Firefly Festival 2017

Concerts are highly enjoyable experiences. It’s one of my many recreational hobbies. I love listening music like everyone else. But we all have our favorite artists/bands we’d love to see live in concert someday. I’ve gone to my fair share of Christian and secular artist/band concerts.

In July 2009, I attended my first secular concert. mtvU Sunblock music festival. The co-headliners were Boys Like Girls and Gym Class Heroes with supporting acts of The Academy Is, The Veronicas, and Never Shout Never. I paid somewhere between $25-$30 for my ticket. That’s ridiculously cheap for a music festival! In preparation for Sunblock music festival, I formed an appreciation for Boys Like Girls and The Academy Is. I’d been a fan of The Veronicas since 2006.

In general, there is only one music festival which I attended devoted three years back-to-back. Creation Festival Northeast in Mount Union, PA. I attended this four-day Christian music festival with my church youth group from 9th to 11th grade. I absolutely hate camping. Nature and I are not usually one with each other. But I made one exception for Creation Fest. The camping experience is not part of the fond memories of this music festival. Yet the opportunity to see my favorite Christian rock bands overshadowed the misery of camping. The summer of 2010 was the last time I attended Creation Fest.

Firefly Festival 2017 Lineup

Firefly Festival in Dover Woodlands was my first music festival in seven years! Also, it was my first secular music festival since mtvU’s Sunblock music festival. I had a day pass ticket for Sunday. I would have loved to see AFI and Franz Ferdinand on the main stage on Friday. Yet, I wasn’t going to pay another $109 for a General Admission day pass. It was more important I see Thirty Seconds to Mars and Muse on Sunday.

Musical festival requires lots of mental and physical preparation. I can deal with regular concerts as they’re no longer than 5 hours. But music festivals are an entirely different thing. You will be walking around music festival grounds for at least 7 hours if you want to get your money’s worth of the GA day pass. The best thing about music festivals how you can meander around the massive grounds and casually listen to other artists or bands on the non-main stages. You might just discover new artists or band that sparks your interest. Always approach music festivals with an open-mind. I’m aware people come to music festivals to see certain artists. But you’ll regret approaching such a music event with a narrow-minded attitude. Soak in the whole musical festival experience! It will certainly push you out of your comfort zone.

Firefly Festival 2017 MapFirefly Festival was held this year between June 15th to June 18th. I don’t like going to music festival alone. It isn’t as fun to be honest. One of my college friends, Kaitlyn, and I headed Firefly Festival on June 18, 2017 in Dover, Delaware.

It only took a little over 2 hours to arrive here. Festival goers walk 15-20 minutes from the parking lot at Dover International Speedway to get to Dover Woodlands area. You’re basically walking right on the highway that has been blocked off entirely for this music festival. The actual festival grounds cover approximately 105 acres of Dover Woodlands.

The wooded area surrounding most of this music festival venue provides lovely breeze throughout the humid day. Even if you were in the open area near the multiple stages. It’s essential you remain hydrated with enough water throughout the day at any music festival! Firefly festival had multiple water re-filling stations located throughout the Woodlands area.

Surprising, this music festival had a wide array of food stalls. Food will cost on average of $8 to $10 depending on the food vendor. All types of ethnic foods. Sweet and savory foods. You certainly didn’t have to worry about limited food selection here.

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My friend and I finally got to Firefly festival grounds around 12 noon. Thirty Seconds to Mars wasn’t performing on Firefly main stage until 6:45 pm. That’s almost 6 hours to kill before main stage performances. Walking from one end to the other, we explored the expansive festival grounds. So many fascinating nooks and food stands. Comfortable walking shoes are must for any music festival as you’ll do extensive amounts of walking throughout the day. I personally rather not sacrifice practicality just to look cute. I could care less. Sneakers are the best way to go for comfort. Walking around festival grounds, it was surprising how two or three hours fly by.

Kaitlyn and I ventured through the various stages. Firefly Festival has seven music stages. The Porch stage. The Lawn stage. The Backyard stage. The Treehouse stage. The Backyard stage. The Coffee House. The Pavilion. Firefly main stage.  Even the “smallest” stage is still sizable.

We did check out some of the lesser known artists before meandering back to main stage area. I really enjoyed the 888’s music. This alternative indie band from Denver performed on The Porch stage. During certain times of the day, you can even hear music coming from different stages at the same time. All vying for your attention.

I anticipated a huge crowd for Thirty Seconds to Mars who were performing on main stage at 6:45 pm. My prior music festival experience taught me many valuable lessons. Most of all, you must arrive one to two hours early to get a good spot within 20 feet of the main stage. In a previous blog post, I expressed that I’ve been longtime fan of Thirty Seconds to Mar’s music. So I finally fulfilled my dream of seeing them live in concert. It only took 8 years. There was no way I was getting a crappy spot for this concert at Firefly main stage. Luckily, my friend and I squeezed into a good viewing spot about 15 feet away from stage. There were no tall dudes blocking our view either. That’s 50/50 chance when you’re at any concert. When Thirty Seconds to Mars kicked off their setlist, there was a pretty sizable crowd behind us. I had no idea where it even ended. There was hardly one pace step of space around me. Over time, I’ve learned to deal with cramped space in a large crowd situation at concerts.

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One hour quickly turned into less than 30 minutes. My body was buzzing with excitement. When Thirty Seconds to Mars members walked on stage, I broke out in a huge grin. I almost cried tears of joy too. I’ve waited a long time for this dream to become a reality.

Thirty Seconds to Mars delivered an incredible setlist. There was a good balance of songs from their older and more recent albums. (Side note: Jared always plays one acoustic song during the set. I like the song “The Kill” but I would have preferred to hear “Hurricane” as the acoustic song.) Their setlist only consisted of 9 songs in total. Yet, they delivered energetic and dynamic 75 minutes set. Thirty Seconds to Mars performed on Firefly main stage from 6:45 to 8:00 pm.

Thirty Seconds to Mars Firefly Festival 2017 setlist

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Jared Leto wore an eccentric ensemble yet surprisingly pulled off this ensemble. He also provided entertaining commentary between the songs as well. In the earlier part of the set, Jared threw packaged popsicles into the crowd. It was so damn hot standing in that crowd. There’s truly never a dull moment with Thirty Seconds to Mars.

