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Jeff Mangum

Jeff Mangum is back in Athens. For a long time, that was a sentence I never expected to write. For those who witnessed the heyday of Neutral Milk Hotel and the Elephant 6 Collective, it’s a chance to revisit a relatively recent but fast-dissolving moment in time via Mangum’s iconic, beloved and, at times, magical songs. For those who arrived in Athens more recently, it is a long-hoped-for gift: an opportunity to experience that magic for the first time. And so, joined by fellow E6-ers Andrew Rieger, Laura Carter and Scott Spillane, Mangum will deliver his peculiar brand of damaged, milky-eyed folk with all the soul-bruising sincerity and heart-on-sleeve conviction that makes him such a singular artist. A man of notoriously few words, Mangum handed this interview off to Spillane, a man of only slightly more.

Jeff Mangum

“I spent the day driving back from North Carolina,†he begins, gruff and straightforward. “Andrew, Laura and I went up to play a show with Jeff. I don’t know [what it means for us to be playing in Athens again], but it should be fun. It’s been a while.â€

That kind of casually massive understatement would come to characterize Spillane as he further described the players’ reunion thus far. “We’ve basically been serving as an opening band,†he explains. “Jeff plays about 90 percent of the show solo, and we each join him for a song here and there. Andrew and I have new songs we’ve been playing, and Jeff’s been doing ‘Little Birds,’ which was recorded in Athens but isn’t on a major record. Otherwise, it’s been all stuff from his albums.â€

As for the future, Spillane says, “We’re headed to the U.K. soon [with Jeff]—Olivia Tremor Control, Music Tapes and Elf Power—doing the Holiday Surprise tour again, but I can’t say for certain yet who all will be involved. I don’t know what Jeff’s got planned after this tour, but he’s booked up for quite a while now.â€

As I bid Spillane farewell, my mind already abuzz with thoughts of his rusty, trusty trumpet co-mingling with singing saw, accordion and Mangum’s creaky upper register, all I could think was: it’s about damn time.