The self-described "fuzz-folk" project Neutral Milk Hotel was one of the primary outgrowths of the Elephant 6 Recording Company collective, a coterie of like-minded lo-fi indie groups -- including the Apples in Stereo, the Olivia Tremor Control, and Secret Square -- who shared musicians, ideas, and sensibilities. While ranging in sound and concept from solo acoustic work to full-band performances, Neutral Milk Hotel essentially remained the work of Jeff Mangum, a singer/songwriter from the remote town of Ruston, Louisiana. Ruston was also home to Robert Schneider (later of the Apples), as well as Will Cullen Hart and Bill Doss (who formed the Olivia Tremor Control); throughout high school, the aspiring musicians -- all influenced by the likes of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Zombies, Pink Floyd, and Sonic Youth -- exchanged home recordings and played in each other's bands.
Neutral Milk Hotel first took shape in 1989 as a noise rock trio that played its debut gig at a local laundromat; a year later, Mangum, Hart, and Doss moved to Athens, Georgia, to form the group Cranberry Life Cycle, which later became Synthetic Flying Machine (and ultimately the Olivia Tremor Control) after Mangum's departure. In 1993, he and Schneider relocated to Denver, Colorado, where Schneider soon founded the Apples in Stereo. Eventually, Mangum gravitated to New York and resumed recording under the Neutral Milk Hotel aegis. After a series of singles and privately released cassettes, including Invent Yourself a Shortcake, Beauty, and Hype City, Mangum traveled back to Denver to record the critically acclaimed 1996 album On Avery Island on Schneider's four-track machine; in the the spring of 1997 he again returned to Colorado to begin work on the follow-up, the brilliant In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. ~ Jason Ankeny