Jason Bittner has amassed one of the strongest names for himself within the drumming fraternity. Not only has he had success relentlessly touring and recording with American metal band Shadows Fall, he has been an A-list clinician for many years on behalf of his sponsor companies, touring all over the world and offering his unique perspective on metal drumming. This year, for the first time, the Australian drumming community will have the privilege of witnessing Jason's performance as part of the 2011 Drumscene Live tour and AUDW.
"KISS is what got me in to playing music, period," says Jason. "I wanted to be in KISS. What kid in the early '70s didn't want to be in KISS? At that point I just wanted to play drums, it didn't matter. When I was ten-years-old there was no concept of "metal" yet. It was just listen to the music my parents were listening to. My dad listened to Southern rock, like the Allman Brothers and The Doobie Brothers. My mom listened to The Doors, Hendrix and Cream. I just gravitated towards drums. When I was 12 or 13 and MTV was around and I saw Iron Maiden the first day MTV was on, I was like, "Ahh, that's something different!" And then I just got immersed in Maiden, Priest, Zeppelin and Rush. That's what led me towards the path of hard rock, and then Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax hit. That's what got me into metal and the style of music I wanted to play. Metal is definitely my forte. It's what I do best and enjoy doing most. But I want to point out, especially to kids, it's so much more important to be a well-rounded musician and not pigeon-hole yourself into playing one style."
One shouldn't imagine Bittner as some long-haired LA rocker with leather pants just smashing away in the garage: he actually decided to go into music seriously, enrolling at Berklee to learn the ropes. Or skins.
"Berklee was great for the first semester, but it was killing me by the second semester. I was young; I was naïve; I was right out of high school. And the first semester I was there, it was music 24/7, 365 days a year and that was great. I loved it. I was practicing; learning different styles. By the second semester it was, "Arrgghh, it's music 24/7, 365 days a year! I need a goddamn break. I want to go play!" I didn't want to stick around for another three years to get a degree in music performance because Lord knows, even if I had stayed to graduate, if I'd be sitting here talking to you right now. I might just be a miserable music teacher back home hating my life."
He's grown to become the teacher, instead, who loves his life. And is happy to admit that when teaching, he is still learning.
"Yeah, especially with the students I have that are better; that come to me and I think, 'Damn, what am I going to teach this kid today?' It comes down to me having to go back into books and find some stuff that I know is going to blow his mind. Then I know that I have to sit down and re-shed for about a half hour before he comes to the lesson, to make sure that I can play it before he comes to the lesson. It definitely keeps me in check because it forces me to still take lessons. I study with a guy named Ted MacKenzie back home, who's a really great jazz drummer."
With Shadows Fall, the constant drum clinics and his own tutorials, Jason still makes time for yet another musical project. "I've got one side project back home, a band called Burning Human. It just allows me to play more drums over the songs. The songs are more written around the drums than they are guitars, where Shadows Fall is more centred on guitar. Really, what I want to do the next time that I'm home for an extended period of time is start some kind of project. It would be cool just to do some different stuff. I've got a friend back home who's an amazing jazz guitar player and I've got a guy back home who teaches in the same music store that I teach at, who is an amazing bass player. He's just a total Crimson/Jeff Berlin kind of guy. I'd love to get the two of those guys together in a room and just see what happens for a few hours. Even if it's just us improvising for three hours, the result would be pretty cool."
For now, the idea of home will have to wait. Jason is on his way downunder to appear on his first ever Australian clinic tour. "I'm totally psyched," he says, "Can't wait to get down there; it really is my favourite place to visit in the world. I'm expecting the tour to be a lot of fun and hopefully a great way to interact with the Australian drumming community.
Catch Jason Bittner as part of the 2011 Drumscene Live tour at Darebin Arts Centre on Saturday August 20 and Sunday August 21.
BY DANIEL LUTTICK