My friend and I had great views of the entire stage. I only had one slight annoyance about being 15-20 feet away from main stage. We were situated in the area where crowd surfers passed over us. You’ll always get the occasional crowd surfer at music festivals. But Jared definitely encouraged and instigated a higher influx of crowd surfers during their set. Dealing with back-to-back crowd surfers, my friend and I basically couldn’t enjoy the last song in Thirty Seconds to Mars’s set. Otherwise, I had an absolute blast during Thirty Second to Mars’s set on the main stage. It was everything I imagined it would be…and even more mind-blowingly incredible.

(Random note: Kaitlyn and I were leisurely having an early dinner around 4-ish pm. Suddenly there’s a loud sound a helicopter. We’re sitting in the vicinity near the entrance of the festival grounds. The helicopter circulates around this vicinity for almost 20 minutes. It descends to the ground then takes flight into the skies again. My friend and I thought it was possibly a local news channel filming a segment about Firefly Festival. Nope. I had forgot about this entirely until I checked my Snapchat stories within that hour. It turns out Thirty Seconds to Mars flew in to Firefly Festival via helicopter. They were in New York City the day before to fit in some time to work on recording songs for their upcoming fifth album. Thirty Seconds to Mars decided to make a grand entrance onto the woodland festival grounds. They’re so extra. It’s one of the many reasons I love those three adorkably awesome guys.)

After Thirty Seconds to Mars finished their set, Kaitlyn and I decided to take a water refill break for some fresh air. The air was so stuffy around us. Yet, it was worth being getting that close to main stage. Muse’s set would only start at 9:15 pm. We had still had a little over an hour before their set. This gave us the opportunity to meander around close to the main stage. I’d gotten the thrill of being less than 20 feet from main stage for Thirty Seconds to Mars. That was all I could handle for one day. We decided to stay close to main stage but not as close for Muse’s set. Muse would be playing on Firefly main stage from 9:15 to 10:45 pm. They were basically wrapping up Firefly Festival 2017.

In fact, it would be my second time to see Muse live in concert. Let’s rewind seven years back to May 2010. I saw them on The Resistance tour at First Mariner Bank Arena in Baltimore, MD. I knew they would blow away the Firefly Festival crowd with mind-blowing performances.

Thankfully the main stage has more than enough grassy areas. My friend and I needed to rest our feet before securing a good spot for Muse’s set. We weren’t going to stand for a whole hour again. The massive crowd from Thirty Seconds to Mars’s set had mostly dispersed to other parts of the festival grounds. Kaitlyn and I sat in the grassy area close the main stage. It wasn’t until 30-40 minutes before that we stood up to find a spot for Muse. Surprisingly we managed to get decent spots about 25 feet from the main stage. We weren’t going to deal with constant stream of crowd surfers again. In my opinion, crowd surfers just ruin the overall concert experience. Everything in moderation including crowd-surfing.

Muse walked onto the main stage on schedule at 9:15 pm. They delivered a kick-ass setlist consisting of 17 songs. A mixture of songs from older and more recent albums. Yet, there was slight emphasis on songs from their latest album. Drones album was released in June 2015. There was plenty of nostalgic throwbacks too. When you listen to their albums, you get an overall electronica hard rock vibe. Studio recorded versus live performance version of their songs are two entirely different things. Honestly, Muse’s live performances is way better than the studio recorded versions. I love when this is the case with my bias artist and bands.

Muse Firefly Festival 2017 setlist

I had no idea how many of the people in the massive crowd were actually Muse fans. Not including the obvious sign of people wearing Muse band merchandise. Muse not only delivered mind-blowingly performances. They kicked up the energy of the overall crowd to a whole new level. Even non-Muse fans were jamming out throughout their set. Kaitlyn and I managed to politely maneuver even closer to be 20-ish feet from the main stage. We still had a decent view of the stage. There were two large monitors in either side of the stage too. Muse had awesome pre-recorded special effects on the video of the band members projected onto the monitors throughout their performance. Sometimes, people are surprised by the overall loud volume level of Muse’s set when they see them live.

Thirty Seconds to Mars and Muse both have three band members. Yet, they know how utilize every square inch of gigantic stages. That’s proof of their explosive charisma. Plus, they aren’t known to play in small to medium size music venues. They usually come to bigger music venues that are nowhere close to me. That’s why I’m thankful to have seen them live in concert at least once.

There’s one main difference between Thirty Seconds to Mars’s set versus Muse’s set. Thirty Seconds to Mars lead singer, Jared Leto, is known to provide amusing commentary between songs. Muse lead singer, Matt Bellamy, barely speaks during the entire set. They have more songs in their setlist so the time is already very tight. Matt will tersely talk at most three times when Muse performs on stage. Every artist/band approach live performances in different ways.

Honestly, Jared Leto and Matt Bellamy are the full embodiment of the phrase “extra AF” in the most endearing way. Yet, their musical talent is very evident when they perform live. Jared is “extra AF” in terms of his eccentric wardrobe choices. Matt is “extra AF” in terms of extending each song in the setlist. Extraneous yet awesome guitar riffs at the end of each song. Thirty Second to Mars and Muse delivered spectacularly energetic performances. They know how to pump up the crowd even when it includes those who aren’t fans of their music.

Firefly Festival 2017 PosterOverall, I had a fantastic experience at Firefly Festival 2017. The biggest takeaway was it made my dream of seeing Thirty Seconds to Mars live finally come true.  Plus, I have enough items to remember my Firefly Festival experience. Sunday General Admission wristband.  Firefly Festival bandanna. Official Firefly Festival tee. Pictures of festival grounds area, Thirty Seconds to Mars’s set, and Muses’s set. Also, I’m glad I got share this experience with my college friend. Kaitlyn and I had a blast exploring the woodland festival grounds and listening to awesome live music. Dover Woodlands area is a great venue for this outdoor music festival.

Yet, Firefly Festival will be a one-time thing for me. Music festival are fun yet extremely exhausting. It’s mentally and physically draining to be outdoors in humid temperatures for 10-12 hours. My friend and I were so fatigued by the time we got back from Firefly Festival between 1 and 2 am. I’ll stick to my usual concerts.

