Four years ago John Grant flew into Reykjavik for the Iceland Airwaves festival, walked into a shop and was recognised by a local: "His name was Denni. He said: 'Hey, man, I love your stuff - if you want to go out to the country and see some things,' and he took me on a three-hour drive."
Grant had been drifting, following two decades of bingeing on sex, drugs and alcohol.
Viewing Iceland up close, he "saw this lunar, otherworldly landscape. A cold and treeless Hawaii. The light, the air, the language."
Language is important to Grant; he speaks German, Russian and Spanish, and has "a smattering of French, enough for them to understand, and I made really great progress in Swedish, but then I had a dark winter there - that's where I found out I had HIV."
Now Grant speaks Icelandic, too, because he fell for these islanders who let others live their lives as they choose. It turns out that Grant's story, for so long so troubled, may finally be one of redemption.
In the run-up to meeting the songwriter, I took to describing him to the uninitiated as an angry, bearded HIV-positive American who writes witty electronic pop music about his disastrous past relationships.
That wasn't really fair, then - he also writes beautifully arranged love songs with memory-worn lyrics such as "baby, you're where dreams go to die" - and it doesn't even scratch the surface now I've spent a day with him.
We meet in Mokka, a coffee shop in the heart of Reykjavik, in whose wood-panelled and cosy interior he seems instantly comfortable (he was photographed here for the cover of his previous album Pale Green Ghosts ).
Wandering in, out of Iceland's chill August air, he looms over me, handsome and heavily bearded.
Forty-eight-years-old now, he came to worldwide success late. A sense of alienation mixed with a romantic naivety put him into a spiral that involved cocaine and alcohol addictions, dangerous sex and a self-destructiveness that, had he been more commercially successful at the time, or had it been the 70s, would almost certainly have killed him. This is a theme he sings about on his new album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure.
He traces his difficulties back to the homophobia of his youth in Michigan and then Colorado. "Being in school, whenever I laughed or smiled I would turn to find someone staring at me with this terrible hatred and disgust," he says with a thick residue of feeling. "I had to control everything - control my voice, control my facial expressions, control my hair and my clothes - and where I walked and where I sat - at every moment. I think that drove me to terrible anxiety."
New Wave was washing over Denver at the time and should have offered an escape. Grant was listening to The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Alien Sex Fiend, Bauhaus and New Order.
"I had friends who came to school the way they wanted to, with all the makeup and hairspray, but they weren't struggling with their sexuality."
He watched as his friend Greg's parents embraced their son's New Romantic fad - "they just thought he was cool and amazing" - while his own mother and father took the opposite view, and so did their church.
"If you are not getting support at home or outside, there is nowhere to go. I couldn't be myself anywhere," he says.
Grant escaped in 1988 and moved to Germany to study. "That's when my anxiety disorder went into full-on 'couldn't leave the house'." On his return to Colorado, he started a band, the Czars, admired by the critics, but mostly ignored by the public. His behaviour became intolerable to his bandmates and the Czars split up.
Signing up to AA to get over the drink in 2004, he turned wholeheartedly to sex.
The cocaine-fuelled parties he hosted - "some of it was a lot of fun" - saw him contract syphilis and, unknown to him, HIV.
Grant is a man who knows what it's like to hit rock bottom: "There's the phase you go into when you are just causing wreckage, the phase when your sister goes from your closest friend to someone you just call when you want money."
By this stage, we're both looking into our empty cups, so I ask if he really peed in someone's coffee, as he sings on Queen of Denmark.
"No ... " he replies slowly. "But that's not to say I haven't wanted to. I did, during my drinking days, once empty a beer bottle by drinking it then filling it up again with my piss before putting it back again with all the other bottles." He prefers not to say where that was.
Grant was dragged back into music in 2010 by the Texan band Midlake, who he'd worked with when he was with the Czars, and who continued to believe in him. They produced his first solo album, Queen of Denmark, which became a word-of-mouth sensation and won Mojo's album of the year.
Friends continuing to believe in him is a recurring fact of Grant's life.
Still he had trouble settling. Stockholm could have been a possibility, but there came the worst news. "I had a great friend, who came to the hospital with me, who cried for me when I couldn't."
The new album is a superb piece of work, experimental in places, soaring in others. At the end of that first trip in 2010 he returned to work with producer Birgir Thorarinsson, known as Biggi Veira. That turned into Pale Green Ghosts, which earned a Brits nomination for the Best International Male Act.
This time, however, while the songs were written in Iceland, the actual work was done in Texas with producer John Congleton.
As admirers will expect, the lyrics are wonderful. Grey Tickles, Black Pressure deals with Grant feeling sorry for himself for feeling sorry for himself about the HIV. "There are children who have cancer / and so all bets are off / 'cause I can't compete with that."
No More Tangles is about co-dependency: "Stockholm is a city that I adore / but the syndrome of that name is one that I abhor".
Increasingly during our conversation he refers to his Icelandic boyfriend, who he'd prefer wasn't publicly named, so we'll just call him "X".
When Grant began his recovery, he fell in love with a man called TC, who was lauded in Queen of Denmark as his "one and only", only to be compared on Pale Green Ghosts to the defoliant Agent Orange.
His new love, an Icelandic graphic designer, has been on the scene for two years.
Grant has told me he doesn't like his own face, which has led to several acerbic lines on Grey Tickle, Black Pressure, so I ask if X is beautiful. The response is very considered: "He's physically beautiful, but that beauty is outdone by how he is as a human. Which is saying something, because he's very beautiful. But I am more in love with how he is as a human."
So my assessment of the album's optimism isn't as shaky as I'd thought. Grant is struggling to find his fury.
This man who has taken himself to the brink of death time and again is having something as prosaic as a mid-life crisis. He finally admits: "It feels like a very positive record to me, too. Sure, there is darkness there, but it's the brightest record I've made."
"When you get sober, the wheels start turning again," he says. "During the time when you avoid dealing with stuff, you just stay at the age you were when you stopped dealing with stuff. I actually had wanted to do a song on this album about Oskar Matzerath, the boy in The Tin Drum, the child who decides to stop growing."
Iceland is saving Grant. Earlier in the day he had said: "I was in fight-or-flight response my whole life, with adrenalin fatigue, PTSD - there was no safety ever." Now, he says: "I feel safe here. It's a cautious optimism connected to that feeling of security."
Who: John Grant
Playing at the Auckland Arts Festival, Auckland Town Hall Friday 18 March 2016 and Womad New Plymouth, March 18-20.
Also new album: Grey Tickles, Black Pressure