holy fucking shit the battenkill ramblers cd is finally finished

In January we recorded it, back in the day when we were still calling ourselves Black Diamond Express Train to Hell. Then mastering took forever, like it always seems to. Then mastering was done and suddenly two people were leaving the band. What the fuck were we going to do with the cd we’d worked so hard on then? Bring it the fuck out, that’s what.

So the Beard went to work designing the cover, and I went to work typing up the text booklet. After quite a lot of detail mongering, we sent it off to the press, and now here it is, get it while it’s hot.  This time around all the songs are originals, nine little birdies who want to sing you a song.  It feels so good to finally hold it in my hand, and I am particularly in love with how the booklet turned out.  Three thousand high fives for the Beard, who has much more patience with Photoshop than I do.

Want to order a copy?

In the past I have been down right shitty with sending things out on time.  And if cod is my witness, damn it, I’m not going to do that anymore (Dear Filzy, You won my sweepstakes.  And I swear to you I will someday make it to the post office.  Maybe even someday this week.  I know, I know.  This is totally embarassing.  But I thought I should mention that I haven’t forgotten you. Love, Click Clack Package Procrastinator).  Even if I have to bribe the Beard into going to the post office for me.

So.  If you’d like a copy of our new CD, “Around My Grave Sing Songs of Joy,” then we want you to have one.  Because we sent them off to be printed this time around, they are a bit more expensive than we would have liked.  But I hope it doesn’t deter you from ordering a copy.  Your money is going to support 100% organic, home-grown DIY porchcore.  The prices are listed below.  To order, paypal the appropriate amount to nicolettekyle AT yahoo DOT com (you can also just click on the “donate” button in the left column).  In the notes section along with your payment, please include your mailing address and the number of CDs you’d like to have.

Prices (shipping included—we can take both euros and dollars):

Europe 11.20 (euros)
America 12.50 (euros) or 15 dollars

If you want a CD shipped to a place not yet listed, just send me an email, and I’ll inquire at the post office. Thanks so much to everybody for the support.

hereye hereye, black diamond becomes the battenkill ramblers

It happened weeks ago, months now, but internet tasks are done in slow motion.  Remember my band, Black Diamond Express Train to Hell?  Well, we changed our name to The Battenkill Ramblers after the Martin section (so as not to be confusing I’ll explain: we had two people named Martin in the band) decided to jump ship.  Or train as the case may be.

And then there were three.

Turns out the change has been really good.  Sure, things sound a little different with two instruments out of the picture.  But I like the parred-down sound a lot, and a three-headed band is just more flexible than a five-headed band.  Maybe those epic tours through England and Ireland and the United States are going to end up happening after all.  I sure hope so.  We’ve already played four concerts.  Train’s a rollin’.  Stay tuned for the release of our next album which should be arriving in big cardboard boxes in the next few days…”around my grave, sing songs of joy.”  I can’t wait to share.

black diamond express train to hell album preview

Having become used to the instanteneousness of blogging—of putting something out into the world and receiving almost immediate feedback—projects that need more time unsung have started making me twitchier than usual.  But what is that saying about good things and those who wait?

We’ve all had ants in our pants about finishing the second Black Diamond album.  It took us forever to find a date to record, and despite all that forever we spent finding dates, we were still frantically finishing songs at the very last minute.  Luckily, last minute is how I roll, and some of our new songs are my favorites yet.  The album will include ten original songs, give or take one that we royally botched in the studio and might not include.

A friend of ours is going to be putting out the tenatively titled Around My Grave Sing Songs of Joy on CD and vinyl, and everything should be all finished by summer at the latest, fingers crossed real tight.  Thing is we haven’t finished mixing and mastering just yet.  But a few songs are polished just enough to share, even if they aren’t as they will be when the dinner bell rings.  I’d love to hear what you think.

