When we meet on one of the hottest days of 2019 so far, Dana Margolin – the lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter for the indie-pop band Porridge Radio – is drinking a Sprite. It’s the last day of the band’s tour, and they’ve just bundled out of the van in Dalston, east London, where they’ll play their final show of the run.
Dana tells me that during their time away from the van, soundchecks, and gigs, she and her bandmates spent the last week rooting through charity shops. Bassist Maddie and keyboardist Georgie model their best finds in glittery black and red velvet respectively, though Dana’s most prized treasure is not wearable. From a plastic bag, smiling like someone about to show me her delicate and very expensive dog, she unsheathes a clock designed to look like a pizza. “I’d like you to emphasise that we’re very wholesome,” she tells me.
She means this as a joke, but to be honest, if wholesomeness is friendship, community, and a genuine love of music, then Porridge Radio might be the most wholesome band in the UK. Born simply of a shared desire to learn to play music, the four-piece have been together for four years. Over that time, they’ve become part of the thriving DIY scenes in Brighton and London, honing their subtly specific sound via various releases, many live performances, and most recently, a pair of glossily-produced new singles.
The first, “Give/Take,” released last month, is a black pearl of a pop song – beguiling, unexpected, contradictory – and has picked up praise, as well as radio airplay on 6Music. Today (1 May), the band are releasing their second new track, “Don’t Ask Me Twice,” which Dana describes as “way punkier, more dissociative” than its predecessor.
In honour of the release, and also just because to be real they’re very much worth knowing, Dana told me about Porridge Radio’s beginnings, their influences, and the contradictions they’re happy to occupy, as the band prepped for that most recent London show (which was, for the record, a) great, and b) properly heaving.) Here’s the deal with Porridge Radio:
THEY FORMED KIND OF ACCIDENTALLY
“About four years ago, we were all living in Brighton, and kind of didn’t really know each other, but somehow all ended up in a band together,” Dana explains. “That’s how we met, through playing in a band – because it was like, 'Oh you do music, can I do that with you?' It was all kind of accidental.”
“Originally the band was just something that was like, 'Let’s just have fun with our friends and get better at this and learn how to express ourselves and make ourselves vulnerable,'” she continues. “It was a very special space to be able to create that, and it’s also how we ended up being good friends.”
THEY’VE BEEN LEARNING AS THEY’VE PROGRESSED AS A BAND
Dana sees learning as they’ve gone along as an extremely important part of Porridge Radio’s DNA, because it’s how they bonded as friends. She tells me, “Maddie couldn’t play bass when we started – she was like, 'I just got a bass!' So I said, 'D’you wanna be in my band that I’m having the first practice for next week?' I could barely play, [drummer] Sam could play pretty well – he’d been in bands all his teenage years – but originally it was like, 'Hey, let’s all get together and play these songs and learn how to play together, and make a supportive environment that we can learn and write and have fun in.'”
THERE’S LOTS OF DIFFERENT SIDES TO THEIR SOUND...
Porridge Radio are a band who can be quite tough to categorise, veering between lo-fi garage, melodic pop, and about a hundred other inflections. Dana doesn’t mind the band existing somewhere between the lines, as she reasons that “Some days I’m like, 'We’re obviously a pop punk band, and our influences are like, blink-182.' Or Sam will be like, 'Yeah we’re a nu-metal band.' But then some days, I’m like, 'No we’re completely influenced by like, The Cranberries, and really melodic indie pop.' Sometimes we’re like 'No, we’re a fucking pop band, and all we listen to is PC Music and Charli XCX.' It depends.”
She adds that new track “Give/Take” has “brought out the part of us that has always wanted to be polished pop, and that’s really exciting. I listen to old stuff, and I’m like, 'How does it get from that to this?' For one of the tracks on the EP that we made three years ago with West America, we recorded the drums through a laptop microphone, and we were like, 'This sounds cool because it sounds like dogs barking! That’s the sound we’re going for!' But there’s also this other side of us, and “Give/Take” has brought that out. All my favourite bands span both sides.”
...HOWEVER THERE ARE SOME CATEGORISATIONS THEY’RE KEEN TO RESIST
“I hate it when people call us a 'jangly indie band.' Dana expands: “We’re not that! There’s a lot of darkness in the music that’s very intense, and often that’s not portrayed in how people talk about us, because maybe we put out a bit of a twee image for a while.”
Porridge Radio have also been described as a girl band by some music writers, which, as well as being factually incorrect, feels intrusive. “It’s weird because I don’t think of myself as like, “girl” predominantly, and gender is something that I don’t necessarily fully understand yet. When someone calls you a 'girlband,' it firstly takes away your agency in deciding how you want to look, and then it also takes the words away from you as well. It doesn’t allow you to be like, 'I need to figure out how I want to express myself and my gender.'”
EMOTIONAL NUANCE IS A KEY ELEMENT OF THEIR MUSIC
Lots of Porridge Radio tracks explore the concept of having opposing thoughts and feelings all at once. For most people, that’s a pretty common phenomenon, even though social media and the internet – our main discursive tools – can make it seem like grey areas don’t exist. Dana’s more interested in the mess that not knowing how we feel can create: “I’ll just throw everything into all my songs,” she says. “I really think that you can have multiple emotions and feelings that completely contradict each other, and you can still believe all of them to be true and feel them all. I think that comes out in the songs, because they are very stream-of-consciousness. It is mostly everything at once cascading down.”
THEY’RE A PRODUCT OF THE UK DIY SCENE THROUGH AND THROUGH
Often, music writers have a habit of conjuring music scenes out of thin air, to give a story some narrative. Sometimes, bands don’t feel that’s accurate, but Porridge Radio really see themselves and their success so far as something that has come from the DIY scene they’re proudly part of. As Dana says, “We’re definitely part of a scene. There’s lots of bands in Brighton and London especially, and I guess the UK DIY scene is where we learned how to play. And it’s where we’ve always been able to make friends and get shows and there’s a very special community of DIY bands in Brighton, London, and throughout the UK who’ve always been really supportive of what we’ve been doing.”
OH, AND THEIR NEW TRACK “DON’T ASK ME TWICE” IS OUT RIGHT NOW, TODAY
Porridge Radio play The Great Escape in Brighton from 9-11 May
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