It’s a busy week for Jared Leto. The former My-So Called Life actor and his band, Thirty Seconds to Mars, have just released their third album, This Is War, an expansive effort that brings the notion of audience participation to a whole new level: With 2,000 different album covers (each featuring the face of a fan or band buddy) and vocal contributions from Thirty Seconds to Mars followers all over the world, this is most certainly a record made both for and by the people. We caught up with Leto after he and bandmates Shannon Leto (yes relation: brother) and Tomo Miličević landed in L.A. for a couple days of promotion, including a swing by the Tonight Show on Thursday, where they’ll perform “Kings and Queens.” Seems like everybody wants a piece of Leto at the moment, but as he puts it, that’s “good problems.”
Entertainment Weekly: My first question is a technical question. I’m looking at the CD, and the Latin phrase looks like it’s spelled wrong. It reads “Prohevito in Altum,” but in the past, you’ve spelled that as “ProVEHito.”
Jared Leto: Yes. It was a mistake made by our record company. People make mistakes. Maybe we shouldn’t call them out on it.
I want to give you the opportunity to tell us what the new phrase means.
It’s been with us for a while. It means “Launch forth into the deep.” It’s really just a kind of call to arms, a motto.
But that’s the old phrase. What does the new phrase mean?
Oh, I don’t know. The misspelled one?
Yes! Let’s give it a definition.
Oh. I have no idea. The plane probably sucked what little creativity I have in my brain out completely.
Okay. I also was at first sad when my album came that I didn’t get the tiger album cover, I got a lady with large earrings. But then I realized the tiger still lives under the cover insert.
Yeah. We did this really fun thing, and we asked 2000 people to be on the cover of our album.
Do you have one that’s a personal favorite that someone sent in?
They’re all pretty exciting to see. We’ve had a lot of fun as we’ve started to see these CDs over the last couple of days. I’ve got some friends that did it, like [photographer] Terry Richardson, Bam Margera, even our manager Irving Azoff. And just, you know, regular every day people, out there in the middle of the country and around the world. It’s just exciting to see the different types of people that have joined us in this amazing journey.
You also incorporated their actual voices into your album. Did that elicit the effect you were going for? Would you go through that process again?
It did. I wouldn’t do it again, but I think it’s specific to this record. It’s not something I plan on doing in the future. It was a lot of fun, it was really exciting, it was inspiring, it was great to do something interactive. We ended up doing the first one here in L.A. at the Avalon, about a thousand people showed up from all over the world. It went so well we did it in eight different countries around the world, not including the States. And it was phenomenal. It really added something special to the songs, and one day I got a Twitter message from someone in Iran who was frustrated because they couldn’t make one of the global summits that we did. And that gave them the impetus to do a digital version of the summit, where people could sit at home. We kind of utilized TwitVid and Twitter and some other technologies to have this interactive platform where people could record and experiment and be a part of this new album.
You seem very upset on this album. What are you so upset about, Jared Leto?
No, not at all. I thought I was making such an optimistic record.
Full of light and hope?
I really did! It’s funny when people talk about it as being a really intense album. I guess it was an intense time. I certainly didn’t think I was making a very dark record, but you know, we were sued for $30 million by our record company. We’ve been touring for a few years, enjoying the success from [second album] A Beautiful Lie, and we’ve sold a few million albums, and we’re playing places all over the world, and we went back to L.A. to make a record and the world fell apart. Not only for us and our struggle with our record company, and personal and creative battles, but the rest of the world was going through these massive challenges. So it was a really interesting time to be making a record and have all of this happening around us all of the time.
You definitely took some creative and stylistic risks, least of which being the inclusion of the fan vocals. Regardless of whether or not it pays off critically, is this record an accurate expression of what you were going for?
I guess I operate from a place of creative instinct, and we followed that as a band. We feel really proud of the work that we’ve done. We worked with some amazing people, Flood and Steve Lillywhite, and we put our hearts and souls into this album, and I think it’s an accurate representation of this time in our lives.
How’s the response been from the fans?
We’ve been on the road touring, so we see a lot of people. We just put on sale a big tour in Europe, our first kind of official arena tour, and we sold out Wembley Arena, which is kind of a legendary place to play. We’re going to be putting tickets for the U.S. on sale soon as well. The interactive element is really exciting live, because basically everything is reversed. The audience is actually part of the performance. That’s a really cool thing to be a part of.
What happened with the Kanye collaboration on “Hurricane”? It doesn’t appear on the album.
It was just an example of us being ready to send the CD off to the manufacturer and needing to get it into stores, and the labels not being done working out everything that they do when they have artists collaborate. It really is that simple.
But you’ve said it will appear down the road?
Yeah. It’s phenomenal. He did a great job on it, and we’re excited about it, and I know that he is really supportive and loves the song as well.
Are you worried at all about backlash from angry Taylor Swift fans from your association with that bad bad man?
I don’t really think about that stuff.
That was a joke.
I got it. Okay. I’ll laugh over here.
I’m assuming there’s not a lot of crossover between Taylor Swift fans and your audience anyway.
Well, you never know. It’s always surprising, people that come to shows. You see people wearing shirts that you never expected. I don’t believe in censoring who should listen to our music. It’s really none of my business. All kinds of people listen to our music. We have kids as young as 9 and 10 years old, and guys as old as 40 or 50. I find that really exciting.
Kanye also posted a picture of you and him and Killers frontman Brandon Flowers together at the studio. Can you disclose any more about what came out of Brandon’s visit?
Well, no, probably not really, I guess. It’s just a case of people all being in the same place at the same time.
Such the man of mystery.
I think the last thing I want to know, just personally, is are you still great at leaning against stuff? Do you still lean regularly?
Oh, stop it.
Have you taken that out of the repertoire?
Stop it. I was about to invite you to our release party.
And now I can’t come?
Aw. But the leaning meant so much to me.
Well, I’m glad it did.
Also, you’re on the Tonight Show this Thursday. Will that be your first time on the new Tonight Show?
Will you do something different for Conan that you wouldn’t do for Leno?
Okay! Well, congrats on the ambitiousness of the album, I think it’s a great idea, and —
A great idea. Am I supposed to read between the lines there?
No. You’re supposed to take my honest compliment on the way you involved your fans. I think that’s important. I know you said you wouldn’t do it again, I’m sure it was a lot of work but —
That’s not the reason. I guess we would try to walk down a different path next time. We kind of explored that. It was a lot of work, it was really intense, but it was great, and it was a lot of fun.
Is it something you’d recommend to other artists?
I would recommend that other artists follow their own creative muse, you know?
And you’re more than welcome to come to the party.
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