Say what you like about Thirty Seconds To Mars, they’re no strangers to hard work. Last year alone brought an acclaimed album release, globetrotting live shows and an award-winning documentary. Just a few months into 2014 and the band is already embarking on one of its most extensive world tours yet.
But then, Jared Leto, Shannon Leto and Tomo Milicevic have never been ones to rest on their laurels (or rest at all, it seems). Starting out as a collaboration between Hollywood actor and one-time My So-Called Life heartthrob Jared and his brother Shannon, Thirty Seconds To Mars’ self-titled debut was released in 2002.
Milicevic joined the band as lead guitarist a year later and the band went on to achieve platinum sales with second album A Beautiful Lie, as well as a clutch of MTV Awards. 11 years and another two albums later, Thirty Seconds To Mars are keeping the tempo up. “It’s a non-stop process, whether it’s touring or making a new album, or just making videos or creating content; we all do a lot of different things,” says Milicevic.
“For us, the album is one thing and the studio and the process of creation should be limitless. If you start thinking about the many limitations of a live show, you’ll probably end up with a less than stellar result. It’s a full-time job – there is no break. We may not be on tour, we may not be currently making an album, but we’re always doing something.”
That maxim certainly rings true for frontman Jared Leto, who’s just won an Oscar for his supporting role in Jean-Marc Vallee’s Dallas Buyers Club. Although he’s acted in just three films over the past six years, Leto’s career spans big-budget action films like The Thin Red Line and critically acclaimed indie productions like Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream. For now, Leto won’t be drawn on whether he’ll make a full-time return to acting.
“I didn’t purposefully say, ‘I’m not going to act for a few years,’” says Leto, “but I got busy with other plans, to paraphrase John Lennon. We got more success than we ever dreamed of with Thirty Seconds To Mars.”
We’re talking the kind of success that leads to connections with NASA. To launch the first single from last year’s album Love, Lust, Faith And Dreams, Leto approached the American space agency about literally launching the first copy of ‘Up In The Air’ on a mission to the International Space Station.
“It was something I thought would be impossible, but with the help of NASA we did it – we put our song in a rocket and sent it 261 miles to the space station and it was incredible. We’re tight now [with NASA] – after you go to space together you get really tight. You have to be patient and persistent and well-organised, and really make your case well, and we did all of those things.”
The Australian leg of Thirty Seconds To Mars’ tour comes after the band was forced to reschedule dates originally planned for August last year due to “unavoidable and unfortunate circumstances”. Milicevic expresses his gratitude for “everyone’s patience” during the postponement, and can’t wait to make the trip. “Audiences are different [everywhere] but you start to notice similarities between people. Even with different languages and completely different cultures, you start to see a lot of similarities, which is interesting. We’re all there united by this common thing in the song; it doesn’t matter if we speak English or they speak Arabic, we’re all there doing the same thing.”
Indeed, Milicevic is familiar with crossing cultural boundaries through music. Born to Bosnian Croat parents in Sarajevo, he emigrated to the United States as a child and began writing his own music at 17. “[Uniting people in music] is probably one of the most incredible things. It’s absolutely an honour and mind-blowing every time.”
The recording process behind Love, Lust, Faith And Dreams was a far cry from the band’s 2009 album This Is War. Made in the midst of a legal battle with Virgin, who was attempting to sue the band for breach of contract, the album was borne out of a tumultuous period in Thirty Seconds To Mars’ history, says Milicevic. “The environment surrounding the process for Love, Lust, Faith And Dreams was completely different; filled with joy and positivity and a limitless search for creativity. That’s how it should be, and I think you can hear it. In some ways, this album is even darker than This Is War as far as the songwriting content goes, but the process was definitely much lighter and I really love this album.”
It doesn’t take a clinical psychologist to figure out that recording an album without the pressure of a $30 million lawsuit makes for a much happier working environment, but while the legal complications undoubtedly took their toll on the band, they also proved to be the inspiration behind Leto’s directorial debut, Artifact. The documentary film follows Thirty Seconds To Mars’ legal battle with Virgin and shines a light on the less savoury side of the music industry. It won the People’s Choice Documentary Award when it premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. “It took five years to finish,” Milicevic says.
“I lived it and I’m part of it but the documentary as a piece of work, it’s Jared’s baby. It was heavy and really dark and surrounded by a lot of uncertainty and confusion. We literally could have lost everything that we had worked for and there would have been nothing we could do about it, so it was definitely scary. The documentary is really great; it’s an interesting look at the behind-the-scenes workings of the music business. Putting out an album has very little to do with creativity and a lot to do with bureaucratic bullshit.”
Happily for Milicevic and his bandmates, the case was settled with a California Appeals Court ruling that no service contract in the state is valid after a period of seven years, and Love, Lust, Faith And Dreams stands as a testament to the band’s strength. “The way it connects with people live is unbelievable, people in Australia will see that at the shows,” says Milicevic. “There’s definitely a fire going around with our concerts in the past year and I know that the new album has a lot to do with it.”
“We’ve got a lot of explosive elements,” Leto adds. “That doesn’t necessarily mean fireworks, but it could. I’m good at keeping secrets.
“We’re going to be spending the next little while practising and getting better and then coming to unleash Love, Lust, Faith And Dreams on the good people of Australia. It’s going to be a night not to miss; we’re not happy until people’s brains explode, their skin sizzles. We want people to bring a diaper in case they shit themselves out of joy.”
By Phoebe Hurst and Nick Jarvis
Love, Lust, Faith And Dreams out now through Universal.