Dana Margolin lets out primal statements in the songs she writes, sings and sometimes screams for the English rock band boiled radio. The band’s seething, volatile arrangements evoke multiple eras and styles – post-punk, psychedelia, low-fi indie rock, synth-pop, chamber rock – while Margolin’s lyrics often turn assertions into cathartic incantations.
“Don’t touch me / I’m afraid of what I might feel,” sang Margolin in “Uh,” from 2016. “Thank you for leaving me / Thank you for making me happy,” she sang in “Born Confused” starting in 2020. And on the album the band releases on Friday – “Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky” – Margolin works to heart-pounding fervor in “Birthday Party,” as she sings the line “ I don’t want to be loved” no less than 57 times.
“That’s a lot of times to say something that’s not true,” she laughed via video from her London paint studio. “But I need to say things out loud to hear them, to understand if I agree with them. I need to hear it and say it over and over again, because I need a space to process what I say. Singing is a space where I can do it with my whole body, and I can share it.
Half-crushed paint tubes and cups containing assorted brushes sat on a work table behind Margolin. She’s drawn album covers and designed products for Porridge Radio since she started uploading solo recordings to SoundCloud in 2012.
“I like to do things,” she said. “If I’m in a period where I don’t do any songs, I tend to find that I write a lot of words. Or if I don’t write anything, then maybe I just do a lot of drawings. He must there’s always a place for it to come out, but it can’t always come out the way I want it to.
Margolin began writing poems in elementary school and began setting them to music as a teenager. “I didn’t know how to play the guitar, but I was like, ‘Well, somebody’s got to do it, so I’m going to do it,'” she said.
She found kindred spirits online by discovering SoundCloud and Bandcamp and connecting with DIY songwriters. Then she decided, “If everyone does it, I’m going to do it too. I’m just going to put it online because it’s a way to anonymously share something that’s close to my heart.
She added: “The core values have always been: Be vulnerable. Try to connect with people. Try to communicate your inner world. Try to understand the emotions and what’s going on, and just try to give yourself space to do that. Porridge Radio is about being messy and chaotic.
Even when writing songs alone and recording them in a bedroom with her laptop, Margolin accepted bold contradictions. “I can be everything I love and hate at the same time”, she sang, very softly, in one of the first songs, “Trash tape.”
She can’t explain the name Porridge Radio. “Those are words,” she said. “You don’t choose your band name and you don’t choose your bandmates and you really don’t choose any of that stuff. It just happens. And then you turn around and everything just happened. You’ve been called Porridge Radio for 10 years for some reason, and you don’t know why.
Margolin majored in anthropology and graduated from the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. “I never thought I was going to be a musician or an artist,” she said. “My interests were biology, philosophy, politics, languages and religion. And it turned out that anthropology was all that, that is, people. I just wanted to know how people live and feel and experience things and relate to each other. I loved it, and it gave meaning to so many other things in my life. And I think that’s why I do what I do now.
In college, she began performing her songs on open-mic shows. By the end of 2014 she had assembled a band which included fellow students who were at Brighton: Georgie Stott on keyboards and backing vocals, Maddie Ryall on bass and Sam Yardley on drums and keyboards.
“The emotional intensity is there from the start,” Yardley said in a video call. “Experiencing these silent recordings in a bedroom, seeing them play live – even when it was just Dana and an acoustic guitar, the intensity was even rawer back then. But I think a lot of them were first recorded in college dorms, where you can’t get away with the guttural screams.
Porridge Radio’s debut album – “Rice, Pasta and Other Fillers” – was released in 2016 and reworked some of Margolin’s early songs as full band productions. Juggling schoolwork and work, the band performed as often as they could – sometimes three or four times a week.
Porridge Radio had fully come into its own by the time “Every Bad” was released in March 2020, right at the start of the pandemic. It was the work of a group that had forged its identity and its sound: on the guitar, full-throated, unvarnished, passionate but nuanced. In any other year, Porridge Radio would have risen through the ranks of the indie-rock club, festival and theater circuit. Instead, during pandemic isolation, he managed an occasional webcast.
Yet “Every Bad” still found ardent listeners. It appeared that year on the shortlist of the Mercury Prize, the British prize rewarding musical quality. An extended version of the album included some radical electronic remixes of songs that had been played by hand, signaling that Porridge Radio had no interest in the purism of guitar bands.
The pandemic gave Margolin a break from touring — and some time to sleep, she said — and gave the band time to dig into their new songs, layer parts and try to new textures, leaving more room for introspection. Throbbing, overloaded post-punk guitars open the new album in “Back to Radio” but other songs are built around keyboards, from superficial synthesizers to the majestic Hammond organ. “We really like to ask, ‘What if you just add that? ‘” Margolin said.
“Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky” takes its title from the paintings Margolin was doing at the same time, and his eventual realization that his songs coalesced around three feelings: joy (the waterslide), fear (the diving board ) and infinity (the scale).
But she fully expects, and welcomes, further reading. In “U Can Be Happy If U Want To”, Margolin sings about a relationship so close that “My skin is tied to your skin/So whatever you touch, I touch”. But as the song progresses to its climax, she cries out, “I dreamed you sang my song / You still sing it wrong.”
It is an image of intimate misinterpretation. “When I let go of the fact that it’s painful and hard to share,” Margolin said, “there’s actually a lot of joy in the fact that I have absolutely no control over how people go about it. ‘hear or see me. There’s a kind of freedom that makes it fun and good, even if it’s also horrible and difficult.
She added: “You can forgive yourself a bit for being embarrassing. Every time I’ve given too much, I’ve realized that ‘too much’ is the thing that makes someone understand what I’m talking about.