Jared Leto: Kurt Cobain, Twitter and severed ears by David Swan [5/8/13]
by David Swan
Wed 8th May, 2013 in Features
DAVID SWAN talks Kurt Cobain, Guinness World Records and poses some curly hypotheticals to 30 Second To Mars frontman (and sometime actor) Jared Leto.
It’s always going to be weird meeting a person you’re accustomed to seeing in movies face-to-face, especially one who dies in basically every film he’s in.
The last time I talked to Jared Leto was over the phone, but in person he cuts an intimidating figure: tall and handsome, with intense eyes. Back in 2010 it was hard to get a serious word out of him, with talk of chickens and orgies dominating our conversation. But things have changed. These days, there’s less small talk and more conversation about the essence of making art, and the intricacies and pitfalls of being in a band. It’s clear he’s playing for keeps.
The charismatic singer/songwriter/actor/activist spoke with FL while in Australia promoting 30 Seconds to Mars’ new album, Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams.
We last spoke about two-and-a-half years ago. How have you changed since then?
The hair’s a little different, but I’m still working my ass off and I’m happy to be doing it. It’s a pretty magical thing to be able to do – make things and share those things with people around the world and have these experiences that we have. So I’m feeling pretty excited and really grateful.
You mention on Twitter recently that you were quitting wheat, sugar and masturbation, were you joking?
That was an April Fool’s joke [laughs].
Let’s talk about the new album. From the sound it, it’s even more epic than what you’ve done previously, but why should fans get excited about it?
I think it’s … not so much an evolution as much as a brand new beginning. I mean it’s 30 Seconds to Mars, and something magical happened on this record … something really unique. You know, your creativity is like a fingerprint, it’s hard to get away from it. You are who you are, your DNA is in what you do, but if you challenge yourself and push yourself hard enough you can break new ground. And I think that we’ve done that for ourselves with this album. I think that we’ve pushed to an entirely new place, and that’s exciting.
Is there a point where you feel like you can’t get any more “epic”. Will you have to strip it back for the next album?
I don’t think you always have to go bigger. You can be more intimate, you could be more atmospheric, you could do a left turn. And I think all those things are appropriate. Rather than get more grandiose you could get more immediate, you could break things down. So it’s not always about being more epic. And you need the simplicity; you need the silence in order to hear the note. I think we as songwriters forget that a lot: Silence is sometimes the strongest and loudest choice that you can make.
You have made a film about being sued by your label for $30 million for breach of contract. I know last time we talked it seemed like a painful thing to be going through so why make the documentary – was it catharsis?
I think so. I feel like it was a story I needed to tell. I think a lot of people watch it and realise things about the industry that they didn’t know. And a lot of young artists could get a lot from watching the film, I hope. So it was important for us. We battled the record company who sued us for $30 million, we filmed the entire thing and it’s a making of This Is War as well.
Why stay in the label system then?
I’m not anti-label. A label is really just a bunch of people around the world helping to bring your vision to life, right? At its best that is. At its worst all kinds of problems that are endemic of corporate culture, or the corporate system, come into play. So there a lot of really great things about having a team of people around the world, if I didn’t have a record label I’d have to put one together myself. So I’m not anti-label at all, I like the fact there are groups of people around the world who can make a living and are all helping each other to achieve goals, I think that’s wonderful, but I’m just anti-greed.
And you now hold the Guinness world record for longest concert tour by a band, playing over 300 shows. Why choose to do that as opposed to a “normal” tour, and were there any side effects from playing so many shows?
Good question! We didn’t set out to break the record, it just happened. We didn’t plan on it at all. It was towards the end of the tour, and bands and people we knew kept asking, “God, how long have you toured, this is crazy?!” And most of the time we just blew it off and didn’t think about it. But toward the end we started to see bands put out two albums and be on their second tour when we were still on the first – and we did realise it was an incredibly long time. So we looked into it and sure enough we had toured longer than any other band before. So we became Guinness World Record holders without meaning to, really. It just happened that way.
“There were rock stars back in the day that would’ve loved to tell people on Twitter who they were shagging that night.”
