30 Seconds To Mars / This Is War
4.16.10 / Aragon Ballroom
(updated: See pictures and review from their show at the Aragon in Chicago here!)
In preparation for the upcoming performance by three-piece rock band 30 Seconds To Mars, The Dead Hub though it would be a grand idea for our Chicago readers to get to know a little bit about the group’s lead singer, rhythm guitarist, and sole songwriter Jared Leto. 30 Seconds To Mars also includes Shannon Leto (yes, Jared and Shannon are brothers) on drums/percussion and Tomo Milicevic on lead guitar, violin, and keyboards. The band, hailing from Los Angeles, released their third studio album This Is War in December of 2009. The new record features lead single “Kings And Queens,” which is to be followed by “This Is War” as the second single. Opening acts for 30STM’s Chicago show include MuteMath and Neon Trees.
Read my interview with Jared Leto from 30 Seconds To Mars after the jump…
After researching your writing and publishing credits (ASCAP), it’s obvious you’ve never written with anyone else. If you were to co-write, do you believe you’d have to work harder to get your point across?
“No. I think that if you collaborate with someone, you are sharing the experience,” says Leto. “I would love to work with Robert Smith, Bjork, and many others.”
“I love the process of songwriting,” Leto admits. “I love creating, writing, and touring. I love being in the studio, playing the guitar, bass, synthesizer, and programming.”
“That is an interesting question,” Leto says while carefully contemplating his answer. “It is a dangerous business seeking praise,” cautiously warns Leto. “However, it is nice to get it when it happens.”
“Every song has its own rules; a beginning, middle, and end,” explains Leto. “Quite often, I write most of our songs sitting in front of the piano, which was the first instrument I ever learned to play.” Leto goes on to say that, “I will hear a melody and work on it in my head for weeks and weeks.” A few of the songs that Leto has written for 30 Seconds To Mars were composed with the lead singer sitting in front of a computer. Leto says that “Stranger In A Strange Land” was written entirely in front of a computer.
“We had a beat up old piano in our house,” recalls Leto while reminiscing about his childhood with drummer brother Shannon Leto. “It was rescued from a junkyard, or some place like that. It was an upright piano that had broken keys and was completely out of tune.” Leto says that he remembers “constantly hammering away on the piano” to the point where he could play familiar tunes and write his own songs with the skills he had acquired.
As someone who can actually play the guitar, how do you feel about the whole Rock Band / Guitar Hero game phenomenon?
“I think it’s great. It’s wonderful. Music is changing. Music is leaving one format, such as the CD, and heading to another format, such as video games,” says Leto. The singer makes it clear he believes that, “Music is not disappearing, just changing. Going from format to format.” The rhythm guitarist admits that he has “never played it [Rock Band or Guitar Hero] before.”
How much of the business side of the music industry did you understand when you first started out in your band? Publishing deals (APOCRAPHEX MUSIC)? Recording contracts? Licensing deals?
“I was pretty naive, which is not ideal,” confesses Leto. “I am a quick learner, though. There are good books out there. We learned the hard way.” This last statement is in reference to the very public battle that 30 Seconds To Mars had with their record label. A battle that revolved around a $30 million lawsuit to be precise.
As someone whose band has had their fair share of record label conflicts (i.e. lawsuits, release dates), what advice would you give to someone about to enter the music industry and sign their first contract with a label?
“My advice is that you should surround yourself with people who are very knowledgeable in the music industry,” says Leto. And that is exactly what he and his two band members have done.
What’s the best lyric you’ve ever written? What’s the worst?
“There are lots of worsts, I’m sure,” laughs Leto. “Writing lyrics is not an area that I have struggled with,” exclaims Leto. “I probably obsess over everything, but I do not get hung up on lyrics. They come when they are ready,” Leto says. Thinking about it, Jared explains that his lyrics can take anywhere from a week, to a month, or even a year to finish. “There’s enough people already criticizing my lyrics. I don’t need to criticize the words to our songs as well.”
What do you sing and/or play around the house? Any under-the-radar artists that you’re listening to who people should hear and know about?
