Interview with Shannon Leto from 30 Seconds To Mars: The Grand Finale

The “sex, drugs and rock and roll” lifestyle is something that has been long coveted. But with the “champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” life as a touring band presents a droning struggle of days, months and even years away from loved ones, and a lifestyle filled with culture shock and adaptations.

Despite these struggles, bands like 30 Seconds to Mars thrive off of the touring experience to travel the world and interact with fans one-on-one. And although Jared Leto (lead vocals/guitar), Tomo Miličević (guitar) and Shannon Leto (drums) currently have three albums under their belt and solid sales to boot, the Los Angeles-based trio has established itself as a touring force to be reckoned with.

The 2002 release of the band’s self-titled album marked the beginning of a career driven by theatrics and the out-of-the-ordinary. While Jared’s acting career is what sparked the buzz among critics and listeners, the men continue to outgrow themselves and up the ante on their progressive and electronic-rock sound. A Beautiful Lie (2005) is what shot the band to the big leagues, with dramatic epics including “From Yesterday” and “The Kill.” However, it was 2009’s This Is War that far exceeded fan and critic expectations. With more than 1.5 million albums and 1 million singles sold worldwide, the album was certified platinum in the U.K., Germany and Poland, and has reached gold status in seven countries, including Ireland, Australia and South Africa.

To show their thanks, the Leto brothers and Miličević have dedicated the last two years to touring the world. As a result, the troupe is reaching Guinness World Record status for the most shows played during a single album cycle; and they will be celebrating the honor Dec. 6 and 7 in New York City. Shannon Leto took time out of his schedule to discuss the accolade, life on the road and how their cultured childhoods set the stage for 30 Seconds To Mars’ eccentric ventures.

How’s the tour across seas going?

It’s going great, really great. We’ve been touring France, which has been really fun. It’s just been great to be back in this amazing country. The food’s amazing, the people are great, and we’re just lucky to be able to come back here.

You’ve traveled worldwide and performed in enormous stadiums that are packed to the brim. Are there any notable differences between your international and U.S. fans?

Basically, the biggest, most obvious thing that sticks out is the accents that come when they sing along to our songs (laughs). That’s always something interesting to hear, entertaining really. Overall, our crowds are really energetic and into it, but sometimes you get crowds that are more observing, checking out the visuals and just taking it all in. Other times, you get crowds that are really bombastic and into it. Either way, it’s all fantastic.

Your two shows at Hammerstein Ballroom mark a special event. You’ll be celebrating your 300th show in a single albums cycle, a new Guinness World Record. Let’s be frank, was it even 30 Seconds To Mars’ goal to be a record-holding band?

Not at all (laughs). I think we’re going to be next to the biggest ball of yarn [in the Guinness Book of World Records], or something like that. It’s something fun, you know? My brother sort of questioned it one day, so we looked into it. But it’s funny because at this point, we’ve played well over 300 shows within two years; it was just that 300 is a nice round number. And what better way to celebrate than to play in New York City? It’s something fun to do and really put down in our history. That’s always something we try to do with 30 Seconds To Mars. We want to create that incredible experience and most importantly have fun, whether it’s shooting a video, where we’re shoot a video or the general concept. With our live shows we approach it a similar way.

When I saw you guys at this year’s Bamboozle, I noticed your show had a lot of theatrics and a lot of entertainment value, which isn’t really seen a lot. Obviously, Jared has a lot of history in theater but you all seem so enthralled in it. What are your mindsets when you hit that stage?

The thing about doing music is that you can’t really think too deeply into it. When we’re all playing and performing live, that’s when we’re showing people who we really are. My brother, Tomo and I are as bombastic as we can be up on stage. I think that’s what people are responding to, and we’re just all around a very visual band. We’re into the lights, the production, everything, and I think that’s a direct reflection of mine and Jared’s childhoods. We were drawn to groups that were very visual and conceptual, so that was a blueprint for us in a way, and the reason we’re doing what we’re doing today. But it was all very natural. It is what it is, ya know?

Are there any artists in particular that you draw from?

We don’t really draw from any specific artist. We’ve experienced a lot growing up, moving around a lot, so we read a lot of books, watched a lot of movies, things like that. So we drew a lot from our life experiences. We don’t sit around and think about what other people were doing. I don’t even think my brother and I really went to concerts growing up! I didn’t go to school for drumming or anything, we just had these instruments around when we were four or five years old, and we used them as toys! It all just sort of came full circle and made sense that this is where we ended up.

There were bands we liked, such as Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and Depeche Mode, but we were never really super fans of them. We never stuck with one particular band because we felt there was so much out there and so much going on to do that. I also think that when we started out it was hard to categorize us; so we played and grew how we wanted to. It’s weird to really think about and describe.

