Anika Moa is the Kiwi musician who some believe threw away the chance of a lifetime.
On the strength of her Rockquest performance, she was offered a contract at the tender age of 19 with America's Atlantic Records and recorded her 2001 debut Thinking Room.
But Atlantic did not reckon on the teenager's strong views about her image and, unwilling to be made over as a pop princess, Moa split with the company a year later.
Homesick and afflicted with writer's block, it wasn't until 2005 that she released a darker, "uneven" album, Stolen Hill.
Two years later, and she's back with another, very different offering, In Swings the Tide. Moa is proud of the album which defies genres but features lush orchestral touches and strong country music references.
"I'm most proud of the fact that I produced it myself and I really ran things from every perspective and every angle."
The songs started off as demos recorded in her soundproofed lounge.
"Obviously the noise of the toilet got through and the jug," jokes Moa, fending off allusions to David Gray's home-recorded White Ladder album.
But the end product is a polished effort, which Moa describes as "ballady, country, folky pop". She admits she's a big country music fan.
"Country music is my favourite music ever, but if it's a good song, I'll love it, no matter if it's country, pop, rock."
Lyrically, the songs were influenced by a relationship break-up and the illness of her father, leading to a lot of "heartbreak" songs.
"And there's a couple of songs that are like, `you'll be alright'."
Moa emerged from Christchurch but for the past eight years, she's lived on and off in Auckland, touring heavily around the country and supporting other artists like Bic Runga overseas.
She freely talks about the three or four years she endured writer's block.
"But you know, I was pursuing love. You can't have an amazing love and an amazing career at the same time. I know that for a fact.
"I was talking to someone earlier today about there being a fine balance between life and work, and finding that. Last year I found a fine balance between loving myself and loving whoever I was loving and being able to write myself... It may disappear but I'm happy I've got it now."
She says life on the road is no sacrifice.
"In my personal life, I travel. That's what I do when I've got time off. I holiday and I go places and I see people and I socialise, and that's exactly what touring's about."
Moa gives the impression she has no regrets about things worked out in America, and relishes being in charge of her work.
"I've always had control over my music. The only thing I haven't had control over is my image and the way that I wanted to be marketed... and I was most certainly marketed as a person that I wasn't cut out to be, which made me a little bit frustrated.
"But along the years, I've just learned who I am and what I want to be and how I want to be portrayed."
The way she doesn't want to be portrayed is as a bland pop princess. "I'm just one of those people that go the other way... I'll get a job in, like, the farming industry or something just to rebel."
There's no new music in her head clawing to get out.
"I've got to live for another two or three years and then I'll be able to write another album."
As to other plans, she thinks she may have kids in a few years, "but music is my everything".
In Swing the Tide was released on October 8 on EMI.
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