Thirty Seconds to Mars Biography
Shannon Leto --drums
Tomo Milicevic --guitars
Matt Wachter -- bass
30 Seconds to Mars' self-titled 2002 debut established the group as fresh, new force, revealing a multi-faceted outfit that thrived on creative exploration and escape. And for their follow-up, A Beautiful Lie, frontman Jared Leto wanted to explore an entirely new, far more confessional sonic landscape.
"On the first record I created a world, then hid behind it," Leto says. "With A Beautiful Lie, it was time to take a more personal and less cerebral approach. Although this record is still full of conceptual elements and thematic ideas it is ultimately much more wrapped around the heart than the head. It's about brutal honesty, growth, change. It's an incredibly intimate look into a life that is in the crossroads. A raw emotional journey. A story of life, love, death, pain, joy, and passion. Of what it is to be human."
In addition to being more lyrically direct, A Beautiful Lie has undergone a musical transformation as well. Progressive, multi-tracked passages have been replaced by leaner and far more impacting constructs and some of the eclecticism has been focused in order to compliment the honesty of the songwriting. "We wanted to focus on the insides of the song," Jared says. "To cut away anything extraneous. To get to the truth of it all. For us, it wasn't about how much we could do but about how little. That was the beginning of a lot of challenges. I worked hard to create something very special and different the first time around, sonically and conceptually. And that first CD will always be that, no matter what. But, in order to move forward you have to leave some things behind. That was not always the easiest thing to do. In some ways, it was the birth of something new and the death of something old."
The results are transcendent. The first single, "Attack," is a dynamic expression of rebirth and renewal that features energetic keyboards, vast, abrasive guitars and infectious vocals, which soar from a pain-stricken wail to an intimate whisper. "The Kill" is more reflective, driven by beautifully complex guitars and a primal beat that segue into an epic, anthemic refrain, and "Was it a Dream" is an intimate, melodic, and surreal experience, pulsing with a moody rhythm that's equally redolent of the Cure, and U2.
"We needed this album to be something that re-set the bar for us," Leto says. "As proud as we are of our previous efforts, I really wanted to destroy the first record by making a second one. The last thing we wanted to do was make the same record twice."
"It was important for it to be emotionally accessible, and also stripped down and raw," says Jared's brother and drummer Shannon. "We needed this record to sound really genuine and honest."
Dramatic transformation often comes at a price and 30 Seconds to Mars is no exception. The musical and lyrical changes that resonate throughout A Beautiful Lie reflect the sometimes painful development Jared and his bandmates underwent before and during the creation of the record. "There were a lot of intense changes taking place for us during the making of this project, personally and artistically," Jared says. "Change was an important theme this time around and you can feel it. However, as dark and reflective as some of the moments on this CD can be, there is always a huge sense of optimism and celebration. It was a battle. And in a way, it’s about going to war. Going to war with yourself and winning."
Jared is no stranger to winning. In addition to fronting a successful rock band, he has acted in over 15 acclaimed films, including "Requiem For Dream," "Panic Room," "Fight Club," "American Psycho" and "Alexander." And the fact that a great many gifted thespians have pumped out some pretty awful albums hasn't slowed him at all.
"Any time you have a precedent that's negative like that, you're gonna have an uphill battle," he agrees. "I've never shied away from that."
"When we toured for the last album, we were going to war every night," adds Shannon." "We played well over 300 shows, and eventually we won that battle. Now that we've accomplished that, this record was more about us continuing to grow and make really great songs."
Jared started penning A Beautiful Lie during the tour for the band's debut, and eventually ended up writing the album in five different countries on four different continents and recording from LA to NYC to South Africa. The title track and three other songs were composed in Cape Town, South Africa, and eventually the bandmates joined him in South Africa to work on the tracks. It was during this period that Jared came up with the title for the record.
