I had a great opportunity to interview one of the biggest modern day drummers who is not only a member of Shadows Fall, but he has also played live with Anthrax on several occasions. Hailing from New York, here’s Jason Bittner!
Alex Obert: First off, tell me what you’ve been up to this week.
Jason Bittner: What have I been up to this week? Well, considering that it’s only Monday. (laughs) I’m just working on some preliminary drum demos today for a couple projects that I’m working on this Summer. And that’s about it right now. Getting ready for a couple lessons later on this evening and that’s about it.
AO: Speaking of drumming, which song that you did not play drums on do you feel has the best drumming?
JB: Well, there’s a lot of great drum songs. There’s the classic ones that I love, pretty much anything John Bonham or Neil Peart, really Tom Sawyer, Moby Dick, any of those kind of songs that are timeless classics. But, really one of the best drum grooves that I love is the groove from “Peg” by Steely Dan, which is a great groove. Obviously, the other obvious great groove is “Rosanna” by Toto. You know, Jeff Porcaro. Probably one of my favorite drum grooves ever is U.S. Drag by Terry Bozzio, Missing Persons.
AO: If you could have a drum battle with any drummer past or present, who would it be?
JB: (laughs) A drum battle. Well, I wouldn’t use the term “battle”, but I’d like to share the stage with a few of my heroes, it would be nice. It would be nice to sit down with Neil, it would be nice to sit down with Charlie Benante (drummer for Anthrax) at some point, even though we’ve played plenty of times together, in private and having hung out in sound checks and stuff like that, but never really playing. I never really thought about it. I’d like to play out in public with my good friend, Derek Roddy. We do a lot of playing together, but no one ever sees it because we’re sitting in an 8×8 warehouse. But, it would be nice to jam with people who are your peers and also who you have fun with and it’s not a big contest per se.
AO: In terms of both drummers and non-drummers, who are your favorite and personal greatest influences?
JB: Well, with drums, Neil Peart is my all-time favorite drummer. He’s not the only drummer I look up to, but he was my main hero, if you want to use that term. At this point, fortunately, I’m a peer amongst most of my heroes which is a cool thing. Neil was a big influence on me, Simon Phillips is a big influence, Steve Smith (Journey) has been a huge influence on me in the last decade. He wasn’t when I was a kid, but he’s been continuing to be probably the most influential drummer in helping me progress as a drummer. He’s a good friend, I’ve been able to study privately a little bit with him and just learn and that’s been great. All my metal heroes, obviously, Charlie Benante, Dave Lombardo (Slayer), Lars Ulrich (Metallica), all the guys I grew up on. My influences came across the board. You go back to the greats, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, all the jazz guys, and not to mention the whole fusion aspect of everything.
AO: Who are some of your favorite singers?
JB: These questions, I don’t know, because I don’t really think about it to be quite honest with you. Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) was always one of my favorite singers, Iron Maiden is one of my favorite bands ever. Rob Halford (Judas Priest) is a great singer. Steven Tyler (Aerosmith) is a great singer. Mick Jagger (Rolling Stones) is a great singer.
AO: Now on another note, I’ll talk about shows you’ve played, describe the difference between playing in an indoor venue and playing on an outdoor stage, such as last year’s Mayhem Festival.
JB: Well, you know, tons of differences when you’re playing an outdoor venue as opposed to inside a venue, especially if you’re dealing with the Summer. Hopefully you won’t be playing an outdoor venue in the Winter, but it has happened, it’s happened with me before as well. I’ve actually played some of the craziest climate change shows, climate challenging shows of my life, with Anthax, as a matter of fact. I played an outdoor venue in January with Anthrax. Yes, it was in California, but it’s still fifty degrees out at night. It was just so freezing! So in indoor venues, I’ve had nothing but diesel fuel sitting behind you, and that’s all you’re breathing in, and it’s a hundred and twenty degrees on stage to dealing with the Summer festivals when you have a hundred and ten degree heat beaming right down on you. That happened quite a bit last year on the Mayhem Festival. I mean we’d usually call out just to see where the sun was and see what we’d have to go to the stage with. Was it a sunglasses day? Was it a sunscreen day? You usually wear it anyway, but you don’t know if it’s gonna be just waiting there to just basically roast you for an hour, because that’s what it did every day on stage. It was fucking brutal, but I mean, you do what you gotta do to get through it.
