There are a handful of records released in the spring of 2020 that will always be associated with that time. They’re albums that spoke to widespread isolation and anxiety, but also provided a source of comfort while everyone was stuck indoors. There was Waxahatchee’s striking fifth album, Saint Cloud. There was Charli XCX’s glitchy, yet personal How I’m Feeling Now. There was also Porridge Radio’s splendid sophomore record, Every Bad.
The Brighton-based indie rockers’ second LP came out on March 13, 2020, a time when they couldn’t take the album out on the road while they were becoming abundantly more well-known. Live music was a mere husk of itself, and touring was impossible. Still, frontwoman Dana Margolin found relief during her time at home.
“I loved being at home,” she tells SPIN over Zoom. “It was obviously amazing to release an album that people really cared about and struck people at the right time. I’m glad that we got to do it. But I really loved the time to chill. It was nice to be able to work on this album instead of touring for a year.”
Finding solace in creativity, Margolin used this lull in the industry to make yet another sensational album. This time, however, Margolin aimed for more stratospheric sounds in the vein of arena-sized artists like Coldplay. The result that emerged is Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky.
Opener and lead single “Back to the Radio” — for which the singer’s sister, Ella, made a hypnotic music video — is built on Georgie Stott’s melodic keys and Margolin’s emotive vocals. It’s a towering track ending with a chant of “So lock all the windows and shut all the doors / And get into the house and lie down on the cold, hard floor.” The penultimate song, “The Rip,” lays down a danceable groove paired with a hooky guitar riff before it all bursts open into a fuzzed-out, half-time section.
Unlike Porridge Radio’s previous music, though, Margolin found the space to be gentler in her songwriting. On tracks like “Flowers” and “Rotten,” she takes a softer approach, temporarily casting aside the jangly, guitar-heavy arrangements. Learning to write quieter material is something that Margolin acquired with confidence. She already felt confident in her artistic prowess, but, following the unanimous adulation of Every Bad, she had an important realization.
“In the past, I wouldn’t necessarily allow myself to be soft or gentle because there’s always been a sense of ‘You have to be loud to be heard. You have to be loud for people to notice,’” Margolin says. “But I think I finally felt like I could make a gentle song, and that it would be good — that it would be listened to. It would be accepted, and people would be interested in what I was doing.”
With Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky, she also faced her fear of making mistakes. She knew that every single song she writes won’t be a masterpiece, so she embraces making music that isn’t as captivating, because she knows it’s all part of the process.
“I have a lot of ideas that are bad ideas, and I like to encourage having bad ideas because I think that you can’t make anything good unless you make loads of bad things,” she says. “Whenever I’m writing or drawing, I try to just let myself make bad things and not overthink what I’m doing, because I know that — if I get my body in the practice of creating — then at the right time, the right thing will come to me.”
And the right thing eventually did come. Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky is an astonishing album that explores joy, fear, and endlessness, and it expands upon the extraordinary indie rock that Porridge Radio has become known for. But this is the first album that Margolin has made where she feels genuinely proud of herself looking back at the experience.
“We all just put so much into it, and I love what came out of it,” Margolin says. “I don’t think that I’ve ever been able to look back at a process and feel fully comfortable with the whole thing, and this time I really did. There were a lot of bumps along the way, but if I’m proud of one thing, it’s this album.”