The Big Read – Porridge Radio: “I’ve always known that we’re the best band in the world”

They’re loud, they’re smart and they want us to be better people. Porridge Radio are about to conquer the planet with their breakthrough album ‘Every Bad’, a record of art-rock mantras that betrays their towering ambition and cocksure spirit. Matthew Neale talks to singer Dana Margolin about being hailed by Nirvana’s best mate, the dread of being branded a political band and why it’s important to make a difference. Pictures by Fiona Garden

Dana Margolin is not surprised that her band’s on the cover of NME. If anything, she’s wondering what’s taken everyone so long. “We’ve always been like, ‘Yeah, obviously we’re really good and we know it,’” the singer tells us from her home in London, and it’s not immediately obvious how straight she’s playing the line over the phone. 

Porridge Radio, Margolin’s gang of world-beaters in waiting, have already spent five years playing DIY shows and hawking ‘zines around Brighton. “You don’t get much attention to that stuff,” she says. “So to me it’s funny in a way to get all this attention now, ‘cause I’m like, ‘Yeah obviously. Where have you been? I could have told you that ages ago!’”

And you know what? She’s got a point. Following their low-key, lo-fi 2016 debut album ‘Rice, Pasta And Other Fillers’, the band’s new record ‘Every Bad’ is set to be unleashed on March 13, and it’s spectacular. Vulnerable and vitriolic, punk rock and pristine, it’s the sound of four young people thrust into a burning planet and making sense of it the best way they know how: by writing the kind of songs that are destined to be screamed back at them from the crush barriers. 

Throwing together elements of art-rock, post-punk and indie-pop, Porridge Radio are arguably successors to a musical lineage that takes in everything from the Raincoats to Savages – the kind of guitar bands that can devastate you with an emotional hurricane, then blindside you with a moment of bittersweet humour – sometimes on the same song.

Margolin writes incredible, mantra-like lyrics, with one or two lines often repeated until they burrow into your brain. Take ‘Lilac’, the album’s emotional epicentre and recent single, on which she insouciantly purrs: “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.”

Despite being a phenomenal lyricist, the singer isn’t always sure where it all comes from. “I never know what I’m going in with.,” she says. “It just comes out. I think sometimes it’s about focusing on a particular sentence or a particular melody, and then things tend to just build around that when they need to. I’m really interested in the idea of writing a song with the intention of it being a particular thing, because that’s never how I’ve written.”

Those aforementioned ‘Lilac’ lines are so explicit and powerful, though, that there’s surely intention behind them, an invocation to self-improvement?

“I always found those lyrics really cringey actually,” she says. “Which is really funny, because those are the lyrics that really connect with people, and I’ve found that over time I’ve come to see them in a different way. I think for me that was originally to do with a specific relationship, rather than the world as a whole. But I like how the meaning has kind of swapped over and become something else; that people can hear it and relate to it and find a bit of themselves in it.” A pause. “What do you think?”

In conversation, Dana Margolin asks a lot of questions. She wants to know about your home town, your job, your dreams. Her tone matches the art her band creates: occasionally sincere, always playful. When NME asks her about ambition, following a joke – or is it? – about stadium tours, she doesn’t miss a beat: “I wanna be Coldplay, obviously. Fucking stupid question!”

She’s extremely proud of ‘Every Bad’, and rightly so. “It feels really good to have recorded something where I love how it sounds, especially after recording our first album in a shed,” she says. “There were a million things I wanted to differently when it came to production. I wanted it to sound the way it sounded in my head, and I wanted it to carry the energy we have when we play live.”

That live dynamism is the driving force behind Porridge Radio’s emergent success. Margolin cuts an imposing figure on stage, the buzz-cut blonde at the front stalking the floor and radiating white hot energy. It’s little wonder the singer is in a daze after their shows, given their intensity – the band have just arrived back from two shows in Oslo and very little sleep when NME speaks to her – which made them our favourite new band. 

“I gained confidence in my abilities as a guitarist and as a singer from playing live,” she explains, “and I didn’t have any of that before; it was something I figured out as we went along. We all love that feeling of playing a show – that half an hour of being on stage, that magical feeling, that buzz, and just going for it – which makes everything else about touring really worth it. That’s definitely how we found what we want to do.”

The genesis of Porridge Radio first sparked when Margolin started writing song in her bedroom at University of Sussex in Brighton. One of her earliest fans was a young musician and promoter called Georgie Stott, who heard some of the singer’s early tracks and immediately offered her a slot performing at her all-day London festival, Fat Dog Party. Here Margolin was approached by Maddie Ryall, who later became the band’s bassist.

“After that show apparently she came up to me in the toilet and said, ‘I loved it, I want to be in a band with you,’” Margolin explains. “But I can’t remember that, so I don’t know if it’s true.” Her memory’s not sketchy for the usual rock’n’roll reasons: “I’m always sober at shows – I just get such a surge of adrenaline that I can’t remember anything.”

She and Ryall were soon joined by drummer Sam, while Stott ended up joining on keys after Margolin decided that her frenetic energy at the front row of their gigs would work even better up on stage. Three years and countless DIY shows later, legendary rock critic Everett True caught 40 seconds of Porridge Radio’s performance in Brighton’s The Prince Albert and declared them “the best band in the world” – a notable endorsement from the man who famously brought Kurt Cobain on stage in a wheelchair at Reading Festival in 1992. “He’s great; we know him pretty well now,” Margolin says. “But I’ve always known that we’re the best band in the world. Before Everett True wrote it.”

