It must be the right house - there's a Shihad poster on the wall in the front room. You can never be too sure which house is which in Wellington. The city's curly streets and hilly suburbs put the house numbers out of sync.

But with a knock on the door, you know you're in the right place. Through a grubby window pane Jon Toogood's long locks come bobbing down the hall towards you.

When he opens the door he looks just like he does on stage: black T-shirt, black jeans and those black boots. He's less sweaty, of course, and his skinny arms are covered in scratches after a spot of gardening.

Five years ago he wouldn't have given a stuff about weeding - Shihad had America on its mind. But that didn't work out and oh how things have changed.

Today, Toogood's contented and chuffed about owning a house in his home town after six years in Melbourne and a stint in Los Angeles, when Shihad changed their name to Pacifier, then last year thought better of it.

Plus, their sixth album, Love Is the New Hate, comes out on May 2 and he's much happier with the end result than 2002's very un-Shihad very American album, Pacifier.

Though, Toogood still rates Semi-Normal and Run as two of Shihad's best songs.

For Love Is the New Hate, the band - drummer Tom Larkin, bassist Karl Kippenberger and guitarist Phil Knight, who all live in Melbourne - came home to write songs. And they refused to listen to anyone else about how they should sound.

"This whole record was an about-face, and we were like, 'Right, we're not going to listen to people outside the band, we're going to listen to our hearts'," says Toogood.

We meet for a coffee at the house in Brooklyn - he and wife Ronise bought it two years ago - before we take a walk into town.

Toogood divides his time between Wellington and Melbourne now, allowing him to spend more time with Ronise and his 13-year-old stepdaughter, Anaya.

The thing you notice most about Toogood apart from his persistent use of the F-word, is his enthusiasm. Whether he's calling John Tamihere a "dick", Don Brash "weak", or expressing his belief in up-and-coming local band Die! Die! Die!, he's excitable.

When it comes to talking about Love Is the New Hate he gets cosmic. He's talking about the "brutality" and the "heaviness" of the album being a gift from the universe. He's adamant that Saddest Song In the World is a "weighty [expletive]".

Well, it is. (But if you ask me, the straight punk rock of Big Future, the rallying cry of Day Will Come or the deliciously obscene language of Traitor are more weighty.)

"There was a real in touch with the universe vibe going on, which we didn't plan on, but it did happen so there was a real magic to it," he explains.

He's talking about the band's time last year in the seclusion of Ngamatea, a remote spot in the middle of the North Island, where they got back in touch with who they are and what music they love making.

Holed up in a fancy Ngamatea lodge they wrote and recorded opening track, None of the Above. It's a slow, sad song about the funeral of the band's good friend cartoonist and designer Marty Emond, who committed suicide last year.

It's an odd way to start the album considering its sombreness doesn't exactly herald Shihad's re-arrival. But, says Toogood: "None of the Above had to be first because I knew it was going to be a [expletive] heavy record and we wanted to show people that it was humans making this record.

"There is no mellowing on this record, and from a career sense it could be a stupid move, but it had to be done."

This is what Wellington means to me now," he says, on the descent through the bush of Central Park, which connects Brooklyn with the city. "I just appreciate that this place is a beautiful harbour city in the middle of nowhere."

The tree-lined gullies remind him of taking acid in the Botanical Gardens in the early 90s - an important catalyst to the creation of the band's 1993 debut album, Churn.

We're heading into Shihad's old stomping ground, where they played venues such as the Clarendon, the Carpark, ESC, and the St James Cabaret, and hung out at Naked Angel, Midnight Espresso and Bar Bodega.

We walk across the intersection of Abel-Smith and Willis streets to the old building of Bar Bodega. The bar has shifted down the road to make way for a motorway extension.

Three blocks or so over on Taranaki St is Wellington High School where Larkin first met Toogood in 1987. Larkin gave him AC/DC's Highway To Hell and said: "If you like it, we should jam."

Larkin was a drummer and Toogood - although he played acoustic guitar - was still playing cricket in a team with former rugby and league player, and now entertainer, Marc Ellis. "He was a little shit, but I liked him," laughs Toogood.

We walk by Cuba St cafe Midnight Espresso where all the early Shihad plans for world domination were hatched with manager Gerald Dwyer. Dwyer, who was front man for pioneering punk band Flesh-D-Vice, died of an overdose after the 1996 Big Day Out.

Toogood says the best bit of advice Dwyer gave them was to join a frequent flier programme. They joined at Singapore airport in 1995 on the way to Europe to support Faith No More on a seven-week tour.

