The legacy thrash band hits the road on an international trek that runs through mid-May. To complement their well-established live bombardment and new 2019 release, a metal vet joins them behind the skins.
For their nineteenth studio album, The Wings of War, the seasoned thrash group Overkill recruited the established metal drummer who’d been backing them on the road since 2017, Jason Bittner [Shadows Fall, Flotsam and Jetsam]. Although this was the drummer’s first studio experience with the group, which was founded more than thirty years ago, Bittner’s history with Overkill goes way back. “I’ve known founding members Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth [vocals] and D. D. Verni [bass] since 1991,” says Jason. “When Shadows Fall went on hiatus in 2013, I ran the trajectory of playing with all of my favorite thrash bands that I grew up with. Or most of them—the Slayer job wasn’t open. [laughs] So I started filling in for Charlie Benante in Anthrax and played for two years with Flotsam and Jetsam. Then I got the call for Overkill.”
With the band currently on an international trek that lasts through mid May, Bittner explains his live approach, which pays homage to some of the band’s earlier material. “Basically, I’d been playing with all of these bands—Anthrax, Flotsam and Jetsam, Overkill—since I was in my teens in the mid to late ’80s. This is the stuff I grew up on. These are also the songs that I played to build my double bass chops and thrash vocabulary and to be able to play this kind of music. So I’m really lucky that most of the material is in my DNA, just dormant. I’m like an elephant—once I learn a song, it’s kind of in there. It might need some brushing up here and there, but for the most part it’s there.”
Besides being a thrash and metal mainstay, Bittner maintains a studio and private teaching career, and his 2008 educational DVD, What Drives the Beat, features many of his exercises and warm-ups. On the road with Overkill, the drummer still works from many of those same exercises. “I spend fifteen minutes at a pad warming up—that’s it,” he explains. “Maybe during the first week of a tour I’ll add another ten minutes or so, just to really get into the groove of it. But I find that as I get more into a tour, I need to warm up less. We don’t take many days off , so it’s already there. And sometimes we do extensive soundchecks, where we’ll do four or five six-minute songs, so you could be playing a half-hour set just in your soundcheck.
“I’m also spending more time in the gym and more time with the physical, health, and eating aspects, to try to keep my body in better shape as I get older,” Bittner continues. “I’m going to be fifty next year. So I spend more time doing spring training and lifting light weights to get my body conditioned with the stress of touring and beating on my upper and lower body. And I really concentrate on doing yoga and my flexibility so I can keep things moving as much as possible. And when I come home, I don’t stop playing, which helps me. I know a lot of drummers who as soon as they’re off tour they don’t touch the sticks. But that’s not me, because I always feel like I’m going to lose it if I take too much time off . The most I’ll take off is around ten days, and then I start getting stir crazy. So I’m always playing. I may not be in set shape, but I’m still in playing shape.”
Jason Bittner plays Pearl drums and Zildjian cymbals, and he uses DW pedals, Remo heads, Promark sticks, Gator cases, drumART logo heads, and Cympad cymbal felts.
Also on the Road
Steve DiStanislao with David Crosby /// Aric Improta with Fever 333 /// Tomas Haake with Meshuggah /// Tommy Aldridge with Whitesnake /// Alan Cassidy with Black Dahlia Murder /// Jon Rice with Skeletonwitch /// Nathan Price with Broncho /// Johnny King with Conan