By Lanford Beard
Updated December 07, 2011 at 02:05 PM EST
Credit: Petras Malukas/Getty Images

Tonight’s gig at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom marks a momentous occasion for Thirty Seconds to Mars. Not only is the band wrapping up an international tour, they’re also breaking the Guinness World Record for most shows performed during a single album cycle. Over the last two years, the band has circled the globe several times to promote their gold-certified third album, This Is War. “We’ve been virtually everywhere — not only once but twice and sometimes three times,” said frontman Jared Leto. “It’s been the journey of a lifetime.” From his hotel in Antwerp, Belgium, Leto spoke with EW about returning home after two years on the road, the social concert experience Mars is launching at tonight’s concert, their forthcoming live concert film, and what else is in store for 2012.

Since releasing This Is War practically two years ago to the day, Leto, his older brother Shannon (the band’s drummer), and guitarist Tomo Miličević have been on the road near-continuously. “I think the longest break we had was two weeks,” says Leto. Tonight’s concert will be their 300th. “We’re very much a live band. It’s a core element of what we do,” he says, “to travel the world and to share it with this community of really passionate believers.”

The last 24 months have “been mind-blowing,” says Leto. Among their personal milestones: “We’ve seen the sun rise in Lebanon and played to 10,000 people the following day. We played our first concert in the People’s Republic of China. We’ve sold out the biggest show of our lifetimes” for more than 100,000 people at June’s Rock am Ring festival in Nürburgring, Germany, and performed in Abu Dhabi amid the Arab Spring. By recent estimates, they’ve played to nearly three million people in total. “When people bring these things to our attention, our mouths are open,” he admits. “We’re not pumping our fists in the air. We’re kind of saying, ‘Holy s***! How did this happen?’ We’re really humbled by it all.”

As for the Guinness record itself, Leto says the band never consciously set out to break it. Instead, he called it “a fun way to mark this passage of time.” He adds, “People were dumbfounded that we’d want to be on the road [this long], but I think if people experienced what we have been experiencing, which is exposure to different cultures and people and places around the world — this really unique journey that we’ve had [they’d understand]. It’s really inspiring and exciting.”

In a year when Adele, Keith Urban, and John Mayer had to suspend concert dates, Leto admits “you have to learn how to take care of yourself” on the road. Still there are no signs of Mars slowing any time soon, “We are complete animals when it comes time to take the stage, and we don’t hold back at all,” he says. “Every night, there’s … an electricity in the room. I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to do what we’re doing for so long now.”

Tonight’s gig is as much a beginning as an end for the band as they launch VyRT, which Leto describes as “the very first digital ticket to a concert.” In addition to the Hammerstein Ballroom’s 3,900-person capacity, they have sold online streaming passes. Leto is especially excited that the service’s grand debut means Mars and “people all over the world are going to be sharing this incredible, unforgettable, magical night and being a part of history together.”

With this massive journey behind them, the guys are simultaneously looking back and forward. They’re in the process of editing two projects for release in 2012: A documentary called Artifacts about their experience being sued by their former record label in 2008 while recording This Is War, as well as an as-yet-untitled live tour film based on the past two years.

“We were all talking the other day about how lucky we feel to be in a place at the end of such a long tour where we feel inspired and invigorated and in good spirits,” he says. “Being able to share what we do continuously for over two years now is one of the greatest experiences of our lifetime, and we’ll always look back on this time as one of the most special periods of our lives.”

Read more:

30 Seconds to Mars

  • Music