On This Is War, 30 Seconds To Mars' third release, vocalist/guitarist/composer Jared Leto steps forward as a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who has truly mastered his craft since the band first formed some dozen years ago. From the dynamic and insistent thump of "Kings And Queens" [first single] to the frantic and feverish gallop of the title track, this new album that was four years in completing elevates Leto, brother Shannon on drums and guitarist Tomo Milicevic to the forefront of this melodic-meets-edge genre. Jared, a successful actor, is a thoughtful speaker, controlled yet passionate, and in talking about the new record and the unique place 30 Seconds To Mars occupies, presented himself as someone who truly loved what he does and who was truly pleased with the outcome of their newest album.
UG: You've always thought outside of the box in terms of presenting 30 Seconds to Mars. Your marketing projects and the different ways you've used the Internet really represented new ways of promoting a band. Did you know from the beginning that you were going to use these alternative avenues to publicize the band?
Jared Leto: Yes; we tend to look for things that have been tread upon just a little less than others. I think that it's exciting to do things that haven't been done so many times before or not at all. And it keeps it interesting for us and I would hope the audience as well. And, uh, it's a way to deepen the conversation with our audience around the world and to have a stronger connection as well.
Does this harken back to your early days when you were listening to bands and hoping to somehow meet your heroes? Did you ever think, I'd love to go and meet Jimmy Page or hang out with the Who?
I think for me, some of those bands whether it was Zeppelin or Pink Floyd or the Who they certainly had an idea of community that went along with their bands. And I always responded to that. I was always interested in a very active participation from the audience and the bands. We've always been really open and engaged with our listeners.
Does that give-and-take with your fans truly inform your music? Or is it more of a social networking type of situation?
It's definitely informed us; it's inspired us. And I think the interactivity on This Is War is really a huge part of the album. The Summit that we did, the very first one in Los Angeles, was so encouraging that we ended up doing eight of them around the world. And then eventually a digital version as well.
Can you explain what the Summit is?
For people who don't know what the Summit is, it was just really a collaboration between our audience and the band. And we invited people to participate and record on the new album. It made a big impact on This Is War.
Where did this Summit interactive material end up on the album?
Yeah, they appear on every single song except for two or three.
Another tactic you undertook was a live chat on MySpace. What were the results of that?
It was inspiring; it was exciting. We enjoyed it a lot and we've done it now and I'm not so sure we would repeat that but maybe in a different way we would build upon that idea. It was definitely an interesting thing to do and we learned a lot from it.
If the band had come out back in the days of vinyl, how do you think they might have been perceived? Could 30 Seconds to Mars have created the same musical profile in a pre-Internet world?
Uh, not in the way that we're doing now. We certainly utilize new technologies and we're able to further some of these ideas and make these projects work in a way they wouldn't have been able to in a different age. We're takin' full advantage of the digital age here and it's exciting to use some of the new technologies to help implement creative ideas.
You're obviously a very environmentally-conscious and world-view type of musician. Were you attracted at all to the ideals of the 1960's Woodstock Nation philosophy about getting back to the land and that type of mentality?
Certainly this is a bit of a populist album; it's a bit of a Geminist experience. But at the end of it, it's creativity on creativity's terms and you really follow your muse and your inspiration. And for me, our family of fans and friends around the world was certainly one of the inspiring aspects to making this record.
Videos are a huge part of the creative aspect of 30 Seconds to Mars. In some respects, is making a video the best of both worlds for you where you can combine your acting chops and your talents as a musician?
Well, it's actually one of the few areas where I can take some of what I've learned as an actor on a film set and apply it to directly and tangibly to the task at hand. So it serves me well. But when it comes time to being in them, you're not playing a part; you're being yourself. So it is a complete opposite of being an actor. You're revealing more of yourself when you're making music and not building a character. At least we're not in this band. But you know, when I'm making these short films and working as a director, I'm able to apply what I've learned from some of the great directors I've worked with to making these short films for sure.
In your mind, Jared, what is the purpose of a video? Obviously it's a marketing tool, but on a creative level what is a video supposed to impart?
To tell a story; to further the idea of the song. If you have the right image with the right sound, they can elevate each other and arrive at a place that they wouldn't be able to separately. So I think the collision of image and sound ultimately is even more powerful than either separately. So you look for this perfect place for both to live. I've always taken the approach that these small films that we make, these music videos, are as important as the songs themselves. So they mean a lot to us and it's an opportunity for us to say something about us as individuals, about the song, and about the band.
If you had to pick out a video that really does work, which one would you choose?
As far as other artists are concerned?
No, a 30 Seconds to Mars video.
I think the video for A Beautiful Lie where we went to the Arctic and were on icebergs and glaciers said a lot about who we are as a band and as individuals. It brought the song to a whole new place and I think that it's hard to think of that song without having a sense of that space, that environment; the Arctic. So they kind of become one and the same.
Every time A Beautiful Lie video was downloaded you donated a payment to an environmental program?
Yeah, and we started abeautifullie.org which is kind of our environmental and social network, our website, and we kind of focus some of our concerns and energies towards.
