Dana Margolin blurts out primal declarations in the songs she writes, sings and sometimes screams for the English rock band Porridge Radio. The group’s seething, volatile arrangements summon 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 be feeling,” Margolin sang in “Eugh,” from 2016. “Thank you for leaving me/Thank you for making me happy,” she sang in “Born Confused,” from 2020. And on the album the band is releasing on Friday — “Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky” — Margolin works herself up to a raw-throated, vein-throbbing fervor in “Birthday Party,” as she sings the phrase “I don’t wanna be loved” no less than 57 times.
“That’s a lot of times to say something that’s not true,” she said with a laugh via video from her painting studio in London. “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 again and again, because I need to have a space to process what it is that I am saying. Singing is a space where I can do that with my whole body, and I can share it.”
Half-crushed tubes of paint and mugs holding assorted brushes sat on a worktable behind Margolin. She has drawn the album covers and designed merchandise for Porridge Radio since she started uploading solo recordings to SoundCloud in 2012.
“I like making things,” she said. “If I’m in a period of time where I’m not making any songs, I tend to find that I’m writing loads of words. Or if I’m not writing anything, then maybe I’m just doing loads of drawings. There always needs to be a place for it to come out, but it can’t always come out in the way that I want it to.”
Margolin began writing poems while in elementary school, and started putting them to music in her teens. “I didn’t know how to play guitar but I thought, ‘Well somebody’s got to to this, so I’ll just do it,’” she said.
She found kindred spirits online as she discovered SoundCloud and Bandcamp and connected with do-it-yourself songwriters. Then she decided, “If everyone else is doing it, I’m going to do it as well. I’ll just put it online because it’s a way to anonymously share something very close to my heart.”
She added, “The core values were always: Be vulnerable. Try and connect with people. Try and communicate your inner world. Try to understand emotions and what’s going on, and just try and give yourself a space to do that. Porridge Radio is about being messy and chaotic.”
Even when she was writing songs alone and recording them in a bedroom with her laptop, Margolin embraced bold contradictions. “I can be everything I love and hate at the same time,” she sang, very quietly, in an early song, “Garbage Band.”
She can’t explain the name Porridge Radio. “It’s words,” she said. “You don’t choose your band name and you don’t choose your bandmates and you don’t really choose any of this stuff. It just happens. And then you turn around and everything’s 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 just turned out that anthropology was all of those things — that is, people. I was just wanting to learn about how people live and feel and experience things and relate to each other. I loved it, and it made a lot of other things in my life makes sense. And I think it’s why I do what I do now.”
While at the university, she started playing her songs at open-mic shows. By the end of 2014 she had gathered a band that included other students who were in Brighton: Georgie Stott on keyboards and backing vocals, Maddie Ryall on bass and Sam Yardley on drums and keyboards.
“The emotional intensity has been there from the start,” Yardley said in a video call. “The experience of those quiet bedroom recordings, seeing them performed live — even when it was just Dana and an acoustic guitar, the intensity was even rawer then. But I think a lot of them were first recorded in university dorm rooms, where you can’t quite get away with the guttural screaming.”
Porridge Radio’s first album — “Rice, Pasta and Other Fillers” — was released in 2016 and reworked some of Margolin’s early songs as scrappy full-band productions. Juggling schoolwork and jobs, the band performed as often as it could — sometimes three or four times a week.
Porridge Radio had fully came into its own by the time it released “Every Bad” in March 2020, just as the pandemic began. It was the work of a band that had honed its identity and its sound: guitar-driven, full-throated, unvarnished, impassioned yet nuanced. In any other year, Porridge Radio would have worked its way up the indie-rock circuit of clubs, festivals and theaters. Instead, during pandemic isolation, it managed an occasional webcast.
Yet “Every Bad” found ardent listeners anyway. It was on the shortlist that year for the Mercury Prize, Britain’s award for musical quality. An expanded version of the album included some radical electronic remixes of songs that had been hand-played, signaling that Porridge Radio had no interest in guitar-band purism.
The pandemic gave Margolin a break from touring — and some time to sleep, she has said — and provided time for the band to dig into her newer songs, layering in parts and trying new textures, making more room for introspection. Churning, overloaded post-punk guitars open the new album in “Back to the Radio,” but other songs are built around keyboards, from shallow synthesizers to stately Hammond organ. “We really enjoy asking, ‘What would happen if you if you just put that in?’” Margolin said.
“Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky” gets its title from paintings that Margolin was making at the same time, and from her eventual realization that her songs were coalescing around three feelings: joy (the waterslide), fear (the diving board) and endlessness (the ladder).
But she fully expects, and welcomes, other readings. 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 everything you touch, I touch.” But as the song marches toward its peak, she shouts, “I had a dream you sang my song/You always sing it wrong.”
It’s an image of intimate misinterpretation. “When I let go of the fact that it’s painful and difficult to share,” Margolin said, “there’s actually a lot of joy in the fact that I have absolutely no control over how people are going to hear it or see me. There’s some kind of freedom that makes it fun and good, even though it’s also horrible and difficult.”
She added, “You can forgive yourself a little bit for being embarrassing. Every single time I’ve given away too much, I’ve realized that the ‘too much’ is the thing that makes somebody understand what I’m talking about.”