14 Minutes With Thirty Seconds To Mars’ Tomo Milicevic

Thirty Seconds to Mars’ Milicevic talked to Pollstar about avoiding the “cliché rock star bullshit” and the band’s plan for sticking around for a very long time.

Sometimes it’s more fun interviewing up-and-coming acts who haven’t become jaded by doing countless interviews and playing in front of thousands of fans. But when Milicevic called us up we found that even though the rock band just played its third arena trek through Europe, he’s as humble and thrilled to be on tour as if it was his first chance to play a big show.

Pollstar chatted with the lead guitarist late last month, less than an hour before he was set to take the stage in Belfast, England.  

Last week the group put out “Artifact,” a film the guys made and financed themselves to tell the story about making their 2009 album, This Is War, while being sued by Virgin/EMI.

Milicevic noted that working on the band’s latest album was a much more joyful process compared to This Is War.  

The band fronted by Jared Leto is supporting its fourth album, Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams, which was released in May and hit no. 6 on the Nielsen SoundScan album chart.

Photo: facebook.com/thirtysecondstomars

So, the band is playing Belfast tonight and it’s the last stop on the tour. How has the European tour been going?

It has been absolutely insane. If somebody would have told me 10 years ago that I would be selling out arenas around the world in Europe and just in all of these different continents all over the place I would have pretty much been like, “Haha, that’s not funny.” [laughs]

You can dream about that type of thing, you can imagine it. But you don’t really believe that it’s actually going to happen. You can even imagine like, “OK, maybe you’ll get to open for somebody who’s doing an arena tour or something like that. But you never really believe that it’s going to be you guys who are selling the tickets and the people are coming to see.

And that’s exactly what is happening and that’s been our reality for a little while now. It’s kind of an incredible thing. It’s something that we often think about and have an enormous amount of gratitude for. You don’t take this type of thing for granted. You don’t know how many times you actually get to do something like this. This is our third arena tour through Europe – it’s completely insane when you think about it. Most bands maybe get to do that one time in their life – maybe. And that fact that we’ve been doing this for several years now is just nuts.

Photo: facebook.com/thirtysecondstomars
Tomo Milicevic, Jared Leto, Shannon Leto

A lot of bands talk about how crowds differ when touring overseas. Do you see a big difference between fans in the U.S. and Europe?

Oh yeah, definitely. … The cool thing about touring in Europe is that you can be in a different country every day and truly be playing for an audience that speaks different languages every day. And yet everyone knows the lyrics to every song and you’re all kind of united by this singular interest in the form of music – and specifically the music that we’ve written. [laughs] And it’s just unbelievable. Every day you’re in a new place, new culture, new people. Some places are more mellow than others, some places are completely insane compared to others. But we’re all in it together for this kind of crazy, celebratory journey of live music.

I was a concert kid growing up. It’s funny, just before we called you I was talking to some of the people that work with us and I was like, “Yeah, I used to go to Pollstar to check out which shows were coming to town.” And now I’m talking to you about my band that’s on Pollstar [and] you guys probably post our tours up [laughs]. It’s a little bit insane.

But to answer your question – yes, there are definitely differences between people. That’s to be expected. The thing that’s more interesting to me is the similarities between everybody. I’ve played in Lebanon, I’ve played in Israel, I’ve played in China, I’ve played in Jakarta. I mean, I’ve played in places where you never in a million years [would] go to, let alone play a concert there where people actually came to see you. And knew the music, knew the words. The similarities of all these people that are so culturally diverse compared to where we’re from – but they all love the same band. We all love music … Something that Thirty Seconds To Mars as an entity really prides itself on [is] giving people a license to let go for a couple of hours and just kind of be together. And it’s great.

I was just looking over some past press that the band has done about Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams. In one quote Jared says the new album “is more than an evolution, it’s a brand new beginning.” Could you talk a little bit about how the band’s sound has evolved?