Yeah, well it must be awkward to categorize something that is so innate for you all. With that in mind, how do you guys avoid getting in a funk or going on autopilot from touring so much?

Well, it never gets boring because we get to experience so many different countries and people. Each town we go to we get to experience it, meet people, walk around, things like that, so that is always new. In terms of playing live, it’s never mundane because the audience is always different and we always make an effort to change our live show up a bit to make it new and exciting.

When we don’t get sleep, then it gets tough because we’re traveling, there are different time zones, customs, then that’s where you have to adapt. That’s where it can get challenging at times. But that’s the small complaint. It’s all amazing. I’m so grateful to get to do what I’m doing every day. It’s ridiculous.

How would you describe the band’s relationship with fans worldwide and how you guys deliver to ensure they know they’re appreciated?

It’s a real natural thing for us. We make an effort to do all that we can do. I remember when we were doing our first shows, we were always interested in how the audience was participating, and most importantly took those responses into consideration and respected it. Then we just built our performance and interaction from there. It became much more of a back-and-forth conversation, so now we have our own family out there. It’s pretty awesome.

The latest album from 30 Seconds To Mars, This Is War, is a form of personal revolution for you and the band. What was your mindset in developing the lyrical and musical motifs for this album and what you wanted to create for your fans?

First and foremost, we’re not interested in repeating ourselves and doing the same thing. We’re interested in evolving, changing, thinking outside the box and challenging ourselves, so I think that’s really the foundation of who we are as a band. With that, everything else falls into place. From the last album to this album, it’s all different: The producer, to the way recorded and toured. In the end, it’s all about being thankful for change and initiating change every day.

For this album, we wanted to incorporate more of our family: The fans. We had “The Summit” happen in Los Angeles, where people flew in from all over the world and participated in the album; from chanting, to screaming, stomping, clapping and whispering. It all went really well. We also did 2,000 album covers, where the first 2,000 people who submitted their picture could be on our album cover. We like to do different and fun things, and miniature, interactive events to show how grateful we are for them.

There’s a pretty strong two-way relationship between 30 Seconds To Mars and the fans, then.

Yeah, well, everything we get, we put back into 30 Seconds To Mars. Whether it’s recording, production or touring. That’s why we do it. It’s our art and the way we express ourselves. It is what it is, and it’s just the way we do things.

30 Seconds To Mars also has developed a reputation in the music video medium, which is nearly dead. Obviously, “The Kill” was inspired by The Shining, and the video for “Hurricane” seemingly was a short film unto itself. Can you touch on the creative process for “Hurricane” and the overall concept?

My brother has a big hand in creating all of our videos. Basically, “Hurricane” is a 14-minute dream. It’s sexual, abstract, thought-provoking, and it’s something that we’ve never done as a band. We’ve never explored sex before. We wanted to provide our interpretation of what sex is to us. It was shot in New York City, which we love, and all of the people you see in the video are just everyday people. It shows a different part of 30 Seconds To Mars and New York City. Everything was dark and shut down.

The band was engulfed in a bit of controversy with “Hurricane.” It was an overall dark piece that touched on violence, fetishism and a lot of other things people just aren’t comfortable with. Did you have any sort of inkling that it would be so controversial?

You know, it was banned. It was banned on MTV for a while and a lot of worldwide networks. It’s kind of odd, though, when you think about all of the violence and ridiculousness you see on TV. It’s funny when you think about what you can see on TV and what you can’t. But if people really want to see it, they can, you know?

What do you think this sort of backlash says about our culture and general acceptance of biologically innate, yet “taboo” things such as sexuality?

In retrospect, it’s really not that interesting. But for some reason, I think people like to watch the negative. People like to watch others, celebrate other peoples’ failures, who’s cheating on who, who’s getting cast off or kicked out. It’s all kind of ridiculous. Maybe it’s a form of people not wanting to take a closer look at themselves, you know? They want to focus on this other stuff so their thoughts are pulled away.

We can analyze it and discuss it for a while, but I mean, the violence on the news is insane. I just think people need to get their priorities straight. We’re killing our minds, we’re killing the environment, people just need to stop. We need to breathe, stop focusing on our Blackberrys, iPhones and iPads; everything is just a distraction. We need to focus on the community and ourselves. And honestly, I think that’s something that 30 Seconds To Mars does really well. We have this sense of community and respect for people that listen to us, and vice versa, and it’s refreshing.

You guys seem to be the band that keeps moving. What can we expect from 30 Seconds To Mars in the coming year. Will you guys be heading back to the studio or will you actually take a breather for a while?

We’re going to take a step away, honestly. Re-evaluate, readdress and just enjoy our time with family. I mean, in terms of writing and recording, we’re not really sure. We’ll see what happens.


30 Seconds To Mars celebrate Mars 300 on December 6 and 7 at Hammerstein Ballroom. For more information, go to