What struck us most while watching Jared Leto’s new documentary Artifact (which won best doc at TIFF last weekend), wasn’t how ruthlessly EMI treated his band, 30 seconds to Mars, over the course of their four year legal struggle. We already knew that most major labels are soulless wormholes dedicated to sucking the creative lifeforce that pumps through an artist’s veins. Instead, we were struck by how much we actually dug their music, which was used to great emotional effect throughout the film. (Takeaway equation: 30 Seconds to Mars = pretty good sometimes.)
Dealing with skeptics is nothing new for the now 40-year-old-actor/musician, whose been met with rolled eyes and raised eyebrows ever since ditching his film career five years ago to focus entirely on his duties as his band’s creative nucleus. But the film, which Leto directed under his go to pseudonym Bartholomew Cubbins, isn’t about their journey to legitimacy—5 million records sold will do that to a band—but the 30 million dollar lawsuit launched against them by their record label, and the album that emerged from all the angst and uncertainty that came with it. We sat down with an under-the-weather Leto in Toronto, to discuss the absurdity of being sued for $30 million, the upcoming election, and why his band was able to succeed despite him being, well, Jared Leto.
When you first embarked on a music career, did you have any idea of how suffocating the industry can be?
I had no idea! I’d heard people, things like, “Renegotiate when you’re successful.” They take that approach of like, “Ok you sign a very bad deal, and in success you beat each other up and try t o make it better.” Which is very strange. They could all make fair deals and have lots of success, you don’t have to do it that way.
Do you remember the moment when you first found out about the lawsuit? Was there a physical, guttural reaction?
We weren’t filming all the time, it’s a very DIY film made by just a handful of people. I filmed sometimes, my brother filmed, we had just a couple camera guys, most of the time just one camera. But there was that day that we got the information that we were being sued for thirty million dollars, and it was…CRAZY! It’s too much. It was just absurd, surreal, ridiculous.
You went into this band with such pure intentions. Did all of this legal wrangling ever poison the process?
Well, it certainly informed the process. This is an album that very much ruminates, discusses, and debates what was happening in our lives, it was very personal. I’m not sure if this is expressed in the film enough, because we’re pretty private people and didn’t let the cameras in all the way, but it was really brutal. The doubt, the fear, the anxiety that was caused by this battle, it was the most difficult, creative and business challenge that I’ve ever had in my life.
Did you ever view the executives as evil people?
Hmm there’s a couple, maybe, [laughs] but I think a lot of them are, well some might need therapy, some may be sociopaths, where they truly put the good of themselves against the good of the community. They don’t really have to do this, they do it because they can, but most of the people we dealt with from the record company are good people, they aren’t the enemy, we weren’t fighting them. Terra Firma is an organization that buys and sells companies, and I’m sure that emotions don’t go too much into their decision making process.
When you’re that big, I’m sure it’s not about hurting peoples feelings.
Yeah it’s really just about numbers, it’s not about feelings, art, or creating anything. I’m more about feelings and art. I don’t think that making art is like running a company, it’s not a profit-minded enterprise. A company doesn’t have to just be profit-minded. I don’t think a record company is a bad thing, I’m not anti-record company, I think that having a group of people around the world to help you realize your goals and dreams is great. There’s no problem with that, nobody has a problem with using Netflix to watch a movie, until they’ve raised their prices too much and pissed everybody off. I don’t have a problem going to Whole Foods to buy almond milk. There are good things about big companies, too.
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