Banned in the USA: A Convo With Custom
Mike Hess
7/14/2002 8:47:16 PM

"I'm not complaining, but man I'm tired."

A new buzz in the music industry is Custom (real name Duane Levold), mostly known for getting the video for his “Hey Mister” single banned from MTV. The story and reasoning behind this is way overblown, and masks the fact that Custom is a blossoming multi-talented musician. He recorded his entire album Fast[ArtistDirect] in his own in-home studio dubbed “120”, and played every instrument on it.

Custom was kind enough to chat over the phone while stationed at a Toronto Burger King (he’s originally from Canada, but has lived in NYC’s Chinatown for the past 3 years). Barring a 5-minute break to expel the tasty Whopper that zipped through him like a jet-propelled rocket, things went just fine.

The main impression and feeling that I get from your album is best summed up in one word: Honest. Is that the vibe you were going for, and how do you think you achieved that?

”I think that's my voice, and because I make all of my songs in my house, it really comes out that way. It gives you a freedom to work at home, whereas you work at a big studio. I don't feel creative in studios. You look around, and you’re in your own house, and it just puts that certain comfort in you where it is even reflected in your voice.

Another bonus is that I don’t have much time to manufacture, polish or overdo the songs. In a normal context, you may write a song like “May 26” the day you get dumped, and then a week later you may hook up w/her again or get back together. But with me, the studio is right there, so I just record whenever the hell I want and it’s locked in stone. (His track “May 26” is in fact about breaking up with his girlfriend, written and recorded in one shot, and was never touched or changed).

I know that you got a ton of help and advice from Rick Rubin, and also that Duncan Sheik helped produce the album. What was it like working with them?

Rick is just a person that I met along the way, and he's always just sort of peeked his nose into my stuff. He's a magical guru. It’s all the little things that he does that make a difference.

Care to share some of his tricks?

I probably shouldn’t, but what the hell. Alright. Here we go.

Rick taught me how to sing in a more natural way. He'd make me play the acoustic super quietly, and sing in a whisper in a dark room, and really find the heart of the song without belting it out. That way, it's just the lyrics and the melody. If it sounds great in a whisper, you know once it's turned up it’s going to kill.

Sweet. And Duncan?

He's the master multi-instrumentalist of all time. Duncan comes from a very different musical background, which is great, cause instead of 2 punk rockers going 'yea yea', you have one saying 'yea yea' and one saying 'no no'. He adds a unique flavor that's refreshing. He has intelligence where it's needed.

How has living in NYC influenced you and your music?

The fact that I can walk out of my front door and be bombarded by every language, stench, and food just stimulates in every which way. Rather than going into your backyard and seeing the same thing every day, you never see the same thing. You can go see your buddies any time, see lots of people and get outside of your head. I’m living right below Canal Street, in the crotch of Little Italy and Chinatown.

You’re signed to the brand new ArtistDirect label. Do you feel that because they are new, you don’t really have the restrictions and worries that you’d get from an established, corporate label?

Absolutely. Other labels answer to the big evil conglomerate and shareholder, whereas AD is stand-alone. They don't have to deal with all that crap. If I want to do something out-there, then it's only one level of discussion. They're into trying other things, and being expansive.

Which leads us into your “Hey Mister” video being banned from MTV. What the hell happened there? It’s really not that offensive, especially in comparison to lots of the rap videos that are out now.

The Standards and Practices department are the persons that found the lyrical and visual problems. They took it as an anti-woman song, and I find that so hard to see. The song is about the girl's dad finding out that his daughter is having sex, and that fucking is natural, and I'm sure he did it. The audience hears “Banned from MTV!”, so they're looking to see this vile, horrible video, and then they see it on the net and there's nothing in it. So then they go back to the TV all disappointed, put on MTV and watch “Slap My Bitch Up” or “Back That Ass Up”. This sucks.

What current music are you into, and what trend do you think will really last?

I would have to look at the charts to make an astute observation, but at any given moment, something different can happen.

As for what I really like now, I dig The White Stripes, the new Remy Zero, BRMC, and the Deftones 'White Pony' album never leaves my discman. I must listen to tracks 8 and 9 once a fucking day. They're so heavy, melodic and dark, and the louder the better.

How’s the touring life going so far?

I'm not complaining, but man I'm tired. It's just 'not' glamorous. You dream of being on a tour bus your whole life, then 8 hours into it, you're like 'get me the fuck off this stinky prison'.

You’re big into extreme sports. Any plans to hook something up with your music and a skate tour or something along those lines?

Nah, that stuff I do for playtime, cause it's fun, but I don't really see it as business. We were invited to play at one of those festivals in Seattle, and guys were doing awesome tricks off of the ramp, and I'm trying to sing and hold back all my 'oooh's and ahh's", So it's hard to balance it.


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