunately, Darrell was killed just days before we were to present him with the first Razorback Rust. It was a tragedy. He was a beautiful soul that loved what he did and had an unconditional love of music and artwork. I’ll never forget the late night phone calls that I’d get from him. He was a real inspiration.
HRH: Sylvia, you’ve been assisting Stephen in the studio for many years, but officially launched Wornstar Clothing last year to rave reviews. What inspires your designs?
SYLVIA JENSEN: Stephen’s talent, creativity, and motivation encouraged me to start down the path of designing clothing for some of the artists that we had been working with. But when the artists would rave about the work that I had been doing for them it pushed me to keep going and eventually start Wornstar. I draw inspiration from the artists that I work with who have such a passion for music and for putting together a great image for their fans. I was a big fan of bands like KISS growing up where image was so important. I love checking out designs from other fashion designers even if they do not fit into the design direction that I create for my artists. I also love getting ideas from costuming and art direction in movies. I enjoy checking out the elegance of designs in period movies like “Titanic,” “Sherlock Holmes,” “Time Machine” and “Gone with the Wind;” the fantastic designs in movies like “Alice in Wonderland” and “Edward Scissorhands” and the decadent designs in movies like “Matrix,” “Dark Knight” and the “Alien” series.
HRH: You’re a happily married couple who works closely together, yet seem to be very much in love. How do you work together — in rock ‘n roll, no less — and keep the fun, passion and commitment alive in your relationship?
STEPHEN JENSEN: Sylvia and I both have similar tastes in music and love discovering new music together. We also, I think, share a brain creatively so bouncing ideas off of one another can come up with some great results. We’ve been together so long, that Sylvia can often tell what I’m thinking without me having to get into a lot of detail. She very much knows the way that I think. We get along so well when we work, and just as well when we are not working. The commitment part is easy … I’m just so in love with Sylvia and we don’t really partake in the excesses of the rock ‘n roll industry. We’re a couple of homebodies just satisfied to be with one another.
SYLVIA JENSEN: We’re a very grounded couple and I’m married to my best friend. Even though we work in the rock ‘n roll industry, we’re not into the whole partying and excess side of it. Don’t get me wrong, working in the rock ‘n roll industry is very fun and exciting. Working together in the industry is easy because we understand each other very well. We’re both big fans of music and the artists that we work with.
HRH: That’s awesome. What photo shoots stand out as some of the craziest or most interesting?
STEPHEN JENSEN: They’re all kind of crazy in their own little way. I really love that every shoot is different. It’s a challenge because you never really know what to expect. One of my favorite shoots was when I had to shoot Damon Johnson and Keri Kelli of Alice Cooper’s band on stage after sound check in New York City. I wanted to have that exciting live feel but wanted to control the lighting with artificial lights. So I had my lights on stage shooting both artists individually, while the rest of the band and road crew heckled Damon and Keri during their shoots. It was quite a challenge to get the right shot.
SYLVIA JENSEN: I have a blast working with artists that are not afraid to flaunt it in front of the camera. That’s when we’re able to get the most out of the clothing and showing off the artist’s personality in the image. Had a blast working with you Alex in the Tango Down shoot, creating all of their clothing and making sure that it fits the vibe that they were going for and seeing your personality come out in front of the camera.
HRH: Thank you, Sylvia. I had a blast working with you both too. That Tango Down Damage Control shoot was one of the coolest experiences of my life—trying on and wearing the clothes custom designed by you and then Stephen shooting us all—truly a very rare and cool experience and one of my favorite memories of that band.
Stephen, do you prefer studio or live photography, and why?
STEPHEN: I really like doing both, but I’d have to say that I prefer studio photography, or artificially lit location photography (basically studio photography, but on location). I really like capturing a scene or an artist in their environment, but I like the control that studio lighting gives me.
HRH: Sylvia, besides the band’s wardrobes, what else do you do behind the scenes at F3 Studios photo shoots?
SYLVIA: I also help with designing props and sets for photo shoots, sometimes as simple as painting a background to as elaborate as designing a “Last Supper” style tablescape and scene for an album cover. I also help our hair and make-up artist Karen Koenig prepare the models and artists for their photo shoots. But styling and wardrobe are my main responsibility and concern on the photo set.
HRH: Stephen, you are also a very talented and in-demand graphic designer. What inspires the album art you create? What is your favorite Dean Guitar design and why?
STEPHEN: Inspiration for my album art comes from all around me. I like listening to all kinds of music and watching all kinds of movies. I really enjoy drama and sci-fi movies. I also love the artwork of other album cover artists like Hugh Syme, Glen Wexler, Storm Thorgerson, P.R. Brown and many others.
When I get asked to create an album cover, I usually am given a title or asked to come up with one. I then try to come up with a strange idea based on that title and try and fit it to the band. I also like taking a lyric out of context and putting a visual to that lyric piece, even if it has nothing to do with that the song is about. The key is to come up with an idea totally out of left field with a clever twist, but not to be so far out there that it’s not accessible or impossible to pull off.
