Band To Watch

Band To Watch: Porridge Radio

If you live in the British coastal town of Brighton, it’s hard not to feel the ever-present draw of the sea, for better or for worse. For Dana Margolin, the pebbly beach and great watery beyond that signal the end of Brighton’s city center became particularly entangled with her life around the time she was making the new album from her band Porridge Radio, Every Bad.

“Swimming in the sea is a way to wash away all the shit,” Margolin says, sitting in a pub in the Camden district of her new home of London. (Her bandmates remain in Brighton.) Constantly repeating how much she adores the album her band has made, Margolin speaks in tones similar to those in which she sings — with vulnerability, openness, and a clear passion. “Whenever I was sad, I’d just go down [to Brighton beach], and stare out, or go for a swim if it wasn’t too windy,” she remembers. “It was a really helpful part of my life. You’re on the edge of everything when you’re at the beach.” The singer goes on to describe the ocean as “terrifying and vast and overwhelming and also really calming and beautiful and fun.” Most, if not all, of these emotions surge through Every Bad.

“I didn’t really know anything about writing music or having a band,” Margolin says of Porridge Radio’s earliest days. She played guitar for “a week” when she was eight years old before “getting bored.” It was only in 2012 that Margolin — then a teenager, now 26 — began learning basically from the ground up, starting Porridge Radio in the process. “Even though I’ve always obsessively listened to music, I don’t think I had any understanding of production or anything like that,” she recalls. “It was through recording stuff on my own that I learned how to do it. The reason that my bedroom demos I used to release all the time sound the way they do is through me not knowing what I was doing at all.”

Starting out as a bedroom solo project that occasionally took trips outside to open mic nights, Porridge Radio became solidified when Margolin linked up with Brighton-based friends Sam Yardley (drums), Georgie Stott (keys), and Maddie Ryall (bass). Raucous live shows and a debut album — 2016’s lo-fi, rough-around-the-edges but extremely promising Rice, Pasta And Other Fillers — followed, tracking the progression of a band in real time.

The band’s debut album introduced Margolin as a compelling songwriter, penning diary entries over scratchy, lo-fi indie rock, rising alongside an ever-fertile UK DIY scene that boasts the likes of London’s Goat Girl, whose vocalist Lottie Pendlebury possesses a similarly creepy twang to Margolin. On Every Bad, though, Porridge Radio’s vision seems altogether bigger. With immaculate, muscular production, the songs themselves feel larger in scope.

Opener “Born Confused” is a poppy, punchy statement of intent that shows the band’s desire to move beyond basement venues and lo-fi adaptations of solo songs, keeping the intimacy and directness of Margolin’s bedroom concoctions before adding melodic, surging swathes of indie rock that lift them above and beyond their peers. The songs drift towards dream-pop (“Nephews,” “Pop Song”) and straight-ahead indie (“Give Take”) but any disparity in terms of genre across the album is balanced by Margolin’s remarkably consistent voice, always bringing the songs back to repeated mantras that are sung with enough fervor to ensure they can’t be dislodged.

Though Every Bad is the band’s second album, everything points to it feeling like a debut: It features a few songs dating back to the beginning of the project, and its booming production gives it the feeling of a significant breakthrough after five years of toil. Today, they’ve officially announced the album will arrive on 3/13 via Secretly Canadian. The announcement comes with a new single, “Sweet.” Following superb recent tracks like “Give Take” and “Lilac,” “Sweet” is another leap forward for the band, Margolin’s lyrical adaptability coming to the fore.

“You will like me when you meet me/ You might even fall in love,” she sings over indie rock that swells and retreats like the ever-present sea. You can’t quite work out whether it’s an honest, endearing statement or a slightly creepy one. This intriguing middle ground continues throughout the album, with a lot of second guessing required on the listener’s part. Margolin says she wrote the song trying to imitate Lorde’s nimble, playful “Loveless,” from 2017’s Melodrama — and though musically the pair don’t have too many ties, they both possess a similar emotional dexterity.

That same phrase is repeated many times throughout “Sweet.” Across the entirety of Every Bad, the songs are often defined by what feels like endless repetition of their refrains. “Thank you for making me happy” goes the end of “Born Confused,” repeated until Margolin’s delivery becomes a ragged roar, while closer “Homecoming Song” once again centers on one phrase: “There’s nothing inside.”

“Singing that over and over, you feel like you’ve let out this demon from inside of you,” Margolin laughs. “It’s the most cathartic feeling to do that, it feels so strong and big and good. There’s a lot of repetition in the lyrics, and it feels really good to just repeat shit over and over again until it becomes something bigger.”