AO: In regards to outdoor festivals like the Mayhem Festival, if Shadows Fall were to do an outdoor festival, which bands would you want to be on the bill with you?
JB: Well, we’ve done Mayhem Fest before in the past, we’ve done the Ozzfest three times. You’re saying if we were to put the package together ourselves?
AO: Yeah, if you formed “Shadow Fest” or something like that.
JB: (laughs) Who would go, number one. Anyway, if I had a say in it, I’d put bands on it that I like. I’d put on my own choice of bands of either up and coming bands that I like, I’m a fan of Holy Grail, to thrash giants that never really got what they deserve, like Death Angel. I’d be putting bands like that on there and just trying to give these great bands their due. And you know, it wouldn’t hurt for us to play in front of a few thousand kids every night either. But I’d also wanna have great rock bands like Soundgarden or someone on there. Someone as the main stage headliner that is a little bit different musically, but they’re still an amazing band. Alice In Chains, I’d love to play with them.
AO: As a matter of fact, Alice In Chains is on the Rockstar Uproar Festival this year with Jane’s Addiction headlining.
JB: Yeah, I know, that’s gonna be a good tour. Just for them and Jane’s, I love em. I could care less about who’s on the bill at that point, that’s big enough right there for me. Not to say that I don’t care for the other bands, I’m just saying that I would go based on Jane’s and Alice In Chains alone. Everyone else is gonna be icing on the cake.
AO: Touching base again on Anthrax, describe how you first got the opportunity to play live with them because if memory serves me correctly, you’ve played with them before, prior to the Rockstar Festival.
JB: Yeah, I filled in for Charlie three or four times now. The first time I did was back in 2006 when he had his daughter. I played the last two shows of the reunion tour. And then a few shows a few years back when his Mom died and then I did it last year and then the Canadian tour after that. So, unfortunately the last time was not due to happy circumstances, but the first time was and at least it was for a good reason. Unfortunately, the last few times were not good [reasons], but the show must go on. He’s back on the saddle now and that’s all that matters.
AO: In regards to you being with musicians and developing friendships and relationships, can you describe for me Shadows Fall’s relationship with Adam Dutkiewicz from Killswitch Engage and how it formed?
JB: That’s a question better asked to one of the guys who has been in the band since day one. I came in to the band in 2001. I just know Adam as a guitar player and Jon (Shadows Fall guitarist) went to to high school with him and Jon was in a band with him. I can tell you what I know. We’ve always been friends with the guy and we’ve always admired him for his production ability and his songwriting ability and all that. He’s a good dude and he’s a hard worker and he makes you work hard, so that’s always a good thing. He doesn’t let anything slide by if it’s not a hundred and ten percent, so that’s a good thing too.
AO: So I just have one last question for you before we wrap up, what is a great piece of advice that you’ve received from another musician?
JB: “Stay in school.” That’s not a joke, that’s a Gene Simmons (KISS) line. To be more serious about it, I was told years ago when things were first starting to happen for me and for the band and stuff, one of my good friends who’s in the industry, he’s been in there for a few decades more than I have, told me, “Everybody gets their time in this business and when you get your’s, it’s the best thing in the world. So enjoy it while it’s happening and try not to let it slip by you while it’s happening.” So that was probably one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever gotten that everybody gets their time and when you get it, enjoy it because it usually doesn’t happen long and before you know it, it’s over with. So enjoy it while it’s there.
AO: Well I’d like to thank you for taking this time to do this interview. I really appreciate it.
JB: No problem, dude.