In 1998, brothers Jared and Shannon Leto formed their post-grunge, screamo, Hard Rock band. Thirty Seconds to Mars (or 30STM as the name is often abbreviated online) was named after a section title in a former Harvard professor's thesis discussing the expedient growth of technology and how it relates to human life. From these somewhat esoteric origins, the band has developed a rich mythology complete with glyphs and a cult like following of fans known as the Echelon.
Originally an actor known for his performances in films such as Requiem for a Dream, Fight Club and American Psycho, Jared Leto was raised in a musical household with older brother Shannon. The boys were encouraged from an early age to pursue various forms of art, from music to photography. After a brief stint studying painting in Philadelphia, Jared transferred to New York to pursue film-making. In 1992, Jared moved to Los Angeles and Shannon followed. After several years pursuing acting and jamming in between, the brothers and Matt Wachter formed the band Thirty Seconds to Mars.
Initial musical influences included The Cure, Metallica, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin with a line-up that included Wachter on bass, Jared on guitar and vocals and Shannon on drums. Their self-titled debut album released in 2002 met with limited success, however, it did establish the actor-lead band as a fresh voice in the post-grunge genre, exploring their depths both musically and lyrically. The band toured extensively with fellow alternative rock acts such as Chevelle and Our Lady Peace. It was during the 2003 tour season that Miličević joined the band as a permanent member. The singles "Capricorn (A Brand New Name)" and "Edge of the Earth" made it into the top ten of the UK rock chart but the album only ever peaked at 107 on the Billboard 200 in the States. Produced by Bob Ezrin, the album received generally positive reviews from critics. This moderate success inspired the band to continue making music despite Jared's hectic film schedule.
It took the band another three years to record their second album A Beautiful Lie, across four continents while the band followed Jared to and from film sets. "On the first record I created a world, then hid behind it," Jared said. "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."
This 2005 album definitely saw a transformation from the raw grunge sounds of the first album. A Beautiful Lie is more lyrically direct, although the lyrics do maintain aspects of the esoteric prevalent on the first album, while the more dramatic sound ushered the band ever closer towards the emo label. Their heavy eye-liner, skinny jeans and dyed hair also aided in securing the image of the band within the emo subculture. Although this album alienated some of the original fans looking for that initial grunge sound, A Beautiful Lie garnered the band a whole new horde of fans, particularly teenage girls. Thus, the Echelon was born.
The Echelon is an international fan base devoted to Thirty Seconds to Mars. The glyphs prevalent on the album covers and tattooed on the band members are shared by fans across the globe in both displays of ink on skin and public displays of the triad formation. Photographs of these demonstrations of love for the band appear in the band's weekly newsletter alongside photographs of band tattoos sported by fans. When Jared sported his pomegranate mo-hawk, the newsletter ran a segment encouraging fans to adopt the 'Mars-hawk' and send in photos to the band.
A Beautiful Lie was the band's break out album and rose quickly through the charts, reaching platinum and gold status in several countries with over 3,5 millions copies sold. Although not known for covers, the album features a cover of "Hunter," a song originally by Icelandic strange-pop star, Björk, as well as a hidden track at the end of "A Modern Myth." A Beautiful Lie also saw a new member join the band, Bartholomew Cubbins – a recurring character from the Dr. Seuss books. Jared assumed the pseudonym in order to direct the band's music videos. Not a fan of the mundane, Jared broke all boundaries with his video making and set a new precedent among bands in the genre: short film music videos. This began with The Shining inspired video for the second single "The Kill" and progressed to another milestone video for the third single "From Yesterday."
The video for "From Yesterday" was filmed in the People's Republic of China, the first time ever that an American music video had been filmed on location in this country. The lavish setting and somewhat bizarre storyline lasts a full 13 minutes and 30 seconds while the song itself lasts barely more than 4 minutes. This extravagance and foray into the surreal has become a trademark of the band. The next video for the single, "A Beautiful Lie" was not directed by Jared but it was filmed on the precipice of a glacier in Greenland, again pushing the boundaries and establishing Thirty Seconds to Mars as a band unafraid of taking risks and doing something dramatically different.
The band spent the two years following the release of A Beautiful Lie touring the States and Europe alongside bands like Linkin Park and The Used while they started working on a new album. They were also awarded several MTV and Kerrang! Music awards in categories such as Best Single, Best International Rock Artist and Best International Band. Matt Wachter left the band at the end of the tour in 2007 to join Angels & Airwaves. Instead of permanently replacing the bassist, the band opted to keep their three-man show and use a session musician bassist for live shows only.