“One of my favorite things is the idea that one sentence can mean a hundred different things at the same time, and you can feel a hundred different ways at once that might feel contradictory but they all have their own validity,” she continues. “With music, I’m always trying to be vulnerable and connect, and be emotional and unapologetic, and I don’t want to ever spell things out too much, because I want to be able to give people the space to take from it whatever they need.”

It seems, then, that though your readings of Porridge Radio songs are probably different to what Margolin originally put pen to paper about — my clumsy attempts at explaining my theories throughout the interview proved that in this particular instance — there’s no wrong way to decipher her music, as long as it’s done with openness and the same vulnerability that’s poured into it.

Margolin has described Every Bad as “an unfinished sentence,” and the spaces in between are as vital to the album as its color and shape. “I love that it doesn’t hold all the answers,” she affirms. “The title, Every Bad, feels like it’s full of potential as a part of a sentence that could go any way. It could fit into so many sentences that could mean so many things, and I think a lot of my lyrics are like that as well, the way that they can change shape over time depending on who you are or where you hear it. It’s unfinished because everything has the potential to be reimagined and re-understood and re-misunderstood.”

One lyric on the album, though, stands clear as day in its ironclad meaning. It is, so far, Porridge Radio’s pièce de résistance. “I don’t want to get bitter/ I want us to get better/ I want us to be kinder to ourselves and to each other,” becomes Margolin’s increasingly intense litany at the climax of “Lilac,” the album’s emotional core. She describes Every Bad as “trying to find hope in every difficult, bad, sad, hard thing,” and “Lilac” lays out a vision for a more compassionate future — be that between Margolin and her loved ones, or across the globe. “That’s why I want to write music,” she adds, “To find the good in it.”

Arriving two thirds of the way through Every Bad, “Lilac” is the album’s centerpiece. A creeping, dissonant intro leads into a song that slowly builds, gathering power via skittish drums, a sweeping string section, and a pervading sense of uncertainty. “I’m stuck,” Margolin repeats over and over again until it becomes transcendent, before the song’s euphoric resolution comes peering out from between the clouds. She proceeds to sing the closing lines — the “bitter/better” refrain — as if losing herself to an incantation, the message more emphatic with every next repetition, until it’s backed by post-rock levels of screeching guitars and untamed energy. By the time “Lilac” comes to a close 90 seconds later, it’s a mantra you’ll never forget.

In December of 2019, the day after Boris Johnson’s oppressive Conservative Party won the biggest UK General Election victory in over 30 years, Porridge Radio played a show in South London to raise funds and collect donations for the Lewisham Borough food bank, a service that has become tragically necessary for so many across Britain in the last 10 years. Many, like myself, attended the show with a general sense of despondence and hopelessness, but the closing cacophony of “Lilac,” with how simple and strong its message was, broke through the despair and stuck out as representative of some kind of hope to hold onto. Yelled back at the band with anger and defiance, the song became an anthem in an instant.

Every Bad is a personal and intimate record, one born of soul-searching down at the beach. But its reach can (and should) be much further than that. These are lyrics that can unite friend groups and create manifestos to pin to bedroom walls, and the music that backs it all is widescreen, bright, and ambitious enough to take Porridge Radio to rooms as big as they deserve to be in. If the recent London show is anything to go by, the messages of this band are ones that can provide real, tangible hope. Across Every Bad, and in the very fiber of Porridge Radio, is the kind of fire that makes you get up and try all over again tomorrow.

TRACKLIST:
01 “Born Confused”
02 “Sweet”
03 “Don’t Ask Me Twice”
04 “Long”
05 “Nephews”
06 “Pop Song”
07 “Give Take”
08 “Lilac”
09 “Circling”
10 “(Something)”
11 “Homecoming Song”

TOUR DATES:
01/14 – London, UK @ The Lexington
02/27 – 02/29 – Oslo, NO @ Larm Festival
03/16 – Los Angeles, CA @ Moroccan Lounge
03/17 – 03/22 – Austin, TX @ SXSW
03/23 – Brooklyn, NY @ Elsewhere
03/26 – Manchester, UK @ Soup Kitchen
03/27 – Liverpool, UK @ Studio 2
03/28 – Bristol, UK @ Ritual Union Festival
03/29 – Glasgow, UK @ Glad Café
03/31 – Sheffield, UK @ Record Junkee
04/01 – London, UK @ Colours
04/03 – Hastings, UK @ Marina Fountain
04/04 – Brighton, UK @ The Westhill Hall
05/22 – 05/24 – Totnes, UK @ Sea Change Festival

Every Bad is out 3/13 via Secretly Canadian. Pre-order it here.