There were fictional groups before—and there have been many more since—but Spinal Tap set the bar for what a fake movie band should look like. Not only did 1984’s This Is Spinal Tap capture the power dynamics that plague rock acts grappling with fame, but it also gave audiences clever lyrics and catchy songwriting on tracks like “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight” and “Big Bottom.” Its success spanned decades, and Spinal Tap members Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer have recorded two albums in the years since the film’s release, both which have charted. Spinal Tap’s fan base was so vast that the band even hit the road for a U.S. tour in 2009. The band laid the foundation for future faux groups to have real success.
It’s not easy to create a compelling fake movie band. Not only do you have to consider how to craft a compelling plot, but you also need to ensure that the cast of characters can capture the chemistry and tension of a real band. Then, of course, there’s the music: Some movie bands may serve purely as a vehicle to drive the story, but if executed as realistically as possible, there’s likely a handful of songs or a soundtrack that captures the energy and tone of the on-screen act. And to truly perfect the art of the fake movie band, more often than not professional musicians are brought in to develop an immersive sonic universe—whether it’s to helm cult-like bohemian rockers, teen punk rockers, or a retro rock group on the verge of their big break. After all, there’s a reason everyone from the Commitments to Hedwig and the Angry Inch have remained ingrained in viewers’ minds.
There’s a formula that makes a fictional movie band stand out, and some of the best ones are so well done that after the film’s release, they’ve gained real fan bases—people who buy merch for the fake band, attend live performances, and sometimes even worship a fictional musician. Ultimately, that’s a testament to the care and craft poured into these on-screen groups.
In the decades since This Is Spinal Tap, there have been plenty of bands from movies and TV shows that have found success outside of the work that birthed them. That includes classic examples, like Almost Famous’s Stillwater, That Thing You Do!’s the Wonders, and Sex Bomb-omb and the rest of Scott Pilgrim’s musical universe. It also includes more recent examples, like Under the Silver Lake’s Jesus and the Brides of Dracula, who were fronted by Brian Aubert from Silversun Pickups, and long-forgotten deep cuts, like 2gether, the MTV-made boy band who tried to make math sexy. To get a better sense of how the fictional world’s best faux bands came together—and how they’ve maintained a legacy in the years since—The Ringer spoke to people including Cameron Crowe, Zooey Deschanel, Andy Samberg, Emily Haines, and many others, plus some of the fans who have obsessed over musicians who don’t exactly exist IRL.
Part 1: Origins/Starting the (Fake) Band
Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous writer-director): I think the most fun thing about Stillwater was how seriously we took the band. It was important to know where Stillwater was in their career.
Johnathon Schaech (That Thing You Do!, the Wonders’ Jimmy): [Director Tom] Hanks [is] very specific with everything he does. We learned everything about 1964—the flavor, the feel, the energy, the politics, the history coming up to it, everything. We had the test tapes, and we watched pretty much everything from that time period.
Crowe: [Stillwater’s] first album, To Begin With, didn’t do well; the second album was self-titled and had some FM radio airplay, the third album, Farrington Road, afforded them a gatefold cover and contained the hit “Fever Dog,” along with the follow-up songs that charted well, “You Had to Be There” and “Love Thing.” And the next album was inevitably a failed concept album that took too much time and wasted too much money.
Schaech: It was all about the Beatles. All we did was watch the Beatles. They were that boy band. They were definitely the inspiration [for That Thing You Do!].
Remaking the Boy Band
Mark Gunn (2gether’s cocreator): We pitched the idea to MTV as a “Spinal Tap, but boy bands.” This was at the height of the boy band craze in the late ’90s. And Nigel [Dick] went off and cast it and made the movie, then it turned into a TV series, which Brian [Gunn] and I did.
