Yeah…these guys are my favourite band. Don't get me wrong, I can see why they have haters. With a name derived from a Harvard thesis and a frontman who sports a different hairstyle practically every month, it's easy to think that 30 Seconds to Mars is too pretentious to be a genuine rock act instead of a Hollywood actor's side project.
However, with hard work and dedication over the last 12 years, they have proved that they're here and they're here to stay.
The band was formed in 1998 by brothers Jared and Shannon Leto, just as Jared had gained public recognition for his part as Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life alongside Clare Danes. With the original line up of Jared (vocals and second guitar), Shannon (drums), Solon Bixler (lead guitar) and Kevin Drake (bass guitar), they started to devise songs for their debut album.
However, before recording began Kevin left the band and was replaced by Matt Wachter. They released their self-titled debut album in 2002 which only had marginal success. After its release, the band lost another member. Solon left in 2003, citing issues with touring.
Shannon held auditions for a new guitarist, inviting one of Mars' fans, Croatian-born Tomo Miličević to try out. Tomo earned the place and Jared started to write songs for their second album, juggling band work with his acting career. They jetted off to multiple locations over the globe for their videos for Attack, The Kill, From Yesterday and A Beautiful Lie.
The Kill, based on the events in Stanley Kubrick's movie 'The Shining', showed the band faced with identical replicas of themselves. While being a relatively inexpensive video (and the first American one to be shot entirely in the People's Republic of China), From Yesterday was pulled off to look like a top-end, high-budget clip, through the creative genius of the elusive Bartholomew Cubbins. Another Cubbins creation, A Beautiful Lie, saw the band flying to Antarctica to raise awareness for global warming.
In the video, the band was playing the song on top of massive glaciers, each member football fields apart. Led by a native Inuit and armed with their guitars and drumsticks, they set off on their mission
to save the ice-caps and the planet. Unfortunately, Matt left before filming A Beautiful Lie to join the band Angels and Airwaves, cutting the band down to three members.
However, before Matt left, the group embarked on their first headlining tour: Forever Night Never Day, in 2006. This was shortly after Jared had finished filming Chapter 27, the movie in which he gained five stone to play the role of Mark David Chapman, John Lennon's killer.
He quickly lost the weight and then the band re-released A Beautiful Lie, increasing their popularity and their fan-base. Their fan-club and street team, dubbed the Echelon after a song from the first album increased in size as new fans were introduced to the music of Mars. However, Jared, Shannon and Tomo would be the first to say that the Echelon is nowhere near a mere fan-base. Jared himself has been quoted as saying that they are their "family and without them there would be no Mars". It is because of this close bond between the band and the Echelon that many people have fallen in love with the dedication and passion that 30 Seconds to Mars put into their work.
On the other hand, this is where the controversy starts. The Echelon's slogan "Yes this is a cult" has stirred up religious groups. Teamed with the phrase: "F*ck the non-believers" the slogan has caused Christian communities to rise against Mars and the Echelon. However, only true 'believers' know that these phrases are merely jokes, spawned from Jared's strange sense of humour. Jared himself does not feel like he leads a religious cult and none of the band believe that they are worthy of god-like status. Unfortunately that hasn't stopped other fans of other bands criticising the Echelon's dedication to Mars.
It was in 2008 when 30STM met their toughest opponent yet: lawyers. They were being sued for 30 million dollars as a result of failing to produce three studio albums within the time limit stated on their contract. Described by Jared as: "many, many f*cking brutal days", this time was the most gruelling challenge the band had faced yet. The Mars guys soldiered through and eventually won their lawsuit through the De Havilland Law. This ordeal, along with other emotional ups and downs, shaped their third album 'This Is War' into the triumphant victory cry it is today.
Released in November 2009, 'This is War' burst onto the scene, telling a euphoric tale of soaring highs and all time lows, expressing every emotion under the sun, from bitter hate to jubilation. To top it all off, all the backing vocals were sung by the Echelon family, once again showing the close bond the band has with its fans. Mars invited members of the Echelon to sing in a few cities in America… that was until they looked over the ocean to Europe and the other continents. After recording vocals around the globe, Jared was contacted by someone who was unable to reach one of these events. As a result, they decided to let people send in their recordings via the internet. This phenomenon was called The Summit; featuring thousands of Mars fans from across the world, singing in harmony with each other, like the family they claim to be.