If you like what you heard, you can also catch us live at the following dates and places in the next few months:

April 16 // Kultur Kafe, Mainz Uni Campus with Reverend Shine Snake Oil

April 17 // Schlachthof, Wiesbaden with Joey Cape (of former Lagwagon fame), David Hause, and Nessi

May 10 // Geo Wiese, Uni Campus Mainz, Campus Invasion

June 7 // JUZ, Mannheim with Lycka Till

July 4 // Walhalla, Wiesbaden with Morgan O’Kane

July 22 // Holzrock Open Air, Schopfheim

For updates and further concert dates, visit helltrain.info.




Monday April 16th 2012, 9:00 am 5 Comments
Filed under: black diamond express train to hell,conspiracies,music

singing during pregnancy

I debated whether or not I should share this story on the internet for a while, but finally decided that I should.  For the pregnant singers who might be searching the internet for solidarity right now.  I had the debate at all because the story is a bit…icky.  So if you have a puke-story aversion, go read this instead (it’s about moving to Dresden), and I’ll see you on Monday for more of the usual CCG non-ewww, non-pregnancy ramblings. 

At 37 weeks pregnant, we played our last concert pre-baby.  I didn’t want to travel far from home during the month when labor could be anywhere from weeks to minutes away.  Week 37 would be cutting it close, but with the venue just a few blocks from our place, I figured going into labor on stage wouldn’t be a big deal.  If it happened, I’d squeakily explain to the audience between contractions, and then we’d walk home, call the midwife, and get on with it.  The concert organizer was ok with the risk that we might have to cancel the show last minute or mid-song, so we gathered up our instruments and headed down to Baron for an evening of music.

I was excited.  Home-town concerts usually mean a good crowd of good people, and sometimes even some singing along.  There is nothing more flattering than standing in front of a room full of drunken, smiling people who are singing along to—having actually memorized!—a bunch of words you wrote.  As a writer, as a singer, as a person.  We’d be taking February and March off from playing shows so the Beard and I would have time to get used to life with baby, and I wanted to go out with a bang, or at least with that happy glowy feeling that comes of having made music on a stage with a fun crowd.  Good moods abounded, and the dinner we got as part of our payment for the evening was delicious.  Mmm.

So far singing during pregnancy hadn’t given me many problems.  We went on a ten-day tour about three weeks in, all of which I spent puking, trying not to puke, and sleeping in the van.  It wasn’t pleasant, but I never had a problem with my voice, never once had to run off stage to have a good toss between songs.  Of course, considering the fact that we play a lot of punk venues, doing so may have actually earned me some kind of punk rock merit badge from the audience, but I didn’t want to find out, and I fought off the nausea on-stage whenever it started to rear it’s hideous visage.

I had expected to have problems breathing.  You see, when a baby grows in your stomach, it squishes all your other organs out of it’s way like they’re so many useless pillows piled up on the bed.  (It is really fucking amazing that the human body is capable of this.)  Your stomach, squished up under your ribs, can’t hold as much food, and your lungs can’t hold as much air.  But I never found myself lacking the air to finish out a note.  (Though apparently there was a period when I was a lot quieter.)  After the tour there were several outdoor practices during which singing itself would bring up the chunks, and I would have to run around the corner to puke in the bushes between verses.  But for the most part, I was fine, my voice was fine, and we carried on with our musical activities as usual.  We even recorded an album during week 35.

Fast forward up to Baron, where I’m in a good mood, and we’re on stage in front of a packed room playing and strumming and plucking and twanging and warbling.  We made it a little over halfway through the set before it happened, before my voice suddenly cut out in favor of a cough/cookie toss.  Cough cough, hand over mouth, turn, swallow.  Cough, puke, swallow, cough cough, repeat.  Turn bright red.  Eye fellow bandmates with bulgy eyes.  Tell them to keep stalling between songs so I have the time to recover.  Eventually I did, and we played another handful of songs before it happened again, at the very end of Crow’s Nest.  Nothing came out of my mouth as I tried to sing the last verse, and then came another bout of hack, turn, puke, hack, turn, puke.  Except this time I didn’t manage to swallow in time and left a little puddle in front of the bassist’s feet.  Yum!

