The PV Q&A: Thirty Seconds to Mars' Jared Leto—"It Feels Like a Brand New Beginning For Us"

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BY Tom Lanham

You’ve got to hand it to Thirty Seconds to Mars frontman Jared Leto. When he wanted to announce his outfit’s return with an apocalyptic new fourth salvo, Love Lust Faith + Dreams, he really went the astronomical distance—and quite literally, by sending the set’s flagship single “Up in the Air” into the stratosphere aboard a Falcon rocket headed straight for the International Space Station, where it had its recent premiere.

And the singer was even present for lift-off. “We had this crazy idea to send our music to space, to launch the single, to launch the video and then the album, and to launch this new chapter in our life,” Leto explains. “So we went to NASA and put our CD in a rocket, and it shot 261-miles up to the station. And we debuted our song in space!”

And it does mark a new genesis for Thirty Seconds to Mars: “Love Lust” opens with the jazzy, swinging horns of “Birth,” then keps upping the sonic ante with the marching “Conquistador,” a furious, string-buttressed “The Race,” the morbid piano dirge “End of All Days,” a huge coliseum rocker called “Bright Lights,” and the serpentine, rattlesnake-percussion perambulator “Northern Lights,” with Leto intoning “They don’t believe that I have a soul left to be saved.” He finishes the thought on the closing acoustic ballad “Depuis L Debut,” wherein he coldly notes that “I dance with a billion devils” and “Died from a life of sin,” then chorus promises “There will be blood.”

What’s been going on in his life since 2009’s tortured This is War? Quite a lot, as he related last week, after opening his Church of Mars Tour at—where else?—St. Peter’s Church in Chelsea, New York City.

PureVolume: You actually got Damien Hirst to do your album cover? How?
I begged! And I was really, really psyched that he said yes. And it was great—we used it in the video, and we used it as the album cover. And not only one Damien Hirst painting, but actually two—there’s one on the CD itself. And I’ve always been inspired by his work. He’s a mad scientist, a provocateur, so it was really great to use some of his art, really wonderful. He’s pretty legendary, and the thing I like about his art is, it makes you think. It makes you reconsider the possibilities. And not just about art, but about love and death and beauty. And that was in line with Love Lust Faith + Dreams, an album that’s really about all of those things.
There’s an apocalyptic feel to this record, an end-of-days kind of feel. What were you going through?
Hmm. Good question. I don’t know ... but I think that the last album was about conflicts: We had a giant battle with our record company, they sued us for $30 million, we fought them for two years and subsequently made a film about it as well, called Artifact. But it was an album about conflict and survival. And this is an album that’s much more reflective. And it was made without the burden of a giant war on our shoulders, and it was actually really a lot of fun. It was exactly how it should be.

Thirty Seconds to Mars at the 2013 KROQ Weenie Roast. Click here to view more photos (PHOTO: Christopher Victorio/PureVolume)

In “The Race,” you talk about lessons you’ve learned and you promise "never again." What are you referring to?
I think just learning. And life. Growing up, taking what you’ve learned and applying it, and hoping that you become a better version of yourself.
What do you know now that you didn’t a few years ago?
I think all of us in the band, I think we have a greater understanding of who we are. As people, as musicians, with what we have to offer and what we have to say. So there’s probably a greater sense of who we are as Thirty Seconds to Mars and less of our influences this time. And I think probably a greater sense of confidence as a songwriter—I think it’s all of those things.
In “Up in the Air,” you say “Is this the end I feel?” Could be. It certainly seems like humanity has doomed itself to extinction.
Well, I guess I just can’t write a pop record. But I think that with every end comes a new beginning, and that’s kind of how I feel about the album. It feels like a brand new beginning for us. You know, I was in India, and I wrote a song called “Pyres of Varanasi,” and it was inspired by a place where they have been cremating bodies on the Ganges river for about 5,000 years. And it’s an incredibly intense place. There were bodies being burned everywhere, bodies going through a funeral procession and being left in the river Ganges. So although it’s about death, there’s something beautiful about it as well, and something that makes you think about life itself and how magical life can be. I don’t necessarily intend those things to be grim. Like “Do or Die”—it’s more about standing up and living out your dreams. It’s not necessarily on the dark side.
And you’re also looking back and assessing your own life, as on “City of Angels.”
Yeah, I think so. That was a very personal song, obviously, about a specific place: Los Angeles. But it could be ... well, when I was a younger kid, it was New York City. That was the place where I went to make my dreams come true, at that time to be a painter, an artist. I was in art school and New York was the place where you went to makes those things come alive. And as I got older, I started studying film and I came out to Los Angeles. But it could be Paris, it could be Shanghai, it could be San Francisco, Palo Alto, anywhere. A place where you go to realize yourself and your dreams.
I like the fact that you use your website to showcase other artists and photographers, not really yourself.
Yeah. I like to share things that I find are interesting. If I stumble upon something online, I like to pass it on. And I get inspired quite a bit by visual art, and I just like to share the wealth.
There were all these gaunt photos of you that started appearing for awhile, and at first it looked like you were really ill. But of course, it was for a movie role in Dallas Buyers Club. How much weight did you lose?
A little over 30-pounds. It was the first film that I’d made in about five years, and I played a transgendered person who was dying of AIDS, and who was also battling drug addiction. And losing weight was part of the process of bringing the character to life.

Thirty Seconds to Mars at the 2013 KROQ Weenie Roast. Click here to view more photos (PHOTO: Christopher Victorio/PureVolume)

But the film is based on the true story of Ron Woodruff, played by Matthew McConaughey, who was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1985 and given 30 days to live. But he establishes a "buyers club" for AIDS medications that weren’t readily available at the time.
Yeah. In 1985 and 1986, there really wasn’t a lot of medication around. I learned a lot from that role: it was an education and it took me on a journey. And that’s one of the things that’s nice about making a film like that—it was a really intense commitment, and I’m really glad that I did it. And it was towards the end of making the album, so it was nice to have a little bit of something else to experiment with. You know, you learn one thing, you apply it to another.
Do you still paint?
Yeah. I do still make art. Most of my creativity I kinda channel into the music and these bizarre little videos that we do, these short films for the songs. Which is really just a way to paint with a camera, especially this latest one for “Up in the Air”—I’m working with Damien Hirst and Dita Von Teese and the US Olympic Gymnastics Team. And it was a lot of fun—it was this hallucinogenic journey through this massive space in Los Angeles, this million-square-foot hangar in Long Beach.
Was your album title inspired by the Rolling Stones song “Shattered”?
No, I’d never heard that before! So no, it wasn’t an homage to that. But what a great song.
PV: Well, the Stones are still out there, rocking harder than ever. At 41, you should take that as a good sign that the rock and roll spirit never leaves you.
Yeah. I still feel a spirit to create and share things with people. And to work really hard and make something great—something that people will be excited about and enjoy. I still feel the passion to do that, for sure, and to get onstage and play these songs. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s a very magical and unique thing to be able to do, so I feel really grateful. And I think gratitude really helps keep you inspired, helps keep you going.

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