Neutral Milk Hotel

Neutral Milk Hotel
Neutral Milk Hotel

Neutral Milk Hotel. From left to right: Jeff Mangum, Scott Spillane, Julian Koster and Jeremy Barnes.
Background information
Origin Ruston, Louisiana, United States
Genres Lo-fi, indie pop, psych folk, Indie rock
Years active 1991–1999
Labels Elephant 6, Merge, Domino Records
Associated acts Major Organ and the Adding Machine, The Olivia Tremor Control, The Gerbils, Nana Grizol, The Music Tapes, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Chocolate U.S.A.
Website Official website
Jeff Mangum
Scott Spillane
Jeremy Barnes
Julian Koster

Neutral Milk Hotel was an American indie rock band formed by singer, guitarist and songwriter Jeff Mangum in the early 1990s. The band was noted for its experimental sound, obscure lyrics and eclectic instrumentation. [1]

The first release under the Neutral Milk Hotel moniker was the 1994 EP Everything Is, a short collection of tracks featuring Mangum. On the band's full-length debut album On Avery Island, which followed shortly thereafter, Mangum was joined by childhood friend and The Apples in Stereo frontman Robert Schneider, who contributed production and instrumentation. Upon the album's release, the full band was formed and extensive touring began.

Neutral Milk Hotel released In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in 1998, which became their better known and critically acclaimed album.[2] Although the album did not meet commercial success at the time of release, it has gone on to sell over 300,000 copies and received critical acclaim from several publications, including Pitchfork Media, Magnet Magazine, All Music, and The Pazz & Jop poll.[3][4][5][6] Despite growing popularity, the group disbanded in 1999 after Mangum became disenchanted with touring and the music press, later having a nervous breakdown.[4]

Neutral Milk Hotel is a part of The Elephant 6 Recording Company, based in Athens, Georgia. The band was one of Elephant 6's three first projects, alongside The Apples in Stereo and Olivia Tremor Control.[7]




Jeff Mangum, along with high-school friends Will Cullen Hart and Bill Doss, formed The Olivia Tremor Control, with Mangum appearing on their first release, the California Demise 7".

Prior to recording for friends under the NMH moniker, Mangum recorded a few cassettes under the name Milk; the most well-known of these tapes was called Pygmie Barn in E Minor.[8] These are the earliest known recordings that Mangum initiated and executed himself. There were only an estimated dozen or so copies ever made of this tape, none of which has been made public. It was revealed circa 2006 on the Elephant 6 online forums that another tape under said name, entitled Beauty, was released, along with several recordings under the name Rubby Bulbs (also a song dating from that era, perhaps the only Milk song to be played by Neutral Milk Hotel).

Neutral Milk Hotel began simply as a recording project for Mangum, in the early 1990s. He produced several demo cassettes, among them 1991's Invent Yourself a Shortcake, 1992's Beauty (not to be confused with the earlier cassette), and 1993's Hype City Soundtrack, along with two more from this period, seemingly unnamed. Although easily found on the Internet, these demos capture the project at a very embryonic stage: songs are played in between various sound collages and tape experiments, one of which consists only of a six minute conversation between Mangum and Hart. Another track, "Digestion Machine", features a varied collage of voices answering the question asked by Mangum, "What does the digestion machine mean to you?" The more accessible "Synthetic Flying Machine", also titled "Up and Over", later became "The King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 3" on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

During this period, Mangum was wandering the country, staying in the closets of friends, and in a state of perpetual unemployment. It was in these circumstances that the band's first formal releases took shape. Strictly speaking, however, the 'band' usually consisted of Mangum and whoever else was present at the time. This is obvious on Neutral Milk Hotel's first release, a 7" record entitled Everything Is, recorded when Mangum was spending time in Seattle, Washington, released on Cher Doll Records in 1994.

On Avery Island

A full album, On Avery Island, followed, this time recorded mainly in Denver, Colorado, where Mangum was backed by the album's producer Robert Schneider of The Apples in Stereo, Rick Benjamin of The Perry Weissman 3 and Lisa Janssen of Secret Square. It was released by Merge Records in 1996.