 

Reeve Carney

reeve-carneyI don’t easily form a bias toward an actor. This implies their acting skills left a lasting impression on me. Usually these actors have brilliantly portrayed a variety of characters in TV shows and/or movies. It proves how they are a versatile actor. Very few actors join this prestigious club. Now, there is a new member to this club. Reeve Carney.

Recently, I intensely binged all three season of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. I formed emotional attachments to some characters. Most of all, I grew to really love Dorian Gray. I shouldn’t love him but I do. In my opinion, he was one of the most multifaceted characters in Penny Dreadful. Dorian Gray is a fascinating enigma. Reeve Carney portrays Dorian Gray. This show was my official introduction to Reeve. It formed my appreciation for him.

My appreciation quickly transformed into love. One day, I was looking up Penny Dreadful videos on YouTube. Of course you click on the recommended suggestions. One recommended video after another. It’s never ending lack of productivity. Sometimes I don’t mind it.

Surprisingly, Reeve Carney plays the bad boy love interest in Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” music video. This is one of the rare occasions I even considered watching a Taylor Swift music video. I’m not exactly a huge fan of her music. But I usually respect her as an artist…unlike majority of female vocalists in the pop industry over the past few years.

At one point, I randomly clicked on “Love Me Chase Me” music video from a band called Carney. I immediately realized Reeve Carney was the frontman of Carney within the first minute of the music video. Reeve Carney’s vocals are very intriguing. Not like the usual tenor male vocals I listen to in my music. There are hints of soulful, bluesy jazz facets in his tenor vocals. You hear these facets in his music as well. It’s quite refreshing considering what you typically hear with indie rock music. I don’t care if it isn’t as dynamic of a vocal range compared to my other bias male musicians. Reeve’s vocals are so soothingly emotive.

My discovery of Reeve Carney’s music somehow led me to the Spider-man fandom. Ten years ago, Spider-man trilogy was my official introduction to the Marvel movie universe. So what’s the connection between Reeve Carney and Marvel’s Spider-man universe? Reeve played as Peter Parker/ Spider-man in Broadway’s Spider-man: Turn off the Dark musical. I vaguely remember this Broadway musical receiving lots of negative press in the media. It had a $75 million budget. The most expensive Broadway musical. Plus, it was the most technically complex production. Investors lost approximately $60 million. Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark was not a profitable Broadway musical. Also, it had the longest preview period in Broadway history. A total of 182 preview performances. Up to this point, the musical faced many delays before getting official opening night date on June 14, 2011. Reeve Carney was part of this production until September 15, 2013. That’s over 900 performances as Peter Parker/ Spider-man. He left the musical to begin preparation for his role as Dorian Grey on Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. It took a couple listens before the Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark musical soundtrack really grew on me. I like how it incorporates rock opera elements into traditional musical theater.

Nowadays, Reeve has been pursuing a solo music career. His debut album, Youth is Wasted, was released on October 14, 2016. I’m sad I didn’t discover his music sooner. Over the past month, I’ve been avidly listening to my Reeve Carney Spotify playlist.  I can’t enough of his music.

Overall, Reeve is well-rounded actor and musician. He is full of surprises. I look forward to his future acting and music projects.

 

 

Artifact

Between 2007 and 2009, the global economy faced a financial crisis. USA experienced the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. The financial crisis of 2007-2008 had multiple causes. Using business and economic terminology, I could explain the multi-faceted issues surrounding this controversial topic. But I’ll spare you the details. Basically the underlying reason is financial institutions lent out too much money and their borrowers couldn’t pay it all back. That’s the problem with credit.  When poorly implemented, credit can be very catastrophic.

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During the economic recession, the average American had increasingly less discretionary income to spend on luxury goods and services. The financial crisis impacted all industry sectors including the music industry. Also, there was a new player in the music industry. Digital music. It was rapidly gaining widespread popularity. Apple’s iTunes was the dominant distributor of digital music. During 2008, there was a significant drop in the sale of physical CDs. CDs were the main source of revenue for this industry sector. Yet this continued to still be the most popular format of music. With the digital era, it gave rise to a whole new beast. The illegal downloading of music. It prevents artists from being properly compensated for their efforts.

Since their inception in 1998, Thirty Seconds to Mars has experienced their fair share of hardship in the music industry. Their self-titled debut album didn’t garner much mainstream popularity. Thirty Seconds to Mars released their sophomore album in August 2005. A Beautiful Lie was a breakthrough album for them. It essentially launched their music careers.

Let’s put this into perspective in terms of the music industry at that time. Rock music genres had gained mainstream popularity around the mid-2000s. This certainly helped Thirty Seconds to Mars. They joined the ranks of other popular rock bands such as Green Day, Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, Seether, 3 Doors Down, Nickelback, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and Franz Ferdinand to name a few.

From their sophomore album,  the second single “The Kill” finally put them on the map. The band’s hard work had finally paid off.  They were floating on cloud nine. Also, the band wanted to create a documentary about the production of their upcoming third album.

Sadly, their success was short-lived upon discovering they owed Virgin Records nearly $2.5 million. Up to this point, the sales from their two albums had not generated any profits. Also, the record company hadn’t paid them their due royalties from these albums. They wanted to leave Virgin Records. In mid-2008, the band attempted to sign with a new record label. EMI, parent company of Virgin Records, filed a $30 million lawsuit against Thirty Seconds to Mars. According to EMI, the band had failed to produce three of the five albums obligated within their 1999 contract.

Here is some background information about EMI. In August 2007, Terra Firma Capital Partners Ltd, a UK-based private equity firm, acquired EMI for $4.7 billion. Terra Firma’s takeover implemented an entirely new restructuring plan for EMI along with 1,500 to 2,000 job cuts. The restructuring plan was intended to pay off EMI’s massive debts to Citigroup. Terra Firma’s belligerent business practices quickly deteriorated the relationship between the record label and their artists.

