The Zutons, Liverpool's first great band of the 21st century, have just returned home from an extended stay in Los Angeles. It felt in every sense far from home for the quintet, and would have been a nightmare had they not fallen in with some Hispanic Texans along the way who, in the words of frontman Dave McCabe, "saved us from ourselves."
They'd been in L.A. for good reason: to record their third album, You Can Do Anything, a brilliant record and comfortably their best 55 minutes to date.
"Why L.A.?" Dave asks. "Well, sometimes you've got to go a million miles from home in order to discover yourself, you know? It was time for a little soul-searching, I think, and we also wanted a different vibe this time. L.A. certainly gave us that."
The album was produced by George Drakoulias (Johnny Cash, The Black Crowes), who captured the band at their pulse-quickening, rambunctious best. An inspired pairing, clearly. Yes?
"I'll be honest with you, la," Dave says, "I'd never heard of the bloke, but I had been told he was good. And, right enough he was. Admittedly, he was a little nervous at first, but then I'd be nervous if I was a happy American facing five moody Scousers. Wouldn't you?"
The moody Scousers reference is pertinent here. You Can Do Anything may well be the best Zutons album to date, but it also frequently threatened to be their last. But then that's always been the best thing about this lot, the rough blending with the smooth, McCabe emerging each time afterwards that little bit more shambolic and even more enigmatic. But then this is a man with a 60-a-day laugh, a skewed worldview and a large dollop of cynicism.
"I may be cynical," he points out, "but I'm Scouse cynical, with humour, and that's the best kind. Take my word for it."
The Zutons never were like other bands. Emerging at the same time as Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs back in 2004 - and also in the wake of The Coral, Liverpool's then great white hopes - their boisterous, hook-laden music was compulsively odder than that of their peers. They sang about zombies and dancehalls, and took inspiration not just from their city's favourite sons but also from John Barry, Talking Heads, Ennio Morricone and arcane 60s acts long since forgotten by everyone else but them. Their infectious songs made an instant connection with the great British public, and their first album, Who Killed The Zutons?, described by one critic as sci-fi trash rock, sold over 600,000 in the UK alone, spawning the hit singles Pressure Point and Confusion, and also bagging a Nationwide Mercury Prize nomination.
"We were amazed things took off so quickly," Dave says now. "We were always a band who existed in our own little world, so to have the wider world accept us - well, it was unexpected. But good unexpected, the best."
In 2006, they released Tired Of Hanging Around, a follow-up full of zest and one perfectly crafted pop song after the other. This time, tracks revolved around stalking and death, but the melodies were strictly stratospheric, and the singles - Oh Stacey (Look What You've Done), Why Won't You Give Me Your Love among them - were huge hits. Like its predecessor, the album quickly went double platinum, cementing their reputation as one of the country's most loved, and biggest, bands.
The album also spawned Valerie, not only a massive hit single in its own right but a song that uber producer Mark Ronson became so taken with that he would later re-work it himself, now with Amy Winehouse on lead vocals. It went on to become one of the biggest selling singles in recent memory, and has just spent its 100th week in the Top 100 Radio Airplay Charts, testament not only to Winehouse's impeccable vocal but also to the strength of the song itself and, in turn, of Dave McCabe, songwriter.
"It was mad, deffo," he deadpans. "It's like the song has gone off and had a completely independent life of its own. It doesn't even feel like mine now - James Morrison recently did a version of it as well - and I like that it's spread its wings. Has it improved my songwriting confidence? Well," he chuckles, "it hasn't hurt.”
If, in the time-honoured clichéd way of these things, Tired Of Hanging Around was supposed to be the Difficult Second Album, then Dave quite forgot to worry about it. That record came easily to him, he says now, much more so than You Can Do Anything, which didn't.
"There was a lot more pressure to deliver this time around," he says. "And have we delivered? I fucking hope so, but it's all a gamble, isn't it? It's like bingo, music. Grab a ball; hope it's a good one."
In a world dominated by ego and arrogance, it's almost refreshing that Dave is so publicly doubtful of his own talents. Nobody else is. You Can Do Anything is crammed full of enthusiasm and energy, the songs teeming with life and incident and, as ever, a peculiarly unpredictable lyrical bent. First single Always Right Behind You throbs like Slade and T-Rex resurrected; What's Your Problem is perhaps the most joyful song about impending violence in recent memory; and Family Of Leeches is a disarmingly wry account of living next door to a bunch of ASBO-wielding scallies. Bumbag takes street scroungers to task, and Freak ("It's £100 an hour or £200 for the day," he sings) concerns male prostitution. And then there is his duet with saxophonist Abi Harding, Four Walls Cry, a wonderfully honest examination of inter-band disharmony.
"It's about us doing one another's head in," he says, grinning ruefully. "We're always getting on each other's nerves, but then we've always had tension. After six years in each other's company, it's inevitable that you end up noticing the negatives much quicker than the positives."
The album closes with Little Red Door, which is nothing less than an aching, honeyed lament, Dave's beautiful country croon adding, in three soft and sublime minutes, several strings to an already laden bow.
"So, yeah, bingo," he says, returning to an earlier theme. "You grab a ball, you hope it's a good one. And is this a good one? Well, we're happy with it, like. As an album, it's easily our most confident. We're still going to argue and bicker like the big kids we are, but we also know we've got enough going on here to want to make a fourth album, a fifth, a sixth..."
He looks at the floor, and smiles to himself.
"I think what I'm trying to say here is that we’ve found our feet," he says.
He's right. They have.
Read about The Zutons on Wikipedia