“Right now I am listening to Jónsi from Sigur Rós,” says Leto. Doing a little research on Jónsi, I discovered that he is the guitarist and vocalist for Sigur Rós, a band from Iceland now taking “an indefinite hiatus.” In addition to his recently released solo album Go, Jónsi performs together with his boyfriend/partner Alex Somers as an art collaboration called Jónsi & Alex. “I’m really into Fever Ray’s new album [Fever Ray] and have been playing a lot of M83,” Leto says.
“Quite a few,” replies Leto honestly. “We had a public battle with our record label. We terminated our contract and have since re-signed once we all reached an agreement.” 30 Seconds To Mars is signed to Virgin Records, under the EMI umbrella. “There were personal and creative battles with this album, too.” At this point during our phone interview, I get the sense that Jared is being distracted by something. “Sorry, I’m walking through my neighborhood. It looks like they’re doing somebody’s landscaping,” Leto says while apologizing for the momentary lull in conversation. “There’s a cat. With six toes. Bizarre.” Bizarre, indeed.
How much do you rehearse for a tour?
“Quite a bit, actually,” Leto earnestly replies. “I’m off to rehearsal as soon as I’m done talking to you. I’m headed there right now.” Wow. That was weird. “We just got back home. We landed in Los Angeles two days ago and shot the music video for our second single ‘This Is War.’ Now we are preparing for our first U.S. tour in three years,” says Leto. 30 Seconds To Mars kicked off their current spring tour last Friday, April 9th in Las Vegas, NV. The band will be stopping in Chicago this Friday, April 16th playing the Aragon Ballroom.
How do you think the economy is affecting touring and festivals? Has the economy affected your touring cycle this year?
“I think the economy has affected touring in a big way,” says Leto. “Going to a show is a luxury. The first thing that goes when people are strapped for cash are luxuries.” For the record, one ticket for the 30 Seconds To Mars concert in Chicago is only $25.75. I cannot even remember the last show I attended where the ticket price was that low. “We try our best to keep our ticket prices affordable to our fans. We are not out to gouge people.” Obviously not. One ticket to see Mariah Carey in concert when she performed in Chicago this past February cost $250.75. What the heck was that about?! Extortion? Yes, indeed…
What prevents you (if anything) from playing different sets every night? Or from changing songs midshow, depending on your mood?
“We change our set from night to night,” admits Leto. “The last thing we want to do is be up on stage and have everything be programmed.”
How involved are you in the decision-making process of licensing your songs to films, television shows, and commercials?
“It is unbelievable. People just use it [any song of the group’s]. That’s not even licensing!” exclaims a frustrated Leto. “We have to email them [those who use the band’s songs without permission] and ask, ‘Why didn’t you ask us?’ It recently happened to us,” says Leto regrettably. “But people make mistakes,” Leto says reluctantly. “Depending on the country, we don’t even have a choice in the matter,” Leto tells me. This is because of a clause placed in many licensing agreements that gives the media outlet (studio, network, brand, ad agency) a “one-time use” of any of the artist’s songs. Therefore, if the licensee obtains permission of a “one-time use” from the work’s owner [i.e. 30 Seconds To Mars], the licensee can only use the material one time in one film/tv episode/commercial/etc., not in subsequent uses.
What question about your music has become your pet peeve?”
“We don’t really have a pet peeve question. We just have questions that we get asked a lot,” confesses Leto. According to Jared, “How did you come up with the name of your band?” used to be the most frequently asked question the band heard during interviews. Clearly those journalists did not do their homework. Or didn’t check out the band’s Wikipedia page. Or do any research at all. Leto says, “Now, every interview is global. As long as it is put on the Internet.” This interview will definitely be on the World Wide Web. My goal is for fans of 30 Seconds To Mars on every continent to be able to access this Q&A between Jared Leto and The Dead Hub. I hope that fans gain information that they may not have had previously. “People from all over the world can read any one of the interviews we give; all the way from Russia to Texas,” says Leto.
Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy day to chat with me. The Dead Hub will be attending the 30 Seconds To Mars concert in Chicago. We will be photographing and reviewing your band’s performance.
“Very cool. Make sure to bring a long lens. You’ll be shooting from the soundboard. We don’t let photographers shoot from the photo pit.”
Sounds good. Thanks for warning me. I’ll make sure to be prepared to photograph your band with my long zoom lens.
*You can purchase tickets here for the 30STM concert in Chicago this Friday, April 16th, 2010 at the Aragon Ballroom.