The Strange Story Behind Spoon's "Don't You Evah"—and the Overlooked Band That Wrote It

Spoon's Britt Daniel and the brothers of the Natural History retrace the song's many lives

It’s every artist’s favorite artist success story: Artist makes art; artist seeks representation; artist is told thanks-but-no thanks by seemingly everyone; until, finally one person says yes—and that one person shows why everyone must now and forever regret having said no in the first place.

This trajectory describes the final chapter in the story of my band, the Natural History—except that in our case, this one person who said yes after so many had said no was not an A&R rep but one of the greatest songwriters of his generation. Britt Daniel took a song we’d written, “Don’t You Ever”—a song that, along with the record on which it appeared, The People That I Meet, had been rejected by 24 labels—and turned the song into a hit for his band Spoon.

Don’t You Evah” was released in April of 2007 as the third single off of Spoon’s album GaGaGaGaGa. The song played on rock radio stations and got remixed by Diplo (among others), and then it charted, and then it was used liberally on television programs. With the royalties, I quit my day job and wrote my first novel, Balls. I was no longer a rock ‘n’ roller but an author living on rock-royalties. Then and now, it’s hard to believe any of it.

By the time of the release of GaGaGaGaGa, the Natural History had been broken up for about two years, and The People That I Meet had never come out. But with “Don’t You Evah” having arrived, we decided back then to self-release our album and give those who might want to the chance to hear it.

If you missed the album the first time, however, don’t worry: The People That I Meet is about to be reissued, packaged along with my third novel, Between the Records (out March 10, 2020, via Rare Bird Books), which fictionalizes, among other things, the making of that very record. The album liner notes will be a conversation between Britt Daniel, my brother and ex-bandmate Max and myself.

Yes, back in January of this year, the three of us spent some time recalling the details of our first introductions, our period of regular touring back in 2002 and 2003 and of how the Natural History song came to be covered by Spoon. And with Everything Hits at Once: The Best of Spoon arriving via Matador Records last month, Playboy agreed to run that conversation now, in advance of my book and album release. (Just to take things one step further, the magazine published an excerpt of the book in its May/June 2018 issue.) Talking with Britt about all these past moments was a very special experience for Max and me. That the conversation is now included in Between the Records and The People That I Meet is such a happy occasion, and I could not be more thrilled to share that exchange with you here.
BRITT: What I remember, first thing, is meeting Max on the street in Carroll Gardens. But had we met before?

MAX: Yes, I remember that, too.

BRITT: Literally on the street as I was crossing one way and Max was crossing the other.

MAX: I told you how much I loved Spoon and mentioned a few people we knew in common. I was totally blown away seeing you across the street because my love for the band was just growing and growing.

BRITT: Then was the next time at SXSW? 

MAX: I sent you our demo.

BRITT: I remember putting some of those demos on a mix tape that we played before shows.

MAX: That's cool. I remember "Broken Language" on a mix before you played on the '02 East Coast tour.

BRITT: So then I think we next met at SXSW, also maybe out on the street, and you told me about your show.

MAX: After the show you told me you really liked Derek's drumming.

BRITT: All those early SXSWs of the 2000s blend together, though. I saw you guys, it feels like, three times at that pool hall that had the big venue upstairs. Buffalo Billiards?

JULIAN: I remember that place, sure.

BRITT: Max always had his shirt tucked in and I liked that vibe.

MAX: Still do, baby.
I just remember this full can of beer coming at Max's head.
BRITT: Nice. So then what happened? We did shows on the East Coast?

JULIAN: We did Boston down to Gainesville. That's when there was that fracas at the Earl. How do you recall that night, Britt?

BRITT: There was one tiny backstage and after we played there were some locals who invaded the dressing room, band people who I think often played the Earl but weren't playing that night. They just kind of felt like it was their spot, maybe. Our tour manager, Ben Dickey, asked them to vacate and one of them spit in his face.

JULIAN: Really?

BRITT: Julian, you didn't hear that part?

