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The So-Called Cult of 30 Seconds to Mars
The name Jared Leto may be familiar from movies like Requiem for a Dream, Fight Club, Panic Room, etc. He also stars in Jaco van Dormael’s new sci-fi fantasy Mr. Nobody (set for release this fall). But a lot of people still don’t realize he is also the front man for the increasingly popular rock band 30 Seconds to Mars (30STM).
Yeah, I know. Like me, your first thought may have actually been a snicker (thinking of the much-maligned efforts of other actors like Keanu Reeves or Russell Crowe). However, unlike the bands of those actors, 30STM sold over 100,000 copies with their first self-titled album (referred to as S/T).
Their sophomore effort, A Beautiful Lie (ABL), went platinum (over a million copies sold). A few critics still dismiss 30STM as just another actor’s “vanity project,” which is ridiculous in terms of the numerous awards they have won over the last few years. This band is not only unusually dedicated to its global fan base, the members actively promote and support awareness of both environmental and social issues. And their fans… are just as eclectic and devoted as they are.
How I First Heard 30STM
A fan of My So-Called Life (MSCL) when it was plastered all over MTV in the mid-late 90s, and a film buff, I’ve been aware of Jared Leto’s acting career for many years. I knew he was also in a band but never heard any of the music. About two years ago, I noticed both he and 30STM were repeatedly referenced in the Entertainment section of msn.com. After reading about the band’s substantial international fan base, and the success of the last album, I became curious.
Noticing my local library had an increasing collection of CDs, I searched 30 Seconds to Mars one day and found both albums listed. Not being one to read a sequel first, I picked up the self-titled: I loved it. The band claims Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Rush as influences; S/T has an otherworldly quality similar to those predecessors, although S/T’s sound is more textured and the lyrics more obscure. [Other influences: The Who, The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Bjork]
After listening to S/T god-knows-how-many-times, I checked out ABL. I really liked it, but it was a bit of a disappointment right after listening to S/T. ABL sounded more like other music on the radio and music channels--although I wonder what I would have thought if I had heard ABL before S/T, like many of their fans did. However, I still listened to ABL god-knows-how-many-times before returning it several weeks later. I actually like listening to either album while working out: the pounding rhythms and screaming make it easy to keep your heart rate up…
S/T: "Capricorn (A Brand new Name)"--with lyrics
The Band’s Origin and Development
30STM was formed in 1998 by brothers Jared and Shannon Leto. Jared wrote the lyrics, sang, and played various instruments while Shannon played drums. S/T came out to mixed reviews in 2002: the sound is multi-layered and heavily synthesized. The lyrics focus on esoteric subjects like destiny, astronomy, and religion (the music is typically characterized as alternative, progressive, or post-grunge).
When the band first started, Jared refused to let his name or picture be used to promote the band (he wanted the music to speak for itself; he did not want to attract fans based on the acclaim of MSCL). His growing filmography makes it difficult to ignore his acting career altogether, but most fans cringe at the phrase “Jared Leto’s band” (or become openly hostile)—as far as many of them are concerned, he’s basically the front man, the lyricist, “the guy on vocals.”
From early on, 30STM was frequently referred to as a “cult band.” The band and fans don’t mind embracing this, as indicated by “Yes This Is A Cult” printed on some of their merchandise. A Cult in the sense of extraordinary devotion (to both the music and the band’s goals), not in terms of a spurious religion. While a few fans may take the “And I will start my own religion” lyric from “The End of the Beginning” (on S/T) too seriously, they do not find agreement with the majority of the fan base.
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Provehito in Altum “Launch Forth Into The Deep” (30STM Motto)
ABL, released in 2005, is less synthesized with more accessible and personal lyrics. Bass player Matt Wachter joined the band in 2002; lead guitarist Tomo Milicevic also joined before the recording and release of ABL (Matt Wachter has since left because of the extensive international touring). The more mainstream sound of ABL gained 30STM a larger following and the album eventually went platinum, winning a slew of American and International Awards from MTV, Fuse, Kerrang!, etc. Many of these awards were for videos directed by Jared Leto under the pseudonyms Bartholomew Cubbins (a Dr. Seuss reference) and Angakok Panipaq (a Greenlandic reference to shamanism).