Artifact_2They fought hard for their survival. During this time, the band was recording their third studio album. The record company had absolutely no involvement in this process. In fact, Thirty Seconds to Mars used their own money to hire well-known music producers, Flood and Steve Lillywhite, along with a small staff. Jared, Shannon, and Tomo channeled all the tumultuous emotions of the legal battle into the new songs. This documentary offers intimate, behind-the-scene footage of the band’s recording sessions and legal meetings. Yet, Artifact simultaneously explores the complexity of the modern music industry along with the relationship between record label and their artists. First-hand account interviews from musicians, EMI executive and employees, and music journalists gives eye-opening insight to the much uglier side of this ruthless industry.

The documentary has an overall somber tone. But there are light-hearted, sentimental, and humorous moments sprinkled in throughout the film. You learn more about the upbringings of Tomo and the Leto brothers and how it shaped them into the people they are today. Also, Artifact incorporates beautifully panoramic shots of Los Angeles consistently throughout the documentary.

Between 2008 and 2009, Thirty Seconds to Mars’s financial reserves were stretched very thin. They almost became broke from the mounting costs associated with making the album and paying legal fees. In addition, they funded their documentary, Artifact, on a very limited budget. It is unlikely they’ll even generate much revenue from it. Without a doubt, this time of immense tribulation made Tomo, Shannon, and Jared much stronger people. This explains the heavily emphasized tone of struggle and perseverance in the songs off their third album, This Is War. In 2009, the $30 million lawsuit came to an end. EMI renegotiated a new contract with the band. Both parties wanted to make amends to their previously contentious relationship. The war was over.

Thirty Seconds to Mars fought like hell to pursue their music careers even when the industry didn’t appreciate nor recognize them. This band prefers to stay out of the celebrity limelight which is almost unheard of nowadays. With their hard work and perseverance, Thirty Seconds to Mars have fulfilled their rock star dreams over the years. Their music is well loved by the worldwide community of their Echelon family. Over the past three weeks, I’ve formed a whole new appreciation for Thirty Seconds to Mars.

Artifact was directed by front man, Jared Leto, under his longtime pseudonym  Bartholomew Cubbins. Also, he worked with Emma Ludbrook to produce this film. The documentary premiered at 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. This documentary received favorable reviews from critics and audiences. It would go on to win more awards from other film festivals. Well-deserved accolades!

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I would highly recommend Thirty Seconds to Mars’ Artifact to everyone. You don’t need to be a musician to enjoy this compellingly riveting documentary. It is an emotionally engaging work of cinematography. So worth all 103 minutes of your time!

Thirty Seconds To Mars

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Nowadays people associate Jared Leto from his acting roles in Dallas Buyers Club (2013) and Suicide Squad (2016). Some people aren’t aware Jared is very versatile.  Actor. Singer-songwriter. Director. Producer. Editor. Photographer. Investor. Painter.

I’ve always associated Jared Leto as the lead singer of Thirty Seconds to Mars. Actually Jared Leto and his older brother, Shannon Leto, are co-founders of Thirty Seconds to Mars. Their mother, Constance, encouraged her boys to get involved in the creative arts at a young age. Since childhood, music played an integral role in the Leto brothers’ lives.

I’ll give some background history about this rock band. In 1998, Leto brothers formed Thirty Seconds to Mars in Los Angeles. Jared did some acting roles prior to pursing his passion for music. People magazine named Jared Leto one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World in 1996 and 1997. Jared refused to promote the band by flaunting his Hollywood fame. This speaks volumes about his humility. In fact, he has never leveraged his Hollywood fame to garner more attention for the band. Jared has intentionally maintained his acting and music careers as distinct entities. In 1998, Thirty Seconds to Mars sign with Immortal Records. Then, Virgin Records joined this contract in 1999. Their self-titled debut album was released in August 2002.

Since 2006, Jared Leto has directed all of Thirty Seconds to Mars’s music videos. He goes under the pseudonyms of Bartholomew Cubbins and Angakok Panipaq. His directorial filmography includes A Beautiful Lie, From Yesterday, The KillKings and QueensHurricaneCloser to the Edge,  City of AngelsDo or Die, and Up in the Air. Each music video is basically a short film or documentary. Beautiful works of cinematography! [WARNING: Hurricane music video contains some mature content!]

Also, Jared Leto is a savvy business man. He founded an on-demand streaming platform called VyRT. This media company has diversified their services to include digital distribution, social networking, and online shopping. Artists can provide their fans unique virtual social experience through VrYT. Musicians can offer live experiences and broadcast it in real-time on the Internet. This is not his only technology investment. He was an early investor stakeholder in many companies. Nest, Uber, Airbnb, Reddit, and Slack to name a few. Jared has diversified his streams of revenue. But it is safe to say majority of money comes from his music career.

One thing differentiates Thirty Seconds to Mars from other artists or bands in the music industry. All of the band’s music videos and documentaries were produced in collaboration with producing partner, Emma Ludbrook, under their Sisyphus Corporation. They even have their own teams that address the business and marketing functions. They don’t have heavy reliance on their record label. Majority of artists/ bands aren’t quite as self-sufficient as this alternative rock band. My appreciation for Thirty Seconds to Marks keeps exponentially growing.

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[Tomo Milicevic (left), Jared Leto (middle), Shannon Leto (right)]

Thirty Seconds to Mars has consisted of three members since 2006. Jared is the lead singer and rhythm guitarist. Tomo is the lead guitarist but also plays the keyboard and violin as needed. Also, he is responsible for backing vocals. Shannon is the drummer. Yet, he can play other percussion instruments as well. There’s fluidity in the roles within the band. All three members equally contribute to the creative music writing process.

Thirty Seconds to Mars’s music incorporates philosophical and spiritual elements in combination with Leto’s life experiences. All of their songs have deep lyrical content. By the way, Jared Leto is the main songwriter for the band. They certainly aren’t afraid to experiment with different musical styles. Electronica vibes are injected into the band’s alternative rock sound. Each Thirty Seconds to Mars album revolves around a specific concept theme.

Compared to my other bias rock bands, Thirty Seconds to Mars’s music is relatively mellow. But nonetheless their music delivers deep lyrical content. Jared Leto’s vocal tone is rather clean cut. But not too polished.  It still conveys a wide spectrum of raw emotions. Jared Leto is technically a high baritone/low tenor. Until recently, I’ve never heard of this vocal classification.  In my opinion, the only other lead singer with a similar vocal tone is Muse’s Matt Bellamy.

