Beyond celebrity and into the cosmos

By Jared Horney
May 27, 2004

Remember pretty-faced actor Jared Leto on the bad end of Edward Norton’s’ fist in “Fight Club”? How about his emotionally-draining role as a heroin junkie in “Requiem for a Dream”? Leto has enjoyed success as a film star but in the past couple years turned his energy to another project: his band, 30 Seconds to Mars, with brother Shannon Leto on drums.

Upon hearing that another celebrity has taken the leap into the musical field, many are quick to dismiss them. After all, previous forays by actors such as Keanu Reeves and Russell Crowe haven’t exactly valiantly paved the way for such acts. But in a very risky genre of actor cum musician, 30 Seconds to Mars emerges as a project with a beating heart.

Devoted to the point that it played a substantial role in his breakup with Cameron Diaz, Leto has had this album in his head for quite some time. Riddled with a slight obsession with the cosmos, a throwback appreciation of synthesizers and guitar effects, and Leto’s limited but fine vocals, their 2002 self-titled debut release has surprised many people waiting to pounce and dismiss it as just another celebrity-fueled act with no talent. They’ve got talent – and a decidedly catchy, epic sound.

This “epic” sound isn’t one in the vein of Godspeed You Black Emperor, nor the veritable noisefest of Mogwai, but has one foot in the arena of contemporary rock and the other comfortably couched in decadence. There are no long-winded drum solos to be found, but rather appropriate verse/choruses condensed into slices of average song length. The sound is full and rich thanks to the near overproduction of Bob Ezrin, who has produced albums by KISS and Pink Floyd. With a famous producer and famous singer, what’s to go wrong?

Happily, not much. 30 Seconds to Mars consistently downplays Leto’s celebrity, going as far as shadowing his face in press-release photos. While Leto is farthest away and blurry in some photos of the band, he’s every bit a frontman. Wielding a sort of crazed exuberance and thrill in his devotion to his band, he’s made it awfully difficult for naysayers (and with a celebrity in the band, there are plenty) to proceed with said nay-saying. Leto seems to have the stance of someone who’s been waiting for this moment for years. Between thick layers of guitars and an almost tribal-like quality to the drums, Leto’s cosmic ramblings seem comfortable.

30 Seconds to Mars is also not shy about their appreciation of their fans, of which any music fan will recognize the importance. Establishing their fan base as the “Echelon,” the message board on the band’s official site is alive and well. Because of fans’ devotion, there are links from the site to many competently run fan sites.

Leto’s direction recently has been largely towards his band, and with their velocity, people will start recognizing the band for their music and less for their frontman. Already, they’ve enjoyed relative success with the album’s opener and first single, “Capricorn.” Available to listen to on the official site, it’s a promise that if you enjoy it, you’ll enjoy the rest of the album. This is no hit-or-miss; the theme is constant. Heavy on the echoes and light on the minimalism, 30 Seconds to Mars seems intent, with the aid of a star, on going right to the moon.

Related link: 30 Seconds to Mars' official site