Listening to his hits like Cannonball, Volcano and 9 Crimes often makes for a haunting experience.
A conversation with the soft-spoken man behind those songs is equally gripping.
Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice has a way with words, stringing them so beautifully and carefully that his thoughts come across as lyrical prose.
Explaining his disappearance from the music industry for the last eight years, Rice said: "Imagine a garden in your head. Imagine walking on the grass to go to the shops, then to school. Imagine that you keep walking across that same patch of grass over and over again.
"When you walk often enough, the grass dies. It was the same with me."
Rice, 41, was talking to M on the phone from Berlin where he was promoting his latest album My Favourite Faded Fantasy.
His third offering comes after a long silence - he released his successful debut album O in 2002 and its follow-up, 9, in 2006.
But what followed the initial triumph was something he described as "a crash-and-burn" in a report in The Irish Times - a suffocating routine, an overwhelming pressure and the demise of his professional and romantic relationship with collaborator and Irish singer Lisa Hannigan.
His hiatus provided the time he needed to let go and recover the same passion in music he felt starting out.
"I needed to step away because (music) became work and when it became work, I lost my attraction to it. It was a pattern.
"I wanted the feeling I had when I was 13 and playing guitar for the first time, I needed that feeling to come back," he said, revealing that he took five years to achieve that goal.
He then picked himself up and recorded My Favourite Faded Fantasy in January last year
On the record, released last month in the US, Rice has not lost his melancholic honesty.
Like 9, it hit No.1 in Ireland.
For Rice, one of the best parts about making the record was the lack of pressure.
"So much time has passed (since the last album). People weren't expecting an album from me, even my manager at the record company probably didn't think I would start anything," he said.
The dark looming cloud has since lifted over Rice, who said that music has become enjoyable again.
"It's been great playing at concerts again...to stand on stage and sing songs, like a sort of meditation. It's exciting, it's not about just diving into song after song," said the artist, who is slated for a series of shows in Ireland, Belgium and the US next year.
As for his relationship with Hannigan, 33, who started a solo career after parting ways with Rice, he let on that they continue a "supportive" friendship.
"We're friends and sometimes we find each other to share a little bit of music that we are working on. But we are very respectful of each other's space.
"We worked very closely together for many years and now we are allowing each other a break and some space," he revealed.
Rice is no longer the hermit. But one thing remains for the private man - his need for alone time.
It is the reason he spends his birthdays by himself, year after year.
Rice, who turned 41 on Dec 7, a day before this interview, dismissed the need for fancy parties.
"This year I spent it resting and doing nothing. I'm so used to spending my birthday alone - my life is full of being with other people," he said.
This article was first published on December 24, 2014.
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