Jared delivers clean cut vocals with sporadic bursts of intense screaming. There was more screaming outburst in the songs on their debut and sophomore albums. Hardly any screaming outbursts featured in the songs on the third and fourth albums. This explains how Jared has maintained his singing vocals over 18 years. Also, he doesn’t smoke or drink which definitely preserved his clean cut vocal tone.

There are some artists or bands I’ve been listening to many years…yet I cannot exactly recall when I discovered their music. Thirty Seconds to Mars falls into this category. I didn’t even know about this alternative rock band until my sophomore or junior year of high school.

Back in 2008 or 2009, I vaguely recall a friend of a friend obsessively ranting about a music video one day in class. The music video in reference was “A Beautiful Lie” by Thirty Seconds to Mars. Lauryn randomly stumbled across that while browsing YouTube. It left a memorable first impression on her. Also, she emphasized the lead singer was stunningly gorgeous. She didn’t have to work too hard to persuade me to check them out.  Thirty Seconds to Mars is an alternative rock band. My music preference usually leans towards the rock genre anyway.

During one of my free weekends, I decided to check out “A Beautiful Lie” music video. Rock genre has varying types of musical styles. I honestly had no idea what to expect with Thirty Seconds to Mars’s music. “A Beautiful Lie” music video concept was quite simple. It addresses the importance of global warming.  Also, the band shot the music video on location in Greenland. 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It left a lasting impression on me. I wanted to listen to more of their music. So I checked out Thirty Seconds to Mars’s A Beautiful Lie album from my local library. This album was released back in August 2005…but I only discovered it three or four years later.

One of my all-time favorite Thirty Seconds to Mars music video is “From Yesterday”. This was the third single off of their sophomore album, A Beautiful Lie. To current date, it is the band’s most elaborate music video concept. It was shot on location at the Forbidden City. Thirty Seconds to Mars is the only American artist/ band to shoot an entire music video in the People’s Republic of China. This music video pays tribute to the 1987 film The Last Emperor. More than 300 extras were used in this music video shoot. There are two versions of “From Yesterday” music video. 13 minute short film and edited 7 minute versions. The cinematography and story concept immerses you into China’s rich history and culture.

For the longest time, A Beautiful Lie was the only Thirty Seconds to Mars album I had ever listened to. It wasn’t until a few years ago I checked out their two recent albums. This is War. Love Lust Faith + Dreams. Drastically different music styles from A Beautiful Lie album. There was definitely more experimentation with music styles on those two albums. It took a few listens before I acclimated to this new sound. I’d grown accustomed to darker undercurrents of A Beautiful Lie album.

Also, I recently listened to the band’s debut album for the first time. I thought their sophomore album, A Beautiful Lie, was pretty intense in regards to the sound. Nope. Their debut album is way heavier.

Their sophomore album, A Beautiful Lie, helped the band finally gain mainstream popularity. In March 2006, this album’s second single “The Kill” immensely launched Thirty Seconds to Mar’s music career. Ten years of working their asses off had finally paid off! But the victory was very short-lived. The band was informed they owed $2,500,000 of debt to Virgin Records. Despite selling millions of albums, they hadn’t made any money from the album sales up to this point. Of course this news would be very disheartening to any artist. Thirty Seconds to Mars made the decision to leave Virgin record label in mid-2008.

EMI Records slapped the band with a $30 million lawsuit for breach of their 1999 contract with Virgin Records. EMI is the parent company of Virgin. Between 2008 and 2009, the band simultaneously recorded their third studio album, This is War, and fought their own legal battle with EMI. The band waged war against the music industry’s unethical business practices in their documentary, Artifact. It even includes  in-depth, behind-the-scenes footage of recording sessions and legal meetings. Also, it paints the harsh reality of modern music industry for upcoming and even established artists. Artifact was directed by Jared Leto under his Bartholomew Cubbins pseudonym.

30STM Guinness World RecordsDid you know Thirty Seconds to Mars made it into the Guinness World Records in 2011? Their third album, This is War, was released in December 2009. Into The Wild tour spanned over a two year period. The band traveled to 6 continents performing over 300 shows. In fact, the music video for “Closer to the Edge” features live concert footage from this tour. Thirty Seconds to Mars wanted to break the world record for most live shows during a single album promotion cycle. They made this a reality. Thirty Seconds to Mars set the world record for “Longest Concert Tour by a Rock Band” with a total of 309 live concerts on their Into the Wild worldwide tour.

It has been a little over a year since I last listened to Thirty Seconds to Mars’s albums. I go through various music phases. So I haven’t been in the mood to listen to their music. Within the past two weeks, I’ve seen Suicide Squad twice in theaters. I normally don’t like DC universe films. Yet, Suicide Squad piqued my curiosity. I had two main reasons to see this film. Panic! at the Disco and Jared Leto. There was much hype surrounding Jared Leto portraying a modern-day gangster interpretation of the Joker, the clown prince of Gotham. I was intrigued how Jared would bring this character to life on the big screen. The first DC universe movie I’ve gone to the theater to see. My curiosity paid off. I very much enjoyed this anti-hero summer blockbuster.

Suicide Squad convinced me to re-explore Thirty Seconds to Mars’s music. I’ve intensely binged all four of their albums over the past two weeks. Love Lust Faith + Dreams album has really grown on me. I love Thirty Seconds to Mars even more than I did. Jared, Shannon, and Tomo are all awesome people in their own way. Also, they are incredibly talented artists. Each of their albums demonstrates their growth and maturity as artists. Thirty Seconds to Mars have maintained their presence in the music industry over the past 18 years. Longevity in the constantly changing music industry isn’t easy to achieve.

Love Lust Faith + Dreams album was released back in May 2013. So they haven’t come out with new material in three years. Jared pursued some movie projects during this gap. The wait is finally over! Thirty Seconds to Mars will release their fifth studio album in 2017. There are plenty of YouTube videos verifying Thirty Seconds to Mars is a phenomenal live act.  I’d love to see them live in concert on their tour promoting the new album!