Not wanting my voice to cut out even earlier in the next number, I signaled to the others that I was fucking done, we played a few instrumental numbers to wrap things up, and I retired to a chair in the back of the room while they played an encore without me.  I was glad to be off the stage.  Not exactly the bang I’d been imagining going out with, but a bang none-the-less I supposed.  Certainly something to remember.  Ugh.

The best past was that no one in the audience had noticed.  Afterwards I asked friends who had been standing in various parts of the room if they had realized what was going on.  But even those who had been in the front row had thought that I had just been coughing, even someone who had unwittingly gotten a photo of me mid-toss.  So at least there’s that.  Stage face maintained.  Puking in front of strangers getting their first impression of our band averted.  But it’s still not a lot of fun to sit on stage regurgitating your cud.

So what went wrong?  It could have been the singing itself.  Since being pregnant, I’ve noticed that I have to burp a lot (A LOT) when I sing.  On stage I probably put even more grunt into it, and whatever it is that causes the burps could have caused the puking with the added pressure/air exchange/whatever.  My only other theory is that I reacted poorly to the iced tea I was drinking.  Though I’ve been told that it is perfectly fine for me to drink one coffee or black tea a day while pregnant, I’ve rarely done so (had to give up coffee a while before the pregnancy because it was fucking up my stomach, so we’re talking black tea here) as it had started making me feel weird (usually a few hours after).  But would that be enough for a puke fest?  I really don’t know.  But I find myself relieved that I won’t need to get onstage again until I’m thoroughly un-pregnant.

Any of you had a similar singing/pregnancy experience or heard of someone else who has?

Want to read more about my gorilla pregnancy? Check out these posts… (Or check out the entire gorilla prego category here.)

38 weeks pregnant: acupuncture and the labor dance

diy pregnancy: the fold-down changing table

birth, pregnancy, and everyday magic

what i read while i was pregnant

why disney women suck

midwives and home births in germany

people of mainz! free black diamond show tonight!

Last chance to see a huge pregnant Nikki on-stage before Peanut punches her way out of my stomach…

For a listen:

Black Diamond Express Train to Hell

Plus (Oliver will be playing solo NOT with the full Plus band.)

Friday February 03rd 2012, 7:00 am Leave a Comment
Filed under: black diamond express train to hell,conspiracies,music

black diamond express train to hell: bunker syndrome and recording

After three and a half days in a windowless bunker, you lose track of time. Have I been here for an hour? A day? A week? There’s no way to know for sure.

The bunker that played set to the recording of our new album felt like the set of a horror film. Bare concrete walls, long hallways with flickering flourescent lights and rows of closed metal doors. Every once in a while a creepy doomy metal band would practice for a few hours and provide an appropriate soundtrack. At first I was kind of scared to go to the bathroom—located across the stairwell and a long hallway away—by myself. But after a few days of doing so without being murdered, the place started to grow on me. I’ve always liked the smell of basements, and this place smelled like a basement even on the second floor.

A lot of people romantcize the process of making music. And maybe some parts of it live up to the fantasy. But recording is not one of those parts. Before I had ever recorded anything myself, I would imagine performers in sequins, bright stages, and live energy when I heard canned music. But the process couldn’t be any more disjointed from any of that. It’s just about the most unromantic thing you could do with your time and with your music. All in the name of trapping the sounds on little plastic discs.

When we record, we do all the instruments “live.” Which means all the instruments playing together. Which means if one person fucks up, everybody has to play the whole song again because you can’t just delete the bass track (or the banjo or the guitar or whatever) and replay it as it has been recorded on everybody else’s microphones as well. This is a pain in the ass. Some people record one instrument at a time which divorces the whole process even further from the heart of the matter, but can save you a hell of a lot of headache when the same guy keeps fucking up the same part and everybody looks like they’re plotting a murder.

