Luan Parle does not look like a veteran of the music industry. She's 39, but could pass for someone in their early 30s. At a guess, one might imagine she's been making music for 10 years - 15 at a push. But the Wicklow native signed her first recording contract 27 years ago, when she was just 12, and she has been making music ever since.
It's fair to say she knows more than most about what can be a notoriously rough and fickle business. And she's had more ups and downs than the Cú Chulainn roller coaster at Tayto Park. Right now, she's on an up - she's just released a new album and is touring the highways and byways of Ireland - but, when she looks back, there were dark days.
At one stage, in her early 20s, she was actively encouraged to lose weight and get really thin. Not for health purposes - she had a perfectly normal physique - but to satisfy the notion of what some thought a pop star should look like: the skinnier the better.
"It definitely had an effect on me," she tells Review. "Years later, even. It would make me question my weight. It played on my self-confidence."
That time - around the turn of the millennium - was, she believes, a far less enlightened era in pop especially when it came to ideas as to what female performers should look like. "There's been a definite change for the better today. People are celebrated for being themselves in a way that just wasn't the case when I was in my late teens and early 20s."
She is heartened to see that artists like Lizzo - a modern-day bastion of body positivity - and Billie Eilish can excite legions of pop fans and encourage the industry to not be so fixated on looks. "A lot of it has come from #MeToo," she says. "It's made the business take a long, hard look at itself."
Parle says she is in an especially happy place now. She has just released an album, Never Say Goodbye. It's her first in 10 years and only her fourth in all (including the album, First Impressions, she released when she was 12).
"I had complete control over it," she says. "I worked with musicians I wanted to work with, I could take my time on it and not rush it for a deadline. That all felt liberating."
The album is a reminder of Parle's considerable gifts as a songwriter. It's full of meditative songs, some inspired by events in her own life. The title song was written for her late father - he died three years ago after an illness. The critical response has been good with some offering comparisons with Stevie Nicks and Emmylou Harris.
By rights, Luan Parle should be far better known, but she admits that the lengthy gap between albums hasn't done her cause much good.
"I could have released music before now, but I just wouldn't have been happy with it," she says. "There were times where I questioned myself. You wonder how good your work is. Every songwriter needs to have confidence - and if that is hit for any reason, it can be hard to get your focus together. But once I started work on these songs, I felt that I was back on track. And the experience of being in studio has been, maybe, the best I've ever had."
As with many female artists, Parle had to put up with her fair share of 'mansplaining' in the past. Despite her experience in recording studios, she was sometimes treated as though she were a clueless novice entering an alien world. There were no such problems this time around.
Two of the songs on Never Say Goodbye were co-written with former Dire Straits guitarist Hal Lindes. "I met him around the time I signed with Sony Records [when she was 21] and we just hit it off personally and creatively," she says. "We kept in touch over the years and I'm really proud of those songs we worked on together."
Parle grew up in Wicklow town and signalled her talent while still at primary school. She was just 11 years old when she performed a song she had co-written with her father on the Late Late Toy Show. There's a YouTube clip of the performance - featuring a rousing introduction from Gay Byrne - and it's clear just how talented the young girl was.
She signed with a label called Anim and there was an opportunity to relocate to Nashville. "My parents thought I was too young and, looking back, they were absolutely right." She focused on her schooling as best she could, but was determined to make it in music as soon as her Leaving Cert was out of the way.
Signing to Sony in 2002 looked like being the platform she needed for a second coming, but it didn't quite work out that way. She went to the US to make an album with the respected songwriter and producer Bill Bottrell, whose CV includes work with Michael Jackson, Madonna and Sheryl Crow. The finished product was called Free - but it has never been released. There were contractual issues between different arms of the Sony corporation. "It was really tough to take," she says. "Through no fault of mine or Bill or the musicians who worked on it. And it was a year of my life with nothing to show for it."
She had to start again from scratch and eventually an album - also called Free - was released in 2006. "Both albums featured a title track called 'Free' - but they're complete different songs!" She allows herself a laugh. "It was a long time ago, but it gave me a sense of how difficult this business could be."
Four year later - and departed from Sony - Parle released The Full Circle. But, despite its merits, it didn't make the sort of splash she might have hoped. It was at that point - at the end of her 20s - that she realised she might have to abandon the idea of music as a career and seek regular employment.
Such an eventuality didn't happen. Instead, in conjunction with IMRO - the music right's body - she has run songwriting workshops in schools throughout the country. Parle has been to hundreds of schools by now and says she loves playing her part in fostering creativity around music with the country's teenagers.
"I'm always struck by how much talent is out there," she says. "Much of it is untapped so that's why these sort of workshops are really valuable: it's a fun way to show students how songs can come to life. You can see that enthusiasm when everyone collaborates and comes up with a song. It gives at least some of them the idea of 'Maybe I can do that, too'."
Without a major label behind her, Parle had to fund Never Say Goodbye herself. "I went down the crowdfunding route," she says. "I thought long and hard about it because it's not just a case of plucking a figure out of the air and looking for it. It's got to be realistic."
She sought €6,500 and comfortably exceeded it, raising almost €8,000. "It was really gratifying because you had all those people who wanted another album from me! When you're out of the picture for a long time you sometimes wonder, 'Does anybody care?'"
Ultimately, she says she would have made the album, anyway. "But this," she quips, "is much better than getting a credit union loan."
Now relocated to Kilkenny - "because of a man," she says with a laugh - she has been enjoying the business of taking new songs on the road. She meets Review in Dublin but heads to Birr straight after for a show that evening.
"I'm getting to do something I love," she says. "And it's all on my terms. I can't ask for more than that."
'Never Say Goodbye' is out now. Luan Parle plays Whelan's, Dublin, on March 27. For further dates, see luanparle.com