SS Joker[On a somewhat related side-note rant: It is frustrating how close-minded movie goers bashed Leto’s amazing performance as the infamous Joker. Jared Leto put his own unique spin on this multi-faceted villain. I’m pissed how majority of Joker scenes were cut from final theatrical version. I’m well-aware the Joker is only prevalent to Harley Quinn’s backstory arc. So he isn’t the main focus of the film’s plot arc. But the studio heavily emphasized the Joker in Suicide Squad’s promotional marketing campaign. This is extremely deceptive. Jared is disappointed how only few of his scenes actually ended up in the final version of Suicide Squad. There were some minor plot gaps because many Joker scenes were cut out. Most importantly, music is his main passion. So Jared is very selective of which movie projects he chooses to participate in. Any movie project means less time he can devote to working on new Thirty Seconds to Mars material. He won’t take time away from his music for just any movie role. It must be a truly worthy artistic film project. He joined Suicide Squad project because of the artistic premise. DC extended universe films are a major time commitment. So Jared has a valid reason to be angry the Joker only got 15-20 minutes of screen time. Warner Bro Studios were very misleading when bringing him onto this film project. I really hope we see more of Jared Leto’s Joker in future DC extended universe films. I love the charismatic bad-assery of the new Joker.]

Suicide Squad

Let me start by saying DC comic universe it not my usual preference. The only exceptions I make are their television shows Smallville, The Flash, and Gotham. Otherwise, I avoid DC universe movies. Way too much angst with very little to no humor injected into the script. I need a good balance of humor and angst in my superhero or anti-hero movies. My preference goes towards DC universe’s TV shows.

Suicide Squad

There has been much hype leading up to Suicide Squad’s film release on August 5, 2016. For the most part, I hardly cared much for this DC movie. I was aware Jared Leto, lead singer of Thirty Seconds to Mars, was cast in the role of the Joker. Leto garnered considerable press coverage for it. Despite his awards for Dallas Buyer Club, Jared will now become synonymous known for playing the Joker.

Jared Leto_Joker

Jared Leto’s portroyal of the infamous Joker received mixed reviews. In my opinion, Leto brilliantly portrayed this villainous character.  Bad-ass. Charmingly wicked. Enigmatically charismatic. I love how the Joker was depicted as a modern-day gangster of Gotham. I cannot deny that I was kinda attracted to this character. The Joker wasn’t part of Amanda Waller’s Task Force X. Yet, he still fits into Suicide Squad’s overall plot arc. Within the film’s storyline, his appearances basically revolved around Harley Quinn’s character.

Some things in Suicide Squad really impressed me. First, the fascinating development of Harley Quinn/ Joker romance sub-plot arc was well implemented. Harley Quinn is the product of Joker’s screwed-up experiments in Arkham Asylum. How long did it take for the drastic transformation from psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel to psychotic Harley Quinn? The movie didn’t quite clarify this time span. Not that is a big deal. I’m just curious. Her obsession and infatuation morphed into an unhealthy, co-dependent romantic relationship with the Joker. Clearly, he has no remorse about emotionally manipulating Harley Quinn to be his lover and accomplice in crime. But I don’t think the Joker is completely heartless. He does have some convoluted emotional connection with Harley to keep her by his side. I didn’t expect to get tad emotional during some of the Harley/Joker scenes. The Joker/ Harley Quinn romance sub-plot was compellingly convincing. Margot Robbie & Jared Leto had great on-screen chemistry.

Second, the conversational interaction between the main characters added a good balance of dark humor. I especially enjoyed the interactions between Harley Quinn and Deadshot. Although, Killer Croc and Captain Boomerang offered some moments of humor. The element of dark humor is what sets Suicide Squad apart from other DC universe movies.

Third, the main characters were developed well throughout the film. The flashback sequences fluidly meshed with the present day sequences. We were given the most background information about Harley Quinn, Deadshot, and Diablo. Though, the backgrounds of Killer Croc, Katana, and Captain Boomerang could have been explored a bit more. Some of Task Force X’s “bad guys” had so much potential yet had weak character development. I’m really curious how Killer Croc acquired his fierce reptilian appearance. I was pleasantly surprised with Rick Flag’s development. Being part of Task Force X, Flag monitors the six criminally insane team members for his superior, Amanda Waller. So he is the only “good” guy among the main characters. His “holier than thou” self-righteous mentality slowly fades away throughout the movie. Sadly, Dr. June Moone had the worst character development. This character had so much potential with the whole split personality aspect. It’s obvious how June strongly resists the Enchantress. In fact, she avoided invoking the sorceress’s spirit unless the circumstance truly warranted it. Enchantress was your stereotypical villain. The usual motive of taking over the world so people fear and quiver at their immense power. Villains want weak, puny humans to worship them. If not they’ll destroy all of humanity. In my opinion, the June Moone/Enchantress conflicting natures could have been better fleshed out.

Suicide Squad_The Album

Fourth, the song selection for the movie’s soundtrack enhanced the cinematic experience. Each of the songs appropriately matched the mood of the scenes. Some of the songs blur the line between pop, techno, and rap genres. But there are some curve-ball songs thrown in. “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Slippin’ into Darkness”, “I Started a Joke”, “Heathens”, and “Fortunate Son” are exceptions. It is great to heard rock genre music in movie soundtracks. I’m glad Suicide Squad soundtrack incorporated different music genres. This is quite refreshing. Not many movie soundtracks have song tracks from various genres.

In a previous blog post, I’ve mentioned about my love for Panic! at the Disco. The movie soundtrack featured Panic! at the Disco’s cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. Although, the film includes the original version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I’m sure it wasn’t cheap to buy the rights of this famous Queen song. That’s probably why the original song isn’t featured on the soundtrack. Panic! at the Disco kept the integrity of the song’s tune yet still inject their own unique twist on this classic rock song.

Random fun fact: Panic! at the Disco’s music has many classic rock influences including Queen. I saw Panic! at the Disco live in concert back in August 2014 and September 2015. A cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is part of their concert setlist.  I think I prefer the live version slightly more than the recorded version. Although, the live and recorded versions of this Queen song are equally awesome in their own ways.

“Professional” critics have been severely harsh about Suicide Squad and its soundtrack. Basically I ignore critic reviews about movies, music, and TV shows. Critics are human too. Human beings will always have bias of some sort. This is why I refuse to let “professional” critics shape my movie experience. Only I will decide whether or not I liked something. Usually I disagree with critics reviews anyway.