Jorma Taccone (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, the Style Boyz’s Owen “Kid Contact” Bouchard): There was the Beastie Boys [connection] because we were white guys. But I think that the style of that Cooper font on the sweatshirt is just that early B-boys-style New York, Rock Steady crew, and [what] all those early breakdancing crews had of where you put your crew on the shirt.
Deborah Kaplan (Josie and the Pussycats cowriter and codirector): [With Du Jour], we tried to sneak in a certain level of filth there just because that band was so ridiculous.
Brian Gunn (2gether’s cocreator): 2gether was not 1/100th as popular as the Monkees, but that’s what we’re going for, and I think that that’s part of what appealed to MTV when they green-lit the project. They thought “Oh, it can simultaneously be a comedy, and it could be an in-house band.”
Mark Gunn: I think [MTV] thought they could have it both ways, and they did, which is to both make fun of boy bands and profit off of boy bands—and we all did, frankly.
Kaplan: [The Du Jour song] that gets a lot of attention is “Backdoor Lover” because I think people were like, “When I was little, I didn’t realize what that song was about, and then I got older and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’”
Pop-Punk Screen Queens
Harry Elfont (Josie and the Pussycats cowriter and director): We took the music [of Josie and the Pussycats] very seriously. We were working with Kenny Edmonds [Babyface], and we assembled this group of songwriters, because when it’s a movie musical, the music’s got to be good. We originally thought, “That’s so hard to have original songs immediately be catchy,” so we went to the experts.
Heather Hach (Freaky Friday screenwriter): My first draft [of the movie] wasn’t fabulous. It was probably more of a dumb Disney Channel movie, and I think we needed to give it a more relevant, current flair. Once we figured out “Oh, she wants to be in a band and wants to perform on the night that her mom’s getting married, and her mom is a psychologist [who] thinks she knows what everyone’s going through emotionally,” that was such a great source of conflict.
Kay Hanley (Josie and the Pussycats, Letters to Cleo bandleader and “Josie” vocalist): The first good review I ever got in The Village Voice was for Josie and the Pussycats, and I remember they called me out by name, which was not the plan. The plan was to let the band be the bit, which was totally fine with me.
Hach: I think [Freaky Friday director] Mark Waters came up with the name Pink Slip. Anna [Lindsay Lohan] spent time in detention, and that was how she met Jake [Chad Michael Murray]. It was just so perfect [that] he got a pink slip. Once that was volleyed out it was like, “Well, that’s a done deal. That’s what it has to be.”
Christina Vidal (Freaky Friday, Pink Slip’s Maddie): I remember when I was auditioning for Freaky Friday, the director knew me from [the show] Taina and was actually pulling for me to get this role. The director was fighting for me for the role, because perhaps they didn’t see a Latina in the role, or maybe they just saw someone with a different look. But he wanted me to get it. I remember he told me that after the fact, and I was really grateful.
Hach: There was some debate about [Lohan playing Anna]. But being a great singer, I mean, that helped tremendously. So it was pretty obvious: We settled on Lindsay pretty quickly. She’s terrific, had such a fan base already, and is so talented; she was perfect for the part.
Hanley: [Josie and the Pussycats] was my first job as a vocal gun for hire, and I was very happy to go behind the scenes on this at that time. I had a small baby, so letting Josie and the Pussycats be Rachael [Leigh Cook], Rosario [Dawson], and Tara [Reid] was totally fine with me.
Hach: I wanted to name [Pink Slip] “Slipknot,” which is horrible. Like, there’s actually a band. It was just absolutely painfully terrible, so that was taken out. I hope I’m remembering this correctly. I failed spectacularly on that one.
Elfont: [Making the music for Josie] was really fun and kind of became all-consuming to the point that when we were done with the music, I remember thinking, “Oh right, this is in service of a movie. We weren’t just making an album.” We kind of lost sight of the fact that we still had a movie to make.
