It's hard to shake the feeling that something, which looms so large in the firmament of our music radar, could be a simple artist - particularly one so genuine and unashamedly idiosyncratic as New England's Merrill Garbus. She lets her third album pick up where her breakthrough second album, w h o k i l l, left off in 2011.

The line on Garbus and bassist Nate Brenner is that, under the guise of tUnE-yArDs, they are clearly comfortable with any genre; disjointed drum beats, lush ukulele loops and bristling afro pop - they have dived into all of it with equal aplomb. However, this time spinning both vibrancy and control - like a pair of shoes tumbling inside a washer, her art thumps chaotically, louder and louder as she comes clean - but manages to keep it all moderately regulated.

It's not the process of self-disclosure she finds issue with either; Garbus cites early perceptions of her music and work in Haiti as a major influence on the often brutally candid journalist narratives like, "how much do her fans really know about her based on the music" - which leads her to clarify, "If it's art, then isn't it clear it's a reflection of the world filtered through me as an individual?"

... and to that I say a resounding secular "Amen!"

So I have to get this out the way - "Nik Naks" are actually a beloved snack here in SA, they are cheesy chips that look like mini caveman clubs and stain your fingers - it's like our Coca Cola

Yes! The only other place where they told me that was in Dutch speaking countries it was some kind of cookie. Wow that's crazy.

It doesn't have any relevance other than your sound being delicious

Thank you I'm glad we now have a perfect metaphor for the album.

Well I have been feasting on it for a while. Do you feel the more you talk about it, the more perspective you get?

Yeah I think so but not on a personal level, because I think there's a danger there. I get perspective on the music and I think that what other people hear in it is really interesting to me. There can be a danger in journalism to create a story and that has kind of shown itself in the influence of the trip I took to Haiti last year. I had been trying to remind people that it was part of a very bigger process of making the record, but there's a story there [puts on journalist voice] What did you find in Haiti? Did you find yourself? Did you find spiritual transformation? I try not to take it too seriously, no offence, but I try to take the positive feedback I'm getting and leave the rest.

Well everyone has their own version of you and they're going to try and steer their ideal toward that direction

Exactly - and people love the question "How much do your fans really know about you based on your music" and I don't understand that question. If it's art, then isn't it clear it's a reflection of the world filtered through me as an individual? It seems irrelevant and is from the celebrity culture you know, and I think most people who are heavily involved in portraying themselves in a certain way - it's a façade, so I think I will continue to be clear that my art is my art and my life is my life and no one except the people that I love and care about have access to my life. They're just gonna have to deal with that [Laughs].

I find sometimes you confront the listener, but in a very comfortable way - on Why Do We dine on the Tots that was a moment of - oh god, I'm listening to a record and she's speaking in my inner monologue

That's awesome. It kinda fits in with a lot of what I've done in the past I think these albums are becoming much more me. I think this one allowed for something like that and in my mind needed it and I had these very specific guidelines for songwriting. There was a coldness to the album for a while, where I found it hard to be personally connected. So that was one way I felt like this is harkening back to my rights in the theatre and doing puppetry, which I did for about 4 years. I did a puppet show, which was about a mother who sold her children to the butcher for money, so I came across this old writing and I thought it really still rings true for me this idea of selling our future generations to the butcher. I think maybe I thought I can get away with this and I have a duty now that the popularity of Tune Yards has increased. I have a duty to still maintain that this is mine and that I'm not trying to be like some recipe for a popular band.

I liked the way you touched on drama and relationships too - or is it more ambiguous than that? Were you more mindful of the listener?

I think it's a dance you know, I do like to think of it as an opportunity that I have to connect with audiences and that's far more important to me. I really respect our fans and I've presented audiences with difficult music sometimes and they've really embraced it instead of rejected it. That's not saying we're mainstream by any means, but I do think I've always been very pleasantly surprised how people are willing to accept odd meters, or a lo-fi sound, or ragged edges that Tune Yards has always had. I say it's a dance because I can't write an album for these mysterious fans that I think are out there waiting for us, but I can create a record that I would wanna listen to, that I would wanna dance to and listen to repeatedly.

I think a lot of artists go through that existential crisis, anyone who is offering up something that can be moulded by another human being

To be honest there is also the utter panic that happens when I was like [whispers] What are we doing? Is anyone gonna like this? We had to kind of say if no one likes it then, are we gonna be okay, are we gonna be able to afford a place to live? I have to go through these scenarios where I might have to get another job - Nate already has another job.

I think the point is that the music feels authentic - even more so on that track 'Time of Dark' the drum takes centre stage and I thought a lot about a South African artist Johnny Clegg

That makes me so happy! You have no idea. It's so good to hear someone that even knows his music because I'm so amazed at how few people know it in other parts of the world. Yeah he's a big influence on me! That is the biggest compliment you could ever give me so thank you.

For me my prejudice is just the same - I'm equally shocked people know it, but you should take what you need from music, you don't necessarily have to understand it! When did you first hear him?

Well the one album in particular that I was exposed to I have since heard more, but I became attached to Cruel, Crazy Beautiful World my Aunt and Uncle gave me a dubbed cassette tape I guess they had travelled to Kenya I don't know if someone had tipped them off about Johnny Clegg, but somehow I ended up with that. It had the Indigo Girls on the other side do you remember them?

Yes of course!

So it was a funny cassette tape, but then in the later years I bought that album three times - I got it on CD because I really wanted to listen to it over and over again and then later found it on vinyl.

I just remembered there's this lyric which I'm probably not going to get right, but he says "Sometimes you smile while you crying inside" - it's almost like your music is upbeat but you really tackling ideas that are introspective.

Exactly. If you wanted to get real deep that album really influenced so much of what Tune Yards is, because all I wanna do is dance and sing exactly in the way you said earlier - in a language I don't understand. For me music has depth if there's dichotomy between the words and the sound. Even within the words having things that contradict it, or gives a song three dimensions instead of being flat. I feel like a lot of music today can be flat because there's no dimensions.

Your vocal feels sharper too and it sounds like you've really focused on that, on 'Hey Life' and 'Wait for a minute' - is the human voice your favourite instrument?

Yeah I've freed my voice more and I think that's what I was learning is that I was trying to push and I really took lessons and just went back to learning how to belt helpfully. I'm glad that it sounds stronger.

I think it's relevant in terms of those songs as well, I think the intent came through

It might sound funny but I'm still sensitive about the way my voice sounds and I'm still critical about it so I'm glad that the work paid off in that way, because I certainly wasn't saying "oh my voice sounds so much stronger" I was accessing new skills that I had learned so I'm really happy to hear that!

How does it feel to have gone from doing everything yourself to a third album produced in conjunction with brilliant producers? Did that change your process in terms of song writing?

Both of us are producers in our own right and we both feel very strongly about that so working with outside producers like Malay [Frank Ocean] and John Hill [Santigold, MIA] - that was, well I think we were both really trepidatious about it, but in the end we just learned so much from them. In terms of songwriting, I'm not sure that much changed in terms of the song form or lyrics, but learning how to bring out what we wanted to in the sound of the song. I've learned so much from everyone and in studying the craft of songwriting, I think that really helped me come around.

Nikki Nack is out via 4AD on May 5th. You can stream the album by heading here.