Shadows Fall’s career trajectory is a familiar one for an extreme-metal band: Major label doesn’t have a clue. Band leaves, joins a succession of indie labels. Band remains unhappy, forms its own label, and so on. Despite the lack of mainstream support, Fire From The Sky is the most ferocious, cohesive, and compelling set since 2004’s The War Within – “that’s [the album] fans seem always to talk about the most,” says Bittner – if not superseding that record all together. “Your style is going to be your style, but you’re always going to try and find some way to re-vamp it. I just don’t want to play the same stale stuff every time around. It’s just that sometimes it’s hard to tap the creative genius if the genius isn’t there. Just because you’re looking for something doesn’t mean you’re going to find it.”
Bittner’s Shadows Fall Drum Set
Drums Tama Starclassic (Volcanic Blue Burst finish, black chrome hardware)
1 22" x 18" Bass Drum
2 14" x 6.5" Tama Charlie Benante Signature Snare Drum (or 14" x 6" Tama Warlord Praetorian Snare)
3 10" x 9" Tom
4 12" x 10" Tom
5 14" x 12" Floor Tom
6 16" x 14" Floor Tom
A 20" Z3 Rock Ride
B 16" Oriental China
C 14" A Custom Mastersound Hi-Hat
D 18" K Medium Thin Crash (custom brilliant finish)
E 8" K Custom Splash
F 17" Z3 Medium Crash (or A Custom Projection Crash)
G 10" A Custom Splash
H 18" A Custom Projection Crash
I 21" Z3 Custom “medium” Mega Bell Ride
(one-half the thickness of reg. version)
J 13" A Custom Mastersound X-Hat
K 18" Oriental China
L 19" K Medium Thin Crash (custom brilliant finish)
M SPD-S Pad
Jason Bittner also uses Tama hardware, two DW 9000 single pedals, Pro-Mark Jason Bittner signature 5BX sticks, Remo heads (Clear Powerstroke 3, bass batter; Clear Emperor, tom batters, Ebony Ambassador tom resos; CS Reverse Dot, snare; Clear Ambasador, snare side), Puresound snare wires, Kickport bass drum port, DrumART bass head graphics, Maxonix Zero-Gravity stick holder, XL by Gator cases, and Calzone flight cases. On the Anthrax tour: Bittner used Charlie Benante’s Tama setup (including Starbucks Metal Forever custom kit) but swapped in his own cymbals, pedals, and heads.
Clinics only: LP JamBlock with Gajate bracket and DW 9000 pedal (left of the main hi—hat); LP micro snare, LP Charlie Benante cowbell or mambo bell; DW 9550 remote hat (placed to the right of the main kick pedal, operating 10" Zildjian ZHT mini-hats and an LP hi-hat tambourine).
With Fire In The Sky the search was successful. Not only as a musical whole but as far as the abundant drum details, which are most salient on the title track. “That’s a hard song speed-wise,” he says. “If I start too fast it just gets away from me and those triplets just become slop and that’s the last thing you want to do live. But I do like the yin-yang of just the slow-moving rock beat there [up top]. But it’s got a lot of little cool elements to it, you know, like that whole middle section which we call the Anthrax B section.”
On the evening of a headlining tour, the drummer has the confidence of knowing he’s going out there with a quality product. But the rock and roll lifestyle’s inherent disconnect between glamorous surfaces and their less glamorous reality continues to rankle him. That tour bus? $500 a day to rent. The driver? $200 per day. Oh, and if you want to keep any of the money from ticket sales, you’ll be sharing the bus with another band. “I’m really not trying to paint a negative picture here,” he says. “But there’s not a lot of money to be made in extreme metal – there just isn’t. All these labels want 360 deals, which means they get a percentage of everything – your publishing, your merch, your tour money, all that stuff. And anybody who has been in the business for over ten years knows that you don’t sign a contract like that. That’s why I feel so bad for baby bands. Basically there’s no way to get ahead.
“If you are lucky enough to be in a band that can sell a few hundred thousand albums, then at end of the day you are going to make some money,” he continues. “But for a lot of bands, it’s a very small window to be able to do that. That’s why you see so many package tours lately. And if you want to stay viable and if you want be a musician, my suggestion is to get involved in every single other aspect of the music business or anything else. That’s why I do all this other stuff.”
JayBitt is not one to get sentimental during the holidays. He has, however, parlayed the yuletide spirit into another excuse to play drums. Santa And The Effects Of The Claus, a project he is backing with his own production company, recently released Bigfoot Town: A Christmas Rock Opera. The album’s original sing-along tunes are geared toward kids, but there are enough wrinkles and sly asides that adults will enjoy it, too. “The drumming is very simple, you know?” he says of the songs, created with a Roland TD-20 and a very small budget. “However, the one tune that I did [“Compromise”], we did an alternate version for iTunes that has a drum solo in the end.” It also has fast double bass and bell-pinging breakdown sections. Once an extreme-metal drummer, always an extreme-metal drummer.
On Bigfoot Town the majority of drums were composed by Bittner’s student Brian May. May’s father wrote all the music and lyrics. A second CD is currently in the works and his partners are using Kickstarter to raise funds. It will also up the drum-star factor with appearances from Horacio Hernadez, Todd Sucherman, Giovanni Hidalgo, Liberty DeVitto, and other name-players slated to perform.
“It’s another iron in the fire,” he says. The drummer recently sold his stake in a tattoo parlor, and has since become a part owner of a holistic spa. “If you told me 20 years ago that I’d be playing drums in Anthrax and then collaborating with people on a Christmas musical I would have thought you were insane. But these are the things that come up and I figure this is a good avenue for me, just something else to get involved in. And who knows, if it kicks off it could be the next Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Ten years from now I could be walking around in an orangutan costume onstage. And I’m not kidding.”