After the release of Avery Island, Neutral Milk Hotel became a fully-fledged band, as Julian Koster, Scott Spillane and Jeremy Barnes joined Mangum, the band now being based in New York City. Soon after this, they moved to Athens, Georgia, where many of Mangum's friends had begun to settle, and the Elephant 6 recording company began to take shape. After this, the band went back to Denver, to record a proper follow up to On Avery Island.

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

The band's second album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, released in 1998 and also produced by Schneider, is notable as a critically acclaimed and widely popular album. It is largely inspired by the story of holocaust victim Anne Frank. During live performances, including the one released under the title Live at Jittery Joe's, Mangum has described some of the songs off this album as based on urgent, recurring dreams he had of a Jewish family during World War II. The album was highly praised by critics for its wildly inventive instrumentation and Mangum's provocative and impassioned lyrics.[3] Although it was met with scant response from the general public when it was released, the recording has continued to gain momentum in indie music circles, selling over 300,000 copies, according to Merge Records.[9] However, the record (along with the year of constant touring that succeeded it) took its toll on Mangum. The band abruptly went on hiatus, turning down all requests for shows, including a support slot for R.E.M.[4][10]

Before Neutral Milk Hotel began their indefinite hiatus, Mangum played live at a house show on December 5, 1998 in Athens on Chris Bilheimer's birthday.[11] The bill was shared with Elf Power, and the audience was made up almost completely of friends and bandmates. Playing solo and acoustic, Mangum opened the set with what was to be the only post-Aeroplane composition to be performed in public, "Little Birds", a song about a boy whose body becomes filled with miniature birds that protect him from his murderous father.[11] Mangum finished the rest of the evening with most of the Aeroplane songs, encouraging the audience to sing along in substitute for the horn parts. For the last several songs, Scott Spillane took his trumpet in to an adjacent room and played his parts through the wall.[11] A recording of the show circulated on the internet, but it has never been officially released, most likely due to the poor quality of the recording.

Mangum played another show on December 31, 1998, at which he performed the songs "Oh Sister", "Engine", and "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea", joined by Koster and Spillane.


During the hiatus, some of the members have been occasionally active with one another in other projects. When asked in an interview if he intends to write another album, Mangum said, "I don't know. It would be nice, but sometimes I kind of doubt it."[12] There were plans to release a rarities album on Orange Twin Records; its cancellation was subsequently announced in 2005 on Orange Twin's website, which stated that Mangum decided against the project.

There has, however, been some activity since Aeroplane. First, Orange Twin re-released Everything Is, complete with extra bonus tracks, as well as Live at Jittery Joe's, a live recording by filmmaker Lance Bangs of a show Mangum played in a coffee house in Athens, Georgia in 1997. The Major Organ and the Adding Machine album, a rather secretive project released by Orange Twin in 2001 and consisting mainly of experimental musical collage, features Mangum, along with Julian Koster, of Montreal's Kevin Barnes, Elf Power's Andrew Reiger and the Olivia Tremor Control and Circulatory System's Will Cullen Hart and Eric Harris. There was also the release of Orange Twin Field Works: Volume I, Mangum's field recording of a Bulgarian folk festival, also on Orange Twin in 2001. He also played drums on the first Circulatory System album.

Since the breakup of Neutral Milk Hotel, Jeff Mangum has appeared live very infrequently, including once, at the Kings Arms pub in Auckland, New Zealand, at the request of the Tall Dwarfs's Chris Knox. The band was billed as the World of Wild Beards Incorporated, although when he explained this bizarre name during the course of the show, Mangum gave a small speech about an obscure, seemingly fictional company of the early 20th century named "Walking Wall of Beards Incorporated". The show consisted of performances by Mangum, Laura Carter, and Chris Knox. Mangum played 13 songs, about half of them from Aeroplane, and covered Phil Spector's "I Love How You Love Me" and John Lennon's "Mother", with Chris Knox joining him on the latter. A recording of the show exists,[13][14] but it has never been officially released.

Mangum has also made occasional appearances with Elf Power and The Instruments, and came onstage at the first of the Olivia Tremor Control's New York shows on their 2005 reunion tours, to sing briefly.