Originally, I wasn’t planning on even seeing Suicide Squad in theaters. I don’t normally care much for DC universe films. Yet, the TV spot trailers piqued my curiosity. I didn’t know what to expect with this movie. My friend and I went to see Suicide Squad on August 5th in standard format. (Random side note: I hardly watch movies in digital 3D or IMAX 3D formats. There must a damn good reason I pay more for those formats. I’m not an avid DC fan so I saw no valid reason pay additional for 3D movie format.) Not surprisingly the movie theater was packed to almost full capacity. It was opening day.

For some reason, I convinced myself that Suicide Squad was rated R. So I was mentally prepared for content and profanity associated with R rating. Only halfway through the movie, it dawned on me that Suicide Squad was only PG-13. Recent interviews revealed director, David Ayer, had two version of Suicide Squad: PG-13 and R rated movie. I’m actually glad it wound up being PG-13.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed Suicide Squad. The movie has a dark, gritty theme but still conveys a wide range of emotions. I actually teared up a bit at some of the heart-wrenching scenes. The talented cast ensemble, diverse music selection, and visual style enhanced the cinematic experience.  In the end, my curiosity paid off. Suicide Squad was a very entertaining anti-hero DC universe film.

[Somewhat related side-note: Ted Whittall plays the role of Admiral Olsen in Suicide Squad film. CW’s Smallville has subtly references Suicide Squad in few episodes in season 9 and 10. Ironically, Mr. Whittall formerly portrayed the recurring guest role of Rick Flag in Smallville Season 10.]

My Chemical Romance

MCRBack in middle school, “scene” genre was considered part of mainstream popular music. Oh the nostalgia when rock music was played on the Top 40 radio. It saddens me I didn’t begin to explore the “scene” genre until 2008. At this point, this genre’s popularity was slowly waning within mainstream music. Rock was beginning to become a niche music genre again.

My Chemical Romance released their third studio album, The Black Parade, back in October 2006. The Black Parade is essentially a rock opera album. I was well-aware of this band’s popularity among my fellow school peers. Yet, I wasn’t willing to give this band a chance. It wasn’t the right time in my life.

My love for rock genre music has exponentially grown since 2006. Of course I only discovered some “scene” artists several years later. In certain circumstances, time better allows you to embrace something with a more open-mind perspective. I can now approach certain pop-punk artists from the mid-2000s I had previously refused to listen to. My Chemical Romance definitely falls into this category.

One of my college friends is a huge fan of My Chemical Romance. She had often recommended this band to me. She swore they fit well within my rock genre musical taste. But I was still very hesitant.

So what exactly convinced me to listen to My Chemical Romance’s music? In short, my obsession with Andy Black’s solo album, The Shadow Side, played a key role. On Andy Black’s solo album, the co-founders of My Chemical Romance, Gerard Way and Mikey Way, contributed to the track “Louder Than Your Love”. Gerard co-wrote the song lyrics. Mikey played bass guitar parts for the song. Somehow, this finally convinced to listen to My Chemical Romance. I cannot even tell you the reason why for this sudden, impromptu decision. Only took me ten years before I was willing to give this band’s music a chance. It is strange how some things work out.

I listen to my fair share of rock bands. Generally, I’ve gotten used to tenor vocal ranges when it comes to lead vocalists. Yet, I can still differentiate the various tenor vocals among the lead singers of my bias bands. Of course, some lead vocalists have unique singing vocals. Black Veil Bride’s Andy Biersack and My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way falls into this category. Andy Biersack has a beautifully deep raspy baritone vocal tone. Gerard Way has an intriguing sing-screaming tenor vocal tone. Both are definitely acquired tastes and not everyone’s cup of tea.

Almost two weeks ago, I began my journey to discover My Chemical Romance’s music on Spotify. They have an extensive selection of their full studio albums, live albums, and EP albums. Best of all, they have all the uncensored versions of their songs. Censorship of profanity in bias rock band’s music is one of my biggest pet peeves. Among my bias rock artists, there isn’t that much strong profanity overall. Typically “clean” versions of explicit rock songs are pretty shitty. It doesn’t even properly edit out the swear word. You can still figure out what the swear word is despite the censorship within the song. Apologies for that slightly off-topic rant.

Anyway, I created a My Chemical Romance playlist on my Spotify. I was a bit thrown off by the sing-screaming vocals of Gerard Way at first. Some of lead singers in my favorite rock bands have sing-screaming vocals. Red, Linkin Park. AFI, Black Veil Brides, Thirty Seconds to Mars, and Three Days Grace to name a few. But nothing quite like Gerard Way’s vocals. His sing-screaming vocals are distinctive. Pretty clean cut in regards of easily making out the lyrics in MCR’s songs. But not so refined it feels too polished. Yet, it conveys a wide range of intensely raw emotions. Not only different types of frustrated or angry emotions. After two or three days, I got accustomed to the lead singer’s unique vocals.

Now I comprehend why people love My Chemical Romance. Out of most “scene” genre artist, this band has heavier tones injected into their music. I tend to gravitate to bands whose music has darker undertones. Even many years later, I cannot explain why this is the case with some of my rock genre music. Some things in life are just inexplicable conundrums. Anyway, I’ve really come to love My Chemical Romance’s music. I don’t necessarily have strong connection with their song lyrics. Although, My Chemical Romance meets the three essential elements I look for in rock music. Beautifully complex layering of instrumental sound, emotionally-charged vocals, and confessional lyrics. Also, not too repetitive lyrics or song beat. These are more than enough reasons for me to become very attached to a band. In addition, I really love the creative cinematic theatrics incorporated into their music videos. Not many of my “scene” bands have included theatrical elements into their music. The exception to this are AFI, Panic! at the Disco, and Fall Out Boy.

Sadly, My Chemical Romance officially announced their disbandment back in March 2013. Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys was MCR’s last full studio album before their disbandment. Following their break-up, the band released their greatest hits collection album, May Death Never Stop You. in March 2014. This greatest hits collection album included content spanning their 12 years music career and one unreleased single track titled “Fake Your Death”.

MCR recently posted an extremely cryptic video teaser promoting the date of September 23, 2016. This sent fans into a frenetic frenzy. People basically assumed the band was reuniting. Nope. Not the case at all. My Chemical Romance later revealed the significance of September 23, 2016.

