Patrick Wolf is wearing a tracksuit. No feathers. No bright colours. No sign of a popstar whatsoever. Which is strange, considering the 27-year-old Londoner's fondness for dressing up.
"It felt that there was something overtaking the music," says Wolf, sitting backstage at Dublin's Sugar Club. "There was a more extreme and provocative character, but it was like a suit of armour, getting stronger and stronger, and not really letting too much of the inner shine through. Even down to the front cover of the last album, it was very much an aggressive stance -- I'm like, 'f**k off', you know?"
Indeed, that's exactly how the man born Patrick Denis Apps felt. Four albums into his career and the chap was forced to admit that he was an angry young man. Hence, it started to show in the songs. And the visuals. And the press.
Today, on the eve of his much-delayed fifth studio album, Lupercalia, the multi-instrumentalist and vocalist is in a much better place. Back to basics, as he describes it. Which, incidentally, appears to have worked a treat on the new record -- a sublime and, at times, wonderfully infectious offering of intelligent pop. But I wonder what it was that made him so angry.
"It was definitely a more emotional and personal thing -- my journey since I was a teenager; being the outsider, the outcast, and being bullied, and issues I'd not dealt with at all, apart from through music."
"I always thought therapy was wrong," he continues, "I always thought that anti-depressants were wrong, and counselling was wrong. I thought, as a human, you should be able to sort out all those problems for yourself. And I think then I reached a point where I needed help. And I needed just to enjoy life again."
Certainly, Wolf has been through the mill. He abandoned his education and his family home as a teenager, dedicating as much time as possible to a career in music. At 19 it was all about the fame and what he might do with it should his debut album, Lycanthropy, break records. It didn't, and Wolf soon realised what was important in this business -- to develop as a writer and become a better musician with each album. But why is it that, at a time when flamboyant female artists such as Lady Gaga (a fan of Wolf's) are setting the world alight with their quirkiness and their tunes, a guy like Wolf struggles to convince the wider-listening public of his merits?
"Well," he says, "I've always seen that, to be a man, you have to play by the rules to be accepted -- it's a straight man's world at the end of the day. And I don't mean sexuality, but that kind of, like [snaps fingers] 'this is how a man should be; this is how a man should walk and talk'. There's a thousand more ways of being a woman than there are of being a man right now."
That a theme of love and happiness runs through Wolf's new record isn't surprising. The openly gay artist is engaged to be married to his partner next summer. He has always been "desperately romantic", he tells me, and his relationship wasn't something that he was going to shy away from when it came to writing the album.
"All the songs are documents of a moment in my life," he says, "no matter how metaphorical the lyrics are, and so it doesn't surprise me that I've written about this relationship so deeply."
Ask Wolf to define himself and he'll tell you that he "falls in and out, accidentally, of being a pop star". That he comes from a large Irish background plays a huge influence on his life, too.
"It was like my other life as a child," says Wolf, of the annual holidays to Ireland. "It was my dreamland."
Indeed, there's a sense that Wolf really has found a new lease of life.
"I don't feel like I wake up every morning and have to ask a thousand questions about who I am," he agrees. "Right now, it's like I wake up every morning and just feel a lot more at home in the world."
Lupercalia is out now