A while back I had an opportunity to sit down and talk with up-and-coming singer-songwriter Nataly Dawn about faith and songwriting. Dawn grew up in France, went to Stanford for undergrad, and made it big on YouTube with a duo called Pomplamoose before signing with Nonesuch records and starting her solo work.
This interview was edited for length and content.
Nataly: I have to warn you, I’m in a little bit of a food coma; I just made a really big brunch. I had probably five pancakes.
Brandon: Wow. Impressive. That’s awesome.
N: That’s completely on the record, by the way.
So, Sojourners is a faith-based organization, and I know that you grew up as a missionary in France. How does your faith — or lack thereof — inform what you do now?
N: It was interesting because I had this very liberal education [growing up in France] on one hand and this other life that I led, which was very involved in church. Initially, my dad was an assistant pastor and my mom was in charge of leading worship. And then when we moved to Brussels, Belgium, my dad was a professor at a theological seminary, and my mom continued to lead worship.
So I always had a double life. And it was actually a really great thing because I found myself on a daily basis being challenged with lots of moral dilemmas and philosophical questions because all of my friends at school weren’t Christians and I had lots of Christian friends at church.
B: Where are you now with your faith?
N: One of the perks of growing up with a father who has a Ph.D. in church history is that I’m constantly getting into theological discussions with people. Ask me anything about the Bible and I’ll probably go off for 30 minutes on a tangent or something. But don’t worry, I won’t do that here.
My faith is still very important to me. I still pray. I still believe in God. I think there are a lot of things that we just don’t understand.
It’s funny because I don’t really make decisions based on faith too frequently, but I do find myself in dire circumstances I find myself praying. And I don’t know what God I’m praying to other than the God of my youth, which is, in my mind very forgiving and gracious and interested God. But then I find myself arguing with myself, asking, “Why do you think that’s how God is? And you disagree with so much of the Bible!” And it comes to the point where I don’t really argue with myself anymore about why it is that I pray. I just do. I find comfort in it.
And there’s so much about the Bible that I don’t agree with at this point. I don’t believe that it’s infallible. I think it was written by a lot of very biased people. And it was also written 2,000 years ago. And it shouldn’t be read to inform on current matters of sexuality and things like that. I think the Bible is good for some things and not great for other things. And it can be very dangerous when taken literally.
I grew up in a family that was very loving but also very old fashioned in their beliefs. I could sum it up by saying they’re evangelical Pentecostals.
B: I was checking out your YouTube channel, and your song “Still a Believer” seemed to describe exactly what you’re talking about.
N: Yea, definitely. I feel bad because there are a couple songs on the album that really, well, I think one interviewer had said I wasn’t a very likable person. And I think that’s true. I like that. I don’t think it’s fair to say I’m not a very likable person. It’s definitely fair to say that I’m okay with the fact that I’m not always likable, and I want that to come across in my lyrics. Because sometimes I just really angry about something and want to vent. And sometimes I can just sort of talk very explicitly about a family member who is being judgmental towards me. And it’s not like I feel that way on a daily basis, but there are moments when it’s just so overwhelmingly frustrating to have to deal with someone who is so persuaded that you’re going to hell. So yea, there’s that. There are a couple songs where I express that frustration.
B: Totally. I think a lot of millennials express the same frustration. But, on another note, why do you write songs?
I write because I feel like it was what I’m meant to do, even though I resisted it for so long.
Brandon Hook is the Online Assistant at Sojourners.