Judging by the posters of Dane Rumble plastered all over town, and his album and videos, TimeOut is half expecting to meet a Vanilla Ice-Eurotrance DJ type character he kind of resembles.

Of course, the Auckland rapper turned chart-topping pop singer's songs are less cheesy than the early 90s rap star or Basshunter's banging beats.

But it's Rumble's chiselled jaw, his thick shock of spiky hair, and those dark shades that inspire the comparison. Sure enough, arriving at a bar overlooking Westhaven Marina, Rumble's got his sunnies on but he's a far more dapper and solid looking bloke than any sort of caricature.

The 28-year-old certainly looks different from his days in good-time hip-hop group Fast Crew. Back then he was known as Kid Deft and his shaggy hair hung out from under a cap.

It's as if he's reinvented himself - both musically and image wise - since Fast Crew came to a bitter end in 2008. Not so, reckons Rumble. "It wasn't something I sat down long and hard to think about," he says of his new pop star status thanks to the success of songs like Always Be Here and Cruel. "It was just kind of how I felt after things hit the fan with the Crew."

The Fast Crew had some good times, with a handful of hit singles, including the catchy and bratty I Got in 2003, but after more than seven years of hard work it fell apart.

"I'd done everything I could to save the band and for no one to give a shit, that was hard to take. It was a pretty lonely journey for a while there," he reflects.

Having the support of his girlfriend helped him through this low time even though, he admits with a laugh, she doesn't even listen to his music.

"Because she hears it from start to finish in the room with the beat going she hates it. But she's been the one grounded person in my life, because I've gone through depression and many emotional things. If I didn't have her I'd be a lost sheep."

So Rumble has been through the mill - and he learned a lot from the experience.

"After that whole ordeal I was like, 'f*** this, I'm just gonna do whatever I want to do'."

He taught himself guitar, started rapping as well as singing (although he reckons he hasn't got a great voice and "there's definitely some help from the old autotune in there"), and went about merging his hip-hop roots with his love for pop music and classic rock.

"I was always envious of people who could play the guitar and sing. That's why I love going to see rock bands. I love that more than rapping over the beats. So I just thought I'd start doing it and see what happened. That's all there was to it."

He may not have had a grand plan but it's worked. He's had a constant presence on the singles charts and radio waves in the last year. It started with the release of debut single Always Be Here in February 2009, a song that recalls Rick Springfield's Jesse's Girl, or Lionel Richie's Running With The Night given a big rock touch.

Then came Don't Know What To Do (a song about about Fast Crew ending, Rumble hitting "rock bottom", and then realising music was what he wanted to do with his life); and latest single Cruel was released in December and is still in the top 20.

On Monday he releases debut album The Experiment which has been a year in the making, with all the tracks (apart from Always Be Here) written in the past 12 months.

"It's quite cool to know that an album is coming out with songs on it that were written three months ago - that doesn't happen much these days," he says, taking a swig of his beer. And it's a well-earned drink following a solid few months of fine-tuning the album with co-producer Jonathan Campbell.

"We threw everything at it. He put an insane amount of effort into it to the point of insanity," he says of Campbell who has been on board since helping Rumble make Always Be Here sound "phatter" and fit for release.

"So yeah, it was a process."

The Experiment is an experiment in power-pop rock. His pop gene comes from growing up loving Michael Jackson, the quirkier sounds of Talking Heads, and being a radio listener rather than devotee of one band or a specific style of music.

"But [the pop element] is not an intentional thing it's just how I write music. And it was the same with Fast Crew, all the pop influence was me."

"And," he says with a slight scowl, "I tried writing some grimy underground bullshit but it sounds terrible to my ears. So if it's not a great melodic structure then I'm not really interested to be honest."

Rumble was born in Tokoroa and moved to Auckland when he was 5.

"I had a stock-standard childhood, I guess. Dad left when we were young, we battled for a little bit there, and then Mum remarried my stepdad who took the reins as father and did a great job."

His guitar-playing stepfather was the one who got him into bands like Led Zeppelin and other classic rock.

"We didn't have TV, and the radio we had was pretty shit but it had a tape player and we played Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and AC/DC, and all these classic 70s bands. As kids we'd just listen to that all the time."

To this day he doesn't read music and does everything by ear and "feeling".

"At the end of the day, for me, a song is all about feeling. It's about what people get from it. It's not what key it's in or the melodic blah blah blah structure. It's not that at all. I just hear what I like and go for it."

He wants his music to appeal to all ages, even though the song's glossy sheen is possibly more appealing to a younger audience.

"I'm not a young man anymore and I feel like I've honed my songwriting, and the songs on the record have a lot of meaning to them and thought that's gone into them, rather than get your hands high and drink a lot of piss, which is what Fast Crew was."

On The Experiment there are songs about love, loss, lies - and having fun and finding yourself, like What Are You Waiting For?, a chest-beating pop song that gets progressively bigger and louder.

"It's a song about getting perspective on your life and wondering, 'Am I doing what I want to do?'."

If the grin on his face is anything to go by it's fair to say Dane Rumble is pretty chuffed about what he's doing these days.

LOWDOWN
Who: Dane Rumble, formerly rapper Kid Deft in Fast Crew, now going it alone

What: New Zealand's newest pop star

New album: The Experiment, out Monday

Where & when: The Studio, Monday, 6pm, album release party