Touching on the From Yesterday video, you shot that in the People's Republic of China? That must have been an extraordinary experience.
It was just the journey of a lifetime. It was really magical to be able to go and I believe we were the first US band to ever shoot a video in its entirety in the People's Republic of China. So that was a pretty cool thing to do. It was challenging to get there; to make it happen; to pull it off. But what a magical thing to do. Unforgettable.
"We tend to look for things that have been tread upon just a little less than others."
Moving onto the touring aspects of the band, 30 Seconds to Mars is about to embark on another European tour. The band have been there before but what do you anticipate? Do you try and shape the music to conform to what a European audience might expect as opposed to, say, an American audience?
Audiences are different everywhere; there's nothing like playing at home. But going abroad and seeing different audiences out there, it's interesting to see culturally how different people react to different songs and to the shows in general. We're plotting and planning our first ever full-grown arena tour right now. It's pretty exciting. We sold out Wembley Arena already and we're still a month away. It's a celebration and something we're really proud of and excited to do.
So the tours have changed since, for example, the Welcome to the Universe tour back in 2006. Obviously things have gotten bigger and more complex in terms of staging and presentation?
Yeah. I mean sometimes the more money you make, the more you spend. But you certainly grow with the shows and you present things in a different way in an arena than you would in a club. It's an opportunity to have a bit more spectacle and then focus on some of the visual and the production things that you weren't able to in a smaller space as well. So, that's a lot of fun.
How difficult is it staging the musical content of the band in a live setting? There are a lot of elements happening on the various tracks from This Is War.
They're all difficult to pull off live actually. For some reason we like to torture ourselves and make quite a bit of work for us. But what's really interesting is now because of the interactivity on this record, the audience is actually in the band. So there's a lot of audience participation and that keeps things really exciting.
Did you know early on that you wanted a second guitar player in the band on a permanent basis? This goes back to talking about how difficult it is to recreate the recorded tracks live. On the first record, you're playing guitars and bass and keyboards though guitarist Solon Bixler does play on several cuts. Did you realize that it would take two guitars to pull off the material live?
The band started as a three-piece; the core of the band is really Shannon [Leto; Jared's brother on drums], Tomo [Milicevic; lead guitar], and me. We have people come and help us on the live show because there's just too much to play now. The songs have gotten too big. We didn't want to put anything on tape or anything like that so we have people playing things live.
As a musician in a trio, did you take your cues at all from three-piece bands that came before you? The Police? Hendrix?
Of course, the Police were a big influence and we listened to them quite a bit. Rush was a band I listened to as a kid quite a bit. I've always liked a good trio.
Where did your chops come from? You're able to jump between guitar and bass and keyboards and vocals pretty effortlessly.
I've always been interested in many different instruments and piano and guitar and bass and synthesizers and utilizing technology to create. I guess I'm a bit of an autodidact [someone self-taught]. I've never really taken any lessons; I really just liked to kind of get to know an instrument myself and find a way to play it that's specific to what I want to get from it. I like to keep things simple. For me, music isn't so much about proficiency or technique; it's about emotion and getting the core of what you're trying to say.
Are your compositions written mainly on guitar?
I would say guitar is my main instrument; I've written more songs on a Martin acoustic than I've written on anything. And then I use a Les Paul often as well.
The Les Paul is your main electric?
Yeah; I've been using an SG a bit live because it's light and fun to play.
So you're essentially a Gibson player. Have you ever experimented with Fender-styled instruments?
I utilized both but live I'll play mostly a custom guitar [a pair of Steve McSwain-designed guitars dubbed Pythagoras and Artemis] that I had built years ago or a Gibson. I like the weight of it and the sound that I get from it. But they're both tools and it depends on the song in the moment and what you're goin' for. But there's nothing that beats the direct, clean tone of a Strat; it's hard to beat that if you're goin' for something on the cleaner side of the world you know?
"We're takin' full advantage of the digital age here and it's exciting to use some of the new technologies to help implement creative ideas."
Is there a lot of experimentation happening on record in terms of guitar tones and textures and things? Flood and Steve Lillywhite who co-produced This Is War are masters are creating ambient guitar sounds and new-sounding tones. Are you pulling out different guitars and different delays and echoes and mixing and matching?
Oh, yeah, we did all kinds of things. Hooked guitars through industrial machinery and played guitars underground and in a church; we did all kinds of crazy things for this album. Played in the middle of the forest; it was experimental and we were definitely on a journey trying to find unique sounds and do things in a different way. It's a great place to be at and exciting and a lot of fun as well.
You have your own studio at home?
Yeah, we built the studio in this house in the Hollywood Hills for this record. And made the entire record ourselves in the house; self-financed; and produced it alongside Flood and then Steve Lillywhite came in at the end and helped finish.
How do you feel now that This Is War has been completed and is out there in the world?
It was something where we were holed up here for a couple of years and made the very best record that we could. We reached inside of ourselves and pushed each other to do the very best that we could. We're happy that the record is finally finished; it's done; it's out. And people are hearing it and we're out on the road and touring and very grateful for that.
Interview by Steven Rosen
"Our family of fans and friends around the world was certainly one of the inspiring aspects to making this record."