But for better or for worse, that’s how we do it, and so the first days of recording always start with a whole lot of waiting for anyone doing vocals or adding any other extra trimming. I parked myself on the couch and sang along in my head during each take to make sure nobody forgot to play a verse that would fuck me up later when I added the vocals on top of the music. We went through the usual ups and downs, but managed to get ten songs recorded by Saturday morning. Two days of overdubs (that’s what you call whatever you play over the main track that you’ve recorded) followed, and let me tell you, recording the singing saw was a huge pain in the ass. Damn that instrument and damn me for not being better at playing it. But in the end, we all prevailed.

Every night we returned to the Au—an enormous squatted house/concert venue/vokü location/generally awesome place with a Wagenplatz out back—to sleep in the cozy bunks set up for the touring bands that play there. It’s the first place where the Beard and I slept cuddled together the night that we met, and sleeping there since has always felt a little festive because of it. Despite the fact that every night we’d pile into the sleeping rooms and pass the fuck out. And because that’s not very exciting (kidding—wait for it…) I shut the Beard’s hand in a car door on the second night, creating a mass panic that I’d broken his hand and promptly put an end to our chances of finishing the album before Peanut arrives. I feel like I owe the universe big for not letting that turn into the disaster it could have become. Physically hurting someone you love is pretty much the worst thing ever, and yet the Beard and I seem to have a talent for maiming each other. Go figure.

Today, back at home at last, I stayed in bed until noon recooperating. And then, breakfast and computer in hand, I stayed in bed some more. As tiring as the weekend was, however, I can barely fathom the fact that we’ve finally gotten the ground work laid for our second album (next up: mixing and mastering and label hunting). !!!!!!!!!! I can’t wait to share it with all of you. Yihaw.

Monday January 23rd 2012, 3:15 pm 6 Comments
Filed under: black diamond express train to hell,conspiracies,music

black diamond express train to hell: a new album and a video

Huzzah! At long last the day has come. I am in Frankfurt with Black Diamond Express Train to Hell recording a new album, carving our new songs into the pavement so we can finally share them with people wide and far. Not to mention FINALLY bring out an album after two years of schlepping around the same old demo, despite having made enormous leaps and bounds since musically. See, that “huzzah” was well earned.

While we were spending the weekend frantically polishing almost-finished new songs for the album, a nice fellow came by to record some of it for his series “They call it local.” By Monday the video was ready, and here it is for your viewing pleasure. Of course, it’s in German, but for those of you who don’t speak the language, there are also quite a few snippets of songs that will be debuting on the album. Plus a most excellent view of my serious bed head during the interview segments. Cheers.

Friday January 20th 2012, 9:00 am 5 Comments
Filed under: black diamond express train to hell,conspiracies,music

the black diamond express train to heidelberg

The tea, the finger crossing, and all the hours in bed with a warm scarf did the trick: by Friday I could sing again. There was still some scratching and some coughing, but I could hold a tune. And a mild cold tends to give my voice a pleasant scratchy growl that lends itself to old timey country music. But remember how last week everything went wrong? How we had several near disasters with the van only to arrive at the show to find my voice completely gone? Yeah, that streak of luck was still following us.

We’d decided that if my voice wasn’t better by Thursday, we’d cancel the show. It got better, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. But ha! Ha hahahaha I say! Because Thursday we found out that a very important bit of the van had exploded, and who needs a voice if your van breaks the night before the concert and you can’t get to the venue?!

Frantic who-can-lend-us-a-car telephone calls began. Not that we could borrow just any car—we needed a car that could fit five people, seven instruments, and a stand up bass. We were offered a car that was too small and was available too late, and then a station wagon that sounded reasonable. Meanwhile, bad weather had been brewing and a level-four storm warning had been issued for the area where we were supposed to play. Driving into the eye of an apocalyptic storm sounded stupid but doable, until we found out that driving into a level-four-storm-warning area would invalidate the car’s insurance. Back at square one, I started to feel supersticious. If the universe wanted to stop us from playing that badly, shouldn’t we just cancel the show before the forces that thwart got desperate and turned to murder?

