Thanks to Keanu Reeves, Kevin Bacon, and Russell Crowe, actors are not normally encouraged to rock. Nevertheless 2005 was a blue-ribbon year for thespians who sought to defy expectations with their musical inclinations, from Juliette Lewis (Juliette and the Licks), to Jada Pinkett Smith (Wicked Wisdom), to Balthazar Getty (Ringside). Oh, and Jared Leto, of course. Turns out the dude who made out with Colin Farrell in Alexander is as good with a guitar as he is in front of a camera. Maybe better.
"We've always had 30 Seconds to Mars as part of our lives," Leto says, referring to himself and his brother Shannon (30 Seconds' drummer). "It's something we used to do as a very prog-rock approach. We weren't interested in building a following or even having a name. We'd play shows and change our name every time. Completion didn't interest us."
The band's eponymous debut disc was released in 2002, with Shannon pounding away and Jared playing everything else. The album, however, turned out to be just a bit too convoluted and ambitious.
"I think the first album is very special and it's kind of a world that was created for a lot of different reasons a world filled with metaphors and different layers and levels to uncover, kind of an obsessive fantasy," Leto explains. "But it was always very, very personal to me. That record was a lot of me just sitting in front of a computer on some kind of recording device and just creating. There was no band. It was a very dark experience in many ways, very isolating. The second album was kind of a reaction to that."
This time out, a lead guitarist and a bass player Tomo Milicevic and Matt Wachter joined the Leto brothers. For Milicevic, it was more than just joining a band, though. "I was a superfan," says the guitarist, a devotee even before the first 30 Seconds album was released. "I didn't miss a show within 500 miles of Detroit."
When it came time to record 2005's A Beautiful Lie, Milicevic and Wachter both of whom had been playing metal since their early teens, just like the Letos weren't sure what to expect when they hit the studio. "After years of these two brothers doing it one way, the formula's changed and suddenly there's these two other people who want to have input," Milicevic says. "We didn't know how we were going to fit in, in the sense that we didn't know if Jared would even want our input."
But Leto reveled in the collaboration. The result is a more confessional, transparent album. The New Wave overindulgence has been tempered by good old-fashion guitar shredding and something that feels almost intergalactic in concept.
What might be most interesting are the answers Wachter and Milicevic give when they're asked if they can name one other actor-fronted band worth listening to. Wachter's answer is simply no, while Milicevic takes several moments before he admits, "Not one. I have to be cocky and say we're the first ones to do it well."
But even that statement is misleading, because it suggests in some way that 30 Seconds to Mars is about an actor whose vanity project actually kicks ass when, in fact, it's more about four artists led by a recognizable guy. Not buying it yet? Well, Leto turned down a part in Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers to go on 30 Seconds' last tour. Even the rest of the band tried to talk him out of it.
"You don't turn down Eastwood," Milicevic laughs.
Apparently, though, some people do.