Interview: Porridge Radio
If you’ve not yet heard of Porridge Radio, that’s about to change. The band have just released their sophomore album, Every Bad, and were due to embark on a tour of the UK this week. Obviously, current events have thrown somewhat of a spanner in the works. Nonetheless, The Mic caught up with their frontwoman Dana Margolin, in self-isolation, to find out what it’s like to release an album in these turbulent times.
It turns out that Margolin is an old hand at this whole self-isolation lark. By her own admission, she’s ‘quite good at spending a lot of time on [her] own’. Indeed, she’s been keeping busy enough; over the last week, she’s done 6 different Instagram livestreams. You see, promoting a newly released album is an intensive business at the best of times, and promoting one from quarantine is no different. ‘Monday, we did a full band session, before we realised we should be on full lockdown, and then Tuesday I did an acoustic one in my room. Wednesday, we did a two-piece one, livestreamed for DIY…’ – it’s exhausting just to listen to. But Margolin’s talents aren’t just musical; she’s an artist too, creating the art that accompanies all things Porridge Radio.
‘Thursday, I did a painting livestream from my room, and I sold the painting at the end to raise money for foodbanks, which was really cool, that people actually bought paintings from me…’. She’s even tendered her services as an agony aunt in one particularly memorable livestream – a lot of people are anxious about current events, and Margolin became a confidante for their problems. ‘It was really good, but I felt really vulnerable doing it… I guess that’s the thing that makes everything hard, is feeling like you’re alone, and feeling very far away from everyone. It was difficult though, because I felt suddenly like ‘why am I trying to help people, what can I do?’. I wasn’t sure how effective that was. But then, afterwards, a few people sent me a message to say thanks, so I think it’s alright’.
Vulnerability is a thread running through the heart of Porridge Radio’s music. Beginning as Margolin’s bedroom project at the age of 18, the band have been together in their current form for 5 years. Over that period, the songs have always retained the raw, emotive edge that first defined them – it’s just that now, the lyrics are being screamed back at the band from the barriers, rather than in Margolin’s scrapbook. ‘When I pick up a guitar sometimes, or when I pick up a keyboard, a song will fall out. I don’t really like to think about it as where it’ll end up, I just think about it as what it needs to be for me, in the moment I’m writing it’.
'Over that period, the songs have always retained the raw, emotive edge that first defined them – it’s just that now, the lyrics are being screamed back at the band from the barriers, rather than in Margolin’s scrapbook'.
The live incarnation of the tracks is never a consideration for Margolin; for her, writing is a deeply personal, therapeutic act. ‘I think that’s what I’m always trying to do, be vulnerable, and be honest, and I think that’s also why I really struggle with it sometimes. Like, ‘oh, people can see me and hear me, and I’m so embarrassed to have these feelings’, but also, I think that’s what makes it connect to people, so I try not to think about that’. Indeed, the vulnerability so central to the songs may be what lends them their firepower live. ‘I think the fact that I write it for myself, as a way to process how I’m feeling, and a way to just kinda get something out, means that it’s maybe easier to be screamed along to, later down the line’.
It’s an odd time to release an album, especially one billed to sweep Porridge Radio into the mainstream. Margolin is disarmingly frank about the effects Coronavirus has had on the band: ‘Well yeah, we don’t have an income, now, from music, because we can’t tour and we were about to start getting paid as a band from touring, and now we can’t do that’. But the dark clouds of COVID-19 can’t overshadow the elation of a band that have just released an album – particularly when the gestation period has been quite so long as it has been for Porridge Radio. 4 years separate Every Bad from their debut, Rice, Pasta And Other Fillers, and the band have traveled quite the distance in that time. ‘We recorded Pasta in a shed, and when we had just started as a band, and it was a huge learning curve. I feel like everything you do gets better, right? I’m really proud of the songs on Pasta, but I can see all the ways that it could be better, but I just couldn’t make it better at that time’.
WARNING: This video may potentially trigger seizures for people with photosensitive epilepsy.
For Porridge Radio, the live show has always been their forte – the challenge has been capturing that live immediacy on record, a task that they have more than risen to on Every Bad. But for Margolin, the release of the album was an infuriating process. ‘We’ve had a lot of things along the way that have slowed us down, it’s been about two, three years in the making, which has been so frustrating, because I was always really confident in this album, and knew what it could be’. The band signed with record label Secretly Canadian in late 2019, but Margolin had no interest in resting on their laurels. ‘As soon as we signed, I was like ‘okay, we need to release this album as soon as possible’, and usually that takes about 6 months to turn it around, printing vinyl and stuff like that, so we were working so fast to finish everything and get it all signed off, so it could be released now’.
Talking to artists who have just released an album is always a little odd. For the listener, this is a project that has just begun existing, but for the artist, they’ve lived with these songs for quite some time. Indeed, Margolin has already turned her sights to the next LP – when I say that releasing their second album by this point is an impressive milestone, her reply is disarmingly frank. ‘In my mind, we should be on album 3 by now’, she laughs. ‘I’ve got like another 15, 16 songs ready to go, so I’m like ‘come on, let’s do this!’’.
'Margolin is disarmingly frank about the effects Coronavirus has had on the band: ‘Well yeah, we don’t have an income, now, from music, because we can’t tour and we were about to start getting paid as a band from touring, and now we can’t do that’.'
To Margolin’s mind, Porridge Radio are luckier than many bands entering lockdown – they have the potent combination of an album already out, and a loyal fanbase. ‘This album has been rotating through our setlist for years. Which is also great, because I think a lot of people who have been following us, who’ve loved our music for years, and have been on this journey with us, had been waiting for them for ages, and were really excited about them’. Indeed, she explains that many of these tracks have been fan favourites long before they were ever committed to wax, or recorded in a studio. ‘Even before we released Lilac in November last year, we played our headline London show, and everyone was singing all the words along with us, and this was a week before the song even came out’.
Porridge Radio are a band whose currency is vulnerability, a lyrical style that has carved out a spot for them in the indie canon. By way of a closing question, I ask Margolin how she’d suggest listeners who want to support the band in these difficult times do so. As ever, her considerations lay with others who are struggling, with the band an afterthought. ‘I would say if you buy our record, make sure you buy it from independent record stores, who are really going to suffer this year. Find a record store near where you live, see if they’re selling it online, and order it to your house’. But also as ever, she can’t resist one final quip: ‘And if you have money left over, buy merch from our Bandcamp, buy a fucking t-shirt!’. Please do buy a t-shirt; Porridge Radio are an essential voice in these trying times, and we need them back on our stages the moment all of this is over.