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Shannon Leto: Homemade Hugeness

“I remember my mother pressing the record button on one of those big ol’ tape recorders and me hitting the bottom of a potato chip can while my brother was hitting the guitar and babbling. That’s the first time I can remember us playing together. I was probably seven, he was like five. I actually have the recording.”

Since that day, the brothers Leto and their band, 30 Seconds To Mars, have rocketed to multi-platinum status, complete with three acclaimed albums, two Top 5 singles, and more than 500 live performances. Younger Jared handles the songwriting and frontman duties, while big brother Shannon keeps the planets aligned from the drum throne.

We got to taste snippets of their upcoming release, This Is War, and it is big, big, big. But that should come as no surprise. It seems everything these guys do is big. From shooting videos in the People’s Republic Of China to enlisting taiko drummers and Tibetan monks, Shannon Leto and company always go big and never back down.

“We do what we do and we like what we like,” Leto shrugs. “Some of my favorite bands – Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, so many others – are big. And our experiences, things we’ve done in our lives, contribute to the album. It’s hard to explain, but I think it comes from me and my brother’s upbringing and our perception.” That could be the case, but they’re a long way from the tambourine-shaking hippie communes where they grew up. These guys go epic or go home, and War seems to be no exception. Come on, the album took two years to make. They started with what Leto recalls as “a couple hundred ideas” and whittled them down to one record. A quick listen to any tidbit of the material and you’re sure it’s monster-budget, mega-studio, ride-the-machine stuff, created in some planet-sized battle station with technology we don’t even know exists. Or, er, what’s that? … Wrong.

“Everything you hear on the record is real,” reveals Leto. “We recorded it at our house, including the drums, so all the sounds you hear are unique sounds. No one else has ever recorded at this house. The sounds that came out of that house are pretty amazing.”

Shut. Up.

“Yeah, me and my brother’s house. There’s a little studio with a vocal room and board and we built it out, took a lot of the furniture out of the house. We put the drums in the center of one big room and we just tried it. As soon as we listened back to the test recording, we were all blown away. So I recorded a lot of drums in the big room, did some in the kitchen – mostly snares – and recorded some more drums in my closet, which has cement walls and ceiling and gives a real dead sound. We did some drums in the hallway with mikes everywhere. We’d mike the windows, everything. We took a lot of time to get the sounds we wanted.

“And a lot of the kit you hear is live. There are no samples, no manipulation. It’s all real. It’s all the room. What you’re hearing is the actual room, which is pretty amazing. Everything else ranges from tapping on a bucket to hand claps, and on and on. Then we’d tweak those sounds electronically to sound the way we wanted.”

By recording the album in their house while essentially living in the studio for two years, Leto and the guys could approach things as they never had before. “It was like writing pre-production in the studio,” he says. “We’ve never recorded in a house like this, in this type of environment. It allowed us to record as we were coming up with ideas, and just log them in. It adds spontaneity and excitement to the songs. It’s refreshing. I like to capture the raw, the real, and the honest while playing. How I prefer it is to have a general outline, then go in and play an interpretation of that outline, for that moment.”

And he used the essentially unlimited time schedule to its fullest. One track in particular, “Night Of The Hunter,” hosts a tom part that makes Phil Collins sound like Dr. Phil on toy bongos. Big and epic are vast understatements. Leto took ten days to get just that one part the way he wanted. He wasn’t shooting for perfect – perfect isn’t real or honest – he just wanted it to sound right.

And think about how much you could learn with two full years to sit in your house and mess with your music. Leto did think about it, and yes, he did learn a lot about himself and his drumming. “Playing drums on this album, I learned a lot about myself. I learned that there are more sides to my playing. I learned to trust people’s vision and to develop a relationship with that vision as well as with my own. I learned I can combine those visions and make a sound out of it.

“This album is the most honest work I’ve been a part of. I wanted every drum, every sound, to be as real as possible. I wanted the drum to sound like the drum. No samples on any of them, no masking with digital trickery. Everything was well thought out. Nothing was rushed. Everything is just … real.

“And I learned the importance of space. Not just the logic of it. I learned to internalize it and sit with the space, instead of filling it up with a guitar or drums or vocal melodies. I learned how important that space is. You can say a lot in that space.

“And patience. I learned that patience is very important to creating. I think our first album was everything I ever thought I should play. Everything I’ve ever experienced or witnessed. The second album is more me fitting in with what was going on around me and not really developing a relationship with what I’m playing. This album shows my voice. Here’s the real Shannon Leto and here’s what I have to say. It’s a nice evolution and that’s what I hope to do: Evolve and change and grow and have an open mind.”

Vitals
Band 30 Second to Mars
Current Release This Is War
Birthplace Bossier City, Louisiana
Influences “Everyone!”
Web Site thirtysecondstomars.com

Gear
Drums Sonor
Cymbals Sabian
Sticks Vic Firth
Heads Remo
Hardware DW
Accessories Roland, RockenWraps

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