With sights set high to match their name, 30 Seconds to Mars talk to Grace Duffy about their latest album and fondness for a good cause
30 Seconds to Mars are clearly focused, driven, and who know what’s important. Though for many they remain Jared Leto’s preferred pastime when he’s not acting, their social conscience and the accomplished manner of their latest release beg further scrutiny from detractors.
“You have to grow into that sound,” says guitarist Tomo Milosevic of the group’s latest album, This Is War. A fiery, ambitious project that expands upon the band’s established catalogue of beautifully anguished rock, it encompasses sweeping orchestrals and soaring vocals to create a piece filled with lushly augmented songs that wouldn’t find themselves out of place on a film soundtrack.
“We’ve always wanted to make a record like that,” Tomo continues. “The three of us, we grew up listening to and falling in love with music that touches on that grandiose, epic scope – stuff like Pink Floyd, U2, Nine Inch Nails. We just had to get to this point where we were able to do it and we finally felt like we did.”
The album, released in December to widespread critical acclaim, was recorded in a specially-designed studio in a house in the Hollywood Hills. The band’s producer, Flood, a seasoned craftsman who has worked with, among others, Depeche Mode and the Smashing Pumpkins, described the group as having set out to make “a classic album, going to places they’d never been before” – something Tomo feels the band achieved perfectly.
“We definitely achieved what we set out to in the sense that we transformed ourselves again and we knew we did everything we could possibly do. When you make a record, you don’t ever want to find yourself in a position where you’re wondering if you could have done more, or put more of yourself into it. We all know we can look at each other and say, this is the best we can do, this is the best 30 Seconds to Mars can do up to this point.”
As the music industry evolves, not always adapting to the new challenges facing it down in the era of internet and file sharing, Tomo notes that the band tried to find an original way of stirring interest.
“Making the release of an album exciting these days is hard. People don’t place a very high value on music anymore, so we try to think of creative ways to make people excited that the record is coming out.”
To this end, the band invited their fans to join them in ‘the Summit’, an impromptu recording session at the Avalon club in LA. It proved such a success that eight more ‘summits’ were held in countries across the globe, and the band also invited fans to submit photos of themselves as potential album covers. More than 2000 different covers were assembled from the submissions, as Tomo emphasises the importance of a “connection with the fanbase” for the group.
“We’ve always been very interested in what people think and their opinions; we wanna hear what’s going on in people’s minds when it comes to 30 Seconds to Mars. From the very beginning of this band that was established and we always continued that connection and this is just another way to do that.”
The album This Is War also continues the band’s focus upon environmental issues, something they feel particularly strongly about. The video for single A Beautiful Lie was shot within the Arctic Circle with the lyrics directing attention upon a struggle that Tomo describes as “everyone’s responsibility” to fight for. However, he rejects the notion that the band, as public figures, feels a greater onus to promote awareness.
“Not for that reason – we feel it’s our responsibility because it is everyone’s responsibility and the fact we might be in the public eye, that’s not why we do it. Touring is dirty and messy and leaves a huge footprint and Shannon [Leto, drums] brought it to us and said, ‘We should do something about this.’ He’s the person who can take credit for getting the band on that train. Once you realise what’s really going on out in the world, it’s hard not to become actively involved. We’ve all implemented it in our personal lives and we share what do with other people who are interested.”
The aforementioned single also lent its name to the website abeautifullie.org, which offers advice on how one can implement green-friendliness in their everyday lives. However, the band’s most spectacular achievement to date is arguably the video for From Yesterday, an 11-minute epic based upon The Last Emperor which was shot entirely in China. Such a feat was unheard of before the “insane mind of Jared” got to work, as Tomo describes it.
“He’s the mastermind behind those things. He’s very driven. We talked about this video when he pitched the idea, and he kept saying we should go and actually make it in China, and everyone said of course they won’t let us do it. People like to give you a lot of reasons not to do something, but Jared will often find a reason to do something and he’s often successful at it.”
Indeed, a man of many talents for a group of many faces – “half a minute to another planet,” and going places for certain.