When NME speaks to her, Margolin has spent the morning answering email enquiries about the band, booking practices and talking to journalists. Ryall and Yardley are still based in Brighton, staying close to friends in the city; Margolin and Stott now live in London, closer to family and the business end of being in a band. “It’s such a horrible, horrible place,” the singer says of the capital. “I find myself always being like, ‘Why is this place the centre of everything I need to do?’ It’s depressing.”

Porridge Radio is, you see, becoming an increasingly full-time affair. Although the band released their first album – recorded on an eight-track, no less – in 2016, there’s no denying that their upcoming record ‘Every Bad’ feels like a debut to the rest of the world. “Big hype band, right?” Margolin says, and this time the eye-roll is practically audible.

While she’s grateful for the time and space that’s been afforded for the band to develop away from the spotlight, she’s found the recent attention eye-opening. Since the announcement that the band have signed to cult indie label Secretly Canadian (home to the likes of Whitney and Stella Donnelly), Porridge Radio have not just been picked up by tastemakers, but by fans, too. On Spotify their recent material has been streamed significantly more than that of their DIY debut (‘Give/Take’ has clocked up 230,000 streams since its release in 2019, while 2016’s ‘Eugh’ sits at only 73,000). So there’s still something be said for doing it the old-fashioned way by signing a traditional record deal rather than going it alone. 

 “I’m really grateful everyone’s interested and excited about our record,” says Margolin, “but it really goes to show you need to have money behind you to get anywhere in this industry. And that’s quite depressing, because there’s so many amazing bands who just don’t yet have the backing or the resources to be heard. I love that we’re getting heard now, but wow – what a broken industry.”

 ‘Every Bad’ is a captivating record, strung out on tension that threatens to break every time Margolin raises her voice a notch; generally the cue for the rest of the band to start raising hell. Born by the seaside, it perfectly captures both the joys and pain of being alive, an azure canvas tempered with swathes of pitch-black and bruise violet. ‘Sweet’ is a perfect example, a frayed livewire of a song that repeatedly surges and swells along to Margolin’s delivery of the lines: “You will like me when you meet me / You might even fall in love.”

Like most great bands, Porridge Radio’s sound doesn’t easily slot into neat genre categories. ‘Born Confused’ opens ‘Every Bad’ by channelling their inner Cranberries (mantra lyric: “Thank you for making me happy”) and new single ‘Circling’ builds from a blissful seaside waltz into something more ferocious. They’ve been described as art-rock, post-punk, even grunge. If it’s loud and messy, basically, Porridge Radio have heard all about it.

Unsurprisingly, Margolin’s tastes have changed considerably over the years, from her teenage days spent obsessing over Radiohead to her modern love of pop music: “Especially Lorde, Lana Del Rey and Charli XCX. All of them have had a big influence on me. I also love the energy of pop-punk – Georgie would say Green Day were her most formative band; Sam was really into Metallica, Linkin Park and Slipknot. Maddie was also really into Slipknot as a kid I think. We also have a lot of crossovers, but also a lot of divergent directions.”

So if Charli XCX turns up looking for a collaboration, you’d be ready? “Imagine saying no to that! That would be so good.”

For all that the singer describes herself as “self-obsessed” in the songs she writes (“and I think most artists are”), she still carries a profound sense of community and its importance. In December last year, the day after the Conservative party won a crushing majority in the UK General Election, Porridge Radio played a fundraising show for the Lewisham Borough food bank in south London.

In 2020, these kind of small gestures of compassion are frequently viewed as a novelty, a cute pin-badge to add to your collection of interests. The band are frequently asked if they’re a political band, as there might be an option to simply opt out of living and working in Tory Britain.

“We care a lot about the world,” she says. “We pay attention to what’s going on around us; we try to do good things. I think it does seep into everything you do – it’s not like you read a news story, and then you go and do something else and it’s forgotten. Nothing’s in a vacuum, is it? So yeah, it does affect us. We despair a lot about the world.”

Yet she’s cautious of Porridge Radio being perceived as a political band. “You have no choice in how people choose to represent you,” she says. This leads to Dana Margolin at full pace, and it’s spectacular. “‘Oh my god, they care about the climate crisis! Oh my god, they care about accessibility at shows!’ Yeah, we care about those things – what are you gonna do about it? We’re trying to figure out how to be better as people. I’m not trying to be interesting or political; there are just a lot of things I care about. I just want people to see me as a person who is sometimes vulnerable, and sometimes smart, and sometimes stupid. I always try to educate myself about things, but I am just a person.” 

For Porridge Radio, it means that self-expression and emotional outreach essentially come from the same place. “When I write, I write from a very honest and vulnerable place,” she says. “What I want is to be open so maybe other people feel like they can be open, you know? I want to be emotional because I am emotional, and I want other people to feel like they can also be open in that way, and to connect.

“I think when you despair about the world, focusing on the people around you, the communities you live in and the places you are makes it easier to notice the small good things that people are doing, and to try and contribute to them. I think it’s very easy to feel like there’s no hope, and you find the hope in reaching out to people close to you and doing things to help when you can.”

It’s important to take action because there are no prizes for what you could have done, right? Margolin contemplates the idea. “I mean, there are no prizes for ‘done’ either,” she says. “There are no prizes for any of this. I don’t know what game you’re playing, but…” 

This is a playful answer, confrontationally put, and conveys Dana Margolin’s mantra that we should rail against life’s absurdities by giving it everything we’ve got. And it’s exactly the kind of response you’d expect from the singer in the best band in the world.

Porridge Radio’s new album ‘Every Bad’ is out on March 13 via Secretly Canadian

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