HRH: What is your favorite Dean Guitar design and why?
STEPHEN: I really love the Dimebag Razorback guitar because it was my first and what it meant to Darrell. It really helped to introduce me to the guitar industry. I also love the Angel of Deth that I created for Dave Mustaine, the Xenocide for Rusty Cooley and the Armorflame for Michael Angelo Batio.
HRH: Are there any artists or bands that you would like to photograph or design clothes for, and haven’t yet? Who are some of your dream clients?
STEPHEN: I like working with artists that bring something creative and different to the table or artists that are not afraid with me bringing something different to the table. I think Mudvayne would be a great shoot. Although I’ve shot them live and have shot Chad and Greg with Hellyeah several times, I really like how different and brave the image of Mudvayne is. They are completely unpredictable and artistic. Motley Crue would be awesome as well because I love how they’re always reinventing themselves, but the image is always Motley Crue.
SYLVIA: I enjoy working with the artists that want me to push the envelope a bit and trust me to explore my own vision. I work with men all the time, so I’d like to change it up and design some more for women. I think Pink has a great sense of style, Nancy Wilson of Heart has a great classic rock style, and Joan Jett has a killer image—I’d love to work with all of them.
HRH: What creative projects outside of rock ‘n roll have you both worked on?
STEPHEN: In the music industry, I’ve done plenty outside of rock ‘n roll including blues, jazz, rap, country and pop. Outside of the music industry, I’ve worked with companies like Stern Pinball, Sears, Sara Lee and Kraft Foods. I like the diversity of projects because it keeps my style from getting stale. No one likes to look at the same kind of images all the time.
SYLVIA: I’ve designed clothing for several country and blues artists. I’ve designed some edgy clothing for a roller derby team, radio personalities, and music store staff uniforms. I’ve also created costumes for some local stage productions and countless Halloween costumes for my kids.
HRH: Please give us your first thought that comes to mind on the following words:
Stephen: Captured moments in time
Stephen: Endless possibilities
Sylvia: Can change the way you feel and what you project
Stephen: The key to keeping life interesting
Sylvia: Making something from nothing
Stephen: Trust and love
Sylvia: Keeping promises
Stephen: Unfocused or overfocused
Sylvia: Paul Stanley
Sylvia: My kids
HRH: On the F3 Studios website, you donated special edition photo prints for an auction benefiting the Ronnie James Dio “Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund.” Tell us about those prints and the fundraiser. Have you ever met Ronnie and have a story to share?
STEPHEN: My good friend Keri Kelli of the Alice Cooper Band owns a bar in Las Vegas called Aces N Ales. He was hosting a fundraiser event for the Ronnie James Dio “Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund.” Keri had asked me if I’d donate some of my photo prints to auction for the fundraiser. I always try to help out my friends whenever I can and it was an honor for Keri to ask to be involved with this great cause. I donated a print of Ronnie, Alice Cooper and Dimebag Darrell. I never had the chance to meet Ronnie personally, but the show in Chicago that I shot with Heaven and Hell was amazing. I listened to Dio growing up and it was great to see him on a big stage again up close. He looked so happy like he was having the time of his life grinning from ear to ear. It was clear to me that he just loved what he did and what he was doing.
HRH: Tell us something we don’t know about Stephen and Sylvia Jensen. What would you like to say to the world, or at least to the Hardrock Haven audience?
STEPHEN AND SYLVIA: Keep supporting the music industry, buy albums and go to concerts. Without an audience to buy a band’s products there is no music industry. I’ve seen many bands that simply cannot continue on because they cannot afford to. Artists love to create new art and want their audience to see and hear it, but without support they are nothing.
HRH: Are there other charities, F3 Studios books or Wornstar Clothing you would like to promote?
STEPHEN AND SYLVIA: We have our own charity for our daughter Olivia Jensen who was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease several years ago. She’s doing well, but has to undergo regular medical visits. You can read more about it and donate at www.oliviajensen.com.
You can purchase photo prints of my work at www.f3studios.com. You can also find my photography book of some of my favorite music photos there.
Wornstar Clothing is growing in leaps and bounds. You can purchase clothing items at www.wornstar.com and we’re always looking for new stores that are looking to carry Wornstar Clothing.
HRH: Thank you both very much for your time and openness. This has been a real pleasure. Please keep us posted on what’s going on on Planet Jensen!
STEPHEN: Thanks Alex, it was great talking with you again.
SYLVIA: Thanks for your support, Alex.
View Stephen’s photography and artwork at http://www.f3studios.com/
View and buy Wornstar Clothing at http://www.wornstar.com/
Friend F3 Studios on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/f3studios
Friend Wornstar Clothing on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/wornstar