JULIAN: I just remember this full can of beer coming at Max's head. It missed but would have badly hurt you if it hadn't, Max. Then Derek gave me this look and said, "I'll be back,” and then returned a few minutes later and told me he'd just slashed all four tires of the beer-chucker’s truck.

BRITT: I remember getting in the van and driving off down that little back alley as the locals were coming out the back of the Earl.

MAX: West Coast in '03 was awesome. Bigger rooms. The Fillmore. The El Rey.

BRITT: I remember that tour better. What cities were you guys on with us?

MAX: Seattle down to San Diego. Phoenix.

BRITT: Which was a hundred degrees at night and the club we were playing had no AC.

MAX: With Smog, who left early. I was so judgmental of Bill Callahan when he did that. I get it now.

JULIAN: We really felt nurtured by you guys at the time. Do you recall any details about why you decided to bring us in in this way?

BRITT: I loved the music and I liked hanging with you guys. That was it. Had you done full-on tours before then?

JULIAN: We'd gone around the country a bunch but played to no one. Before then, our first kind of mini-tour was in Derek's truck with the three of us in the front cabin sitting side-by-side.

BRITT: Wow. Later, it felt like we were just doing shows together all the time, though you guys were from New York and we were in Austin. I remember seeing you guys at some SXSW show where you played a pretty big outdoor crowd. You seemed to be doing all right in Austin.

MAX: Britt, I remember asking you to produce our first record.

BRITT: I'd forgotten that.

MAX: I didn't really know what "producer" even meant at the time.

BRITT: What did I say?

MAX: You said yes, but I wasn't nailing down days or anything.

JULIAN: Wait—I don't remember being consulted about that?

MAX: Then we ended up doing that first record with Thom Monahan. I'm not sure why I never followed up with you, though.

BRITT: Well, after a while, we'd done these tours, we'd known each other a bit, and at some point both Max and I were struggling with writing each of our next albums. I was working on Gimme Fiction.

MAX: We spoke a lot while you were writing Gimme Fiction.

BRITT: I believe Max you gave me some songs you were working on. Not sure what you said, if you asked for feedback or help or what. Do you remember?

MAX: I was just way too in my head. Not following your lyrical advice of "you gotta feel it."
I remember thinking, 'I know this song that's a hit which basically no one has heard.'
BRITT: But whatever you said, I put those songs onto my four-track and came up with ideas for them. I came up with parts for maybe three or four songs. Not sure which I sent back to you. But a lot of the ideas were just, you know, hand claps and shakers.

MAX: Yes, I remember that as well. You called me one night with our demo of "Don't You Ever" blasting in your car stereo. 

BRITT: It was my favorite song for three or four days, you know how one gets.

MAX: Oh for sure. You sent me a demo for "They Never Got You."

BRITT: Yeah, I remember that. I asked you what you thought, and you said it sounds like John Lennon.

MAX: I liked it a lot and we talked about the Lennon-influence of that song. 

BRITT: Which was, of course, absolutely right. You also said, "Don't be afraid of the backbeat," the backbeat that I'd put on "They Never Got You."

MAX: I don't remember that. Interesting.

JULIAN: Britt, do you have any memories of deciding to put "Don't You Evah" on the record or of making it a single?

BRITT: When I was writing songs for the next album, I had "Target" which was a holdover from Gimme Fiction. I had "The Underdog," but I didn't have enough tunes. And I remember thinking, "I know this song that's a hit which basically no one has heard." I brought it into a rehearsal or song prep. It was easy to get something going with that song because the bass is such a great riff and it happens throughout the whole song. Hypnotizing bass line.

MAX: Go J-man.

JULIAN: Thanks, Britt.

BRITT: When I brought it in, Jim wasn't sure he liked it. Rob, our bass player at the time, was the first person who got it. And Rob after the rehearsal said, "Yeah. I see what's happening with that one. We could do that great." Jim eventually came around to it. After that first rehearsal it seemed to be pretty solid. Somehow it quickly made the album. But I had no idea it would be a single.
MAX: Jim's beat is what makes your version so great.

