Sometimes you have to lose your faith in order to find it again. Laura Burhenn, granddaughter of a Methodist minister, grew up in Washington, D.C., singing and playing piano in a fire-and-brimstone Pentecostal chapel.
But one sermon changed everything. “I remember I was 13, and the pastor got up and said, ‘Homosexuals aren’t welcome here. We had a group of them here last week who said they were really excited to attend our church, but I just want to make it very clear that they’re not wanted here,’” she says. “And I thought, ‘Wait a second. I was raised my whole life believing that God is love!’ So after that, I stopped going to church and started seriously reconsidering religion and God.”
Still, Burhenn taps into hymns and spirituals in “What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood,” her R&B-flavored debut as The Mynabirds. The band plays San Francisco on Tuesday.
It’s been a long road of rediscovery. She never confronted the bigoted minister. “That’s one thing that I absolutely regret to this day,” she says. “But I worked hard for years and years to separate myself from the church, and I rejected a lot of the way I was raised and moved away from that, too.”
She released two secular solo albums on her own Laboratory Records, then formed the popular folk-rock duo Georgie James with fellow D.C. musician John Davis. Then: A tour epiphany.
“In Memphis, we went to the Stax Museum,” she says. The tour traced soul/R&B’s evolution back to gospel and country. “And I thought ‘Oh my God! This is how I know music!’ And it gave me a newfound appreciation for the music I grew up with.”
When Georgie James disbanded, Burhenn started composing an existential concept piece, but scrapped it after a friend suggested she wasn’t writing from her heart.
Soon, she arrived at new rafter-raisers like “LA Rain” and “Numbers Don’t Lie.”
“I’ve been working on following my intuition and trusting my gut,” she explains of her spontaneous decision to fly to Cottage Grove, Ore., to record Mynabirds tracks with an artist she admired, Richard Swift.
On the album’s cover is a photo of her seated in a pew. “I occasionally attend church with my mom when I’m back home — not that one I grew up in,” she says, “because it’s nice to take time out of your life to think about more than just yourself.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., San Francisco
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.ticketfly.com