Ahead of their show at Challenge Stadium on Tuesday, March 25, Thirty Seconds To Mars guitarist Tomo Miličević opens up to PHOEBE HURST about $30 million lawsuits, sending singles into space and why rock’n’roll is a full-time job.
Say what you like about Thirty Seconds To Mars, they’re no strangers to hard work.
Last year alone harboured a critically acclaimed album, globetrotting live shows, an award-winning documentary and countless meet and greets. Just a few months into 2014 and the band are already embarking on one of their most extensive world tours yet.
But then Jared Leto, Shannon Leto and Tomo Miličević have never been ones to rest on their laurels (or rest at all, it seems). Starting out as a collaboration between Hollywood actor and one-time My So-Called Life heartthrob, recent Oscar-winner Jared and his brother Shannon, Thirty Seconds To Mars’ self-titled debut was released in 2002.
Miličević joined the band as lead guitarist a year later and the band went on to achieve platinum sales with second album, A Beautiful Life, as well as a clutch of MTV Awards. Some 11 years and two albums later, Thirty Seconds To Mars are showing no sign of slowing down.
“It’s a non-stop process, whether it’s touring or making a new album, or just making videos or creating content; we all do a lot of different things,” Miličević says. “It’s a full-time job, there is no break. We may not be on tour, we may not be currently making an album, but we’re always doing something.
The Australian leg of the Love, Lust, Faith And Dreams Tour comes after Thirty Seconds To Mars were forced to reschedule dates originally planned for August last year. As a band that enjoy a strong connection with their fans, it was a tough decision to make and Miličević expresses his gratitude for “everyone’s patience” during the postponement.
“Audiences are different but you start to notice similarities between people. Even with different languages and completely different cultures, you start to see a lot of similarities, which is interesting. We’re all there united by this common thing in the song, it doesn’t matter if we speak English or they speak Arabic, we’re all there doing the same thing.”
Miličević is familiar with crossing cultural boundaries through music. Born to Bosnian Croat parents in Sarajevo, he emigrated to the United States as a child and began writing his own music at 17. “Being able to unite people with music is probably one of the most incredible things, it’s absolutely an honour and mindblowing every time.”
The tour follows the band’s fourth studio album, Love, Lust, Faith And Dreams, released in May last year. A concept album with hints of electronica, it peaked at #4 in the ARIA charts, thanks in part to the unique promotion technique which saw its first single (appropriately named Up In The Air) blasted into space.
“We just wanted to do something different and have fun with the kick-off of our new album. Jared had this idea that maybe there was some kind of launch going on and we could do an event with NASA. It turned out that they did have a launch; sometimes you just gotta ask, I guess! They seemed to be quite happy about it and they definitely had fun with it – it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
The recording process behind Love, Lust, Faith And Dreams was a far cry from Thirty Seconds To Mars’ 2008 album, This Is War. Made in the middle of a legal battle with Virgin, who were attempting to sue the band for breach of contract, the album was borne out of a tumultuous period in the band’s history. “The environment surrounding the process for Love, Lust, Faith And Dreams was completely different; filled with joy and positivity and a limitless search for creativity. That’s how it should be and I think you can hear it. In some ways, this album is even darker than This Is War as far as the songwriting content goes but the process was definitely much lighter and I really love this album.”
It doesn’t take a clinical psychologist to figure out that recording an album without the pressure of a $30 million lawsuit makes for a much happier working environment, but while the legal complications undoubtedly took their toll on the band, they also proved to be the inspiration behind Leto’s directorial debut, Artefact.
The documentary film follows Thirty Seconds To Mars’ legal battle and shines a light on the less savoury side of the music industry. It won the People’s Choice Documentary Award when it premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.
“It took five years to finish,” Miličević says. “I lived it and I’m part of it, but the documentary as a piece of work, it’s Jared’s baby. It was heavy and really dark and surrounded by a lot of uncertainty and confusion. We literally could have lost everything that we had worked for and there would have been nothing we could do about it so it was definitely scary. The documentary is really great, it’s an interesting look at the behind the scenes workings of the music business. Putting out an album has very little to do with creativity and a lot to do with bureaucratic bullshit.”
Happily for MiliMiličević and his bandmates, the case was settled with a California Appeals Court ruling that no service contract in the state is valid after a period of seven years and Love, Lust, Faith And Dreams stands as a testament to the band’s strength. “The way it connects with people live is unbelievable; people in Australia will see that at the shows. There’s definitely a fire going around with our concerts in the past year and I know that the new album has a lot to do with it.”