Ever since her 1994 single "Stay, I Missed You" went to Number One on both sides of the Atlantic, there's been a fairly strict dichotomy between the way the media has perceived this Dallas-born musician and the way she perceives herself. "It's quite bizarre to me," she begins matter-of- factly. "I'm very much in charge of my business, my songwriting, what I wear and who I am, yet I'm often seen as a vulnerable person whose image is being manipulated. If it's not my glasses, then I'll have the feminists complaining because I'm wearing a short skirt."
Though Loeb is undeniably assertive in person, it is not impossible to see how the misunderstandings about her demeanour have arisen. Kylie-sized and blessed with a flawless complexion, she's sporting pig-tails decorated with little yellow roses, and she has just taken off a pink-and-black woolly hat which ties under her chin. Such child-like sartorial choices are hers to make, of course, but are puzzling when coupled with the predominantly romantic themes of her songs.
What is less forgiveable, though, is the music press's dismissal of Loeb as a bubble-gum pop artist. She is passionate about what she does, and listening to her new album, Firecracker, the construction of the lyrical narratives bears testament to her time spent studying comparative literature at Brown University in Rhode Island. Talk to her about books, and she will happily wax lyrical on favourite writers such as Kurt Vonnegut and Isabel Allende. Talk to her about the gender politics of her songs however, and she is more guarded.
When I put it to her that the female characters in songs like "Falling in Love" and "Furious Rose" appear to be either misunderstood or undervalued by men, she is ahead of me, and seems to think I have a darker motive than mere curiosity.
"In general, I see men and woman as people, and I really don't like saying that women are like this and men are like that," she says, feeling the need to put the record straight. "In 'Falling in Love' it's not just the guy - they're both shady characters, and in 'Furious Rose' I was writing about one specific woman and about Freud. I think that Freud made massive leaps and bounds in psychology with the way he unlocked people's thoughts and dreams but then you always hear about him diagnosing female subjects as crazy when in fact they were just depressed. I wanted to give those women a voice."
Loeb co-produced Firecracker, the follow-up to her gold-selling Tails, with her long-term friend and collaborator Juan Patino. Judging by the unreserved thanks on the CD sleeve, she seems to regard Patino as something of a musical soul mate. "Yeah, he treats the music as if it was his own, and I really appreciate that," she affirms.
On several tracks, Dan Coleman's wistful string arrangements are conducted by Loeb's older brother Ben. These songs give the heart-strings a gentle tug, while "Wishing Heart" and the current American hit "I Do" prevent things becoming overly maudlin. "Wishing Heart", she says, is about finding purpose and direction in one's life. "Even when you feel you've found your vocation, you have to take stock and think about what's important to you and the kind of person you want to be," she says. "It's like I say in the song: 'It's not always meant to be/but it's not always up to me.'" So you can be proactive, but you're still subject to the ebb and flow? "Exactly."
Feeling a little more confident in my judgement now that I have interpreted one of her songs correctly, I venture another assertion. Bingo. "I'm cynical, and I'm not naive, but yes I am a romantic," she smiles, reaching for the guacamole. "There's romance in a friendship and the closeness of people. For me it's all about your relationships; that's the stuff I really appreciate in life."
We chat about the forthcoming album by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant (Loeb is a huge Led Zeppelin fan) and chat about her getting up on stage with the critically lauded - but little known - Canadian songwriter Ron Sexsmith (he had played in Amsterdam the previous evening, and Loeb duetted with him on the old Wings' song "Listen To What The Man Said").
Much to my surprise, she also tells me that during her recent trip to London, she spent some time "hanging-out" with Jason Pierce of Spiritualized after attending one of his gigs at the Astoria. "He was really nice and we got along well," she confides. "At one point he pulled out a Steve Reich tape, and I thought 'aha! - here's a responsible musician who has a real investment in what he does."
Firecracker is released by Geffen records on 17 February.