Jeff Mangum, source unknown.
Jeff Mangum, lead singer and songwriter for the 90s indie rock band, Neutral Milk Hotel, is quite an enigmatic figure. He hasn’t released any new music under the Neutral Milk Hotel moniker since 1998. No one knows if he’s written anything since that point, that he’s like the Salinger of indie rock, leading a quiet life writing music only for himself, or if he’s totally dried up and incapable of writing anything. It’s likely somewhere in between–in a 2002 interview with Pitchfork, Mangum said he hadn’t written in a while, but also said he writes songs and being unsatisfied with them, throws them out. With his recent triumphant return to the music scene years after that interview, perhaps new material will be released at some point. Mangum is a man shrouded in mystery to most. For the decade since his band Neutral Milk Hotel’s critically acclaimed album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was released, little is publicly known about Mangum’s life. Forget what he’s been doing with his time, few sources agree on where he’s been for the bulk of the past 13 years. Some say he’s been living quietly in Athens, Georgia, others that he’s traveled all over, hopping from friend’s house to friend’s house. It’s a mystery created out of hearsay and the rampant curiosity of fans and journalists who starve for answers. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter where Mangum’s been–what matters is that Mangum’s returned.
Despite the following of devoted fans, and the accolades from publications, musicians, and Stephen Colbert, you may not know who Jeff Mangum even is. You may have never heard of Neutral Milk Hotel, so back to the beginning, back to the roots of what made Mangum the icon he is today. Neutral Milk Hotel was the name Mangum began using for his recordings in the early 1990’s. For years, Neutral Milk Hotel wasn’t really a band as much as simply Mangum and whoever felt like playing with him at any given moment. After releasing his first full-length album as Neutral Milk Hotel in 1996, On Avery Island, Mangum was joined by Julian Koster, Jeremy Barnes, and Scott Spillane for touring, and Neutral Milk Hotel as it is commonly viewed was formed. Two years later, Neutral Milk Hotel released their second and final album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, an album that continues to sell and gain the band new fans today. Listed as one of the greatest albums of all time by more than one source, it’s now heralded as genius and revolutionary by many. Less than a year after its release, after Neutral Milk Hotel started to create some buzz in the indie rock scene, they disappeared. The band broke up, went on hiatus, whatever you want to call it. Mangum disappeared, popping up here and there, but only playing Neutral Milk Hotel songs a few times over the next decade. Recently though, Mangum has returned to playing shows and playing Neutral Milk Hotel songs. After all these years, why is Mangum still relevant, and not just relevant, but able to sell out shows in seconds? How did In the Aeroplane Over the Sea manage to be the sixth best-selling vinyl in 2008, when it was 10 years old and still rather obscure? Continue reading