In honor of its 10th anniversary, The Black Parade album will be re-issued as a deluxe edition. This version will include The Black Parade’s full-length album along with never-before content such as 11 demos and outtakes from the album’s original recording session. The actual 10th anniversary is October 23, 2016. I shall be eagerly looking forward to their The Black Parade/Living With Ghosts album.

MCR_1

Unfortunately, I have the tendency to discover some bands after they’ve officially broken up. Just my luck. Now I will never have the opportunity to see My Chemical Romance live in concert. I shall vicariously live through concert videos posted on YouTube. Also, I have Spotify to get My Chemical Romance music fix. That is more than enough to make me content. Overall, My Chemical Romance has earned a new fan even if I’m very late to the party.

 

Three Days Grace

TDG

From previous blog posts, I’ve mentioned how 2006 was a pivotal year for me in terms of the major shift in music genre preference. Generally, middle school brings up unpleasant memories for most people. Around this time, kids began to discover who they are. Middle school was a very dark time for me. Whirlwind of tumultuous emotions. Self-esteem and self-identity problems played a major role in this dark time of my life. Basically it was a battle against my own negative thoughts. You couldn’t tell from the forced happy outer appearance I put on. My introverted personality often causes me to bottle up my emotions. I preferred keeping my emotional turmoil to myself than burden others with it.

My musical preferences reflected my life experiences. Up to this point, I mainly listened to Disney Channel artists such as Jesse McCartney, Hilary Duff, Aly & AJ. My musical tastes drastically shifted in 2006. I don’t recall the exact moment I was officially introduced to Three Days Grace’s music. It was either Smallville or Gossip Girl fan-made YouTube videos that put Three Days Grace on my music radar. I really loved the heavy hard rock sound. It left a great first impression. My fandoms have led me to some really great music over the past 10 years.

Also, I discovered AFI and Skillet around the same time. My music tastes turned darker in middle school. Anyway, it wasn’t long before I checked out Three Day Grace’s albums from my local library. Their self-titled debut album was really good but didn’t quite hit home like One-X album.

Their sophomore album, One-X, was released in June 2006. I learned about this band several months following One-X’s release. In One-X album, the lead singer, Adam Gontier, reflected upon a particularly dark time in his life. Adam’s emotionally raw vocals really touched my soul. Also, his vocals are very soothing. I could listen to it for many hours. Basically, this album speaks to anyone going through a tough time in life. The gloomier tone of One-X’s song lyrics really spoke to me. It was very therapeutic as it helped me battle my own chaotic emotions. Their music helped me vent my bottled up feelings. Within the comfort of my bedroom, I could drop my “happy” act I put on at home and in public. My emotional connection to their lyrical content created a stronger interest in Three Days Grace. A year later, I overcame my emotional turmoil and put this dark time of my life behind me. This didn’t stop me from listening to Three Days Grace’s music.

Their third album, Life Starts Now, was released in September 2009. I wasn’t aware of this fact until one day I randomly tuned into either Fuse or MTV Hits television channel. “Break” was the promotional single for Life Starts Now. The music video for this single began playing on Fuse or MTV Hits. Even though I had been listening to their music for three years, I had never watched any of Three Days Grace’s music videos. So I literally had no idea what any of the band members looked like. (My personal motto: Music is supposed to be an auditory experience not based off a person’s outer appearance. Now if a musician is attractive that is an added bonus. But outer beauty should not be the primary determinant of whether or not music is good.) I really loved the fascinatingconcept for “Break” music video. Life Starts Now offered slightly more optimistic tones to the lyrical content compared to One-X. Yet, there was still dark undercurrents injected into the songs. This album covered a broader range of emotions. Life Starts Now still to this day is my second favorite album. One-X will always be my all-time favorite album since it was my official introduction to this band.

Their fourth album, Transit of Venus, was released in October 2012. It was a decent album, but not one of my favorites. Overall, this album had a slightly less heavy hard rock sound. The musical style for Transit of Venus is slightly distinct from their previous three albums. Overall, I wasn’t as much of a fan of the more refined sound in Transit of Venus. It didn’t feel as emotionally raw as previous albums. Out of all the songs, “Unbreakable Heart” is my favorite non-single track off this album. So that’s all I have to say about Transit of Venus album.

Due to creative differences, the lead singer, Adam Gontier, announced his abrupt departure from Three Days Grace in January 2013. This news broke my heart. I’m not one to easily give up on a band I’ve devotedly been listening to for 9 years. Yet, it was Adam’s beautifully blunt song lyrics and raw, vulnerable vocals that made me fall in love with Three Day Grace’s music. In my opinion, Adam was the heart and soul of Three Days Grace. I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue listening to Three Days Grace without Adam Gontier. I am aware how horribly disloyal this sounds. Matt Walst, lead vocalist of My Darkest Days and brother of Three Day Grace’s bassist, became the temporary lead vocalist for Transit of Venus tour. Eventually, Matt would become permanent lead singer of Three Days Grace.

Their fifth album, Human, was released in March 2015 with new lead singer, Matt Walst. Honestly, I was adamantly refused to listen to this new Three Days Grace album. Until six months ago, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to this album. It literally took me 15 listens of the whole album before I got accustomed to the new lead singer’s voice. I do like some of the songs off this album. But a part of me cannot love this new musical direction. Their new sound is too overproduced to my liking. I prefer a more organic and slightly raw sound. Their fifth album captures musical style elements of previous Three Days Grace albums with infusion a slightly new sound. Yet, Matt Walst’s harsh vocals just isn’t my cup of tea. I cannot listen to his vocals for prolonged periods of time. Compared to the former lead singer, Matt Walst’s vocals aren’t as soothing and lacks certain emotional depth. This is my own personal opinion.

Sadly, my whole heart just isn’t into Three Days Grace’s newer music anymore. In my mind, the Three Days Grace I will deeply cherish is associated with their debut album to Transit of Venus. Sorry if this makes me a disloyal fan. But I respect those who do love the new direction of Three Days Grace’s music. I will do my best to support Three Days Grace’s future album, but I am not guaranteeing anything. This is my blunt honesty.