In 2008 the band was slapped with a $30 million lawsuit from their record company, Virgin Records. According to the record company, the band had not delivered the three albums within the time specified in the contract. After almost a year locked in litigation, the band reconciled with Virgin Records and signed a new contract in July 2009. In December 2009 the band released their overdue third album, This is War.
Wanting to encourage fan participation, the band asked hundreds of fans to join the chorus needed for the This is War album. The result is an album in which fans can hear themselves singing choir-like backing vocals and anthemic choruses. In addition to involving the fans as singers, the band also solicited more than 2000 photographs from fans around the world. These portrait pictures were used to create 2000 different album covers. Clever marketing ploy or genuine show of devotion to fans, involving the fans to this extent assured the album's success. The album dominated the alternative rock chart achieving platinum status in several countries and won several MTV European Music awards including Best Alternative, Best World Stage and Biggest Fans.
Proving they deserved the award for Biggest Fan movement, the band didn't end fan involvement with the album chorus and photographs. The video for the first single "Kings and Queens" was filmed in Los Angeles and saw the band riding through the streets on bicycles accompanied by a huge group of fans. The campaign for video selection happened over social network sites with Jared asking fans, particularly those with interesting, different or strange bicycles, to join the ride. From this innovative video Thirty Seconds to Mars once again pushed the boundaries in the making of the video for the single "Hurricane."
"Hurricane," filmed on the deserted night time streets of New York in only 3 days and directed by Cubbins, saw the band embrace the darker side of their sexuality, exploring sadomasochism and fetishism in a 13 minute short film. The band featured members of the New York S&M community, choosing not to use actors, and once again involved fans by asking them to submit their darkest fantasies, dreams or desires to the band preferably in French or Spanish. These snippets are heard at key points within the video. Surreal, macabre and bizarre, "Hurricane" was immediately censored and banned by various networks. Jared has said in interviews that he was amazed by the content chosen for censorship. The image of a pair of handcuffs placed next to a urinal was considered inappropriate but a scene in which religious leaders burned their respective religious texts was not censored. "I didn't expect all this to happen, but it's a good thing that it happens, only because of the conversation that it may provoke, about these sort of things, and looking at art and creative expression and weighing that against protecting the viewers from the exhibition of certain behaviors," Jared said in his blog.
The two other singles released from the album - "Closer to the Edge" and "This is War" - have very different and more typical music videos. "Closer to the Edge" is a collage of live footage from the album tour while "This is War," directed by Edouard Salier, features the band dressed like US Marines in a Humvee presumably taking fire in an Afghanistan like landscape. In keeping with the band's penchant for the surreal, this video also features an enormous triad-glyph magnetically attracting the various vehicles and machinery associated with war.
After the release of This is War the band toured relentlessly selling out concerts across the world. Again, in an attempt to interact more personally with the fans, themed concert nights were held particularly in the States with the band and audience dressing up in a variety of costumes from military to zombies. Jared, known for his sometimes reckless fan interaction involving stage diving and crowd surfing, received a broken nose and other superficial injuries when he ran into the crowd at an El Paso, Texas show. Thousands of fans overwhelmed the security guards when they rushed towards Jared, crushing him against a wall. Despite his injuries, Jared got back up onto stage and finished the gig, declaring it one of their best.
In July 2011, Thirty Seconds to Mars performed a show for MTV Unplugged featuring a cover of U2's hit song, "Where the Streets Have No Name." The band also covered Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" in an acoustic show for BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge in 2010, in 2007 the band had performed an acoustic version of Kanye West's "Stronger" for the same show.
The band certainly endeavors to live up to the Latin motto featured on their phoenix logo, Provehito in Altum, which translated means, dive into the unknown. For more than ten years, Thirty Seconds to Mars have been pioneers in a genre often dismissed for having no substance for those past puberty. The band has proven time and again that they are more than just pretty faces riding the wave of Jared's acting fame, that they are pursuing serious artistic ideals while maintaining a personal relationship with their fans. Although the band hints at a yet unconfirmed hiatus after their tour wraps up in December 2011, fans can only hope that another album is somewhere on the horizon.
When British radio station Xfm asked Jared Leto what the weirdest piece of fan mail he had ever received was, the frontman replied that he once received a severed ear in the post from a crazed fan. "[A fan] cut their ear off once and sent it to me," said Leto, "A whole ear. The Van Gogh move. The note just said, 'Are you listening?' I never knew who it was, who's missing their ear out there. I poked a hole in it and wore it as a necklace. ... Just don't put your entire body in a case and send it to us."
Jared Leto took home the prize for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture at both the 2014 Golden Globes and Academy Awards. He won the award for his role as Rayon, a transgender woman with AIDS, in Dallas Buyers Club. It was Leto's first movie role in six years.