As we sit outside an Irish pub in Cuba Mall it's clear by the number of double takes that Toogood's well-known in these parts. A grubby-handed street person comes up and shakes his hand twice, and twice proclaims Shihad the best rock'n'roll band in the world.

Well, they wanted to be. They made no secret of their ambitions and they were the rock band from New Zealand who would become superstars. Do they feel disappointed that it didn't work out in America?

"We always wanted this international thing. [But] now there's a big change in the mindset of the band.

"For the first time we've actually gone: 'It's not worth it for us to change what we do to make sure we [make it] over there'. It's like a gorilla off our back. With Love Is the New Hate we still set out to make a record that sounds as good as any international band but it's on our terms."

In 1990, when they released Devolve, which can only be described as larrikin metal, they did things on their own terms. They had to, metal was a dirty word in the capital.

Shihad played their first gigs at the Clarendon Tavern (now Molly Malones) on the corner of Taranaki St and Courtney Place with punk and hardcore bands such as TAB and Bygone Era.

Standing outside Mollys, he points out the door they used to load their gear into. Toogood, reckons the tense and violent environment of those gigs taught them to deal with any sort of crowd situation.

Take the rock festival Shihad played in Miami for example. At the last minute it changed to a "support the troops show" following the declaration of war on Iraq.

Toogood sings about the gig on the fired-up anthem, All the Young Fascists - the next single off the new album, which is surprising, considering he shouts the F-word three times in the first 10 seconds.

"We were billed on this [gig] that we totally didn't believe in. I'd never seen a more angry atmosphere in a crowd before. They were angry, scared and saying, 'Yeah, let's [expletive] turn Iraq into a carpark'."

It was the only show Shihad have played where Toogood said nothing between songs. "We did a Ramones ... you know, '1-2-3-4, song', then the next song, '1-2-3-4'."

Back in early-90s Wellington the Naked Angel (now a university hall of residence) on Allenby Steps was a far less volatile venue. Here, Shihad saw Bailter Space.

"Bailter Space was like standing next to a jet engine, and it was like, 'Great, we love it'. Whereas [Flying Nun labelmates] the Clean, which is all about going to buy a bottle of milk from the dairy, was boring."

Another poignant moment for Toogood was seeing Skeptics frontman David D'Ath, who died of leukaemia in 1990, singing Mamouth. "I thought, 'Wow, this guy knows he's dying'. That's when I thought lyrics are just as important as music."

Taking their love of AC/DC, their passion for the sonic beauty of Bailter Space and the Skeptics, and their own ideas, they came up with the savage and solid sprawl of Churn.

"With Churn it was suddenly, 'Ah, we can do something that no one else has done before'. After that album we had a taste of what it was like to be a unique identity."

That Shihad identity is what they've taken back for their new album.

"One thing we always prided ourselves on on the earlier records was doing something that left other musicians going: 'How did they do that'. On Love Is the New Hate we were still going for the, 'let's make sure we can dance to it vibe', but, a song like Alive doesn't sound like anybody else. It could only be Shihad."

He's right. And at Khmer Cambodian restaurant the serious music talk ends.

For a skinny bloke, Toogood sure can eat. His late afternoon lunch consists of dumplings, a big bowl of chicken noodle soup and a chicken satay burger. He reveals with a sheepish smirk that last night he had an argument with his wife - they've been together 13 years and got married in 2003 - and he's building up the courage to go home and deal with it.

Two hours later, at the Matterhorn in Cuba Mall, after cocktails - which were on the house, presumably because he's Jon Toogood - beers, and an argument with a lady sitting next to us who likes Jack Johnson, he's keen on roti chennai from a Malaysian restaurant on Ghuznee St.

After that he jumps in a cab ready to face the music from the other love of his life.

LOWDOWN

WHO: SHIHAD - Tom Larkin (drummer), Karl Kippenberger (bass), Phil Knight (guitar), Jon Toogood (vocals/guitar).

WHAT: The band's new album - the first since changing their name back to Shihad from Pacifier - Love Is the New Hate, is out on May 2.

RELEASES: Churn (1993); Killjoy (1995); Shihad (1996); The General Electric (1999); Pacifier - Pacifier (2002); Pacifier - Live (2003); Love Is the New Hate (2005)

ESSENTIAL TRACKS: It (from Devolve EP); I Only Said (Churn); Debs Night Out (Killjoy); La La Land (Shihad); Wait and See (The General Electric); Run (Pacifier); My Mind's Sedate (Pacifier Live); Day Will Come (Love Is the New Hate).