If he didn't always sound so down-to-earth sane, Peter Case might be accused of exhibiting signs of schizophrenia. Professionally, that is.
Over the past decade-plus, the congenial singer-songwriter-guitarist's career has repeatedly bounced between the worlds of hard-edged rock and neo-folk.
"My career has always had a lot of stuff pulling me different ways," said Case, 38, during a recent telephone interview.
In the late '70s, he lived and busked on the streets of San Francisco before becoming the bassist for seminal punk-rock band the Nerves.
From the Nerves, he went on to front power-pop hookmasters the Plimsouls, one of L.A.'s most popular and dynamic groups of the early '80s.
In 1986, Case took up a solo career, adopting a sparse, acoustic sound and writing songs with deeper lyrical content. With his third solo album, last year's "Six Pack of Love," Case found the middle ground between the populist troubadour and the driving rocker that have coexisted inside him.
"I've always been into rock 'n' roll and electric blues on the one hand, and I was always a fan of country blues guys like Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson and all that kind of business on the other," he said.
"I always loved both sides of it. In the Plimsouls, I concentrated on the electric side. So from about '84 to '89, I played exclusively solo."
Now, he's come full circle with a new band that includes former Plimsouls' bassist, Eddie Munoz.
"Me and Eddie always had some kind of energy, something we could project," Case said. "We've goofed around a little, played a few different gigs, but this is the first time (since the Plimsouls' breakup) we've really worked together. It's really fun to be playing with him again."
The dual-edged nature of Case's music will be exemplified later this year with the almost-concurrent release of a pair of new albums.
"I've mutated like an amoeba," he said, laughing. "There's going to be a rock 'n' roll album with this band, then there's going to be another acoustic thing. I'm ready to do them both right now."
But while he's reunited with Munoz and he's cranking up the electric guitar once again, Case's songs remain rooted in universal themes and observations of fate and human nature.
"It's something that just sort of developed that way," he said. "There were these story songs I always wrote, and it was about just being at a certain stage of my life. Things started to make more sense in different ways, where nothing made any sense to me at all during the Plimsouls."
Shortly after the Plimsouls broke up, Case became a Christian. And while he adheres to secular themes in his music, he said the conversion has had a profound effect on him as a writer and as a person in general.
"It affected the way I see the world," he said. "It kind of throws a whole new perspective on it, answers a lot of the big questions.
"But I'm not like a straight, fundamentalist Christian, you know? It's hard to explain, but I don't think I'm one of those left-brain Christians, I'm more of a right-brain Christian."
The Peter Case Band plays tonight at 9 p.m. at the Belly Up, 143 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach. $8.50. (619) 481-9022. The group also plays Saturday at 9:30 p.m. on a bill with Naked Soul and Standard Fruit at Bogart's, 6288 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach. $12.50. (310) 594-8976.