Porridge Radio‘s latest record, Every Bad, cuts to the core of the strange anxiety of our time. Taking influence from everything from The Cranberries to Charlie XCX, the band’s sound is shifting and dynamic: simultaneously aggressive and vulnerable, confident and unsure of itself. The blend of indie, shoegaze and post-punk (and the record’s penchant for sudden bursts of noise) leads you to feel as though you’re standing at the bottom of an enormous wave, not quite sure as to when it will break. More so than if you, say, read the news at the moment.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when we spoke to Dana on the day of Every Bad‘s release, there was a strange mood in the air. It was before the whole pandemic thing really kicked into overdrive, but after it had become apparent that bands would take a huge hit from it. While the launch was a success, with four and five-star reviews dropping across the internet for the LP, it was offset by the uncertainty surrounding their upcoming tour, and the recent cancellation of SXSW – which the band were due to play at.
Here Dana details the strange gear she’s collected that went into the making of Every Bad, the particular worries of playing in a band in the first half of 2020, and how to support bands during the pandemic.
What is that red offset with P90-sized humbuckers?
It’s a Revelation RJT-60 thinline. I used to play this Epiphone SG, and it was kind of shit. I didn’t want to get the same guitar as everyone else, I wanted something that felt really good, sounded really good, looked really good – and wasn’t just a Strat.
I remember looking for a year and a half, it took me that long to choose what guitar I wanted. I eventually found it in a music shop, and I thought “fuck, that’s the perfect guitar for me, that’s exactly what I want.” I’ve never been into gear, I don’t like the idea of spending loads of money on a guitar. Especially because at the time, I wasn’t that good at guitar, I was still figuring out how to play the way I wanted to play. And so I got that, and I love it so much.
What pedals and amps are you using?
I’ve got like five pedals. I’ve never been really into gear, I just find it fun seeing what ways you can change your sound. I’ve always been tentatively doing it. I’ve got an EHX Big Muff, a Boss overdrive, a Mooer delay and some chorus which cost me ten pounds – some of my pedals are so bad, but I just love them. Over the years, I’ve just got stuff off Gumtree or Facebook or just seeing what I can find second hand. I guess I got my guitar brand new, which is fun, but I’ve always thought “I guess I kind of need to make this setup better. What the fuck. How do I do that?”
I have a Sessionette amp, which a friend sold to me, and that’s just a kind of gainy, treble-y, loud small amp that I really like. But usually, I want to use the house amp because I can’t be fucked to set up…
Do you think there’s too much pressure for guitarists to use quote-unquote ‘quality’ or ‘boutique’ gear?
I think that it just makes people who don’t have that history or that knowledge, or haven’t had the confidence to figure out all that stuff – I guess, people like me, it makes it seem inaccessible. I think that’s the danger of that.
But then, when you have people who are more like “hey, here’s this pedal, you should try it” and give you the space to figure it out and play with things, then it’s actually really fun, when you realise it’
How do you go about writing the more effects-laden songs, for example Lilac, which ends with layers and layers of backwards reverb? Does stuff like that come from live performances?
The way a lot of songs work is that we’ll play them over and over again as we’re figuring out how we want them to sound, and so with Lilac when we started playing it, it always had this big build-up at the end. But as we were thinking about how we wanted to produce it, how it would sound on the record, we thought obviously let’s just layer up all those guitars and add loads of effects and loads of guitars, vocal tracks and violin layers.
That was really fun and exciting to do but I think I got the confidence to know that I could play around with stuff like that from my bandmates. And from being able to look at it like ‘just try it out, just see what it sounds like’ and we can kind of change it around every time, it doesn’t need to be this one specific thing that we’ve got figured out before we go.
We probably figured that out over about a year of playing it live and talking about it non-stop, and thinking about how we wanted it to sound. And we wanted to capture that energy we get live, and we didn’t quite know how to translate that to a record so we added all those effects to achieve that same overpowering feeling, and I think we got that.
Have you kept the same writing process as when Porridge Radio was a solo project, or is it more collaborative now?
For sure, the point of having a band was to bring all my ideas to people, and hear all of theirs, and collaborate and figure out ways to do things together. I really like that you can bring something that you think is fully formed to someone and they add a part, just the smallest change, and suddenly you’ve changed the whole dynamic of the song and I find that really exciting.
Can you also talk about how you got the sounds on Circling?
I really love Yamaha Portasound keyboards, I have about six at home and I always have to stop myself from getting more because I love that so much. And when I started getting them I just wrote a lot of songs on the Portasounds. So when we were making Circling we got to the end and Sam [Yardley, Porridge Radio’s drummer] said that he really wanted it to have one measure of the intro with the Portasound, because it shows how it was written. When I write I make a lot of demos in my bedroom, and just record things on the shitty internal mic on my laptop, just having fun with it, not worry about making it sound well-produced or perfect.
And Sam wanted to cut to that feeling, so he recorded that just to mimic my demo of the song, and we put it in the intro and I really liked it. It just showed where the song as a whole all came from.
Sam also went down to the beach in Brighton with a mic and recorded the sound of the waves, and we wanted that to be in it as well as that was a whole other part of the story about how the song came together.
Was Brighton a big influence on Every Bad?
I think wherever I would have been, I would have written about, and because I wrote a lot by the sea it informed all of the songs.
You cite a lot of varying bands as inspiration, and music journalists have called you a laundry list of different genres. Do you think it’s important for musicians to listen to a lot of different things?
I don’t know [laughs]. But for me, yes, I take inspiration from everything I like, and see and hear and feel. It’s helpful to me as it expands what I have to think about, to write about and talk about. I don’t think it’s necessarily crucial , there are other ways of doing it – I think it’s the way I know how to do it. The way that I know how to find inspiration is from lots of different things.
Recently, I’ve listened to a lot of Sharon Van Etten and a lot of Modest Mouse, also a lot of Caroline Polachek.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic is continuing to impact bands across the world. How has it hit you?
Well, we were meant to play SXSW, and we’ve got a headline tour coming up. We’re bracing ourselves for the worst, but we’ll see what happens. I mean, we’ve released an album today and we’re about to tour it for a year… and there’s a pandemic. We don’t really know what’s gonna happen next, we’re just hoping festivals won’t get cancelled.
[This tour has since been postponed due to the pandemic, as NME reports, however the band announced a series of streaming gigs.]
What’s the best way for fans to support you, or any band, in this current climate?
Enjoy our album, as we’re really proud of it. Keep buying records, and keep buying merch from bands.
Every Bad is out now on Secretly Canadian.