During the 25th edition of the DRUM FEST Festival, which was held at the Conference and Exhibition Center in Opole, Poland, we met up with the drummers who participated in the event. They performed with their bands, conducted drum clinics and workshops, but also judged young Polish sitcksmen as part of the Young Drum Hero contest, which presented a very high level of playing.
Artists performing at the festival included the likes of Maciek Gołyźniak, Łukasz “Icanraz” Sarnacki, Katy Elwell, Jason Bittner, Jason Sutter, Rick Latham, Gary Novak, Kaz Rodriguez, Russell Gilbrook and, last but not least, Jason Bittner, who has worked with the likes of Marty Friedman, Shadows Fall, Anthrax, Flotsam & Jetsam (with whom he performed at DRUM FEST), and currently Overkill. Jason Bittner is endorsed by the following brands: Pearl, Zildjian, Remo i ProMark.
In the second part of the interview, our guest talks about his snare drum collection, his work system in studio, as well his current drum tech, who is Polish.
Jason Bittner in conversation with BeatIt, Pt. 3
BeatIt: Snares are quite an individual thing. Is it also Pearl Reference or do you like to do different things?
Jason Bittner: Here’s the problem. I have a massive snare drum fetish and I have a massive snare drum collection at home. It’s gotten smaller over the years but, combined with my vintage drums, I probably have about 35 snare drums. As I said, I have a little bit of a problem.
B: But you don’t take them on the road?
J. B.: No. There’s 10 vintage drums, some of them sit up on a shelf and look nice. I own a snare drum that was owned by Nicko McBrain and it was on the ‘Powerslave’ tour. I own an old Slingerland snare drum that was signed by Neil Peart to me.
B: Those are collector’s items.
J. B.: Yeah.
B: If you need a new liver, maybe…
J. B.: Yeah. My friend Greg calls them mounters ‘cause you just mount them up on the wall. This is the problem. Pearl makes way too many great snare drums. They really do. I go from going: ‘Alright, this is my favourite one that they make’ until two months later I play something alse: ‘Alright, this is my favourite one that they make’. When I first started playing their drums, the Reference 20-ply 5.5-inch was my favourite snare because it’s just killer. It’s thick, it’s got a great crack to it and that was my favourite snare. The first kit that I got from them when I got endorsed was a Reference kit. So that was the first snare that I got with them. However, I was friends with the folks in Pearl USA for quite a few years before I became a Pearl endorser so, along the way, I procured some Pearl snare drums from my friends at Pearl every once in a while, for various sessions and stuff. There’s a few of them that are collectibles ‘cause they don’t make them anymore. One’s the Steve Ferrone 6.5-inch straight brass. That’s a great drum! I have an Ultracast 5-inch aluminum, which is one of my favourite snares ever. I’ve used it on a few different recordings. I used it on my death metal band Burning Humans record, I used it on Shadows Fall’s ‘Threads of Life’ album, I just recently used it on another session and I took it on tour with me all last year in Europe for Flotsam. It’s just a great all-around snare drum. It’s light. I can throw it in a bag and bring it as a carry-on ‘cause it only weighs, like, 5 pounds. That is one of the most killer snare drums I have. My favourite one for a all-round workhorse is my 6.5-inch Reference Pure. It’s deep enough when I want to tune it low but it also maintains a great crack if I want to tune it high and it doesn’t choke out either. And the Reference Brass is pretty badass…
B: You mentioned recording. That’s a question that you probably get asked as well. Do you like to record in whole takes or is it that you prefer to get the energy during a segment?
