By Margaret Ferrell
“We were throwing out band names and someone threw that out there,” states Jason Kistler, lead singer and drummer for Blindsighted. Looking at him and talking to him is like stepping into Alice’s rabbit hole; you are awakened to a startling world of contradictions and misperceptions. By day, Kistler is a 39-year-old computer programmer from Pinellas who geeks out on the latest Apple products and mournfully states politics is his worst habit. By night, Kistler is a rocker geeking out on Traps flat drums in a three-piece Florida band fast gaining a reputation for quality performance. What he likes most about his Traps drums? No-nonsense. “You can fold them and haul them off stage with one hand. I’m all about convenience.”
In appearance, Kistler is an unassuming middle aged man who wears button down collared shirts, pressed slacks, and dress shoes. He’s very conservative, conscientious, polite, and uses Uber, so it’s difficult imagining him winning a battle-of-the-bands competition and rocking out at Livestock with Bob Level – except for one thing. He has rather wicked looking pale eyes that are so shocking, they wouldn’t be misplaced on a dragon. When someone is speaking to him, his gaze zeroes in on them and it can be so intense, it’s as if he can see who they really are as a person. Even though he’s blind.
Born with a genetic anomaly called Coloboma, which causes the iris to look like a keyhole, Jason Kistler’s case is so extreme, he can only make out some light and colors in rare conditions, such as night time laser light shows. Since he’s blind, he can’t read music, and like 90% of America’s blind population, he never learned Braille. Kistler solely relies on his ears to both learn and play music.
What makes Kistler’s story truly amazing is that other than six months’ worth of drum lessons when he was 17, Jason Kistler is entirely self-taught musically. He’s had no voice lessons, though he is an excellent singer; no piano lessons, though he plays and writes music professionally on the piano. While he is composing music with his band, his own long range goals are in the field of shadow writing, and he admits, “I am writing music that my band can’t even play.”
While he’s honest about how rife the music industry is with famous artists using shadow writers, he still plays it close to the vest. His future in shadow writing depends on silence. When questioned about his own creative process–words or music first? –and whether or not that process changes for him when he’s creating with his bandmates, he bluntly pops all romantic bubbles: it’s almost always music first. “John and I — one of us will come up with a riff on the piano or guitar, and we will kind of build from that. Then we’ll just throw some words down on top of it afterwards.”
Recently, Kistler and band mate John Murphy performed a live acoustic session on The Living Room, which got them internet attention in both the United States and overseas. Kistler notes, “Our ultimate direction as a band is adding more original material and playing more, of course. We’ve got no delusions of grandeur though; we’re just wanting to get out there. It’s a very clique type of environment in the local music scenes. You have to play a lot and do very well to break into that, or know the right people.”
Connie Pankratz, talk radio host of In The Know, had this to say, “When you think of everything Jason had to overcome, the challenges he faces daily and he conquers them like they’re nothing–and then you hear the three of them play–it can be very humbling. Inspiring, but humbling.”
Kistler is very independent and doesn’t dwell on the fact his blindness is considered a handicap. Not only is he very career active, his social life is also very active. Like most men, he likes the outdoors: camping, fishing, hiking, white water rafting, and even shooting. He also likes traveling; he just got back from a Christmas tour of New York, and is planning a sight-seeing trip to Ireland this summer.
He describes his childhood as a typical upbringing and has a close relationship with his father, mother, and brother. Although he has been married in the past he has no children and currently he is the quintessential bachelor living alone with his two dogs, neither of which are seeing-eye-dogs. When asked how his commitment to music has impacted his personal relationships, Kistler pauses before reflecting quietly, “Sometimes it can create discord. People can get jealous of the time and attention that music takes away from them.”
At a young age his tastes in rock were influenced by diverse styles such as Journey and Tool; today his influences are Rob Zombie and Linkin Park. Coming back from a hiatus in 2014 Kistler– who in the past played with Bob Level, Fuse, Vicious Cycle, and Kilo– was taken into another band as a temporary drummer. The scene wasn’t a good fit for him though, so he opted to leave. To his surprise two of the members followed him, and the three have been playing together ever since.
Blindsighted is a total contradiction in hip hop and rock stereotypes; they’re not young, and all of them are in fact fulltime career professionals. While Kistler agrees that he and his bandmates are completely different in personality, with very different lives outside of the band, it works for them because they are all strict adherents on one thing: priorities. According to Kistler they all share ingrained traits for career dedication which they’ve brought into Blindsighted, and they rehearse together at Suncoast Studios at set times, weekly. “Our music is just getting better as we read each other better. We’re adding more modern and heavier pop rock.”
St. Petersburg college student Graham Hastings, who is himself a base player, noted this about the band: “You can tell the moment they pick up their instruments they’re true professionals, and you’re in for a show.”
When asked what he would say to any newcomers to the industry, Kistler gives only tough love advice. “Don’t do it for the money. There isn’t any. Don’t ever cater your style to what you think people want. Play for yourself. If people like you when you’re playing for yourself, you’re going to enjoy it a lot more.”
Jason Kistler is an engineering manager for Reservec. Guitarist John Murphy works as a training instructor for Pinellas Fire Departments and EMS’s, and base player Doug Daly is the President of DLM Carpentry Contracting Inc. Blindsighted has played from coast to coast in Florida, but they are still a Tampa Bay home-grown band. Currently, their cover songs range from titles such as Jeremy, Far Behind, Thinking Out Loud, Radar Love, Hard to Handle, Purple Rain, My Sacrifice, Santeria, Basket Case, and All Over You. Their upcoming Pinellas shows are 3-19-16 at High Octane, and 3-25-16 at Crab Daddy’s. Follow Blindsighted on Facebook.