Hach: I wanted Gwen Stefani to be in it. I wanted Lindsay [Lohan] and Pink Slip to open for Gwen Stefani. That was the challenge because I thought that’d be so much fun to get involved in the movie, but I’m not exactly sure what happened and how that fell apart, but at one point that was in the script.
Brian Aubert (Under the Silver Lake, Silversun Pickups bandleader, and Jesus and the Brides of Dracula vocalist): David Robert Mitchell, who directed [the movie], called us and said, “I have this weird thing called Under the Silver Lake, and I want you guys to be the hidden voice of this band with a song that has something to do with the plot.”
Ryan Levine (Jennifer’s Body, vocalist behind Low Shoulder): [The filmmakers] were looking for this original song for [Low Shoulder]. I didn’t really understand the band’s role at first.
Kaplan (Can’t Hardly Wait cowriter and codirector): [Can’t Hardly Wait] is a movie about tropes and the labels that are put on people in high school. [Love Burger] was almost an afterthought. Like, “Oh, and there’s a band that never plays.” They spend the whole night setting up and futzing with their amps and they never actually play.
Aubert: [The script] had a very Los Angeles-y [aesthetic], and it’s taking it to task and holding it up in a way. We broke it down and tried to make it very what Jesus and the Brides of Dracula would sound like. We got more in tune with the sort of sleazy nature of L.A. in a way that we wouldn’t do on our own.
Adam Brody (Jennifer’s Body, Low Shoulder’s bandleader Nikolai): [Nikolai] was a little bit from the Brandon Flowers camp and a little bit from the more pop-emo Fall Out Boy camp. Where those two meet wasn’t so specifically or consciously a single person or anything. There’s a few genres of music that it can kind of fall into, so it was easy to lean into those.
Elfont (Can’t Hardly Wait cowriter and codirector): The whole movie, we tried to fit as many background jokes as we could. It was layers on layers. We thought [Love Burger] is a band, and they never get past arguing. Because just having known people in bands, they argue about everything.
Aubert: [David] sent us a script and it was like, “What the fuck? This is so strange.” [David] was like “Richard [Disasterpiece] is going to write the song, and then you’re going to kind of interpret it, and it’s going to have this meta idea, because in the movie there’s a songwriter that writes everything.”
Indie Rock Infiltration
Emily Haines (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Metric bandleader, and the Clash at Demonhead/Envy Adams “vocalist”): Nigel [Godrich] and [director] Edgar [Wright] were so dedicated to building the film around the music, and the artists they chose to work with shared their serious attention to detail.
Mark Webber (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Sex Bob-omb’s Stephen Stills): I didn’t go into [playing in Sex Bob-omb] trying to emulate anybody because Nigel Godrich, who’s Radiohead’s producer, was our producer, and Beck wrote and prerecorded all our tracks. It was handed over to me to be like, “Hey, man, if you can sing this, great. If not, we’ll use somebody else’s voice.”
Zooey Deschanel (Yes Man, Munchausen by Proxy’s Allison): Peyton Reed, the director, and the music supervisor, Jonathan Karp, teamed me up with a super-talented, all-female electro-pop band from San Francisco called Von Iva. We spent maybe a week writing and recording, [and] we were given a lot of freedom to write songs we thought were true to the characters.
Haines: I would have to ask Bryan [Lee O’Malley] to describe how he created the character of Envy Adams based on his experiences seeing Metric perform live, but my sense is that he definitely wasn’t afraid to heighten or exaggerate anything for dramatic purposes; it’s all meant to be larger than life. And then when Edgar cast Brie [Larson], she took the character from the pages of the graphic novel to a whole new level, which was very cool to witness.
Deschanel: We thought it would be funny if the songs dealt with very mundane themes like going to the grocery store and dating rules and then very abstract songs about a fictional sheriff. I was just happy we could serve the story by writing and recording some catchy, silly tunes.
Webber: I don’t consider Sex Bob-omb a fake band. We were a real band.