The other members are all still releasing material: Julian Koster as The Music Tapes, Scott Spillane as The Gerbils and Jeremy Barnes as A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Bablicon and Marta Tennae.

In 2005, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was re-released by Domino Records in the UK, in a sleeve featuring praise from, among others, Franz Ferdinand and Arcade Fire, bands influenced by NMH. Mangum has also done a few small art projects—following a charity auction on eBay of an acoustic guitar decorated by Mangum himself, more guitars hand-decorated by Mangum were sold via Orange Twin Records for $900 apiece. Also, a number of his original drawings, this time costing only $10 each, were sold via Neutral Milk Hotel's website.

In 2006, a message was posted on the Elephant 6 message board, purportedly from Mangum, suggesting that he would record and tour again, though it was unclear if it would be under the Neutral Milk Hotel moniker. It soon caused an enormous stir within the indie community, and news of the message appeared in Rolling Stone, Pitchfork Media, and Billboard. However, it was eventually discredited by Robert Schneider, of The Apples in Stereo, a close friend of Mangum's. The perpetrator of the hoax is still unknown.[15]

In October 2008, Mangum made appearances during the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise Tour.[16] He played "Engine" (The "Holland, 1945" B-side) with Julian Koster at the Pittsburgh, Columbus, Chicago, Bloomington & Lexington, KY shows.[17][18]

On May 6, 2010, Jeff Mangum played a 5-song acoustic set at the Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan at a benefit concert for his friend Chris Knox who was undergoing health issues at the time. Despite a message from the concert managers that the show was a one time benefit for Chris Knox and not the restart of Jeff Mangum's musical career, the show sparked rumors that Magnum would begin recording and touring again. On December 4, 2010, Jeff Mangum played a surprise 10-song set of Neutral Milk Hotel songs in a Bushwick, Brooklyn loft building known as The Schoolhouse to a crowd of only 100 invited guests.[19]

In the January 2011 edition of Q Magazine, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea was included in the top 250 albums of the past 25 years.[20] Jeff Mangum has announced a number of performances for the Fall of 2011. These include curating an All Tomorrow's Parties music festival in New Jersey.[21] On August 26, 2011, Mangum launched the website, where he is self-releasing a box set of Neutral Milk Hotel albums and unreleased tracks, as well as one-of-a-kind drawings and a radio show he curated.[22] On October 4, 2011, Jeff Mangum made an appearance at Zuccotti Park and played several songs to the protesters participating in Occupy Wall Street. [23]



  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Richardson, Mark. "Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c The Salinger of Indie Rock: What happened to Jeff Mangum? Taylor Clark, Slate. Posted Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008, at 1:45 PM ET.
  5. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea". Allmusic. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  6. ^ "The 1998 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ The Elephant Six Recording Company - E6 Catalog - Milk
  9. ^ Cooper, Kim (2006). In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. New York: Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-1690-X.. 
  10. ^ Have you seen Jeff Mangum? Kevin Griffis, Creative Loafing. Published 09.04.03
  11. ^ a b c Cooper, pp. 9495
  12. ^ Pitchfork Feature: Interview: Neutral Milk Hotel
  13. ^ Jeff Mangum's World of Wild Beards at Optical Atlas
  14. ^ World of Wild Beards Incorporated at Rate Your Music
  15. ^ Pitchfork: Update: Jeff Mangum Returns?
  16. ^ Paul Thompson (2008-09-03). "Elephant 6 Crew to Embark on "Holiday Surprise Tour"". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2008-10-13. 
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^ [2]
  19. ^
  20. ^ Q Magazine 250 Best Albums Of Q’s Lifetime Retrieved on February 24, 2011.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Fitzmaurice, Larry. "Neutral Milk Hotel to Release Box Set". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 26 August 2011. 
  23. ^


  • Cooper, Kim (2005). In the Aeroplane Over the Sea 33⅓. (New York) Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8264-1690-X.
  • DeRogatis, Jim (2003). Turn On Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock. (Milwaukee) Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0-634-05548-8.

External links

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