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30 Seconds to Mars plans to take off

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The latest spacecraft to fly from Earth to Mars traveled for slightly under seven months. In rising rock-star time, this translates to roughly 30 seconds. The progressive rock band 30 Seconds to Mars could have made it there and back in the time they've been on their last tour — a little over eight months.

Last Friday, the band had just come from playing an arena in Indianapolis with Seether and Audioslave.

"We belong on a big stage," said guitarist Tomo Milicevic.

Shannon Leto, drummer and original member of the band, prefers the more immediate response from a smaller venue, but "likes the way (his) music travels through large venues."

The band's unusual name is meant to complement the band, as the members use distorted guitar sounds to create a spacey feel. "And the music is meant to complement the band," Leto added.

The band's latest release, A Beautiful Lie, is the reason for the tour, and it is the first truly recorded collaboration between the band.

Only Shannon and his brother Jared Leto (the actor from "My So-Called Life" fame and movies including "Panic Room") collaborated on recording the previous, self-titled album.

Milicevic was a "super fan" of the band, much like Henry Rollins was with Black Flag, and scored an audition through a friend.

His first performance with the band was on national television on the now defunct Craig Kilbourne show. He serves as a tangible fixture of the band to fans, who have come up to him to say, "You're our representative."

The brothers also added bassist Matt Wachter to the mix for their tour and latest album.

Though one of their biggest influences is the Cure, a band that has enough singles to fit multiple "greatest hits" albums, Milicevic said the band makes songs to fit an album, not vice-versa.

"We write music for ourselves," he said.

The album contains only one radio-marketed single (so far), "Attack," which highlights a well-placed synthesizer part that adds to their space-age sound. Milicevic views a song as essentially a vocal melody and a lyric, "but if I come up with a great riff, that's even better."

If using strained vocals over distorted and purposefully fuzzed guitar going up and down in more than one song (think a more slow emo-driven opening of Beethoven's "Für Elise," but in 4/4), then Milicevic should feel good in fulfilling his musical potential.

"Jared writes lyrics everybody needs," Leto said. With hard-hitting lyrics such as, "Runaway, Runaway/ I'll attack," this reviewer is convinced.

To Jared's credit, he didn't initially foresee the song making the album, until producer Josh Abraham heard the track. But, he also wasn't at the interview for unexplained reasons to defend his lyrics. His lyrics want to lie down and not get up, and the lyrical inspiration seems hidden behind a wall of self-pity. One wonders what his lyric "Do you want to be different?" sounds like bouncing off a mirror.

"The Fantasy" picks up the pace and moves so frantically the croon is forced out of Jared's voice and is forced to become a much more syncopated imitation during most of the song.

If his vocal sound from "The Story" was written words on a page, it would look like this: "This is the story of my li-hi-ife," but with the vowel's sound stretched out unnecessarily long, making it sound more whiny than angst-ridden.

In a surprising twist in the sound of the record, the band makes an instrumental departure fr om the first album. The band added a viola, violin and cello into two songs, but not until the end of the record.

"A Modern Myth" interweaves these acoustic strings with an acoustic guitar, which works very well. This sound simultaneously shows their potential for variability but also highlights the band's tendencies to sell themselves short by only subscribing to one musical sound.

The band seems self-aware of this trait, even including a clip of a conversation as the intro to one song in which a band member concludes, "Sometimes conviction leads to stubbornness."

Quickly departing from the acoustic sound, the band jumps into the next song and consequently back to the usual formula of strong vocals long phrases and melodic guitars.

You can call them contrived, but they don't care. Slapped with a plethora of labels such as emo prog-rock, post-grunge and another doomed actor-turned-singer project, Shannon shrugs off the projections. "Who cares about labels. They're totally pointless."

Milicevic adds, "It's only one person's opinion. People are going to listen to music for themselves."

Shannon and Milicevic illustrate this through the variety of the music they enjoy. The new Coheed and Cambria album playing in the background peeks out between conversations as it takes them a good five minutes to determine the last show they attended for pleasure. After guessing Muse, U2 and Motley Crüe, they finally decide that it was Green Day, seven months ago.

The band is good at accomplishing the brand of rock they enjoy, but it remains to be seen if they can hold their own on their first solo tour, slated for mid-February.

They are visibly excited, as moving the band's sound from "the studio to stage is a totally different world," Milicevic said.

Shannon concurred.

"We go into a show like we're going into war," he said.

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