Part 2: Filming and Executing the Vision
Hitmaking With the Pros
Crowe: For me, and for Nancy Wilson, and even Peter Frampton, we wanted to write the actual songs that the actual midlevel Midwestern band struggling with their own possible mediocrity would write. We had a sensibility for each member—we even had a complex family tree of all the bands they’d been in. And we always knew this: All the songs were about the road, people they met on the road, [and] people left behind on the road, all with a vague sense of a father issue.
Tom Everett Scott (That Thing You Do!, the Wonders’ Guy): Tom [Hanks] had a lot to do with [the music], and he would sing into answering machines. He would leave voice messages [with] an idea for a song, and [the songwriters] would come back with it fully composed, so there was a really awesome creative process that was going on. It was starting in Tom’s head, and then coming out through all the great people that they hired to do all the jobs on the film.
Scott: Adam Schlesinger, who we lost last year, wrote this incredible song that fits perfectly in the movie. And he really threaded the needle with it: They had “That Thing You Do!” as the title, and worked it into the lyrics and then also made it sound like it was fresh in the ’60s and also fresh in the ’90s. He just nailed it in its song.
Schaech: We listened to a bunch of different versions of that “That Thing You Do!” from different musicians. And when we heard that version from Adam Schlesinger, we were just like, “Oh my God.” It was contagious. It really gets to your guts, makes you feel good. All of our lives, it all changed because of “That Thing You Do!”
Elfont (Josie and the Pussycats): We had all of our writers out in L.A., and then [Schlesinger] submitted “Pretend to Be Nice” as a song for the movie, and we loved it. And we met with him, and I think he kind of flipped the genders from how he originally wrote [the song].
Kaplan (Josie and the Pussycats): My ex was cleaning out his garage and he found a tiny Sony dictaphone, and on the little tiny tape is us writing “3 Small Words.” It sounds very Chip [Douglas of] the Monkees and we don’t have any lyrics. But it’s just amazing. I sometimes forget that we did that.
Elfont: “3 Small Words” [and] “Pretend to Be Nice” were the two [songs] kind of written to be singles. At one point we had a different song to open the movie, and we played it for somebody we really trust, and he said, “Well, in the script, you describe this raw sound, something that’s not so polished. These all sound kind of polished.” So we quickly went back, and one of the last things we did was write “3 Small Words” to sound like the kind of slightly grungier, more unpolished song you have.
Hanley: “3 Small Words” is the banger. I would say that [the] fan favorite is “Pretend to Be Nice,” hands down. To me “You Don’t See Me” is the sleeper.
Brian Gunn: Mark wrote down a whole bunch of song titles on a legal pad, and they all just made us giggle. I remember just seeing “U+Me=Us (Calculus),” it was probably just the mood I was in at the time, but I found it so vapid and hilarious, that we were like, “We have to write a song about that.”
Dick: My brief to the guys who wrote the song was “You’ve got to write the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ of boy band songs.”
Brian Gunn: We wrote the lyrics to most of the songs, but they had some real, pro songwriters who had worked with other boy bands, teen singers, and musicians that would come in and write the melodies.
Dick: Even though [2gether was] an inflated or ridiculous version of ’NSync, Backstreet Boys … I think the quality of the music that we created for the movie was actually very high.
Deschanel: We—myself and the Von Iva gals: Kelly, Becky, and Jillian—wrote all the songs together, so I think it’s inevitable you put some of your musical influences in. But it was great writing with people I don’t normally write with. The arrangements and where the songs went melodically were really fun because I don’t normally work with synths, so it brought out a different side to my own songwriting contributions. Also nice to not be so worried about lyrics being good.
Vidal: When I was in the studio recording [Pink Slip’s “Take Me Away”], I was singing it with my sort of soulful, R&B normal voice that I sing with, and the director [Mark Waters] was like, “Try it more like she’s a rocker. Make it a little more staccato, like cut off your notes a little bit.” I was like, “Why would I sing like that?” and literally the thought I had was “I’m singing like a white person. But I’m not white. This was gonna sound like crap. What’s he doing to me? I’m not going to sound all cool and good like Mariah Carey.” But then I realized after listening to it, he was absolutely right. It was way more fitting.