I think the band’s sound has evolved the way that we have evolved as people. I think that’s really what Jared meant, not so much that the album is a new beginning. We look at an album as a piece of recorded history of that period of our lives. It takes us about a year minimum to finish an album, maybe two. It takes us about three or four years usually to tour around that album. That’s just how we are. It takes us a long time to produce an album and you change as a person. The people that we were when we were making This Is War, we are not those people anymore. The people that we were when we were making A Beautiful Life, and the first album – it’s the same thing. You change so much every time you make a record that of course … we’re completely uninterested in repeating ourselves. Anyone could be like, “OK, that worked. Let’s do that again.” But that’s just not who we are as people. We are totally and completely uninterested in doing that, and we never will.

That’s why the albums are generally so different because we have different interests – different sounds that inspire us, different instruments, different rhythms, different melodies, different keys, just all of those things that seep into our consciousness and we’re like, “Yeah, this is something that sounds exciting to me and it’s totally different to what we’ve done in the past.”

But as far as it being a new beginning, it just is. The End Of War was the end of something, definitely. And Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams is the beginning of a whole new journey.

You know, we were being sued by our record company during the making of This Is War. That was a dark, lonely time, just not knowing what was going on. We were working so hard and all of it was maybe for nothing. At the end of the day, [the label had] the power to just take it all away from us. That was terrifying [laughs].

That doesn’t sound like a good environment to make a record.

Yeah, but it helped us to make that album, which was a pinnacle point in our lives. Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams did not have that terror surrounding us. We were surrounded by joy and this feeling of freedom that we could do whatever we wanted. We had achieved enormous amounts of success around the world and that gave us the ability to kind of do anything. So we felt quite hopeful. But in some ways, Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams is the darkest album. There’re some of the darkest songs that we’ve [ever] written on this album. … It’s definitely come full circle in some ways.

With a lot of bands the focus is on the frontman …

As it should be. [laughs]

A very diplomatic answer.

I really mean it. Thank God. [laughs]

What’s something that fans wouldn’t know about you?

Well, there’s nothing because I am like an open book. If you follow me on Twitter you would see that … I literally have no shame. But what’s something that they wouldn’t know about me? I probably have more respect for animals than I do for most people. [laughs] I definitely am an animal lover.

When I’m home I definitely don’t like to leave my house. When I’m home I literally am a hermit.

So you’d consider yourself a homebody?

I am a homebody, no question about it. People think that when you’re in a band and you tour and stuff like that that it’s all just about getting f**ked up and partying not-stop and like doing this whole thing. But we really are like the complete opposite of that. We’re super-focused on work and we just want to have great shows every night. We want to play as many shows as possible in as many places as possible so we try to stay super-health, stay fit and not get f**ked up.

Photo: AP Photo
Peace & Love Festival, Borlange, Sweden

What do you guys do after a show to unwind?

We literally will have a nice meal because we usually don’t eat before the show. So we have some really good food and then we go to bed and get ready for the next day because we’re so busy every single day.

Well, that sounds like a good plan.

We plan on doing this for a long time. We’ve been around long enough already to see so many bands come and go. We’ve seen so many bands fall into that cliché rock star bullshit. It’s so ridiculous and when you’re watching it from the outside it’s kind of really hysterical actually. If you really want to be like a historian of that stuff, the cases that you hear about, those people, they never last very long. They just happen to have like some incredible song or some incredible guitar player, something like that, that was like such a legend. But really, there’s not a lot of history there. It’s a very quick short and sweet road. I’d like to be doing this for a long time. … I’ve done the partying thing and you can not survive on tour if you’re getting f**ked up every night. You just can’t. It’s not reality.

I don’t care who you think you are – you either end up dead or stupid, you know what I mean? You kill enough brain cells you’re not going to write another good song, that’s for sure. [laughs]

Sorry to all the kids out there that it’s a boring story – but trust me, it’s the cooler one. [laughs]

Photo: facebook.com/thirtysecondstomars

Remaining 2013 dates for Thirty Seconds to Mars:

Dec. 14 – Cincinnati, Ohio, Bogart’s     
Dec. 15 – Indianapolis, Ind., Egyptian Room     
Dec. 18 – Richmond, Va., The National     
Dec. 19 – Norfolk, Va., NorVa     
Dec. 21 – Tulsa, Okla., Brady Theater     

For more information please visit ThirtySecondsToMars.com