BRITT: How much did Jim change the beat from your version?

MAX: Jim made it sexy. Derek's was more indie. You also really gave it more propulsion. Ours was more...slow.

JULIAN: I remember Max and I jamming the song together in the den of a house we rented up in Woodstock. We sat for a really long time, playing the riff over and over and over.

BRITT: We didn't owe Merge another record. Our managers sent the album out to a few labels, and I think Nasty Little Man too for some reason. "Don't You Evah" was always one that got mentioned as being one of the best of the bunch. I love how the song has the same riff throughout. It's almost dubby.

JULIAN: We were interested in making songs like that, for sure. That idea dictated a lot of the song writing throughout the full life of the band.

BRITT: But yet it's a pop song with three different vocal sections with different melodies.

MAX: Who produced that song? Jon Brion only did "Underdog"?

BRITT: We produced that one with Mike McCarthy. Mike had the idea of using a different vocal sound for each section.

MAX: Ah, that's cool.

BRITT: I remember when we went to master, McCarthy was apologetic to the mastering engineer Howie Weinberg about the guitar solo. Like, "Ha, ha, I guess this volume is wrong, huh?" Howie was like, "What are you talking about? It's great."

MAX: That is great. How did the rest of the band feel about the song once it was done?

BRITT: Everyone loved the song. We loved that album. We still play the song live at just about every show.

MAX: That's amazing.

BRITT: And it always gets a roar when we start. 
I was in L.A. coming over Laurel Canyon when I first heard it on the radio.
JULIAN: I never liked playing it live.

BRITT: You? What the fuck?

JULIAN: There was something heavy going against what Derek and I were trying to pull off. I feel like, as a band, though, we could have been more comfortable with playing slower live. That fear of losing the audience.

BRITT: I guess the Spoon version was a little poppier, less heavy.

MAX: That's what I loved about it, Britt. Exactly. You gave it some breath and a fun feeling.

JULIAN: Definitely.

BRITT: So then GaGaGaGaGa came out and did well, and six months after its release it was still going so well that it made sense to put out an EP for the next single, and everyone wanted to do "Don't You Evah." Which was a pretty solid release.

JULIAN: I was in L.A. coming over Laurel Canyon when I first heard it on the radio.

BRITT: I love the Ted Leo remix which took the dubby elements and ran full-on with them.

JULIAN: It's incredible, the people who did versions for that single.

BRITT: Diplo. I'm pretty sure that when the "Don't You Evah" single came out that it was in top-five singles sales that week, if not number one.

JULIAN: I was telling our dad that we'd be having this chat and he reminded me that David Byrne said it was one of his favorite songs of 2007.

BRITT: Really? I never heard that.
MAX: There might not be anything here, but did you have any thoughts when we broke up? Bands break up all the time, but you were a big champion of ours.

BRITT: Well, I knew you guys were great. It's a thrill to be able to turn other people onto great music. Which is what it felt like taking you guys on tour. 

MAX: I remember you also saying something empathetic about us not finding someone to put out our record.

BRITT: I was surprised no one would put it out. I remember the record being a long process and not always the easiest. Am I right?

JULIAN: Oh, absolutely.

MAX: For sure. I stopped having fun at that point.

BRITT: Some records get like that, even the best ones.

JULIAN: I learned so much though from all those rejections eventually being followed by your cover of DYE. I can hear "no" a thousand times now—and I do—and I know to just make the thing and that it'll find a way.

BRITT: The last time I saw you guys play was at SXSW. The band was now a 4-piece, right? You seemed at that moment kind of heartbroken about the process of the album and doing the band.

JULIAN: It was rough times. No one wanted to be there.

MAX: Yeah, I know you've been there, Britt. Just didn't know how to stop and take a breath and rethink the situation.

BRITT: So that was maybe the low point. But the happy ending was what happened with this song.

JULIAN: It was. It is.

MAX: For sure.

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