It couldn’t have been planned better. When POLLSTAR tracked down Duane Levold, the classic car-loving, impossibly tall one-man band more commonly known as Custom, he was standing outside his regular Manhattan mechanic shop, picking up a ’68 SS Camaro he scored from his latest video shoot.

The excitement from the shoot for “Beat Me,” the second single from his hip-hop inflected alt-rock ARTISTdirect debut, Fast, was still bubbling inside the Alberta, Canada, native. The reason?

“We had four excellent supermodels who were Victoria’s Secret models and who are all in the present Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition,” Custom explained.

So, it’s pretty tough to be a rock star then?

“It’s pretty cool.”

The progress of the new video will likely be watched closely by fans and industry insiders alike, considering the clip for the first single, “Hey Mister,” was banned by MTV’s standards and practices department on the grounds it was misogynistic.

The tune actually was inspired by his time spent in a bar watching men behave like dogs to pick up women, including Custom’s younger sister. The song may talk about the unmentionable acts he would like to commit with a man’s daughter, but it’s meant to be a little ironic.

“It really wasn’t MTV as a whole,” Custom stressed. “I think a distinction has to be made that programming had already accepted the video and they loved it. We had been added and we were all excited.

“Then it went to standards and practices … and they said, ‘No, this is reprehensible, a horrific music video, a woman-hating anthem.’ Programming fought voraciously with them from the pretty obvious perspective of, ‘You’re very much misinterpreting the song.'”

According to Custom, “Hey Mister” simply exposes a certain predatory aspect of men on the prowl. And, he mused, the video isn’t even that racy.

“If I hear that something is banned from MTV, I expect to see like a thousand naked women in a Jello pool or something, not like a little road trip with my girlfriend to Las Vegas.”

Custom is no stranger to controversy. During his stint as a filmmaker, he partnered with the late Michael Hutchence for a film called “Limp.” After Hutchence died during production, Custom took a break to work on the movie’s soundtrack. The ensuing songs sparked a fierce bidding war, with Virgin coming out on top.


The deal quickly soured when a highly publicized squabble with Virgin exec Nancy Berry ended with Custom back on the market. (The causes of the spat have flooded the rumor mill but a gag order has forced both sides to remain tight-lipped.)

With the alt-rocker once again available, ARTISTdirect CEO Ted Field jumped at the chance to sign the man that slipped through his fingers the first time around. Label president and vice chairman Marc Geiger credits Field’s unconditional admiration of Custom for finally landing him.

“There was a party around Christmas a couple years ago (after he signed to Virgin) where Custom was on Ted’s boat,” Geiger recounted. “Ted stood up in the middle of the party and announced to the boat that this was the most talented guy around and that even though he didn’t get to sign him, he was the man. And Custom remembered that.

“Then, when Custom was available,” Geiger said, “Ted was really aggressive because here was this act that he really loved, that he thought was a home-run artist for him and actually one of the artists we could build the label off of in terms of a franchise player.”

Geiger has been instrumental in developing a touring strategy for Custom, whose booking is now done through Little Big Man’s Marty Diamond.

“I had to arrange a tour that tied in very closely with radio,” Geiger explained. The way he approached it was far more hands-on than most label relationships, “to the point where I was talking to every PD and MD about actually coordinating the pricing, the amount of promo spots and the support.”

The spate of radio shows has served to introduce the artist to the airwaves and clubs, as well as a warmup for Custom and his batch of newly recruited backing musicians to prepare for the marathon touring schedule looming in their near future.

For Custom, radio shows are “great, because we get to play with other bands in some of the big summer festival things. There’s 20,000 people that get to see us because the audience is going to see 10 bands.”

Team Custom is currently piecing together a tour itinerary through the next year. Geiger said the plan is to look for a package tour in early- to mid-August, promo in Europe for two weeks, do large support in September and October, headline in November and December, buzz through Australia and Japan in January, headline Stateside in March and launch a second European blitzkrieg in April.

And, in case you’re wondering, Levold got his stage name from the border checkpoint signs throughout bilingual Canada. Next to the sign that says “Customs” is the word in French

“Douanes.” Don’t worry if you didn’t catch that, Custom claims that not even Canadian journalists get it.