Nashville-based producer/singer talks humble beginnings and the accidental origin of his stage name
Dustin Burnett was born with music in his blood. After his time fronting the band The October came to an end, he decided to focus more behind the scenes, writing, producing and mixing for other artists. But in 2015, everything changed. Burnett was working with licensing company Lyric House on a movie trailer project, and when he couldn’t find anyone to sing vocals on a track he’d produced, he sang himself under the guise “Zayde Wolf.” Fast forward a year and a half, and Burnett’s racked up 22k YouTube subscribers and 205k followers on Spotify, all without touring.
His music is emotional, and that resonates with fans on a high level. “Brave”, a track about the strength of relationships and having the courage to put you yourself in someone else’s shoes, has struck a chord with fans from a mother of a child with Autism to a 14-year-old girl who always wanted to pursue boxing but was intimidated by the gym. “Being brave means hoping and believing that there is more to life than pain and struggle,” Burnett says, and he keeps that mantra alive with his inspiring songs.
ARTISTdirect caught up with the producer/singer to talk about the track, his humble beginnings and hopes for the future.
Hello – Please introduce yourself.
Hey ARTISTdirect crew. I’m Zayde Wolf from the wonderful land of the new Nashville.
Where are you right now?
I’m at the airport in Baltimore on my second leg from Portland, Maine, to home, in Nashville. I
was there producing a group called CRUSOE. Currently, I’m hanging at the airport restaurant on
a three hour layover! Sitting beside me is a guy who works mission control at NASA in Houston,
and across from me, is a French author.
Tell us about your new project: Who did you work with? Where was it recorded? What’s it about? Is there candy?
First, there’s always candy, and when I say candy, what I really mean is bourbon.
The songs are all written and recorded in my personal studio, where the bourbon collection
varies by the month. Availability is based on how hard the song is to write. [laughs] About the music….the next few songs being released have been extremely challenging to finish.
Since I do most of the writing, recording, and mixing by myself, I am both Superman and
Kryptonite at the same time. These new songs are about that struggle. Learning now to be “Brave,” going through “The Jungle” of life and how I came up.
How do you describe your music to new friends?
Epic, Motivational, Encouraging, Life Driven.
It’s the record you need to listen to when you have a new goal at the gym, and you need some
music to help you! But also give it a listen when you need reminding that life has ebb and flow. I
write with that in mind. I want people to feel strength and empowerment to press through the
pain and challenges for the glory on the other side of that.
Other than Zayde Wolf, what should your hometown be known for?
My hometown is a very small point on the map at the very southern tip of Illinois. It’s called
Metropolis (yes, just like Superman) and a mere 6000 or so people call it home. It has a once a
week newspaper called The Daily Planet, and an annual Superman Festival.
Please look around you right now and please describe the first item or person you see
that’s significant to you (and that your relationship with it/them).
I have a picture of my children on my phone. I look at it and feel balanced and centered.
What first inspired you to pursue music? If it was a musician or a specific piece of music,
please tell us all about why you find it so inspirational…
I grew up in a very rural area of Illinois. We couldn’t afford cable TV, but we could get four or
sometimes five channels over the antenna. However, there was always music on in the house. A
vinyl of Tom Petty, a CD of Def Leopard, a cassette tape of Guns and Roses and so on. My
parents didn’t play musical instruments, but my mother wanted my brothers and myself to play.
So, they saved money and would put instruments into lay-a- way at music stores. They would
pay on them year around.
I hacked my way through learning to play several instruments and would attempt to sing. Then I
figured out I could use my karaoke cassette machine to record songs that I wrote at age 11. As
a freshman in High School I tried out for the Stage Band class, and was the only guy who would
sing and play guitar. It was at that point that I really felt some real satisfaction making music
and became obsessed.
What’s the best advice anyone has given you about pursuing a life in music?
I’ve had tremendous people in my life give me incredible advice. I have an amazing wife,
encouraging parents, and so many other producers and writers that were advocates for me.
But, I think a real game changer for me was Richard. About nine years ago, I had an opportunity to
get a decent job at a chemical plant. At that time, the job would have meant more money and
stability. However, taking it would have meant quitting making music for the most part. Richard
was helping me secure that job at the plant. One night he asked me to call him. He told me it
would be no problem to get this job, but then he told me not to take it. Instead he encouraged
me to take one more chance, and move to Nashville or where ever I needed to go. Hearing that
from him put a spark back into the dream. A couple of years ago, Richard passed away. I hope he knows how he helped change the legacy of my family.
Not including your current crew, who (alive or dead) would you love to have in your van for an all day drive from gig to gig?
Kurt Cobain, Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, Nick Drake, Michael Hutchence, Chester
Bennington… I’d love to visit with them on the soul level. Talk about deep stuff, the real life, the
dark, the struggle. Not to try to resurrect, or fix their problems, but to know their heart and to
What song best sums up your life right now?
Katy Perry “Teenage Dream” maybe? No, but I love that song.
What is the best reaction to your music you have experienced so far?
I think it’s the overcoming stories that I never expected. Recently, a mother emailed me and told
me how her autistic child barely speaks, but the child can sing every word of my songs. It has
become a point of communication and engagement for them. They also now use the songs as
motivation to train and work on boxing at the gym. Things like this are so unexpected and make my heart swell.
Take a moment to dream – Where do hope to be a year from now?
I’m always dreaming, planning, and trying to meet those dreams. I even go as far as naming the
morning alarms on my phone with a custom motivational message to myself. So the first thing I
see is something positive. But, I really want to build a house for my family. I want to make that American dream come true.
What’s your next step towards that dream?
Towards the end of 2015 I was producing some new music as a concept, and as a last effort,
ended up singing on it myself. To finish the songs, as a last-minute thing I listed Zayde Wolf as
the artist as I sent them out to a licensing company in Los Angeles. Pretty much immediately,
one of the songs that I sent over licensed. Jessica Cole, who runs a company called Lyric
House in Los Angeles, said, “So who’s Zayde Wolf, anyway? We need more songs.” That’s
literally the accidental story of how I became Zayde Wolf.
And then we started properly releasing the music, and never in my wildest dreams could I have
imagined the response I’ve received from people across the world. Every comment, every
personal email, every message of encouragement fills me with so much gratitude. So, I’m going
to continue to wake up every morning, read the motivational messages on my alarm and work
harder than the day before.
And I’m hoping, in the meantime, to continue to enjoy what is happening, ride the waves, write
my best songs, and continue this musical journey through art and film and the amazing people I
get to connect with along the way.