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Thirty Seconds to Mars declares 'War'

By Denise Quan, CNN
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Jared Leto's band declares war
  • Thirty Seconds to Mars, Jared Leto's band, let fans contribute vocals
  • Band's new album is called "This Is War"; indicates attitude toward corporate interests
  • Leto is also an actor; was in "My So-Called Life," "American Psycho"
  • Movies
  • Music

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- When Jared Leto first caught the public eye in the '90s, it was as the brooding Jordan Catalano on the critically acclaimed television drama, "My So-Called Life." Even then, he displayed enough charismatic angst to qualify for honorary status as a rock star.

Then, a decade later, he became one as the singer and songwriter for Thirty Seconds to Mars.

CNN interviewed 30 STM in an empty storefront on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Or, at least, most people would call it an empty storefront; for Leto and his bandmates, it's "The Hive." It's ground zero for their street team, where grassroots promotions are planned by fans -- who are not called "fans," by the way, but "The Eschelon."

For the trio's new album, "This Is War," The Eschelon gathered in eight countries for a series of "Summits," mass gatherings from Australia to Italy where Leto lovers around the world contributed mass vocals to the disc.

It was an ambitious undertaking, just like the band's decision to offer 2,000 covers for their new CD, each featuring the face of a fan/member of The Eschelon who sent in a photo. But then, Thirty Seconds to Mars doesn't do anything in a small way.

In 2008, Leto and his cohorts -- brother/drummer Shannon Leto and guitarist Tomo Milicevic -- were sued for $30 million by Virgin Records in a contract dispute that's since been settled for undisclosed terms. However, the battle scars remain -- hence the title of Thirty Seconds to Mars' new album.

CNN: You went through a head-to-head battle with your record label.

Jared Leto: There's no mistake that the record is called "This Is War." We went to go make an album after having toured the world a few times over, and the world fell apart. Not just for us, but for a lot of us around the world. The global financial crisis, catastrophic events. We had our own battles alongside a lot of other people. There's a sense of a global citizen vs. corporate Earth. I think that this record is really a large part about fighting for what you believe in.

CNN: It seems like you really set out to involve your international fan base.

Leto: We did something called "The Summit" here in Los Angeles. We invited a thousand people to come and be a part of the recording process. And that went so well, we decided to do it in eight different countries around the world.

CNN: You received a tweet from someone in Iran.

Leto: I ended up getting a Twitter from someone in Iran who was disappointed because they couldn't make one of the summits around the world. And that gave me the idea to do a digital version of the summit, and we were very excited that people could sit in front of their computers, and no matter where they were, they could be a part of the Thirty Seconds to Mars album [by contributing sounds that were later incorporated into the tracks].

CNN: Did this fan tell you anything about the political situation in Iran?

Leto: For the record, Thirty Seconds to Mars fully supports the youth of Iran. You know, we're right there backing you guys, and we encourage everyone to fight for what they believe in.

CNN: Do you see music as a bridge?

Leto: I think the thing about music is it's empowering. It provides a sense of community. It lets people know that they're not alone. It can move people. ... It's a powerful, powerful experience. It always blows my mind that we can travel to these places and share these incredibly deep experiences with people, even thought we may not speak the same language and have completely different cultures.

CNN: Explain this space that we're doing the interview in. You call it "The Hive."

Leto: This is a think tank, a collective, a fish tank. It's a place, it's a campaign headquarters, it's a place to do work, it's a place to commune, it's a place to rally the troops. It's a place to celebrate.

CNN: It's interesting that you don't have any blinds or shades on the windows. People are walking by on the sidewalk, looking in.

Leto: No, it's open. It's open.

Milicevic: That would kind of defeat the purpose. We're trying to invite people in, not keep them out.