Intrigued by what appeared to be Nordic Runes as well as other odd symbols on both CDs, I went to the band’s message board, thirtysecondstomars.forumsunlimited.com. The four symbols shown above are referred to as “glyphs.” The band is cryptic about their exact meaning, but the general consensus is that they represent the band’s name, literally: that the first symbol is comprised of two conjoined 3s, making a 0 in the center; the next represents the second hands of a clock/watch; the three vertical lines are a reversed roman numeral two; and the last represents the planet Mars and its two moons.
The inserts for both CDs contain the phrase “Find the Argus Apocraphex.” Again, the band does not give a clear explanation. Some fans claim it is a specific thing they’ve discovered; others believe it is a metaphor for self-exploration: for questioning and striving to find your own interpretation of the world around you. Honestly, I prefer the latter, if only because I’m not willing to spend hours of my life analyzing interviews and music videos that supposedly hold the clues to finding it. Then again, if I did know, and told you, it would deprive you of looking for it yourself. And truthfully, isn’t the journey usually more illuminating than the destination?
The Mars Army and the Echelon (The Fans and The Street Teams)
I was fascinated by the 30STM forum for several reasons. There are about 35,000 members ranging in age from early teens to middle age, from all parts of the world (literally), and from a variety of social and vocational backgrounds. Aside from topics devoted to the band, you will find extensive discussions (threads) on pop culture, art, literature, politics, science, and even philosophy (as well as chat and game threads). Members have created threads dedicated to a wide array of topics: the Hadron Collider in CERN, Jane Austen, and numerous helpful hints on how to survive a zombie outbreak. The fan base is intriguingly diverse: a quirky, vibrant microcosm of the expanding digital world that is increasingly subsuming us all.
The last music video from ABL was filmed on a glacier in Greenland. “A Beautiful Lie” was filmed 200 miles north of the arctic circle and the long-version addresses global warming and the dissolution of the arctic shelf. It also directs you to abeautifullie.org, dedicated to raising consciousness about various environmental issues. This website links back to the 30STM message board, where there is a subforum called A Beautiful Lie, dedicated to ecological concerns and various charities.
ABL: "A Beautiful Lie"--long version
After 30STM participated in a Habitat for Humanity (HFH) build in Los Angeles, their street teams (known as Echelon) started their own HFH project through the HopeBuilders campaign last June. In a little over a year a year, they have raised enough funds to build 14 houses and are working on their 15th (echelonhouse.weebly.com). In keeping with the international fan base, proceeds go to whatever region/country HFH determines is most in need. There are active Echelon members all over the world, and not just in English-speaking countries—they’re also in South America, Europe, The Middle East, Russia, Asia, etc.
The Third Album
30STM is completing their third album (tentatively titled This Is War), produced by Flood (who famously helmed such acts as U2, Smashing Pumpkins, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Nick Cave, etc.). According to eonline.com, after a visit to COTN (Children of the Night: a charity that helps abused kids escape prostitution), the band invited the residents into the recording studio for a visit.
On April 26th, hundreds of fans from various countries went to The Avalon in Los Angeles for "The Summit": an "experimental" recording project for the new album. Participants were not permitted to bring recording devices and were initially sworn to secrecy (although the band did release some photos and videos themselves for the benefit of those who could not be there). 30STM has since arranged for other summits on various continents as well as an online one for fans who could not attend the other ones. On a more mainstream note, a collaboration with Kanye West for their new song “Hurricane” has been confirmed by both parties.
Last summer, 30STM was sued by their record label EMI for breach of contract, a lawsuit the band vehemently claimed was unfounded. Despite the legal problem, the band reached out to fans over the last several months via their message board, Kyte, Twitter, and Myspace to promote their third album (which they financed on their own). On April 27th, they held the first Myspace Live Video Chat and spent an hour answering questions fans submitted online (Myspace kept trying to end the session after 30 minutes but "the guy on vocals" just smiled and insisted on answering "just a few more"). On April 28th, they announced the conflict with their label has been resolved and they will continue to work with EMI. The exact release date has not been given, but they expect to launch a new tour "late summer/early fall."
Several months ago, they launched a “Global Glyphic Assault”: an email that encouraged fans to spread the glyphs worldwide in a “visual assault” (yet reminding them “to obey local laws”). So, no matter what country you live in, don’t be surprised if you see the 30STM glyphs (possibly accompanied by the phrase “Mars Is Coming”). Just remember, it doesn’t indicate some crazy religious group is trying to take over your city, or a pending alien invasion. It’s just the enthusiastic promotion of an eclectic rock band by some unusually dedicated fans.