The Los Angeles-based band Thirty Seconds to Mars has been known since its 2002 debut album for its angst-ridden, emo-friendly brand of alternative rock. Polished and theatrical, their anthemic songs have rocketed them far beyond the initial curiosity that stemmed from lead singer Jared Leto's acting career. Supported by a swooning fan club called the Echelon, they've become a popular musical force without being overshadowed by Leto's Hollywood star status.
On Dec. 8, the band will perform at The Big Ticket music festival at Metropolitan Park. Drummer Shannon Leto, Jared's older brother, recently chatted with Folio Weekly about the band's fresh start with its latest album, "Love, Lust, Faith + Dreams," and its special connection to Jacksonville.
Folio Weekly: What are the pros and cons of participating in a festival like The Big Ticket rather than playing your own show?
Shannon Leto: It's not your show, so it's not all your production. That's the con. You know what? I just love to play in front of people. When you're at a festival, you get subjected to a lot people you wouldn't normally play in front of, so your music gets exposed to a lot people. Then you get to see other bands that you haven't seen in a while or meet new bands. … I love playing festivals and I'm really excited to, um — in Jacksonville, right?
FW: Yeah, you'll be playing with Stone
SL: We love Jacksonville. Jacksonville's special for us. That's the first time we ever heard our song on the radio.
F.W.: Really? Which song was it?
S.L.: God, which song was it? I believe it was "Capricorn," back in the day. … Yeah, we were at the, uh God, what's the name of that — uuuuuhhhhhhh — you know, the hardware store, the huge one?
F.W.: The Home Depot?
S.L.: Yeah, we were at Home Depot, and I remember we knew what time they were gonna play it. We went running out to the parking lot, and we heard it. It was unreal.
F.W.: About the latest release: it's a concept album. How did that evolve?
S.L.: We wanted to abandon any old ideas that we had. We wanted to start new, strip down and just start fresh. This album's really special and unique because we got the chance to use instruments that we never used before. We used these Taiko drums we got from Japan. We got to use this wind-up music box that we had as kids. … We really pushed ourselves. It's a little similar to our first album in a way, with all the electronics going on, but different. Songs breathe a lot more. I think we really set out to do something different, and we accomplished that goal. That's really what we want to do, is always change and grow and think outside the box and evolve.
F.W.: Jared writes most of the songs, but you've contributed a couple of instrumentals, like "Convergence." What's the importance of having instrumentals on a rock album?
S.L.: They give the album a breath. It adds another color. That's really it.
F.W.: In what other ways has this been a new beginning for the band — on a personal level?
S.L.: It's a fresh start. It's a rebirth. On the last album, we were being sued for $30 million [by EMI/Virgin Records for a breach of contract]. During that whole process of recording, we had that monkey on our backs. … Trying to create and work under those conditions and environment, obviously, is hard. But I think if we weren't being sued for $30 million, we wouldn't have "This Is War," because that album is about that, about fighting for what you believe in. This album, we were freer to express ourselves, and like I was talking about breaths before, there's a lot of breaths on this album and you can hear it.
FW: On a different note, the band name comes from a thesis written by a former Harvard professor. Have you ever been in contact with him?
SL: We have.
FW: Did he know about the band?
SL: He did not know about the band. He’s this guy who lives in a cabin. He’s this old guy that lives in the mountains, you know, and listens to Appalachian Trail music. Mountain hymns, literally. He’s just like, he keeps to himself. He’s not part of this world, really. He’s pretty trippy, this guy. He kinda lost his mind.
F.W.: Tell me about this tour. What's in store for the crowd?
S.L.: A lot of chaos. A lot of blood. A lot of animals running around. A lot of sweat. A lot of brute. It's bombastic, you know, and it's intimate and energetic and spontaneous.