Haines: The song “Black Sheep” was actually already written and recorded when Edgar [Wright] reached out to us. It was part of [Metric’s] Fantasies sessions, but at the last minute we decided to leave it off the album, which worked out perfectly. It was as though we had written it for this exact purpose without knowing it.
Levine: I was told [Jennifer’s Body was] looking for this original song, and they gave some pretty broad-stroke parameters as far as the sounds there. But they wanted to see if it could be a hit song. I think some of the references [they gave me] were “Lightning Crashes” by Live and maybe whatever that big Snow Patrol song was at the time. But [a] big anthemic, kind of stadium song.
Brody: Ryan wrote a really good song [“Through the Trees”]. The other thing is the song is in the movie a few times and in a few different versions, so it’s hooky and catchy for starters, and then you hear it twice, and assuming you watch the movie more than once, it kind of stays.
Aubert: We recorded the song [“Turning Teeth”], and I think Richard Disasterpiece was a little freaked out by it at first because we had to change it to make it sound like a song that people would hear. When we did “Turning Teeth,” it sounded like a really bad Dr. Teeth and Electric Mayhem. I knew we had certain beats, like there’s a balloon dance sequence that went with it and certain moments in the script that we used to arrange it.
Playing the Band
Scott: The thing about [the Wonders] is that we are actors playing a band. Ethan [Embry] can play bass guitar and guitar and he’s a real musician. Steve [Zahn] could fingerpick country songs like John Prine on an acoustic guitar. I played trumpet in high school, in the band, and then learned how to play drums for the movie. And then Johnathon Schaech did an amazing job, but he came at that as a complete novice. Actually performing was something we would try to avoid at all costs because it could never quite compare to what the professional musicians actually recorded for the movie.
Schaech: We spent eight weeks or more, just nonstop [preparing]. You can imagine the learning curve that you would have to have to be able to play to muted music. And then we wanted to get a little bit better. We knew that we had to perform onstage [and] we would have to record. They hired everybody. We’d sit down and my fingers were bleeding. I sang in church choirs. It was just awesome.
Tara Reid (Josie and the Pussycats, band drummer Melody): [Josie] was my favorite movie I’ve ever made. We had so much fun, and then we also got to learn how to play the instruments. I became a good drummer, Rachael became a good guitarist, [and] Rosario became a great bassist.
Scott: As an actor, I’m trying to learn all these different drum pieces. One of the joys was the challenge of looking like I was drumming. I think I got there. I had a great teacher in New York, Billy Ward, who taught me how to play.
Schaech: When they got the camera, and they moved it into where we were playing our instruments, we were playing the right chords. It became like a game—we had to get it right. And sometimes, you’d turn down the playback of Mike Viola and [Adam] Schlesinger, and then you would hear us playing. We didn’t sound very good. We might have had the right chords, but musicians just had that touch. I didn’t have that touch, and that’s OK.
Dick: Surely, every member of [2gether] knows they’re in the fake band. And it’s a bit like online dating in that, once you’ve met the person and you formed a relationship with that person, how you met is irrelevant. The relationship relies on the strength of the bonds you have with that other person. And similarly, I don’t think 2gether was any less valid than One Direction, who were put together by other people.
Mark Gunn: [2gether] did all their own singing. They were cast, I think, in large part because of their singing. A few of those guys have really, really great voices. The dancing had to come later, but that’s true of all boy bands. I don’t think a lot of those guys are natural dancers. Then, of course, we had them wearing ridiculous costumes and singing absolutely idiotic lyrics, which they all had a blast doing.
