Interview

The Rates: Porridge Radio on Welsh cult heroes and eccentric Brighton DIY

Each issue, we ask an artist or group to share three musicians they think have gone under-appreciated, and three new names who they hope will avoid a similar fate. This time, Dana Margolin from Porridge Radio shares her recommendations

Since their inception in 2016, Porridge Radio have slowly but surely established themselves a cult-like status within indie rock. Their debut Rice, Pasta And Other Fillers was very much a creation of what you’d expect coming from their native Brighton DIY scene: a scrappy indie-folk-punk opus. Its follow-up, 2020’s markedly different Every Bad, propelled Porridge Radio to new and well-deserved heights, receiving critical acclaim from all angles. Lauded for being conscientious and emotional with just the right amount of ego, Every Bad truly earned its praise, streaming success and Mercury Prize nomination.

This May sees Porridge Radio release their third full-length, Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky. Building on the firm foundations of their predecessors, the new record is a considerable shift, one that’s needed and one that you’d expect from a band that delivered a record that made such an impact not so long ago. Staying true to their lived experience, Waterslide… sees front person Dana Margolin navigate the complexities of life in her late 20s. She’s taken her already-sharp wit and propelled it with further insight. It’s Porridge Radio expanded; although in the first instance it may sound familiar, as the album progresses, new horizons are reached, most impactfully so on its second half. Whether it’s the monolithic climax of ‘Jealousy’, or ‘Splintered’, where multi-faceted vocal deliveries take centre stage (think choral harmonies and speakerphone muffles), Dana is increasingly defiant. Penultimate track ‘The Rip’ is an epic amalgamation of kinetic, extraterrestrial electronics, full of palpable lyrical relatability.

Porridge Radio have never existed as one-dimensional – they’ve always had a wide array of musical influences at their disposal. However, the expansiveness of their interests is felt more than ever on Waterslide…; the album’s shifting moods are reflected in its musical core, a conscious decision inspired by touchstones as diverse as the kaleidoscopic work of British-Argentinian collage artist Eileen Agar, and the story of Jacob’s Ladder, symbolising the swings and roundabouts of morality. With Waterslide… all emotions coexist and embrace one another.

 In spite of her successes, it’s clear to see how integral Dana’s beginnings remain for her as an artist: on the new record, she pays homage to her roots, asking her sister to direct the video for latest track ‘Back To The Radio’, and to paint the artwork for her albums. For her instalment of The Rates, Dana’s choices range from the sort of thing one might easily have anticipated – experimental post-punk, DIY electronics – to more unexpected selections, yet the majority circle back to links with her coastal hometown.

Young Marble Giants

Dana Margolin: I first heard them when I just moved to Brighton and started uni. I remember I was in my room in first year in halls, and listening to [Colossal Youth] on repeat for days and days on end. There’s one song on it called ‘Music for Evenings’, which I actually just had on repeat over and over and over again. Georgia in my band, she’s really obsessed with them, her dad is as well. Josh, my manager [too]. I just heard this album and was completely bowled over. 

They’re Welsh, from the ’70s. The songwriting is incredible. To me, it’s a really perfect album, it’s not underrated, but maybe more people need to hear it.

Jasleen Dhindsa: You said you came across the album living in Brighton. Do you still listen to the album now, or is it more of a memory from that time in your life?

DM: It’s a very formative memory from that year, but I will come back to that album every so often and remember how good, how amazing [it is]. I really just love the instrumentation and the songs feel like they flow so naturally. 

Case/Lang/Veirs

DM: I first found this album [the eponymous debut from the supergroup of Neko Case, K.D. Lang and Laura Veirs] a few years ago. I think I just kind of stumbled upon it [through] listening to something else. I don’t even know how I found it. I love it when you get people who have their own songwriting projects, and then they come together and they write songs together. When I have delved into their back catalogue individually I’ve enjoyed [it], but not as much as I’ve loved this album. It’s really unique and beautiful. It feels like it captures a moment in time where I assume three friends or people who were in each other’s circles came together and wrote a really incredible album, this one-off, beautiful thing.

JD: Do you like to collaborate a lot with other artists? 

