From DIY darlings to a Mercury Prize-nominated force of nature, nothing can hold Porridge Radio back from reaching new heights – not even a pandemic. Releasing the critically acclaimed ‘Every Bad’ in March 2020, the stunning album – given the five-star treatment here at NME – became a powerful source of comfort during the unprecedented lockdowns.
Two years on, the band are now gearing up to release ‘Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky’, a record with a new sense of urgency. This time around, there are more crashing moments of catharsis, letting go and chaotic escapism. It marks a change for frontperson Dana Margolin, but also a chance for her to make her presence known as the band are catapulted back into the ‘real world’.
“Maybe [listeners] will find comfort in it in a different way,” Margolin says while speaking to NME in an east London studio midway through a busy week of preparations for the arrival of the group’s upcoming record. “Maybe they won’t like it, it’s chill. I know it’s good!”
With less than a month to go before its release, Porridge Radio are also preparing for their biggest-ever headline tour, which kicks off in Manchester and traverses the UK before branching out to the rest of Europe and the US. After nearly two years spending their breakthrough moment in the studio, the band are now hungry for the live stage.
For the latest in NME’s In Conversation series Margolin sat down to discuss creating ‘Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky’, being inspired by surrealist artists and the joy of working with family. Here’s what we learned.
Art and music are intertwined
Margolin is not just a talented musician, but also an artist. She created the album artwork for ‘Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky’, as well as most of the band’s artwork to date. However, drawing and painting has only come to Margolin in the last few years. With a lot of time on her hands due to the pandemic, Margolin got an art studio and spent time dedicating herself to the creative mediums, but in a playful way. Where music had become a full time job, painting and drawing became a place to “play and make a mess” with no pressure.
Art also inspired part of the new album title. “I was at a friend’s house and saw a collage by Eileen Agar, who was a surrealist artist. And it was a really beautiful collage that I just was really obsessed with. And it had a picture of a diving board in it. And that really struck me”, Margolin laughs.
The resulting title was “a year of just thinking about what the album was going to be, and what was going to be called, and how to visually represent it – because I got really interested in drawing, and trying to represent the kinds of things that I try to represent through song, but through imagery.”
They’ve made peace with the pandemic
In March 2020, Porridge Radio appeared on the cover of NME, their breakthrough album ‘Every Bad’ was released to critical acclaim, comparisons were made to legends like Karen O, Pixies and Sonic Youth and then, well, we all know what happened next.
While some might feel that Covid and the following lockdowns stole their shining moment, Margolin reflects that the band didn’t have anything to compare that breakthrough moment to: “We hadn’t ever experienced ‘the normal way’. So you kind of just go with stuff as it happens. I don’t think the pandemic happened to us, it happened to everybody. Everybody had a really tough few years.”
Margolin knows the expected answer to a question about rising to fame in pandemic: that the band had a terrible time, and are really angry that they couldn’t experience everything that comes with it – gigs, TV appearances, photoshoots. But instead, she feels grateful: “We got to rest, and we got to demo and record a whole album. We wouldn’t have been able to release this album now if it hadn’t been for the fact that we weren’t touring.”
‘Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky’’s influences span from Deftones to Charli XCX
‘Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky’ is an album with a full range of emotions – there are stripped-back lo-fi moments that hark back to debut ‘Every Bad’, but these are coupled with cathartic rawness, clashing guitars and powerful vocals.
Asked if there were particular bands the group drew inspiration from, Margolin explains: “There are actually so many that we ended up making a list of every band that we mentioned in the studio.” In fact – the group collated this selection of “twenty or thirty” names, and included them in the liner notes for their new record. This list spans a host of genres and ideas. Margolin mentions Deftones, whose influence can be heard in drummer Sam Yardley’s ambitious instrumentals; but there’s others too – including pop icon Charli XCX, and even Coldplay.
Patience is key
The epic, loud, and powerful songs that dominate this album are broken up by moments of tenderness like ‘Flowers’, a soft and gentle song that Margolin challenged herself to create on the keyboard. Through the process of making the album, Margolin says she has learned patience, how to sit with a song and confront her creative process.
“When I started writing songs and performing them, I felt like I had to shout to be heard, and I had to be loud, so that people would shut up and listen. That just became the thing that I did. And then I think with this album, I really wanted to write some songs that had space for me to just sing quietly.”
The last song on the record, which lends its name to the title of the album, is the biggest example of this – a stripped back, acoustic guitar track, with soft vocals from Margolin and keyboardist Georgie Stott. “I’ve never really allowed myself to be that quiet and gentle before. And it was really fun actually, just allowing it to be. When we’ve played that live, people listen, and it’s a nice feeling, like, we don’t have to scream for people to listen. Sometimes you can say something quietly, and that’s enough.”
Working with family feels totally natural
The killer album opener, ‘Back To The Radio’, boasts an ambitious one-shot music video featuring the band immersed in a papier-mâché world, directed by Margolin’s sister, Ella Margolin. Ella also created the spooky video to ‘The Rip’, another clashing banger that makes up the penultimate song on the record.
“I feel really proud of her”, says Margolin about Ella, “I’m so proud of those two videos, because I just think she did an incredible job.” It’s high praise from Margolin, considering her sister had her jumping off a high platform repeatedly in the video to ‘The Rip’ (“I think it gave me a fear of heights thing over and over again”).
Working with Ella has been a natural experience. “I think siblings kind of have a language from having grown up in the same household, we have the same points of reference for a lot of things. And I think that allows us to communicate in a really natural and instinctive way. And she can understand exactly what I’m trying to achieve, just through knowing me really, really well, which is really great.
“She’ll notice all these really subtle things that maybe someone who doesn’t know me as well wouldn’t notice. And she can give feedback in a really honest way where her criticisms are actually really helpful, and her support is incredibly uplifting”.
‘Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky’ is out 20 May via Secretly Canadian