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Smooth sailing sends Thirty Seconds To Mars to new heights

@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

Posted: Friday, October 4, 2013

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Thirty Seconds to Mars could not have designed more different experiences making its last two albums.

While recording 2009's appropriately titled "This is War" the group -- fronted by actor Jared Leto with is older brother Shannon on drums and multi-instrumentalist Tomo Milicevic -- was battling a $30 million lawsuit with its label, Virgin Records/EMI, which was eventually settled out of court. The new "Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams," then, was comparatively smooth sailing.

"We weren't being sued, so the tension wasn't there," Shannon Leto, 43, says of the group's fourth album, which debuted at a career-high No. 6 on the Billboard 200 chart after its mid-May release. "Not having that monkey on your back while creating and trying to express yourselves through the instruments gives you so much more freedom. There was less distraction. We had that ability to express ourselves without any interruptions and it was just so much better, obviously."

And the trio had a great deal to express this time out.

While the older Leto says the group's intent on "Love, Lust..." "was to make the best album we could possibly make for ourselves," there was a premium on invention as it recorded during 2012 with co-producer Steve Lillywhite. "I think it's important to move forward, not to move backwards when you're making music," explains Jared Leto, 41, who was responsible for the album's lyrical concept based on the four title elements. "It's not so much about how; it's really about what you have to say in a given period of time, and that changes because of what's going on in the world, what's going on with you personally."

And, Shannon Leto adds, there was a premium on sonic invention this time.

"We wanted to do things we'd never done before," he says. "There's a lot of instruments on there that we had never used before. Our first album (in 2002) was really electronics-driven, so on this one there was something familiar about it when we were bringing up these sounds and keyboards, but we used a lot of old school, analog synthesizers and real (Japanese) drums my brother got me for Christmas presents. We had string arrangements and had horns come in.

"It was definitely a departure from our last recordings, I can tell you that. But with us there's no formula. The songs never feel done; it's more like you have to abandon them and trust that they're the best they can be."

If 30 Seconds to Mars shot for the moon on "Love, Lust...," it certainly reached at least into outer space with the album's first single, "Up In the Air." A CD of the song was sent to the International Space Station via the SpaceX CRS-2 resupply mission and was world-premiered on NASA TV in mid-March before it went on sale to the public.

"That was just a dream," says Shannon Leto. "When you're a kid you look up at the stars and wonder, 'What's it like? What would it be like to be an astronaut up there...' and all the fantasies that go through your mind. We were there watching the actual rocket wtih our CD being launched, and that was unbelievable, like a dream come true.

"And a couple weeks later we went down to mission control and we were talking to the astronaut up there in zero gravity, and my brother asked him, 'Is our CD up there?' And he pulled out our CD in zero gravity and just spun it. It was just there floating. It was surreal. What a wonderful thing to be part of."

30 Seconds to Mars, meanwhile, has been on terra firma, criss-crossing the globe to promote "Love, Lust..." Shannon Leto expects the tour to stretch into 2014 (Jared's latest film, "Dallas Buyers Club," comes out Nov. 1), and he won't hazard a guess as to what's next for the group.

"What's next is we're gonna just keep sharing this album with people that want to listen to it and keep touring and sharing videos and short films and our art with anybody who's interested," he says. "I think our main goal is to keep unveiling who we are through our music, and to be as honest as possible -- and real. There's, like, this magical thing that happens, sort of an evolution, and that's exciting. You never really know what's going to happen.

"It's an amazing little existence we're part of right now, so we just want to keep sharing it."

The 89X Chill on the Hill 2013 starts at 5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 4-5, at the Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, 14900 Metropolitan Parkway, Sterling Heights. A Day to Remember, All Time Low, Pierce The Veil and the Wonder Years perform on Friday; Thirty Seconds to Mars, Billy Talent, Biffy Clyro and New Politicos play Saturday. Tickets are $45 per day or $75 for a two-day pass. Call 586-268-9700 or visit www.freedomhill.net.

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