If there’s one thing that everyone in the United States can agree on, it’s this: Being burned out sucks. Whether you’re struggling to make ends meet, struggling to balance work and school, struggling to stay healthy, or struggling to maintain your sanity in these politically corrosive times, saying “the struggle is real” about real life actually, for once, feels accurate. Now we’ve got a soundtrack for that struggle: Madison Turner’s folk-punk gem A Comprehensive Guide to Burning Out. The Tampa native and current Richmond, Virginia resident, played with hybrid hardcore band Paranoia Dance Party before striking out on her own, injecting everything from bouncy ska to heart-wrenching rock into her self-released records. While 2013’s Life was directly inspired by Turner’s experiences as a transgender woman and 2015’s Depression is self-explanatory, sparks of hope punctuate A Comprehensive Guide—on “Portland, Oregon,” she sings, “It’s nice to put yourself out there/And make new friends/What did I ever do/To deserve these good people in my life?” Folio Weekly spoke with Turner before her first-ever show in St. Augustine.
Folio Weekly: You’re touring with George Geanuracos, who helped you write and record A Comprehensive Guide to Burning Out, right?
Madison Turner: Right. Before I went into the studio, I sat down and went through the idea process with him. George is a really good friend. I met him six years ago, when his band Yankee Roses came through Tampa. It’ll be cool to play duo sets with George—me on guitar and him on fiddle. It’s great to play with people who are so much more talented than I am.
Will it be tough to reinterpret the songs from the album to that stripped-down setting?
I think it’s almost truer to play them acoustic. That’s how they were written; that’s their essence. I love the way this album sounds—and I haven’t said that about a lot of things I’ve released in the past—but there’s a lot of extra stuff going on that isn’t super-necessary for the core song.
What compelled you to write about such a pervasive topic? And are you still feeling that same sense of burnout?
Things are pretty similar. I’m still trudging along and doing my best, which I think is what most people are doing. The album is about being burned out, but it’s also about the depression and monotony that everyone is expected to continue [dealing with] throughout their lives. It wears people down. I’m turning 31 very soon, so I’m getting up there and feeling that.
As you’ve gotten older, has your songwriting voice shifted from the strictly personal to the more universal or even political?
I write personal—that’s how my lyrics come out. But at the same time, that feels political to me. I write from the mental health perspective of somebody who is transgender. Even if I’m not necessarily talking about being trans, a lot of depression is informed by that. From the most recent album, “No” is the most overtly [political]. It’s not an “I, I, I” song; it’s more against people committing sexual assault and thinking they can get away with it because of their clout. That’s a little bit of a departure from what I usually do. But I also don’t feel pressured to do anything that I don’t genuinely feel. With political issues, maybe I’m not the best person to say it. One of the women in The B-52s wrote what she called “the next transgender anthem,” and it’s the worst song—so offensive and terrible. In that sense, I don’t to speak for other people. I want to let other people’s voices be heard. And I certainly don’t need to tell anybody that Donald Trump’s terrible.
I love the line from “Richmond, Virginia” about “A grocery bag holding hope for tomorrow” that’s “tied so it won’t get wet.” Has Richmond lived up to those hopes for you?
I definitely found a really great community in Richmond. That was a huge part of the decision to move there. I was couch-surfing after spending a year in Oregon, not planted anywhere, and I picked Richmond because I liked everybody there. Tampa had a great community, too, though. The weird thing was, I met a lot of great people in Tampa after I decided to leave.
Is your day-to-day life in Richmond significantly different than it was in Tampa?
Not really. I still spend a lot of time to myself, hanging in my room with my dog watching TV or playing video games. I’m working part-time at an animal shelter, which is great. Richmond is a city that feels both big and small at the same time.
Is it a city that might help you launch a career as a full-time musician? Do you feel like that’s in the cards for you?
I would love to play music full-time. I don’t know what that looks like in terms of survival, though. You have to make it to a certain level of stardom, or put aside your own thing to play other people’s music. That’s fine, but that’s just not me.
That adherence to your own voice shines through on just about every song you’ve written.
Authenticity is a really good word to use. But I’m also a big fan of writing songs that are fun-sounding and depressing. “Do You Ever Feel Like a Failure?” is a peppy ska-rock song with a fiddle solo, but it also contains some of the most depressing lyrics I’ve ever written.