The first single of the album, 'Kings and Queens' quickly became an anthem, its distinctive beat and breathtaking vocals converting people to the way of Mars. Up to date, it has featured on multiple adverts and even the trailer for 'Legend of the Guardians', and has gained more public recognition than any other song they have released. The video is another Bartholomew Cubbins masterpiece… homage to the band's home, Los Angeles.
Featuring an army of cyclists riding their bikes through L.A. at night, led in their charge by Jared, Shannon and Tomo; this short film was titled 'The Ride'. The lyrics declare: "We were the kings and queens of promise…" while the cast cycle en masse through central Los Angeles, wearing everything from normal hoodies to gasmasks and face-paint, boldly marking their triumphant victory against their record label.
It was after 'Kings and Queens' that the band embarked on their new headlining world tour: Into the Wild. Stopping off in 89 cities in 27 countries, this was their largest tour yet, resulting in them playing in front of over a million people worldwide. Here, The Summit came to life… featuring thousands of Echelon singing in unison to the music they love. The army of Mars fans came from all over the globe to support Jared, Shannon and Tomo; their generals and fellow soldiers.
During the Into the Wild tour, the single 'This is War" was released, providing a battle cry for the Echelon. The video was being filmed but due to Jared's adamant perfectionism, he re-filmed it all so that the fans were given the very best he could produce. It would be nearly a year before the Echelon could actually view it in its entirety; a relatively short video, outlining the effect of war. 30STM actually enlisted soldiers to train them in how to be soldiers and tell them about life on the battlefield to make the video more realistic.
Next the single 'Closer to the Edge' was released. The accompanying video was something akin to a tour diary, but unlike most tour diaries, the attention was taken away from the band and the fans were put under the spotlight once more. Showing fans and concerts from around the world, this was the band's way of saying thank you to the people who have supported them. Some of these fans were chosen to be filmed speaking inspirational words such as "Some people pray, I turn up the radio" showing their fellow Echelon members that they are not alone; they are part of the huge family of fans across the globe.
Compared to the others, the next single 'Search and Destroy' only enjoyed limited success but along came 'Hurricane', another powerful song from the This Is War record. Kanye West collaborated with Mars to produce one of the versions of this song, which made some fans dubious as to whether it would match up to the rest of the songs. However, both versions were met with great reception, even if most fans preferred the version without Kanye in it.
The video for this song caused the most controversy though. Jared, wanting to challenge society's ideas about violent and pornographic content in everyday media, produced a video that had an overall theme that involved both of these concepts, combining them into the sexual fetish of S & M. Scenes depicted girls in bondage gear engaging in sexual acts with each other and some shots included transsexuals and men in gimp masks. This challenged society's view on what is 'normal' as it brings up topics such as homosexuality and being 'sexually deviant'. This, and the violent fight scenes involving bare-knuckle fighting and hammers caused the video to be banned on all major music TV channels. Later on, the video was allowed back onto screens but only after being heavily censored and played post-watershed.
After this, the boys embarked on their second world tour of the year: The Hurricane Tour. This caused many of the fans to wonder whether Mars was pushing themselves too hard, as Jared got sicker and sicker. They have continued non-stop touring since the beginning of that tour which was during late November and early December. Jared's illness has progressively become worse, and in a recent Italian gig, he struggled to sing but his dedication to the fans meant that he kept going, causing him to be taken away from the venue in an ambulance.
The touring schedule for the next few months appears to be unrelenting, including very few breaks and a spot in the famous Reading and Leeds festivals in the UK during August. However, the band has hinted that they might go on hiatus because of how much work they've put into their work over the last few years. Shannon joked that they would "probably just take a break for, I don't know, 10 years" to which his brother sarcastically replied: "A decade always seems to take the edge off." Although it seems to be only an idea, it looks like it might become reality…