But ah! What about the train? As most of our (cough borrowed) amps were broken, we’d be playing an accoustic set anyway—thus significantly lessening the amount of crap we would need to bring with us. So we packed the instruments onto two wheeled carts and headed for the train station. (You know you’re not in America anymore when…) And besides it being a little irritating to navigate crowded platforms with a contra bass and a bike trailer full of instruments, it was amazing. AMAZING. So amazing that we’re talking about doing a weekend tour entirely by train next spring.

At the moment the Deutsche Bahn has a deal called the Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket (roughly translated: the straight across the country ticket). It costs 42 euros for one person, and six euros for each additional person traveling in your group. At 66 euros for five people there and 40 for a group weekend ticket to get us back, it was at least twice as expensive as the trip would have been by car, but holy shit. No stress. No need for pit stops. No chance of getting on the wrong highway. No fights about whose fault it is that we are on the wrong highway. No running out of gas or losing the oil tank cap. No throat-drying heating system or motor-so-loud-you-can’t-hear-the-stereo. Who needs a car? Not the Black Diamond Express Train to Hell!

A relaxing train ride turned into a relaxing evening. A local bus got us to one of Heidelberg’s few alternative venues, Cafe Gegendruck—a teeny tiny cozy living-room-esque space perfect for an accoustic show. The space was comfortable and welcoming, the audience was sweet and responsive and fun, and the shows=hell trauma of The Nikki Will Be Behind the Van Puking Morning Sickness tour we went on this summer has finally been erased. Three cheers for the kind Heidelbergians who invited us to play their space.

I didn’t get anyone to take pictures during the show, but if you want to see what band-travel by train looks like, there are a few pictures over at helltrain.info.

Sunday December 18th 2011, 6:03 pm 1 Comment
Filed under: black diamond express train to hell,conspiracies,germany,gorilla travel,music

god chases band across southern germany with bag of lightening bolts

We named our band after a sermon by Rev AW Nix. “Black Diamond Express Train to Hell,” the sermon is called, and it is a deeply growling, hypnotically rhythmic condemnation of all the sinners that the devil is going to be picking up in his hell-bound train. We enjoy a bit of blasphemy. I believe that everybody should revel in the beliefs that work for him/her, assuming that those beliefs don’t involve infringing on the freedoms of others, but I love me a good parody and organized religion and Christianity (being the religion I know the most about) tend to be rather easy targets. Particularly because they often have and do infringe on the freedoms of those with other beliefs. Just a note to any Christian readers to please not be offended by my love of blasphemy. There are plenty of positive things about Christianity, and quiet beautiful ways to interpret it and live it, and those are not what I am parodying or talking about when I start getting down on religion. All that to explain that when bad things happen to our band, we like to joke that god is after us. If the devil is on our side, then who else could it be?

Friday afternoon we had the van packed up early, and by 4:15 we were on our way to St. Ingbert for the evening’s show. Miraculously running right on schedule, maybe even running a little early. A couple blocks in, B remembered that he’d wanted to check the oil before the drive, so we pulled over. And discovered that the cap to the oil tank was long gone, the entire front of the car was splashed with oil, and that the tank was just about to reach self-destruction levels of empty. We hurried back home, found another oil tank cap that fit, wiped off the spilled oil, filled up the tank, and were on our way. Disaster avoided. Or so we thought.

