Interview with Porridge Radio
Porridge Radio are a band that impel you to shout along in unison, and thanks to festival season we were finally able to obey their call. Fronted by Dana Margolin, whose wry sense of humour and self-flagellating lyrics are all tied up with a sense of bright-eyed optimism, the post-punk quartet have been stirring us out of collective apathy with their confessional incantations and riotous soul-searching since 2015.
Even now, with the ink on their recording contract long since dried, they still give off that ingrained DIY sensibility of their native Brighton; the kind of resourcefulness and sense of occasion that prevails even if all you have to hand is a Sharpie and a scrap of tinsel.
Releasing second album Every Bad in March 2020 might have seemed a poisoned chalice, but the band have been reeling in new disciples ever since, with a major tour planned for autumn that should finally give us all something new to talk about. When asked what it was like releasing an album on the brink of a global catastrophe, Margolin gives a polite yet unmistakably well-worn chuckle. "Amazing."
And what about the aftermath — how did Porridge Radio fare through the next eighteen months?
It was difficult, sure, but we ended up having an exciting time because of how people responded to the album. Afterwards we were working on a lot of new stuff, which was nice although we could only really communicate from afar. And now we're playing all these festivals that we never even thought were going to happen.
A year later you brought out the expanded edition of Every Bad with brand new remixes. Were you aiming to recapture some of the momentum snatched away by lockdown?
Yeah, I guess so! It was also just about being able to ask friends and other artists we really admire to come up with new interpretations of our music. It's been fun to hear the songs expressed in a completely different style.
Your sound is often described as "bedroom pop". Did you envision the songs becoming this successful while writing them, or were they just intended as a personal exercise?
I didn't really have any intentions when I started writing. It's hard to say what I expected, because I wasn't really thinking about it at all. I just wanted a space where I could write, make things with my friends and be vulnerable. Then as time went on it developed into something else. Now I'm constantly looking back at songs and thinking, who wrote that? I didn't write that. I don't understand . . .
Like an out-of-body experience?
Exactly. I try not to think about it, and just make space to allow the songs to happen.
Are you someone who carts a lot of notebooks around, then experiences the heart-stopping fear you've left them somewhere?
I do carry a lot of notebooks around, but I tend not to panic about losing them. I'm quite obsessed with making sure I know everything by heart.
Another adjective that seems to come up is "unvarnished". Does that really ring true at this stage, now you've had time to define your sound?
Oh, I've not heard that one before. I can totally understand why someone might hear our music and think it's lo-fi, when really we've spent a load of time and effort making it sound a particular way. Once you get to a certain point in the studio, you could be processing sound so that everything is big and shiny and poppy, versus making it all sound grungy and lo-fi. But really, the stylistic choice just depends on the song.
Your lyrics are often vulnerable. Is it hard sharing that with huge crowds of strangers, particularly now with so many festivals on your schedule?
If the crowd aren't really into it, then festivals can be awkward. But lately everyone's been supportive. It's so cool that people have been really listening to the music, giving it their time and patience and getting emotionally invested. So yeah, it can be exhausting, but it works.
Porridge Radio started out in Brighton, which has a close-knit DIY scene. Was your time there like a rite-of-passage for the band?
Being in Brighton played a huge part in figuring out the kind of band we wanted to be. I studied there and ended up staying about five years, so it was a really important time in my life. It was when I figured out I wanted to play guitar and write songs. Also, Georgie from the band used to put on shows all the time, which was how I met most of the people I make music with. She'd organise these three day festivals called Fat Dog Party with all kinds of films, live bands, food and art. When we started the band, we all just liked making big noise, so at first that's all we did. It took a while to hone everything and work out what we were doing.
Speaking of DIY, are you still making zines? Or is the band enough of a creative outlet?
Yeah, last year I made one called 'How to Play Every Bad'. I have a lot of different ideas, but they're all slowly happening in the background. They'll be ready in their own time. I don't usually have copies with me at gigs, but if people wanted to bring their own zines, I'd love to see them.
What's changed for Porridge Radio since signing to Secretly Canadian?
We've been able to work with an amazing team and reach loads more people. I feel supported now in a way that I wasn't before. Being a DIY musician is very different from being signed, even to an indie label. There's no infrastructure when you're doing this alone. It makes a big difference just having people I can really trust to help me.
You recorded two covers for SubPop Singles Club recently, how did those come about?
I went through their back catalogue and made a list of songs I really loved. Then I worked out which ones I could sing!
Any cover ideas that didn't make the cut? Which bands did you idolise as a teenager?
As a kid I was really obsessed with Karen Carpenter. But then in my teens it was all Guns N' Roses and Deep Purple -- the other end of the scale.
Well, don't rule it out. What's it like being back on the road?
It can be difficult. I really benefit from having time to myself to just sit quietly, and not getting that on tour is sometimes draining. But the other side of it is that I love my bandmates and being able to perform all the songs that we've made together, taking in new towns and cities. Also, I think we've only played Liverpool once, so it will be nice to spend more time there.
What do you hope people take from your music?
I hope our music can make people can feel like they are a bit more seen, and that they can be more open about their emotions. That's the main takeaway, I think.
2021, for Bido Lito.