Realizing Synesthesia

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Chloe Sens gets artsy with Weezer’s Black Album cover.

Vinyl copy of Weezer's Black Album in which Chloe Sens did the make-up
Weezer's Black Album cover

There is a term called “synesthesia,” meaning the union of the senses. Grapheme-color synesthesia is the perception of numbers, letters and emotion as a specific color—especially vowels. Hearing colors is common for musicians, which is why all of Weezer’s albums have been titled either with a color in the name, predominantly on the cover or with the theory of color synesthesia behind the title—meaning. To help the alternative-rock band fully realize this synesthesia for their newest album cover was make-up artist Chloe Sens, who relied on her experience to create a stunning, visually impactful cover.

Weezer’s last album was the White Album. Their newest album, the Black Album, is a much different album and thus a contrasting color made sense. Sens informs, “Weezer has always done really colorful full albums. Lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Rivers Cuomo is extremely intellectual, and I believe his mind works on a much more philosophical way than most.”

The concept for this cover was simple: cover the musicians in black goo. However, the process was not so simple. 

Weezer's Teal Album
Weezer's Teal Album cover

Experience: Leading Up to the Project

Growing up in Austin, Texas, Sens was always involved in the alternative music scene, so this particular job really resonated with her. “Weezer was a part of my youth,” says Sens, “so when I got the call that not only was it for Weezer but it was for their album cover, I immediately said yes.

“I was always going to shows and loved the energy of live music and it became a big part of my life. That feeling has followed me in my career where some of the most exciting projects to me are ones surrounding music.”

Several years ago, Sens started working with commercial and music video director/editor Caleb Mallery. And over the years, the pair completed many projects together, including one for Memphis May Fire, which called for black goo to drip down faces and hands. A few years after that, Mallery started working closely with the production company Tension Division (TNSN DVSN), who was focusing on projects within the music industry.

Brandon Rike and Joel Cook, from TNSN DVSN, first wrote the treatment for the Black Album’s cover, and when they did so Mallery’s name popped into their heads, because, hey, he had done a video with black goo in it once … he might know where that make-up artist is.

And he did.

The glasses on the table prior to make-up application for Weezer's Black Album cover shoot
The glasses for the shoot

Making the Goo

Having done something similar in the past, Sens had a rough idea of how to approach the project “but not only was this on a much larger scale in regard to the volume,” she admits, “there were things that I wanted to change from the first time.”

The first time she had used a mixture of Hershey’s syrup and a cosmetic “tar.” “Not only was it very sticky and there was some light stinging in the eyes,” she explains, “and I felt the color was not the true deep black that was needed for this shoot.”

TNSN DVSN emphasized that they wanted the “goo” to be very black and glossy but also wouldn’t stain the skin, saturate the clothes and would be easy enough to wash off.  

They were very clear in their vision and in the conversations, explains Sens, so it was easy for her to visualize what the final look would be. “They truly put all of their trust in me, so it gave me the freedom to think outside the box.

“A few years ago I did a music video for Atlas Genius,” Sens explains, “where I had to make white goo that could be showered off on camera just by the water pressure. I used methylcellulose (food thickener) and nontoxic tempera paint. This worked really well so I knew the first step would be to try this. The second challenge was to get the correct consistency of Methocel powder-to-water to create something that would flow but also stick to the skin evenly.

Rivers Cuomo covered in black goo for Weezer's Black Album cover in which Chloe Sens did the make-up
Weezer's lead singer and guitarist Rivers Cuomo covered in black goo

“I started coloring it with food coloring liquids and gels, but the issue was that it stained the skin really bad. So I went back to the nontoxic tempera paint idea and it worked. The second issue was figuring out the math to make 30 gallons (5-gallon buckets) that were all the exact same consistency. I started on the thin side in each bucket and added the same amount of powder to each as I went, using a Jiffy Mixer to make sure it was thoroughly mixed. The issue with Methocel is that as the water cools, it becomes thicker. So, I had to really keep an eye on it. The whole process took about 12 hours.”

Initial tests proved to be extremely helpful. Sens would send the videos to Rike and Cool for approval. She recalls this being helpful, as she was able to see it through the camera, and how it stuck to the skin as well as being able to see the level of gloss. “I found that the more pigment that was added, the more that it began to look dull and grainy,” she explains. “When I sent the final video of what I thought was going to be the perfect mix, they agreed and were really excited about it, so I knew it was fully realized for all of us and I could move forward with making the 30 gallons. My thought process was one bucket per artist, one for the photo test and one as a backup. We ended up having some left over.”

Chloe Sens' assistant Jo Holland for make-up application on the band Weezer for their Black Album cover
Chloe Sens' assistant Jo Holland

New Challenges

Getting the 30 gallons to the shoot itself proved to be a challenge.

“If a job runs completely smooth with no hurdles or challenges of any kind I always feel like there’s something not quite right,” Sens says. “And boy did we have some excitement!”

Because Methocel is created from plant cells, it is also perishable, and refrigeration slows down the process. With this information, Sens decided the best thing to do would be to make it the day before the shoot, so it was fresh.

“After I had spent 12 hours and a chunk of change making 30 gallons (remember 6, 5-gallon buckets),” Sens explains, “I got a call from Joel, and he told me that one of the guys in the band had come down with the flu, and we were going to have to push the shoot four days. He asked if it could be saved and I explained the only way would be to find a walk-in fridge. Problem one to solve. I called all my friends that work in bars begging them to hold this stuff for a few days. Problem two was that it was Halloween weekend and everyone’s fridges were full of kegs.

“Finally, I found a friend with a bar downtown that agreed. I loaded up all of the (very heavy) buckets and snuck them in the back door of the bar and promised to get them the night before the shoot so they weren’t ice cold on the day. Problem three was the next day when I got a call from her, and she told me the health inspector was there for her annual random check in. And boy she was not happy! And she wanted the bar to dump them. I begged my friend not to dump them and explained that they were nontoxic and food grade. The inspector agreed and just told them that they should have been labeled. All was well again, and I picked them up the next day. I’ll never forget this project for so many reasons! It’s always an adventure in this industry and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Buckets of goo for Chloe Sen's make-up on Weezer's Black Album
Buckets of goo for Chloe Sen's make-up on Weezer's Black Album
The buckets of goo

Date of the Shoot: Applying the Goo

Once on set, Sens hit her stride. The shot list and creative was always very clear, she says, which made things run smooth. TNSN DVSN wanted three stages: Head and shoulders, then to waist and the final being fully covered.

“I knew that we would have to have several people pouring at once and once we started we had to just keep going until they were covered,” Sen explains. “We started from the tops of their heads and then would step out every minute or so, so that Brendan Walter the photographer could get the shots. I brought on a great artist and friend, Jo Holland, to help me orchestrate all of this.” 

The project was a success. The goo was applied, the shots were captured, and Sens now has one of her most treasured and memorable experience as a make-up artist.

“The whole shoot only took about 20 minutes and then we had towels and showers waiting for them”, says Sens. “I remember when we were pouring the goo there were moments when I would just stand back and go “I seriously cannot believe that we are doing this to them, this is the best day ever!”

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