Catharsis: the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions. With the world becoming ever more bombarding and claustrophobic in its design, the need to let out and release what emotions we store inside of us is becoming more of a necessity. We go on solitary walks, we talk to close friends, we see therapists; we do anything that helps us relieve the constant pressures bubbling underneath whilst traversing and treading through an ever more complex world. For Dana Margolin, songwriting is the antidote she turns to for when things need to be said.
Since coining the Porridge Radio moniker back in the early days, Dana has been using the self-exploration encouraged from the songwriting process to help vent, purge and dispel those equally euphoric or morose emotions which sometimes ache like a bruise in our chest. Scrolling through the original Porridge Radio Soundcloud page reveals the wealth of song ideas and expressive compositions that were made from the exercise, each acting as a frank and open sonic diary entry documenting a time, a place and a feeling. It wasn’t too long before the lo-fi odes that Dana was weaving made their way out into the wider world, eventually finding support from a band of close friends who resonated with what the music was expressing.
The formation and development of a band was, of course, a natural progression. Catharsis is always best expressed in union with others, and how many times can it be said that we feel better after having a candid heart to heart with a close friend to get something ‘off our chest’? Through saying how we feel, we develop and mature, and Porridge Radio is no exception to this truth. Compositions which were experiments eventually blossomed into singles, which in turn blossomed into albums, which in turn made way for the scrappy but by no means reductive ‘Rice, Pasta and Other Fillers’, the bands first official LP release.
After much adversity, this year sees Dana and her band finally make bigger and bolder steps into a more conspicuous spotlight with the release of the singles ‘Give/Take’ and ‘Don’t Ask Me Twice’. It’s at this point we see Porridge Radio standing on a cliff edge, waiting to be tipped over at the release of an impending new, studio produced album; a marked step in the projects long journey of introspection and self discovery. On ‘Give/Take’, we find Dana opening the song with the typically idiosyncratic anxious lyric, “Don’t you know what I’ve been waiting for?” In light of the growth she’s made in recent years, and the bright future that’s ahead, the answer to this is undoubtedly bigger and better things for herself and for her music.
Wax: Porridge Radio started off as a solo project, but over the last few years has morphed into a full band. By your own admission, your songwriting is quite cathartic and personal, so what’s it like now having another set of humans expressing those emotions with you? Has it changed the way certain songs feel or has the experience of performing them stayed the same emotionally?
Dana Margolin: The whole reason why I write music is to connect with myself and to understand how I feel. Playing on my own is this big, vulnerable thing where I’m showing people my emotions, but the fact that other people like it enough to play it with me is a very powerful thing. If anything, it’s really exciting to be feeling pent up, miserable or anxious, and then go play a show and have that experience or those feelings with your friends expressed together. The whole process is very powerful for me.
Also, having a band allows me to turn my songs into something that’s dynamic and exciting. So many times I’ve shown the band a song and then someone goes and writes a part that just changes the whole feel of the song completely, and it just brings a different perspective to it. So when it comes to arranging the song together as a full band, you suddenly get something that’s so much more interesting and has a lot more to it than just my perspective.
W: So with most of your songs drawing from personal emotions, what’s it like playing and singing your thoughts about yourself to an audience? Is there any self-consciousness or apprehension, or is it like a process of helping you let go, like confiding in a close friend?
D: I think it’s kind of both. It can be quite an exposing experience, but also there’s something about being on the stage and having a separation between you and an audience that actually doesn’t allow you to bare your soul completely – you just bare a version of yourself that you’ve created for the audience. If that’s something more personal than something you would share with somebody you’re sat next to on a bus, for instance, it’s still something you can have control over and can curate yourself.
W: So having an audience makes it more easier to express those feelings?
D: Yeah! It’s a lot easier to sing a song to a room full of people than it is to sing a song to one person sitting opposite you because you just have to let go. My songs are really personal from the moment that I write them, but from the moment that I’m performing them, I’m performing them with the thought of me on a stage with my bandmates and the audience having a set role.
W: You’ve recently released two singles Give/Take and Don’t Ask Me Twice after a long time of not releasing any music. Considering that your early days were so prolific with releases, how does it feel to finally have something new out in the world?
D: It feels so good! It took so long as we were demoing for like two years. Everything takes a long time with music and we had a bunch of hiccups during the recording process. Everything just took ages, there was every obstacle in the way and I was like, “oh my God, here we go, this sets us back again”, and I just wanted to get on with it and release the music. I write so much and that makes it even more difficult because I get anxious knowing that I have a backlog of basically another albums-worth of songs which we haven’t recorded – and I’m still contributing to that backlog by writing more stuff all the time! (laughs) The gap in recorded releases, though, does allow you to step back and filter yourself a bit and really work on the songs, play them live loads and get them really tight.
W: Much of your earlier output was very lo-fi in nature. These two new singles are the most sonically refined set of recordings that you’ve released to date. How does it feel looking back from where you came from sound-wise and comparing it with what you’ve just released? Does it feel like you’ve matured, or do you view it as just another side of the music?
D: I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I think when I started I had no idea how to play an instrument, I had no idea how to sing and I had no idea I could even write songs. I was just doing it to kind of see how to do it. At the time, the recordings were lo-fi out of necessity because I was just figuring it out, figuring out how to use Garage Band, for instance. Josh (Cohen), who’s our manager, and also a really old friend of mine, said to me the other day, “I’ve found some emails with some of your old demos in them and they’re so bad!” (laughs) But they were bad, but I was just finding myself and figuring out how to express my feelings, through technology or otherwise.
With these two new singles, we were finally able to record stuff properly in the studio and then to get somebody professional to mix it, to work with them and to make the songs sound like how we wanted them to sound; to finally have an albums worth of songs that I can feel proud of. And I am really proud of what we’ve made and I’m excited to keep getting better at it. I’ve learned so much about how to play guitar, how to write songs, how to talk about music and how to be confident in my ideas about how I want things to be mixed.
W: I think the development of the band comes through even in the new music video you released for Give/Take. What was the experience like working with Bella from Dream Wife, as she directed the video?
D: She was great! We’ve known Dream Wife for years as they’re a Brighton band and I used to play in Garden Centre with Bella’s boyfriend. I just asked Bella one day if she’d be up for doing it and she said, “yeah, I’d love to!” So we met up a bunch of times and had meetings to discuss what the song was about. It turned out we had a lot of things in common and the song itself just brought out and exaggerated those similarities between the two of us. I just think she did such a nice job; she painted all the backdrops and made most of the set. I’m just so happy we could do it with her.
W: In previous interviews you’ve spoken about ambition and that you have an idealist motto that you’re, “the best band in the world.” I know the context behind that is not egotistical, but rather to keep yourselves motivated to do better. Porridge Radio as a project must mean a lot to you, so what is it that you hope to achieve with continuing?
D: Well, that mantra is really helpful for when you’re really depressed and you feel like giving up all the time because you just think, “what’s the point in carrying on with anything?” And the point is, that mantra is helping to remind you that what you’re doing is something which is meaningful to people; it helps you create meaning within relationships with other people. So yeah, we’re the best band in the world and we’re doing this thing which is exciting and you have to keep hold of that or otherwise, what’s the point in anything?
As far as the music is concerned, I don’t really have an ultimate goal. I just want to get to a place in my life where I can write as much as I want and make and create as much as I want. I just want to learn about all the things that I’ve wanted to do. I just want a peaceful existence.
Porridge Radio have today shared ‘Lilac’ – their new single and first for Secretly Canadian. Watch the video below.
Words & Photos by Dan E Brown (@dan_e_brown)