I saw the band when you were last here at [Soundwave] festival, and during that tour you had a tendency to bring up hundreds of fans onstage at a time. Will you still do that or move onto something else?
I think we’ll always do something different but I love to bring people up onstage, and I like to break down that wall. I try to do that the whole show. Basically, I just want to be in the audience, and I want the audience to be onstage. Honestly, that’s what I want to happen. I want people to feel that way, too. So I do my best to deliver that night after night. That Soundwave tour was such a great tour for us – we still think about those shows. They were really powerful.
You manage a social media company as well, helping bands and artists communicate with their fans. Is there problem with losing the idea of a “rock star” though, with bands becoming too “real”?
I don’t think so. I don’t think transparency means you give away strength. I don’t think people knowing who you are, or having an idea of who you are, means that you’re any less talented or creative. And I think it’s a sign of the times. You know, there were rock stars back in the day that would’ve loved to tell people what colour their nail polish was, or who they were shagging that night – but they didn’t have a way to do it. So I think that communication is always a good thing. Ultimately it’s a better thing for me than not because you used to have to rely on gatekeepers to tell your story, now you can tell your own story. And I think that people learn a lot about me and I’m glad I’ve been able to share a lot about myself. And I wouldn’t have without social media.
Speaking of sharing you posted a photo of a severed ear you received in the mail. Was that just trolling the fans?
Someone gave me another ear here earlier actually [laughs]. But I’ve been sent a lot of weird things, let me tell you. That is the least weird.
What is the weirdest?
I’ve had all kinds of bizarre and interesting things. I got a shrunken head once. An entire fucking shrunken head. I get sent prosthetic parts too but I generally return those to sender.
What about the Kurt Cobain tribute video you did…
It wasn’t a tribute video.
Then how would you frame it?
I ran into Courtney Love and she asked me to read the book, Heavier Than Heaven [Charles R Cross’ Kurt Cobain biography]. I heard they were making a movie about it so I put myself on tape. I recorded myself to see if I could play the part. Just for myself. And I never did anything with it. I never sent it to the studio, but they were interested. They called me to see if I was interested in playing the part. I put myself on tape just to explore. I happen to have long hair and I’d dyed it blonde, so the whole thing was serendipitous. But it wasn’t a “tribute”. Some website said that, and then of course everyone said that, and I’m still cleaning it up to this day. But it was his [Kurt’s] birthday and I noticed that and I thought, “Oh I’ll just put this on my website and share it with everybody”, because it’s just sitting on a tape somewhere – on a hard drive – and I never did anything with it. So I thought I’d put it up. And it was really that simple.
Other bands of your ilk have been breaking up, My Chemical Romance for example. You’ve taken a couple of years between albums, did you ever think about leaving the band?
I haven’t signed a contract with myself or anybody else to do this forever, but it’s kind of hard to divorce or break up with yourself. Me and my brother [Shannon Leto] are the core of the band, so if it ever stops being fun, interesting, exciting … then we just wouldn’t do it.
And any Australia plans?
Very very very soon. Sooner rather than later.
And arenas, or intimate?
I’d say bigger than smaller, yeah.
As a last little thing I’ve got some hypothetical questions for you. You can win an Oscar for Best Actor or a Grammy for Best Album, which one do you take?
Neither. I don’t really think about those things, honest to god. I never think about it. Awards are great for one reason – they give you a chance to thank all of the people that are important in your life, and your fans, and your audience around the world. That’s really it. We’ve gotten lots of awards, lots of them, and none of those awards have ever made me feel better about myself or have ever made me feel more confident as an artist, a singer, or a songwriter. But really they’ve all given us the opportunity to mark the passage of time, and to say thank you. That’s really what it’s about, it gives you a chance to show your gratitude to the world, and that’s cool.
Here’s another one: You can be the first band to ever play on Mars but you have to re-sign with Virgin and they’ll subsequently slap you with another lawsuit. Do you do it?
Ha. No way in hell. I’d have to let somebody else take the trip. Put them in a capsule and send them away.
Final one: The band breaks up, MTV puts one of your songs on repeat for 24 hours, which song is it?
‘Up in the Air’.
Love Lust Faith + Dreams is out on May 17 through Universal.