Thirty Seconds to Mars is back with a new clutch of songs born from the pandemic and collected under a very long title. “It’s the End of the World But It’s a Beautiful Day” is exactly what it sounds like — optimistic, despite the doom.
“I really feel like it represents where we’re at as a planet, as a people,” says Jared Leto, who formed the band with his brother, Shannon. “You keep waiting for crazy to be over. But there’s just one more day. And sometimes it’s easy to forget that life is full of promise and hope and beauty.”
Despite its long title, the band's sixth studio album is filled with shorter songs than usual and with a sound that tries to veer away from their typical anthemic, soaring sound.
“We’re not shy about things,” says Leto. “But this album was different. We really challenged ourselves to do as little as possible. We wanted there to be a focus on the vocal and really to allow what is there to be felt and heard.”
The resulting 11-track album is heavy on hooks, with lead single “Stuck” — a dancehall banger that Lady Gaga would be proud of — making the top 10 of Billboard's Rock & Alternate Airplay and Alternative Airplay.
“This is an important album for us. It feels like we’re a brand-new band, like we’re at the beginning again and that’s an exciting place to be on your sixth album,” says Leto.
“We’re really breaking new ground for ourselves creatively and going to places we haven’t been before. And I think a lot of people are going to be surprised.”
The music has offered the Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning Leto something to concentrate on as the actors' strike drags on, which has silenced movie and TV shoots.
“I’m really grateful that I do have another outlet to share my creativity, and I share it with my brother. And that’s a really important thing for me,” says Leto. “I’m compelled to do both.”
He and Shannon began work on it early during the pandemic. Jared was in Nevada and California for lockdown and his brother was in Seattle. “My brother and I had a little distance, which is always good when you’re working on an album,” Jared jokes.
“Once we had finished every show that’s available to stream in every language — I think maybe it was around the “Tiger King” era, I’m not sure — but we decided to use that time to our advantage and get to work on a new album.”
The duo stockpiled a few hundred songs and whittled them down to the final 11, from the anguished torch song "Never Not Love You" to the encouraging “Get Up Kid.”
“Of course, they started off kind of dark and brooding songs about isolation and desperation. But as we started to come out of that time, the songs reflect those feelings, too, like hope and optimism.”
They got help on some tracks by writer-producers Monsters & Strangerz — on “Never Not Love You” and “Lost These Days” — Ed Sheeran and Snow Patrol's Johnny McDaid — on “World On Fire” — and Dan Reynold of Imagine Dragons on "Life Is Beautiful."
“Other artists, they teach you things. They bring out different sides of yourself,” says Leto. “I would have started that much sooner had I known the reward that was there and the benefits and how fun and exciting that it could be.”
Leto is one of those rare artists who has succeeded in both movies and music — with two albums in the Top Ten of the Billboard 200 — and is not told to stay in his lane. This summer, Thirty Seconds to Mars played Lollapalooza alongside The 1975 and Kendrick Lamar.
“I think we’ve all gotten a little more forgiving of people kind of stepping into different lanes, exploring different avenues,” he says. “Maybe it’s a return to a time from the past where, you know, musicians were dancers and dancers sang and singers acted." He adds: “It all comes from the same place.”
Leto has also softened his grip a bit on the band and its music. He says early on it was important for him to have control and to take ownership.
“But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to relinquish some of that and share some of that and collaborate more and be open to other ideas and inspiration,” he says.
“What a privilege it is to make a sixth album. It’s incredible. I never thought we would make a single album. I never thought we would have a song on the radio. I never thought a single person would sing our songs at a concert.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits