Q&A With Jared Leto; 30 Seconds to Mars Plays the Fillmore Tonight

photo by the Cobrasnake
Yes, Jared Leto has been a certified heartthrob for more than 15 years now. But unlike many actors who moonlight in vanity acts, Leto makes serious work of his decade-plus-running band, 30 Seconds to Mars. In fact, it was as an aspiring musician that he first headed to L.A., at age 21. Acting was just a side gig to pay the bills at first, until the accolades and big film roles started rolling in. And at the late-'90s height of Jared Leto frenzy, phase one, it was back to music he turned, at least part-time. He formed 30STM, as it's known to its many seriously devoted fans, with his brother and some friends around 1998. And although there have been some lineup changes, it's been an ongoing. real band since, with regular live performances and tours.

The band's recorded output has been steady, if slow, since then, with just three proper studio albums since 2002 and 2009. And the latest, last year's This Is War, has been especially long in the making, thanks to a series of legal battles. In 2008, the band's then-label, Virgin, sued 30 Seconds to Mars for failing to deliver a contracted third album. To make a long story short, some obscure laws helped free the band, the lawsuit was annulled, and Leto and company went on to self-finance the record. Then, it was pushed back from an original spring 2009 date, but finally, this past December, it dropped on, curiously, Virgin/EMI. Hey, the music industry is a strange thing.

The sense of conflict, and struggling overcoming it, is palpable through the entire album, starting with, of course, the title. Sonically, too, this is a more expansive, relatively experimental new iteration of 30 Seconds To Mars. Gone are many of the older, more obvious poppy hooks, and in its place is a sweeping expansiveness. The songs are still anthemic, but way more atmospheric, washed with echo and synths. 

The band plays at the Fillmore Miami Beach tonight, and tickets are still available. Crossfade caught up with Leto by phone yesterday for a quick chat in advance of the show. Here's what he had to say. 

30 Seconds to Mars, with Mute Math and Neon Trees. 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 27. The Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $30;

Crossfade: I heard you lost your voice late last week. Did you end up having to cancel any shows?

Jared Leto: Yeah, I got sick. We played last Friday in Philadelphia, but I had to cancel the show Monday in Charlotte. It's hard because I've only canceled probably two shows in my whole life, but you have to let your body heal sometimes, you know. We had six shows in a row, so I got this fucking hack that just wouldn't go away.

When you're doing so many shows in a row, do you do anything specific to try to protect your voice?

You know, the best thing to do is not to talk -- and yes, now I'm talking to you -- but that's the best thing, just to kind of rest your voice and get sleep.

You play a couple of Steve McSwain custom guitars that you designed yourself. Are you into gear? What guitars are you playing on this tour?

Well, I don't call them "Steve McSwain custom guitars," because I kind of drew them on a piece of paper and nicknamed them Pythatgoras and Artemis, you know? But I'm not really a gear head, to tell you the truth. I play Fenders and Les Pauls, mostly Gibsons, and Voxes and classic stuff. But I like having a custom guitar that has my own unique tone to it as well. 

Since you started the band, you've averaged about one album every two or three years. 

More like every four or five!

The delay between the second album and the latest one was especially long. How much of that was due to your label troubles, and how much was due to just working through the creative process?

A little bit of both, you know. It just takes the amount of time it takes. You never really can tell with a song, it's done when it's done. Every song has its own timetable; you can't really rush it. You can try, and sometimes you think you can, but songs are interesting, they kind of just grow and finish themselves when they're ready. 

But the legal issues did present a lot of challenges. We made this record ourselves. We financed it ourselves. We hunkered down into a studio that we carved into the Hollywood hills and made the quintessential California album, albeit with a $30 million lawsuit hanging over our shoulders. The record, for a great deal, was about conflict, and our challenges with that. 

With the creative process working it out, like you said, do you schedule specific sessions to write between other projects, or do you just write sporadically, as the ideas come to you?

Sporadically, when I find time. Right now, the record, This is War, is so brand new, that I haven't really started thinking about another record. Pretty much every time I sit in front of a piano or pick up a guitar, I tend to start writing, but this latest record is just so new for us. 

Where do you think the band is, musically, at this point? How has it evolved? You've been tagged with a bunch of different subgenre labels over the years, and none of them have really seemed to fit.

I like what Andy Warhol said, that labels are for cans, not for people. I think we probably have gotten a lot of different labels because people don't really know where to put us. We actually like that. I'm a huge fan of bands like Depeche Mode and the Cure and U2, and they were kind of hard to label in their time as well. You can look back at some of our stuff and try to categorize things, but for us, the band is in part music, it's our life, it's a community, it's a way to express ourselves, so it's probably best to let other people define. 

A lot of the press on this band focuses on the female hysteria surrounding it. I saw you play on the Taste of Chaos tour, and I remember you came into the audience, and I almost got trampled by a crowd of girls chasing you. Has the focus on this Jared-mania ever frustrated you, or do you welcome it?

(Laughs) That's funny. I didn't know that.

You mean you really aren't aware of people talking about that?

I don't really notice it. I don't really pay attention to that kind of stuff. You come to the show and check it out, and you tell me.

This band is really interactive with fans on the Internet, and lately especially on Twitter. How do you find time to manage that?

We have a great team of people who help us with the digital marketing aspects and fulfilling content in the digital realm. I actually have a digital collective, a co-op, that I run called the Hive, that kind of helps to fulfill all of our digital needs and help bridge between us and our audience. Everyone in the band contributes and helps to increase that communication between us and our audience. We're big supporters of it. 

Do you ever actually check the band's feed yourself and answer people?

Yeah, yeah for sure, all the time. 

Just to wrap up, for people who are coming to the show in Miami, what can they expect to be different from your past shows here?

I think what people will see is a new beginning. This record, for us, is everything. We put everything that we have into this. We just finished our very first arena tour in Europe, which was mind-blowing and humbling, and an incredible experience. We sold out Wembley Arena! So we're taking all that energy and putting it into these shows, and people can come and experience that. 

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Arielle Castillo
Contact: Arielle Castillo