J. B.: I’m a full-take guy. I’m gonna be 47 next year so I started recording on tape. Young kids don’t know what it was like to record on tape when you catually had to play the song all the way through. There was no stoping and punching in with Pro Tools because it wasn’t possible. The only way you could stop was if there was a break where there was no drums. ‘Ok, here’s the part where the drums drop out. We can stop here’. Other than that, you had to play the song in its entirety. So that’s just the school that I come from and that’s always been what I aspired myself to do. I practise my rear end off before I go in the studio. Regardless of whether it’s my band or a hired thing. I usually try to be as prepared as I possibly can before I go in the studio so I can just go in and knock it out. I don’t want to be in the studio for days and days. I wanna go in, get my job done and I wanna have anon alcoholic beer when I’m done. I have always also felt the most pressure, too, especially when making an album. You only have a certain amount of your budget and the first thing that needs to get done is drums. So what happens if you’re having a bad day? You’re not getting it and all these guys are waiting for you to finish and this is costing money. So I always bust my ass to be prepared as possible before I go in. When I go in the studio, I do full takes. My frst take is usually the let’s-go-for-it-take. Sometimes those are magic and I’m not gonna beat that. This just happened a couple months back. I had to do a session for two bands from Geece. I was doing a song that was a more death metal – blazing double bass, a lot of blast beats. It’s stuff that I play but I’m not an extreme metal drummer. I’m a thrash metal drummer and there’s a difference. Guys like George Kollias and Derek Roddy can do this stuff in their sleep. I can do it but it takes me a lot longer. They’re like: ‘That’s nothing’. For me, it’s like: ‘That’s the top of my ability!’. I was really rehearsing this one song for, like, a week straight. I was ready to do it by the time I got in the studio. I told my friend Tim, who’s my engineer and I do my drum stuff with him at his place: ‘There might be a few punches on this one. I don’t know if it’s gonna be a full one or not’. I nailed the first take. I opened the door and I’m, like: ‘Please tell me you had the record button pushed!’. He said: ‘Yeah, don’t worry’. I sat back, listened to it and there was a couple of those sections where I went; ‘Alright, let me redo that blast section right there. I can do it better’. That’s the way I do things. I’ll do a full take and if there’s any fixing, it’s me playing the part. I’ll do a take, then another, then I’ll do an insurance take and I’ll do a take where I’ll just fart around, go for different things. You never know, something might happen. When we’re ready to edit, I take the master take that’s got the energy and listen through it. ‘That one fill right there. Is that a little rushed? Let’s listen to take 3. That’s perfect. Alright. Cut, paste, put it in.’ I don’t feel anything wrong with that. I still played the song in its entirety. I don’t go in and go: ‘Ok. Verse 1. Done. Now, let’s do a chorus. Now, put the chorus again when it comes up’. That’s cheating to me.
B: Do you think that takes away from the feel of the music?
J. B.: I absolutely do. I always do different things so you know it’s not a cut-and-paiste chorus. Maybe the second time, I ride on the china instead of the crash ride. Tere’s gonna be some designation where you know it’s just not cut out from the first verse and popped right into the second.
B: One final question. You have a drum tech who is Polish.
J. B.: I do. I’ve had a lot of drum techs in the last 15 years and he’s one of the top ones that I’ve ever worked with. The first day that we met, I said: ‘I play two up and two down.’ He said: ‘I know. I saw your setup online, I know what you have. I’ve teched for Mike Portnoy. As soon as he said that, I went: ‘Mike’s a very good friend of mine. If you made it through a tour with Mike, I know we’re gonna have no problems.’ He was teching for Destruction and Flotsam but more so for Destruction. They were the headliner, we were their special guest and we had two baby bands in forn that unfortunately my poor friend had to take a lot of stress from that was not his job. So I did a lot of helping him on that tour. He was there for Larry and not setting up my kit every day. But for not doing it, he knew where things needed to be. When I showed up here today, it was 88-90 per cent where it needed to be. That just alleviated my stress level. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s already coming back in March.
B: When you say ‘Larry’, you also mean the Polish drummer who plays with Destruction.
J. B.: Yes, I do.
B: Wawrzyniec Dramowicz. Still playing with them, right? A hell of a drummer.
J. B.: Yes, he is. And a hell of a good guy. Machine Gun!
Drummers and Drummerettes! Here is the final part of an interview with Jason Bittner, exclusively for beatit.tv!