Porridge Radio Make Indie Rock for the Angsty Antisocial in All of Us

Coney Island is asleep for the winter. The shops and sideshows are shuttered, and the hibernating amusement park rides, typically bursting with color, seem bleached by the gray air. And yet, all is not calm. In the middle of a deserted stretch of pavement, there are jackhammers tearing through concrete and a forklift operator who seems hell-bent on driving his heap of steel beams into oncoming traffic. Dana Margolin, leader and guitarist of UK post-punk group Porridge Radio, observes the scene with perverse delight. “That’s not safe!” she yells, before turning to me, wide-eyed. “I feel like someone’s gonna die.”

With its looming ferris wheel and wooden pier, Margolin notes that Coney Island loosely resembles Brighton, the college town on England’s south coast where she met her bandmates and formed Porridge Radio in 2015. What began as Margolin’s lo-fi solo project has evolved into a fierce wrecking crew fueled by unvarnished angst. On the group’s lurching new album, Every Bad—their first release for esteemed indie imprint Secretly Canadian—Margolin is a snarling antisocial who’s constantly at war with her body and mind. 

Recent single “Sweet” has the 26-year-old singer slyly exorcising her anxieties alongside surges of feedback and ripping percussion. In the song’s video, she peers into the lens like she’s trying to pick a fight with the camera—when she strikes a match on her guitar, you half expect her to burn the whole set down. (Instead, she lights a candle.) “When I perform, that’s the energy I’m really channeling,” she tells me. “In the rest of my life, I’m not that intense or confrontational.”

As Margolin takes in Coney Island for the first time, she finds most things ridiculous, and laughs at them accordingly. When we pass a sweet shop window, she stops to peek at a tray of red candied apples. “Who wants an apple covered in sugar?” she wonders. “Give me sugar or give me apple.”

When we meet earlier in the day at the nearby New York Aquarium, Margolin is instantly friendly in chunky black platforms and a puffy coat, her fuzz of highlighter-yellow hair looking freshly buzzed. We walk through a plexiglass tunnel that separates us from a variety of ocean life, including a rainbow of coral and several species of shark. After watching the sea creatures flutter across the watery ceiling, Margolin smirks. “Now I need to find somewhere quiet and cry about the sharks,” she jokes. No tears are shed, but she does confess that, “When I was 18, I started crying—and I haven’t stopped.”

Most of Margolin’s comments are coated in satire and polished off with a chuckle, and her self-skewering is relentless yet playful. She is earnest, but does not seem to take the world—or herself—too seriously. “It’s embarrassing to make anything,” she says at one point over a coffee. “I’m, like, embarrassed to be alive.” 

Margolin is the core songwriter of Porridge Radio, but all of her bandmates—keyboardist Georgie Stott, bassist Maddie Ryall, and drummer Sam Yardley—have a hand in shaping her raw material. Every Bad marks a new milestone for the group: It’s their most powerful work to date, struck through with meticulous arrangements and production. It is also the first record they’ll get to play across the pond. Margolin is still in disbelief at the prospect. “It feels surreal,” says Margolin, who is currently living with her parents in their North London home. “We’re playing shows in America? Who allowed us?”

Part of Margolin’s charm is this sense of endless wonder that she’s retained into adulthood. She’s always reveling in unfamiliar sights and picking out little details about the world around her that most others would ignore. At one point in the aquarium, we scrunch into a transparent, three-foot tube to see the world from the perspective of a shark. As a small child pounds on the cylinder wall, Margolin turns to me and deadpans, “Do you do all of your interviews in here?” Then she gets quiet, gazing at the rippling water above us. “I just can’t believe there’s this many fish in the world.”

Pitchfork: What did you want to be  when you were little?

Dana Margolin: A poet. I still have a folder of poems I wrote when I was 8 years old, and they are so funny. I know a lot of them from memory: “Sometimes you make friends/Sometimes you break friends/Sometimes you go around little bends.” Or like, “Crying makes you sad/Crying makes you very sad.” And they’re all illustrated with pen drawings of stupid shit. I feel affectionate towards my past self, like she’s a different person to me now, but she’s trying really hard. I look back, and I’m like, “Oh, I love me.”

What do you think about your present self?

She’s OK.

What were you like as a teenager?

I was quite quiet. Teachers liked me because I was always polite, but I never did the work. I would turn up but I wouldn’t necessarily pay attention or participate.

When did you realize you could put the words you’d strung together to music?

When I was about 18, I just started playing guitar. I always secretly liked writing, but I hated the idea of sharing anything personal to me with anyone. It’s quite terrifying to expose yourself in that way to people.

You’re currently living back home in London—are your parents into music at all? 

Both my parents are massive music fans. They loved prog rock in the ’80s, and now they love psytrance.

What’s that?

Psychedelic trance music.

Do they ever ask when you’re going to launch a psytrance project?

Every day.

In “Pop Song,” from Every Bad, you sing about “not coming home,” but then, in “Homecoming Song,” you do just that. How did your relationship with the idea of home change while writing this album?

 “Pop Song” and “Homecoming Song” were originally two parts of the same song. I was struggling with the idea of what my home was, and I still kind of am. I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to go back to my family. I definitely have a sense of place and a sense of belonging. I’ve never been sure of where I want to be, how I want to live, or what I want to do. It’s quite hard to make a long-term plan. At the time I was living in Brighton, I was fairly unhappy, and I didn’t necessarily know what the idea of home was. That was what I wanted more than anything: a feeling of knowing my place in the world.

Do you miss living near the sea now that you’ve moved back to London?

I do. It was such a huge part of my life when I lived in Brighton. I really relied on it for five years. The sea is vast and terrifying. It’s so overwhelming, but I love the feeling of being overwhelmed by it. A lot of the album is written around that feeling as well: feeling like everything is bigger than me. I’m so engulfed in it, and protected, and surrounded by it. At the same time, it could kill me. But now, I’ve found other things that give me what the ocean did. I started painting a lot. I did all the artwork for the album.

The new album’s opening track, “Born Confused,” ends with you addressing an ex and repeating the lines, “Thank you for leaving me/Thank you for making me happy.” Is that meant to be flippant or sincere? Or both?

I wrote that song about a specific time, person, and experience, but as time’s gone on and I’ve moved on emotionally, the song has changed meaning for me. It’s like, “You actually did make me happy.” But it’s also like, “Fuck you.”

You often use repetition as a device in your lyrics. Are you repeating words to believe them, or is it more like, the more you say something, the less it means?

The meaning changes for me every time. I like the idea of something being so changeable and self-contradictory that it can mean opposite things within the same phrase. And if you repeat it over and over again, you’re forced to think in another way every time you say it. And just saying things over and over again kind of makes them true.

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