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30 Seconds To Mars Songwriter Jared Leto Talks Business

30 Seconds To Mars / This Is War
4.16.10 / Aragon Ballroom
Chicago, IL30 Seconds to mars Jared Leto

(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.”

30 Seconds to Mars This is War CoverDo you feel that you’re recognized more for one talent over another when it comes to your songwriting, singing, and guitar playing?

“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.”

Jared LetoDo you prefer fans and critics to praise one skill more than the other?

“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.”

30 Seconds to MarsWhat is the writing process like for you and how does it begin? Acoustic guitar? Piano? Lyrics first? Tough/easy?

“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.

30 Seconds to Mars Kings and Queens coverHow did you first learn to play the guitar and piano?

“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.

30 Seconds to Mars

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.”

30 Seconds to Mars

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.

30 Seconds to Mars

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.

30 Seconds to Mars Kings and Queens video

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.”

30 Seconds to Mars jared leto

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.

30 Seconds to Mars Jared LetoWhat challenges, if any, did you face putting the new album This Is War together (production, writing, recording)?

“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.

Jared Leto

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.

Jared Leto

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…

30 Seconds to Mars

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.”

30 Seconds to Mars

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.

Jared Leto

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.

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  1. I am jealous…I hate you Jen! ;)

  2. Sarah says:

    Great interview :)

  3. joliechose says:

    Great great interview! Thank you.

  4. Katy says:

    I love the part about his beat up old piano that he learned on! Very nice interview.

  5. Audriena says:

    Great interview! He’s such an interesting guy

  6. Jamie says:

    He will always be Jordan Catalano to me! I suppose 30 Seconds to Mars is pretty good too. :)

  7. Kate Jacobsen says:

    Can’t wait to see him Friday:) I LOVED the questions you asked! Woot woot

  8. apple says:

    I love the questions you asked him! Very good interview!
    Ohh i love that about his old and out of tone piano :)

  9. Camellie says:

    Great interview guys! Oh and by the way, what a great surprise to find the wallpaper I created included in the pictures you chose to illustrate the article. I feel flattered ;)

  10. I loved the questions and answers that Jared is very true god all he said, sadly I wont be able to attend the concert in Chicago but I’m sure it will be an excellent concert, I love 30seconds to mars!

  11. Lolly says:

    Thank you,Jen, for the interesting interview) Thank you,Jared, for the 30STM and for affordable ticket price on your shows. I would come to the show even if the prices were much higher))) Your shows are worth it.

  12. Alyssa says:

    Awesome interview, the questions were really unique and refreshing. The interview definitely furthered my knowledge of the band!

  13. Yulia says:

    thanks)) for the interview you have opened our eyes to the many questions about creating your songs and music)))
    We look forward to welcoming you again in Russia)))

  14. Carmen says:

    Wow, I really enjoyed that.

  15. Marina says:

    Great interview, thanks alot ^_^

    I just wanted to know what was weird about that.. I am asking, because I didn’t understood what the weird thing was…thx

    “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

  16. kendraro says:

    Very Nice. I would have liked to know a little more about the licensing issue, since Kings & Queens is popping up everywhere :) but maybe that is a touchy subject. Definitely appreciate those reasonable ticket prices! Next we just need to get them touring like the Grateful Dead with 2-3 shows in each location!

  17. Sherry says:

    As always a great interview. I love that Jared thinks about his fans and yes the economy is affecting some of us. Your awesome Jared and of course the band. You have an awesome heart and you deserve all the sucess. LOVE 3STMS!!!!!

  18. Susana says:

    “constantly hammering away on the piano” – The best!
    Thank ypu for sharing it with us!

  19. Judith says:

    As ever, nice interview with Jared who is always polite even when the interviewer is not, though not in this case (interviewer polite). Nice to hear him talk about how the lyrics come to him and how he writes his wonderful songs. I can just imagine a wide eyed boy slamming away at his battered old piano in an effort to write his first songs. Bless him, things like that are what we his avid supporters want to hear not who he has been romantically linked with in the tabloid press (interviewers take note).

    He is a very talented and hardworking man as are his bandmates Shannon and Tomo, the band are talented musicians and it is a three way effort! 30 Seconds to Mars rock!!!

    Judith Northeast of England UK.

  20. Deb says:

    That was the best 30 Seconds to Mars interview I’ve read since the new CD came out in December! Thanks so much for coming up with intelligent, different questions for him!

  21. Elaine says:

    Thanks for the interview, Jared!

  22. memey says:

    jared…,i love u..


  1. […] Boyer from The Dead Hub chatted with Jared and this is what he told her: In preparation for the upcoming performance by […]

  2. […] More photos of 30 Seconds To Mars and the night’s set list after the jump… and don’t forget to read our interview with Jared Leto here! […]

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