30 Seconds to Mars' Jared Leto on Bringing His 'Crazy Ideas' to Life (Q&A)
30 Seconds To Mars’ fourth album, LOVE LUST FAITH + DREAMS, debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 chart this week, its 53,000 in sales bolstered by the heavy promotion of single “Up In the Air.” The track premiered in March on the International Space Station, aided by NASA, and received an expansive video in April. The video, directed by frontman Jared Leto, features numerous collaborations, including with British artist Damien Hirst whose 2011 dot painting “Isonicotinic Acid Ethyl Ester” graces the album’s cover.
Leto, who is primarily focused on his band, although he will appear in the upcoming film Dallas Buyers Club, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the process of making the new album and how its accompanying visuals help extend its conceptual narrative. The musician also revealed that the group, who will be touring in support of the album over the coming months, will perform a “very special show” at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl on October 12.
The Hollywood Reporter: Did you have the vision for this album when you started writing it?
Jared Leto: I did. I began writing and recording while I was still touring in April 2011. We were on a very long tour -- a tour that actually became this crazy, Guinness World Record-breaking longest-tour-ever insanity. But I started [the album] early, and I was glad I did that because by the time I got off the road eight months later I had a group of songs and a clear blueprint of where I was headed. And then I went to India and had the first post-tour recording experience in this really magical place, a place that’s just a collision of sights and sounds. And I did have a clear indication of where I was going, and I knew that I wanted to take everything that I had learned from all of these years that I’ve been doing this and apply that to this new album.
THR: How soon into the process did the album’s title emerge?
Leto: The title was there fairly early on. I thought about it for a while because I wanted to find one word that encapsulated everything that was going on. But I just couldn't avoid it. It was the one that made the most sense [and] it was the one that seemed to capture the spirit of what was happening.
THR: So the album is meant to be divided into four sections that correspond to the four words in the title?
Leto: It is, but it’s not sequential. There’s an infographic in the album artwork in the actual CD itself that shows you where I think that the songs fall -- whether it’s Love, Lust, Faith or Dreams. And sometimes they connect to more than one of these topics, these names, these ideas.
THR: Was there one idea that drew you in the most?
Leto: It’s funny when you look at the graphic and see which one comes up the most. I think it’s Dreams and Lust: Those are the two that are visited the most. But I think they’re all pretty essential.
THR: Did you always intend to act as the primary producer on the album?
Leto: Yeah, it’s really been my role for years. That’s been my role but this time I just took credit for it rather than not. We’ve worked with really wonderful producers in the past, but they’ve been partners and for me I have a responsibility to keep pushing forward in how we realize the overarching vision of the project. I should also note that Steve Lillywhite produced four songs with me and did a wonderful job.
THR: Were you at all surprised by the new directions you took the music in?
Leto: I think so. I think it’s going to surprise a lot of people who may have an idea of who we are and who have already shared this journey with us and are aware of who we are.
THR: Did you do anything during the recording process that you’ve never done before on an album?
Leto: We used a lot of non-traditional instruments from Taiko drums to groups of people experimenting with sound. We also used a lot of really classical instruments -- I love the collision between orchestral and analog and synthetic instruments. There’s quite a bit of that on the album.
THR: Do you visualize your music videos as you’re making the songs?
Leto: Oftentimes yes and sometimes no. I tend to think that the visual components, these little films that we make to accompany the song themselves, are as important as the songs. I never look at them as music videos or commercials for the album. I tend to take advantage of the opportunity I feel is there to further what’s happening and to have a deeper, more meaningful connection to the music. And I like to experiment and create something that’s fun and exciting. We’ve had a pretty amazing time making these little films, and I think “Up In the Air” is a continuation of this tradition that we’ve had.
THR: How did you get all those people to collaborate and appear in the “Up In the Air” film?
Leto: Well, I asked. It’s a great lesson. Whether it’s Damien Hirst being part of the video or the U.S. Olympic gymnastic teams or Dita Von Teese, you reach out and you ask. It’s great to learn that lesson that it never hurts to ask. That certainly was the case with NASA as well sending “Up In the Air” to space [to premiere it]. A lot of us have really crazy ideas. We walk down the street thinking “That’d be interesting,” but we never really do anything about it. I’m the same way -- I have a lot of crazy ideas that I don’t do anything about -- but this time I decided to see if we could make it work.
THR: What about your collaboration with Damien Hirst for the album’s artwork and the “Up In the Air” film -- how did that come about?
Leto: I’ve always loved his work. I’ve always found it to be really provocative and really inspiring. He’s an incredibly interesting artist. I like what he does, quite simply. In this dot painting there’s something about the random aspect, the celebration of color, the minimalism that I thought would be great to include in this film for “Up In the Air.” So that’s really where it started -- Damien being incredibly generous and letting us use his artwork in the video. And then subsequently as the cover of the album. And not only on the cover of the album, but on the actual CD itself there’s another painting that’s absolutely beautiful.
THR: Why specifically did you put this painting on the album cover?
Leto: There’s something about the celebration that I feel. There’s an irreverence and a playfulness to it, and it feels like a new beginning. There’s something about it, to me, that has an energy to it that’s very much in line with LOVE LUST FAITH + DREAMS. It feels like a new beginning for us too. After all these years and making our fourth album it feels like we’ve begun again.