Vidal: While I didn’t have someone specific in mind constantly that I was emulating [as Maddie], I watched MTV music videos, [and] I watched people rock out on stage in performances, so I tried to embody that.
Brian Gunn: A lot of the actors started sort of taking on some of the attributes and even sometimes the flaws of their characters. I won’t go into it with that because it would be breaking some confidentiality, but it was a little creepy at times. And the creepiest, of course, is that Michael Cuccione, who played the character of Q.T., his character was suffering from a terminal illness and then he died when he was 16 years old. It was really sad how real life started to mirror some of the fictional elements of this show.
Vidal: We had to do rehearsals so that we could look like a band and look like we knew what we were doing. And then Haley [Hudson], who was the other actress [in Pink Slip], actually played guitar really well. I, on the other hand, was really focused on just looking like I was faking it and knew what I was doing. But she took it really seriously. Rehearsals were so much fun, because we would just rock out and act like you were in a real band and didn’t actually have to know how to play instruments.
Kaplan (Can’t Hardly Wait): [Love Burger] made it a lot more than was on the page. They really committed: Donald [Faison] with the cowboy hat and Breckin [Meyer] with the new-romantic ruffle shirt.
Elfont (Can’t Hardly Wait): It’s very clear that [Love Burger] all want to be in different bands just by what they’re wearing. None of their outfits match.
Webber: I just remember being in a studio with Nigel [Godrich] in Metric’s home studio in Toronto recording these [Sex Bob-omb] songs and being guided by such an amazing producer. Alison [Pill] really learned how to play the drums, and then Michael [Cera] is just like a musical savant, really, so he was really playing, and it’s amazing.
Aubert: I think the idea was, we were gonna be a little more hidden. There was even talking about making a fake EP, which sounded really fun, but who has the time? Just getting the song done was [a challenge].
Brody: I’ve disappointed a few people by them realizing it’s not me singing in [Jennifer’s Body], but in fact Ryan’s voice, [which] I couldn’t even attempt. I mean, it’s a really hard song to sing. It’s a ballad, and I couldn’t even come close to it. I was comically, hysterically bad. In fact, I didn’t want to do the part because of it. I hemmed and hawed about it, and then eventually, I decided to do it. Ironically, the performance was still the most fun part of it for me. I was like, “I fucking love this.” I fully, fully enjoyed lip-syncing and did not care.
Aubert: [Jesus and the Brides of Dracula] were going to be more of a fake band, like less of us being known, which would have been fun, but once I started singing, if you know who we are, or you care who we are, you’re gonna know it’s us. Richard [Disasterpiece] really came around to liking it a lot, and he asked us to play the band behind the actors. We love Luke [Daniels], who played Jesus. He would just laugh because he knew every time he was lip-syncing it was me coming out of his mouth.
Brody: It’s cool that a lot of the real band [who was behind Low Shoulder], like Ryan, was in the band in [Jennifer’s Body]. I remember going when we’re about to film, “Somebody teach me the fucking song on guitar, I don’t know it,” and learning two minutes before we started doing it.
Aubert: We did have to explain to David [Robert Mitchell] with all the [band] details like, “Hey, maybe we should have cables coming out about guitars” [and] “we have to have speakers up here.” I know there’s the fantasy and stuff that people really do pay attention to, like if we’re playing guitar and all that.
Part 3: The Bands’ Second Lives and Real Fan Bases
Real Band Crossover
Dick: [2gether’s] album went Top 40, and I think the fans just grew to love them. Subsequently, there were a couple of reunions. There was a sort of onstage reunion at some club in L.A. about 10 years afterward, and it was packed.
Haines: “Black Sheep” has been a fan favorite for years when it comes to songs people want to hear live, which is great for us because it’s so fun to play. I think it has something like 50 million streams on Spotify, just behind “Help I’m Alive.” And I recently discovered a whole world of people on TikTok dyeing their hair to it.
