Just over three years ago, you would have found Daniel “Homeless” Mustard busking on the streets of New York City. He slept in Washington Square Park or in homeless shelters, earning a reputation for playing and singing amazing covers of popular songs. But he doesn’t want to focus on that anymore because at the end of 2009, his life changed forever.
His performance of Radiohead’s “Creep” on the Opie & Anthony radio show in December of 2009 altered his life’s trajectory in ways that boggle his mind today: the YouTube video of the performance went viral, with over 8.5 million views as of this writing. He’s since been dedicated his life to music, gigging around the city, and is in the process of creating an EP of original songs entitled Fragments of Bone.
There is less than a week to go on his Kickstarter campaign for the EP, and Daniel wants it to succeed simply because he wants to be able to keep making music. His songs are so heartfelt, and his ambition is so sincere it would make even a jaded A&R guy weep. Daniel Mustard’s bootstrapped success is more than just a tale of redemption, it’s the story of the discovery of a passion for music that deserves to be told.
We chatted with Daniel via email about how things are going with his “Pandora’s box” style of songwriting, the status of his Kickstarter, and a host of other questions about his remarkable journey.
You write on your Kickstarter that, “I’m finally learning that, after all, it’s not actually all my fault.” That really struck me. What did you mean by that?
I’m glad you picked up on that! A big part of my recovery is realizing that everything that happens is NOT my fault. There are lots of things that are beyond my control. Realizing that and accepting that and not continuing to blame myself is a huge step in my recovery. I always keep thinking to myself that everyone else has it all figured out and that I must have missed that one day in school! Now I realize that no one has it all figured out and we’re just all trying as best we can.
What stories are you seeking to tell through Fragments of Bone?
Wow! I suppose just a lot of stories about myself and being able to express things in song.
What song are you most proud of so far and why?
Probably “Last Time We Met.” It’s a song I’ve been kicking around a while; it was one of the songs I originally performed on Opie and Anthony the first time I went on, and I really enjoy playing it and it still rings true. It’s a fun song. I also really like “Back of My Hand” because I just kind of wrote that one day out of nowhere and four days later we had it recorded! It was really cool to see the song go from start to finish like that so quickly.
Who would you say is your “anti” role model? Someone who serves as a warning rather than an inspiration?
Well, I would say that Charles Bukowski or William S. Burroughs. Don’t get me wrong — these are people that I really look up to and find their stories so interesting, but the tragic endings and living their lives completely under the influence of something as hard as heroin and alcohol makes it impossible to really live. At the time, you don’t know it and no one could tell you; it’s only something that you can see once you’re sober — that being completely overtaken by drugs and alcohol and “romanticizing” that doesn’t work.
What is your ultimate goal in creating Fragments of Bone?
To rule the world! Just kidding. It’s just to perform my music, get it out there, continuing to create and explore and putting more good music out there that hopefully people enjoy.
Has anyone reached out to you and offered you a place to stay, to buy you dinner, etc.?
Dinner, yes, lots of dinners. Some people have bought me clothes and stuff — and actually a place to stay, that too. One thing that’s weird about being offered a place to stay is that these people only really see me as a character on a radio show when I’m actually a real person with problems. Hello, I’m homeless! And I’ve never been able to live up to their expectations. So, when I actually get there and stay with someone, they get something they don’t expect. I stay with a really nice family in Delaware and also in Minneapolis for a while, too.
Some might find it unusual that you’d choose to record an album before you’d find yourself a “real job.” Do you?
No! It’s taken me a long time to find my purpose here and I think I’ve really found it. It’s kind of like Pandora’s box was opened and I have to do this now. It’s the most important thing to me… Well, staying sober is the most important thing, but right next is music.
Who inspires you musically? Do you have any stories about listening to music as you were growing up?
As a kid there was always music on — always! And I grew up a lot on The Beatles, and my sisters always had music on — there was always music playing. I grew up in Hollywood, and the music of my contemporaries was hip hop, so there was a lot of that too. People find that one really funny that I grew up with a lot of hip hop. Then, of course, came the “grunge” scene which I really took to and I think that’s reflected a lot in my music.
How did you decide on the various pledge rewards on Kickstarter?
Mostly just looking at things that I’d been asked for before — to do covers of songs. People ask me to do different songs all the time, so that was an easy one. The other stuff was mostly thought up by Jim (Bertuzzi, producer).
In addition to CD and digital download, you’re planning on releasing Fragments of Bone on 180-gram vinyl. What inspired you do release your EP in this awesome format?
Because I’m old! I just love the big vinyl and the artwork and the sound. And because I’m old and remember when Pearl Jam used to come out with their vinyl records one week before the CD came out. Also, I think this record in particular really lends itself to vinyl.
The point at which your version of “Creep” went viral seems to be the beginning of this chapter of your life. Had you ever imagined you’d receive any kind of notoriety for your music?
No, I never thought that. I had always been singing for my whole life. Most of the people I know who play guitar had been playing since they were infants and I was always very intimidated by that. I started late on all this and never really even started on guitar until I was 28 or 29. And it just sort of poured out of me one day. I wasn’t trying to write something; I was just trying to play something and I just opened my face up and sang. And I always was in love with the idea of being this recording artist, but always thought it was just some kind of unattainable goal. And now that it’s actually happening is a real mind fuck, to be honest. I hope to be alive and continue to do this the rest of my life.
What’s the best and/or the strangest cover request you’ve gotten since then?
The strangest, I don’t even remember the name of the song. It was this very strange ambient, German song. A lot of my fans are European and listen to some interesting music. And they’re serious. They ask, “Can you cover this song?” and I’m like, “I’m not sure I can find the melody in that song… or speak the language!”
Where do you see yourself in five, ten years from now?
I’d really just love to be able to continue to do this. I know I’m not going to be a Justin Beiber or Justin Timberlake or Lady Gaga, but I’d just like to be able to do this to where I don’t have to do anything else. I want to be recording, touring, maybe in a relationship with a couple of dogs. My aspirations are not huge. I don’t want a mansion on the hill, I dont want fifty cars, I don’t want my own island. I just want to be able to live doing music, and I don’t think that’s an impossible goal.