The drive south was fairly uneventful. I surprised everyone—particularly myself—by being the only one who didn’t have to request any pit stops. We took the wrong highway and made our drive a bit longer than it needed to be (we’re really good at that). Somebody won a stuffed polar bear in one of those metal claw games at a gas station. I actually forked over 70 cents to use a toilet. And just before we reached the JUZ where we’d be playing someone noticed that we were really low on gas. Granted, from where I was sitting it looked like the tank was just under a quarter full, and I have only ever driven cars that could go for mind-boggling distances even after the reserve light went on. But apparently this particular vehicle is on reserve even before it hits the warning-inconvenience-imminent red bar. So we pulled over and called the show organizers to see if somebody couldn’t bring us some diesel. They could and they would, they said, so all the smokers piled out of the van to light cigarettes for the wait. I rolled down the window to say something to somebody, and that’s when it became painfully clear that I had completely lost my voice during the two-hour drive. And in case you haven’t been keeping up, I’m the singer.

My theory is that the air in the van was really dry. All of the heating vents are in the front, where I was sitting, so we had the heat on full-blast in an attempt to make the back of the bus—where the remaing three Black Diamonds were sitting—less freezing cold. But it was like that deciding stake through the vampire’s heart. We’d barely managed to avert two disasters and then all of a sudden the singer is struck dumb by a heating system. God had us. There would be no songs criticizing religion in Ghana or encouraging revolution that night.

Gas delivered and at the venue, I made tea. After a few cups, I tried to sing a few songs (hey, you never know). But I couldn’t even sing “high” enough (in quotes as in, we don’t even have songs in a high register because I’m an alto, as in, calling any of our songs high is laughable) to sing our lowest songs. I couldn’t even really hold a tune. All I could do was alternate between a croak and a squeak. I breifly considered going on as Nikki Waits, but decided I couldn’t even pull that off. So we quickly threw together a set list of songs that other band members could sing, practiced for a second, and managed to pull off a short but still somehow satisfying set. I played washboard and spoons and reveled at how relaxing it can be to just play an instrument in a band and not be the one in the front that everyone is expecting to tell witty stories between songs, even when I’m feeling tired and not-at-all-witty. So at least there was some sort of silver lining.

Now here I am praying—though of course praying is really the wrong word considering my own religious beliefs and the aforementioned love of blasphemy—that I have my pipes back by Friday. We canceled Saturday’s show in Bingen, but if we are forced to cancel the show in Heidelberg Friday, then damn it, I may never going to get the chance to rock shit while pregnant and knock over the microphone with my belly and have a legitimate reason to sit for the entire set. Cross your fingers, pray, do a throat dance! Four more days and three days behind me with no improvements. Time for an even more serious enforced relaxation and tea drinking regiment.

Monday December 12th 2011, 11:40 pm 8 Comments
Filed under: black diamond express train to hell,conspiracies,gorilla travel,music

people of st. ingbert! people of bingen!

Chugga chugga chugga, the Black Diamond Express Train to Hell is on it’s way.

December 9 // St. Ingebert JUZ
December 10 // House Show in Bingen

If you’re interested in attending the Bingen show, it’s open to the public, but I didn’t want to post the address here. So leave me a comment with your email address, and I will send you the address. And for those of you who don’t already know, Black Diamond Express Train to Hell is the band in which I warble.

Pretty please everyone cross their fingers that my cold is gone before show time. Or at least the part of the cold that has my throat scratching and my ears feeling stuffy. Singing harmonies when you can’t hear very well is always the wrong thing to do.

In the meantime, I’m fascinated at the thought of performing while prego. I have never seen a pregnant lady on stage. Though this probably has a lot to do with the fact that pregnancy is only a nine month shebang, out of which only four or five make your condition obvious, the thought strikes me as being strange. Like, get more pregnant ladies on stage! Then again, if it fits into your schedule, why not fit in a half year break when you’re round and burly and incapable of standing for long periods of time? Makes just as much sense as business as usual. But I’m still really curious, have any of you ever seen a pregnant lady on stage? Because maybe it’s just a coincidence that I see a lot of cock rock. Also: I’m taking bets on how many times I knock the microphone over with my stomach.

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Friday December 09th 2011, 9:00 am 5 Comments
Filed under: black diamond express train to hell,conspiracies,music