Founded in 1998 by brothers Shannon Leto and Jared Leto, 30 Seconds to Mars began as a small family project. Matt Wachter later joined the band as bassist and keyboard player. After working with a number of guitarists (as the band’s first two guitarists, Kevin Drake and Solon Bixler, left the band due to issues primarily related to touring), the three auditioned Tomo Miličević to round out the band’s roster.

Jared Leto said the following in an interview regarding the name of the band:

“”For us, the name 30 Seconds To Mars has little to do with space, the universe or anything like that. It is a name that works on several different levels. Most importantly, it is a good representation of our sound. It’s a phrase that is lyrical, suggestive, cinematic, and filled with immediacy. It has some sense of otherness to it. The concept of space is so overwhelming and all encompassing I doubt there is a song written that doesn’t fall within it.” [1]

Shannon Leto said the following in an interview regarding the name of the band:

“”It represents a lot of things. This professor had a thesis. It was talking about where technology was going; the evolution of man and how that plays a role. A sub-category was 30 Seconds To Mars. It was like the exponential growth of humans. We are literally 30 seconds away from Mars. Everything is right here and right now; everything is just so crazy and fast.” [2]

According to an interview from Virgin Records, former member Matt Wachter said:

“[The band’s name] actually comes from a thesis that the band found online that was written by a former Harvard professor. And one of the subsections of the thesis was titled ‘thirty seconds to mars’ and he goes on to talk about the exponential growth of technology that relates to humans and saying that we are quite literally thirty seconds to mars. What it means to us is, we thought it best described our music, in short.”[3]

Even though Jared Leto is a Hollywood actor, he prefers not to use this position to promote the band; in fact, he refuses to play at venues if they have used his name to promote the band.[4]

Debut album (2002—2005)

The band’s debut self-titled album, produced by Bob Ezrin was released in 2002 to mixed reviews. The album produced two singles, “Capricorn (A Brand New Name)” and “Edge of the Earth”. The former peaked at #31 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock chart.[5]

A Beautiful Lie (2005—2008)

Their second album, A Beautiful Lie, was released on August 30, 2005. Because the album was leaked five months before its release, the band decided to include two bonus tracks: “Battle of One” (an original song that was also set to be the album’s title track when it was first announced) and “Hunter” (a cover of the Björk song). To further promote the album, the band also enclosed “golden tickets” in 12 copies, which granted their owners access to any 30 Seconds to Mars concert free of charge, along with backstage access.

Sample of the song “The Kill” from the 30 Seconds to Mars’ second album A Beautiful Lie.

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Sample of the song “From Yesterday” from 30 Seconds to Mars’ second album A Beautiful Lie.

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On August 31, 2006, the band won the MTV2 Award for “The Kill” at the MTV Video Music Awards, one of their two nominations. The second nomination was for Best Rock Video; however, they lost to AFI‘s “Miss Murder“. In the video, members of the band reenact scenes from The Shining. A Beautiful Lie was certified platinum by the RIAA in January for distribution of over one million albums.[6]

In 2006, while on the MTVu $2 Bill Tour, the band did a signing with Music Saves Lives, drawing people to the importance of the non-profit.

In October, the band began their “Welcome to the Universe” tour, sponsored by MTV2 and were supported by Head Automatica, The Receiving End of Sirens, Cobra Starship, Rock Kills Kid, and several other bands including Street Drum Corps. The tour was “environmentally sound” according to a 2006 interview with then-bassist Matt Wachter. “Jared and Shannon put together this thing called Environmentour which is illustrating ways—alternatives—to kind of clean up some of the mess we leave behind. We fueled the bus with vegetable oil,” he explains.[7] On November 20, MTV2 premiered the video for “From Yesterday“; the video is the first American rock video ever shot in its entirety in the People’s Republic of China.[8] The music video is loosely based on the film The Last Emperor.

On April 29, 2007, the band performed at the Australian MTV Australia Video Music Awards, where they were nominated for three awards, winning “Best Rock Video” and “Video of the Year” for “The Kill”.

As of Spring 2007, the band is supporting The Used as a part of the “Taste of Chaos” tour and have scheduled a string of dates in Europe supporting Linkin Park. They are also scheduled to play Roskilde, Rock am Ring, Pinkpop, Give It A Name Festival and Download. 30 Seconds to Mars were one of the hosts for the MTV Europe Music Awards 2008. While on the 2007 Taste of Chaos the band also did an interview with Music Saves Lives.

On March 21, 2008, 30 Seconds to Mars performed at ‘My Coke Fest’ in South Africa, which saw the band back on South African soil since the inception and recording of A Beautiful Lie. At a Press Conference Leto described the experience as deeply personal, with the added hope that some new material may see the light of day on African Soil. The band played to a sold-out crowd in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

On December 11, 2009, according to AOL Radio Blog, with votes from listeners of the site’s Alternative Radio station, the Top Alternative Song of the Decade of the 2000s was 30 Seconds To Mars’ hit The Kill from 2006, which had major success, along with the album which the single appears, A Beautiful Lie.[9]

Virgin Records lawsuit (2008)

In August 2008, Virgin Records filed a $30 million lawsuit, claiming the band refused to deliver three albums as required by its contract. According to the lawsuit, the band “repudiated” a 1999 contract in July.[10] In an early 2009 interview with MTV, Jared said that they hope to have their third album out by summer 2009, and he also gave information about the meaning behind the record saying, “I think this record is about faith, about spiritual matters, and that just happens to be what we’re thinking about and talking about in our lives right now. I said when the last album came out that I wanted to destroy the first record, which I think we did. We took a dramatic turn from the first to the second, and I think this new record follows that path. It’s exciting to us, and we’re really passionate about it.”