While getting her master’s degree in French literature at Stanford University four years ago, Nataly Dawn received an interesting piece of advice from a professor.
The charismatic Pomplamoose vocalist took the words to heart when conceiving her new solo album, “How I Knew Her.”
“He told me that thought happens through writing, and that you don’t actually finish a thought until you get it onto paper,” says Dawn, who opens for Ben Folds Five at the Warfield on Thursday. “I think there’s a lot of truth to that — it’s really important to write, to process things. I got a lot of stuff out of my system by writing this record.”
True enough. Dawn and her longtime beau, Jack Conte, might have made an iTunes-enabled career out of posting marshmallow-fluffy “video songs,” often playful covers, for Pomplamoose’s 300,000-plus YouTube subscribers.
But for her own debut, she regressed to childhood to grapple with unresolved issues she had harbored as the daughter of globe-trotting Assemblies of God missionaries.
Entering the secular school system in France, then Belgium, she says, “I started to see that what I was brought up with was not the norm at all. And thus began the struggle of, ‘What do I believe?’ — which definitely comes out in my music.”
With Conte producing her minimal arrangements, the warm-timbred thrush vents in iconoclastic style.
The title track ponders the recent passing of her devout grandmother, while the vaudevillian “Still a Believer” discusses her late relative’s scriptural views on Conte: “Grandma says I’m going to hell/ Because I met a boy and we make rock music,” she trills.
“Why Did You Marry” is a question she poses to young ministry females she once knew.
“Girls who lived under this cloud of guilt that in no way was applied to men, who were so frustrated about their sexuality, they got married really young, just to have sex. And I think that’s really sad,” she says.
Dawn wants to clarify that growing up a preacher’s kid had its good points. And her parents were unusually supportive of her musical career, buying her instrument after instrument just to keep the budding songwriter happy.
But her time in Europe changed everything. Her class would take day trips to London just to see plays or visit museums.
“I was so, so, so blessed to be over there, seeing all that stuff,” she says.
When she finally returned to California, and met Conte at Stanford, she was finished playing Christian rock.
Although Dawn no longer attends church, she isn’t an agnostic. “Because I do still pray, so that’s something,” she says. “I haven’t given up on my belief in God — I’ve just given up on organized religion.”
Nataly Dawn opening for Ben Folds Five
- Where: Warfield, 982 Market St., S.F.
- When: 8 p.m. Thursday
- Tickets: $35 to $45
- Contact: (415) 673-4653, www.axs.com