With two siblings in Brooklyn, JayBitt has contemplated couch surfing a few nights a week in order to be where the work is more plentiful. Relocating to the New York City area, especially music-obsessed Brooklyn, makes perfect sense but is sadly not an option. His wife has a terrific job and after 18 years in the Upstate area, they have no desire to leave. “Our house is paid for too,” he says. “That’s another beautiful thing. Not many 40-year-old couples can say their home is paid for.”
The lifestyle of a touring metal drummer is a daily stress test for the Bittners’ marriage, the eight-year anniversary of which the couple celebrated yesterday. “It’s extremely hard,” he says. “I have to commend my wife for dealing with it. She comes home at night and she’s with the cat and I’m in East Bumscrew, Missouri, so I’m thankful that she is supportive of it.” With the remaining dates of the tour cancelled while he recuperates, they’ll hopefully get some Q.T. together.
And sometimes a crappy economy plays in your favor. Thanks to the depressed housing market, the Bittners got a screaming deal on a condo in Florida. But with fellow extreme-metaller Derek Roddy two doors down, there’s not a whole lot of relaxing going on. “Me and Derek go to his drum warehouse [where Roddy keeps all his pet snakes] and stay there for hours on end,” he says. “It’s quite the drum fraternity we have down there: Me, Derek, Patrick Johansson, who’s Yngwie [Malmsteen]’s drummer, and Nicko McBrain. He lives in Boca. It’s tough with the schedule Maiden leads, but we always go and see him at some point. Usually we just go over to the restaurant he owns [Rock ’N’ Roll Ribs, in Coral Springs] and hang with him. It’s awesome.”
For now Bittner is taking it one day at a time. The drummer’s life is a take-it-as-it-comes proposition where the recent past is ancient history, the next gig is always in the back of your mind, and no matter how small the present task, you approach it the way you would a final performance. Like the title of that Shadows Fall album from 2002, it’s the art of balance. “I enjoy this,” he says. “I try to keep my slate as open as possible and my eyes as open as possible and my ears to the ground. But I’m where I need to be for right now – being on the road and being in my band, and that’s it.”
Shadows Fall drummer Jason Bittner was stoked to fill in for Charlie Benante throughout this year. But is it equally thrilling for the Anthrax drummer to see somebody else playing his parts? “I watch videos and I see someone going up there who is really confident,” Benante says while driving around Chicago. “It’s a little bit of half and half: He’s got the approach that I have in the song and he puts a little spin of his own onto it, and I like that.”
Bittner, who filled in on three tours this year alone including Rockstar-Mayhem, is an old hand at subbing for his hero. Other than being hugely influenced by Benante’s playing, how did the Shadows Fall drummer become Anthrax’s go-to guy? “I think he sat in for a song one time and that’s how it started,” Benante explains. “I knew he could handle the material. When my daughter was born Jason was the guy we called and he filled in for two shows and did really well, and so that always stayed in the back of our minds that he was someone we could rely on.” Benante has also had Gene Hoglan step in on a few occasions.
The timing on the latest sub gig, the Canadian leg of the Anthrax/Testament coheadline, wasn’t exactly convenient. Having just released Fire From The Sky, the Shadows Fall drummer ended up having to postpone his own band’s tour to help Anthrax out because, well, that’s just the kind of guy JayBitt is. Moreover, there was new Anthrax material from 2011 release Worship Music that still had to be learned. “He came to a show or two and saw me playing the songs so he knew the tempos and the segues and stuff like that,” Benante says. “I remember there was one new song we were doing, “In The End,” and that just kind of has this groove to it and if you push it, it loses its groove. So I remember he was doing the show at the Best Buy Theater in New York and he was playing it during sound check and I just kind of went behind him and tapped his back, you know, ’Here’s the tempo,’ just so he would see that ’Oh, I’m pushing it a bit.’”
While we’re on the topic of substitutions, we might add that Charlie has never stepped in on any profile gigs himself, unless you count the time he sat in with Iron Maiden for one song when Anthrax was touring with the NWOBHM kings. “It was awesome,” he recalls. “I played ’Sanctuary.’ And I jammed with Metallica one time. We did ’Helpless.’”
At the rate Benante is leaning on Bittner, though, he’d better start learning some Shadows Fall tunes because he may have to return the favor one of these days. “I don’t know if I can handle that. [laughs] Their stuff is fast. The faster double bass stuff we don’t play – I shouldn’t say we don’t play it … ”
Seriously. If Anthrax classics “Among The Living” and “Gung Ho” aren’t fast, what is? “But I noticed with Shadows Fall, even in choruses, he’ll throw in double kick,” he clarifies. “Where I’ll usually break it down.”