"I was living in this house overlooking the ocean and it was breathtakingly beautiful," he explains. "But amidst all of this, there was an overwhelming amount of contradiction between the beauty of nature and the destruction of man. I saw this a lot as I traveled the world from Asia to Europe and at home. It made me think about these contradictions in life, the choices we make to believe in something at the cost of something else, whether it's being in a relationship or going to war. But there's something incredibly inspiring, optimistic, and romantic about making those choices. Especially considering that no matter what, we all collectively choose to keep moving forward."
Joining the Leto brothers in the studio for the first time were guitarist Tomo Milicevic and bassist Matt Wachter, both of whom toured for the first 30 Seconds to Mars album. On that disc, Jared recorded all of the guitar, bass and synth parts as well as the vocals, with Shannon playing the drums, but this time, a more collaborative route developed, which was new and exciting, but very challenging as well. Ultimately, it resulted in a very rewarding and productive collaboration.
"At first we weren't really sure what our role was gonna be," Milicevic says. "But it became more defined as time went on. Jared would bring in the songs and we would all help shape them into what they became, which wasn't always easy. I think the mantra for this record should be, 'Through great struggle comes great art.'"
"It was a little strange to have other people involved in the process because I can be very protective of the music," admits Jared. "In the past, it was very difficult for me to let other people participate because it was such a special, private and personal experience for my brother and I. Now, for the first time, we have a group of four people who have the same vision, share the same tastes and dreams. And it's amazing because we all work so well together."
For their last album, 30 Seconds to Mars, entered the studio with legendary producer Bob Ezrin. This time, they recruited Josh Abraham, who produced the Grammy award winning Velvet Revolver record. 30 Seconds to Mars began in April 2004 and worked on and off in six different studios before finishing the album. Jared credits Abraham for expediting the process.
"I'm very methodical and obsessive and will beat something to death to get something right, and Josh isn't like that at all," Jared says. "He likes to keep things organic. He doesn't over-think or overdo anything, which helped keep things sounding spontaneous."
"We didn't do 10 million takes of everything, which is maybe why the record has a really raw feel," Wachter says. "It became more about capturing the initial thought, the first expression."
30 Seconds to Mars wrote 40 songs for A Beautiful Lie before paring it down to the 10 that appear on the album. Making the cuts wasn't only difficult, it was emotionally draining. It wasn't a case of Jared being unable to toss his babies into the sea, it was more a matter of the singer prematurely throwing away too many of his offspring. At one point or another, he scrapped, "The Kill," "From Yesterday," "The Story" and even "Attack."
"I had worked on that song from Morocco to Thailand to LA and it always worked when I played it by myself on acoustic guitar, but for some reason we couldn't bring the song to life with the band, so I tossed it," Jared says. "Then one night I was sitting outside with my acoustic guitar and Josh Abraham walked out. As a joke I said very sarcastically, 'Hey, you wanna hear a hit song?' And, I started playing 'Attack' on the acoustic. After the first chorus, he stopped me and said, 'That's the best song you have. We have to record that.' Now its our first single."
From start to finish, A Beautiful Lie is a story riddled with pain, frustration, ambition, and ultimately purification. It's not a concept album per se, but it's certainly conceptual, unraveling like scenes from a spellbinding film about a man on the precipice of collapse who has to change in order to move forward.
"Change was an important theme for all of us this time around and a cycle that everyone goes through many times in their lives," Jared explains. "I wanted each song to be like a chapter in a book. Together, they add up to make the story, but individually, every chapter has to have its own color, its own expression, its own personality."
From the surreal, ominous strains of the title track to the throbbing beat of "The Fantasy," from the pensive, acoustic strumming of "A Modern Myth," to the melancholy melody of "The Story," A Beautiful Lie is a bracing soundtrack to a life in turmoil and a testament to the durability of the human spirit.
"I've always been inspired by bands that express different emotions and paint vivid pictures with sound - like U2, The Cure, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd," Jared says. "But we're also interested in being as modern as we can. We're striving to do something different, to look forward rather than back, to be free from the shadows of our inspiration, and to continue, with our voice to make our mark."