DM: I have done a few collaborations. I did a song with Lillie from [Chicago indie band] Lala Lala. I did two songs with my friend Charlie [Loane] from Piglet and Speed Training. I’ve done a bunch of covers, crossing over to other artists who are my contemporaries. I love writing songs with Charlie, I’d love to do more with him. 

Every time you collaborate you learn something new about how someone else’s brain works and how other people write songs. Collaborating has really drummed in that there’s a million different ways to make a song. I don’t think it’s particularly changed how I write, but it’s definitely opened my mind a bit.  

Casiotone For The Painfully Alone

DM: I’ve always really loved Casiotone. I love toy keyboards. I’ve got loads of Yamaha Portasounds, and I love that tone. I love those toy keyboard drum machines as well. Casiotone For The Painfully Alone [the solo project of Californian musician Owen Ashworth] utilises that in an amazing way whilst also having these really intense lyrics and vocal delivery. I really love [2006 album] Etiquette. I think Josh actually introduced it to me; I love wailing, [and] sad, sad vibes with the kind of upbeat, almost-playfulness.

I always love lyrics and vocal melodies, and they are what I’ve always gravitated towards when I listen to music. I find that words and voices very instantly captivate me across genres. Maybe because you can hear emotion instantly through words and voices, and maybe that makes me feel closer to the artist. 

Kaho Nakamura

DM: We’re always sharing music with each other as a band and I’ve found out about so much music on the road through my bandmates’ recommendations. Kaho Nakamura is unbelievably good. She’s a credit to all the best artists who I’ve found in the last few years. I found her because I was listening to Sen Morimoto. I was listening to his self-titled [album] in the car and Sam, my bandmate, was falling asleep next to me as I was driving to Brighton. The album finished and so Spotify just auto-played random stuff. One of [her] songs came on and I was just in shock and Sam woke up as the song was playing. It was incredible. We immediately listened to that whole album [2018’s AINOU]. We both became really obsessed with it and learned how to play one of the songs. I just absolutely love her. I think she’s incredible – her music is really good and instantly hit us as really exciting and different. I really love how she sings, her melodies and her English/Japanese/scatting mash-up. There’s so many layers to the songs and so many moving parts happening at the same time. 

All of us in the band like really different things that converge in complementary ways, as well as loving a lot of the same stuff. We also sometimes really don’t like things or get things that someone else really loves. It definitely really informs the way that songs come together, especially if we’re all coming from having been listening to a lot of quite different sounding music. The main important thing is that we are all open to trying out different ideas and listening to anything and everything. 

Audiobooks

DM: [Astro Tough] came out a few months ago, and it was so great. The energy that they have is so weird and good, it really sits perfectly with me. It captures this hyperness. It’s so dark and so strange, but you want to just dance to it.

My friend sent me one of their songs, ‘LaLaLa It’s The Good Life’. That was another song that as soon as I heard it was on repeat for ages, because it’s so manic. My friend sent it to me at a time where I was particularly miserable but I was really high-energy and running around all over the place, and it really perfectly fitted.

JD: In your selections, you’ve got quite an eclectic mix of genres. That’s reflective of the music that you make – do you feel drawn to different moods equally? 

DM: I listen to things across a really broad spectrum of moods, because I have a really broad spectrum of moods. Sometimes I want to listen to Bill Callahan talking really slowly over some long instrumentals. Sometimes I want to listen to some really manic hyper-pop. I’m really interested in songwriting, and melodies and lyrics… the poetry in it a lot of the time. So it can really be anything.

Garden Centre

DM: Garden Centre was the project of my friend Max. He’s been making music since he was about 16 under various different names. I was actually in his band for two years and was on the album A Moon For Digging. I love playing shows with him. I also love his songs so much so it was an incredibly fun couple of years learning them and playing them live. 

Before I joined his band I was obsessed with his music and met him in Brighton when we were gigging and doing a lot of shows together. I think that his songwriting is incredible. There’s something so bizarre in the way he writes songs, but it’s so interesting and so well-devised, and so thought through in such an interesting way. He captures something really powerful in his music. Every single song is just so different and interesting. I really love the way that he writes and performs; the songs all have really chaotic structures and move really quickly and are often really short so playing Max’s songs made me way better at guitar.

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