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They smash computer terminals onstage. They look like undead Mennonites. And they sell the husks of their enemies to dog-food companies.
Cal Hopkins Amish Armada are either the Creed of Luddite punk or the Gwar of Pennsylvania farm country, a careening cross between Slipknot and Witness that makes musical war on the world wrought by Alexander Graham Bell. In concert they sunder TV sets with chain saws and howl against the evils of photography. (Apparently amps and Gibson SGs are kosher.) They pause from their schizobilly racket only to dispense with one DJ E-le'k'tro, the embodiment of electronic music, who sometimes challenges drummer Jebadiah the Hunted to a live drum duel (man versus machine) and invariably gets his caves cleaned.
Hailing from Wisconsin and Minnesota, this octet (including various washboard players and hype men) has spent three years fleshing out an elaborate mythos. The story somehow involves a flag with a Misfits-like skull (complete with Abe Lincoln beard and flat-brimmed hat), an absent figurehead (Cal Hopkins), and a nemesis named Technolojesus, the savior of technology. As you can imagine, not every audience gives the Armada a Christian welcome. One Baldwin, Wisconsin, resident warned the Hudson Star-Observer, "They are targeting our young people with messages of murder, rape, violence, killing police, killing and raping pets, and many other atrocities as well."
Taking a break from churning butter in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, lead vocalist Living Dead Elijah Damned recently agreed to a rare phone interview in order to explain himself and his kin to City Pages readers.
CITY PAGES: So who is Cal Hopkins?
LIVING DEAD ELIJAH DAMNED: Cal Hopkins is the spiritual leader for the Amish Armada, the voice that guides us in our holy war against technology. He's a mysterious wanderer who showed up in our hometown of Villeburgston, Pennsylvania, more than a hundred years ago, and he fought the first battle against technology. Now he only talks to [guitarist] Ezekial the Maliced.
CP: What is Ezekiel maliced by?
DAMNED: The English, as in all non-Amish.
CP: What is the threat posed by Technolojesus?
DAMNED: He makes us blind to the way things really are. He makes us lazy, and fills everybody's life with sin, I suppose.
CP: What's the message you're trying to get across?
DAMNED: Our message is pretty unclear, actually. But at a basic level, the message is: Destroy technology and join the Armada in our fight against the English.
CP: What's the emptiest room you've played?
DAMNED: We've played to 10 people. They were super into it, though. We've also played to small crowds where one person is into it and everyone else is slowly moving away from the stage and trying to avoid looking at us.
CP: Do you have Amish fans?
DAMNED: We've had kids e-mail us claiming to be Amish, but that's probably bullshit.
CP: What's the most extreme response you've produced?
DAMNED: I've had people chewing on my boot during a show, grabbing me. That's happened at least once.
CP: What was the inspiration for starting the group?
DAMNED: We thought: Let's take the least threatening group of people and make a pretty offensive band, and make us a lot more threatening. We're pretty nice guys in real life.