There's something different about Zachery Allan Starkey these days.

There's something different about Zachery Allan Starkey these days.

The electronic musician, photographer and man about town is better known for what he calls a "weird Frankenstein's monster of a public persona" than for his art.

Maligned, sometimes unfairly, for his outlandish new-wave haircuts, his affinity for suits, and a taste for self-portraits and self-promotion, Starkey often used to exacerbate his image problems. For someone who claimed not to care about the haters, he spent a lot of time responding to their taunts.

"I have a big mouth," Starkey admitted, before acknowledging, "I've learned that it's better to sometimes not just go with your emotions, and think things through."

But chatting in a Campus cafe last week, Starkey seemed more peaceful and self-aware than before. He still doesn't understand how he became such a polarizing figure, but he's trying to laugh it off and take humble steps toward self-improvement, whether that's learning to check his tongue or developing his newfound taste for working out.

That outlook is reflected in the songs Starkey is working on for his second album, due out this fall. His 2007 debut Solitaire was defined by cold detachment, full of dark, overlong ruminations that left his friends wondering where their lighthearted, club-hopping friend had hidden.

So for the next record, which might be called FUN! or Nightclubbing, he's loosening up. After years as the butt of the joke, Starkey is mocking back, but in a playful way.

"The songs on this record are about the many different aspects of nightlife and the different faces people put on when they're out. And it is funny. I'm not judging anyone or saying anything's bad, it's just if you look at it from a certain point of view, it's kind of ridiculous in a way - in a glorious way," Starkey explained.

"The songs are shorter," he continued. "They're much poppier. They're much catchier and humorous and, I think, a lot more accessible."

Musically, he's forgoing computers and even cutting out mastering, the final stage of sound compression. Instead, Starkey is using mixes directly from co-producer Brian Moss' four-track and eight-track machines.

Matched with synthesizers and drum machines played by hand, the result is raw, lively and occasionally shaky recordings that verge on outsider art but definitely capture Starkey's intended vibe.

The first taste of the new Starkey is "No Texting on the Dance Floor," a single he'll release Friday at Skully's, where he has buried the hatchet with management after a feud last year. The song tackles technology's strange effect on interpersonal communication.

"We have all these advents of technology which allow people to communicate at great distances, but I think the weird result is people communicate with each other less when they're in person," Starkey said.

That bizarre consequence is especially evident to Starkey on the dance floor. So leave your cell phones in your pockets Friday, and come meet Zach Starkey 2.0.

E-mail local music news to Chris DeVille at cdeville@columbusalive.com