Mark Gunn: [2gether] recorded two albums that did pretty well. They opened for Britney Spears a few times. Brian and I were at one of those concerts [and] what struck me was that there were young girls, 10, 11, 12 years old, screaming for the 2gether guys. They would scream out their fake names, and if that didn’t get their attention, they would scream out their acronyms. They had both the actors’ names written on one arm and on the other arm, they wrote the stage names.
Taccone: I’m always surprised when people like [The Style Boyz’] pet songs. Like “The Donkey Roll” is probably the thing people say they’re the most interested in with the Style Boyz. Yeah, we get that a lot. You know what doesn’t get mentioned as much? “Karate Guy.” I don’t get that as much that kind of more. “Fratty Guy” is for .01 percent of the population, but it’s really for that .01 percent.
Crowe: We’re still down the rabbit hole with Stillwater. We now have the Almost Famous musical, and Stillwater lives again. We have a great new song for them called “I Come at Night.” (The band argues about the title.) Nancy and I wrote a new verse for “Fever Dog” for the musical, and we wrote it in about 10 minutes. Because, we know what Stillwater music is: Actually, we crave it.
Webber: I’m friends with Kid Cudi, and Kid Cudi is a huge fan of Scott Pilgrim. I went over to his house and he played me Man on the Moon III, and he surprised me by playing the track where he samples me and Michael [Cera] from the film on this track called, “She Knows This.” So that’s rad: A Sex Bob-omb, Scott Pilgrim sample ends up on a Kid Cudi record.
Aubert: [Silversun Pickups] started touring for a new record that came out. I don’t know when anymore. As time went on, we started to hear about [“Turning Teeth”] more and more often. Nikki [Monninger], my bass player, and I do a lot of acoustic [shows], like promo and charity things. And we noticed that, at least in the beginning, once a day we’d hear about [“Turning Teeth”]. Then, twice a day we started hearing about it. And so by the end of that tour, we would hear about it a lot. People that would come up to us and talk to us about it, you can almost tell that they felt like they had a secret in a weird way. Not because we’re so hidden, just because you have to be a seeker to find that movie and find that song.
Kaplan (Josie and the Pussycats): A couple of years ago, Mondo Records approached us about putting out a vinyl release of the soundtrack. I never in a million years thought there’d be a vinyl album.
Hanley: Two years ago we did the vinyl release of [the Josie soundtrack], and we performed a bunch of the songs live before we did a Q&A with Deb, Harry, Rachael, Tara, and Rosario. We did a performance of a bunch of songs, and I was literally shocked by the reaction. People were freaking the fuck out. It was sold out, there were like 1,500 people at the theater screaming along to every word.
Scott: A buddy of mine who does a comedy thing called The Goddamn Comedy Jam said, “Will you back me up?” The whole premise of his comedy show was to have people tell stories and then perform a song with a house band that had to do with the story. He says, “I just want to tell a story, have the song be That Thing You Do!, and have you come out and play the drums,” and I was like, “I would love to maybe get the other guys to do it, too.” The only regret is that Steve Zahn was going to do it, and then he got called away for work. But we did it. We got up on stage and performed the song at The Roxy, and the audience went bananas.
Kaplan: People came in costume, and it was on a Comic-Con level.
Hanley: When we did the show in L.A., we did “Pretend to Be Nice,” obviously. Adam [Schlesinger] was so weird and shy, and I just loved him. I was like, “He’s got to play the song with us.” So I texted him, he came down to rehearse with us, and he did the show with us.
Kaplan: My ex found out there’s a group of girls who dress up as Du Jour for Halloween and photoshopped Donald [Faison] in the background.
Andy Samberg (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, The Style Boyz’ Connor4Real): [The Style Boyz is] yet another killer Halloween costume for lazy guys and girls. A wonderful, wonderful group of friends of three to associate themselves with anyone that I think it can. We like to think that we’ve tripled the amount of sales of silver pants on Amazon.
The Best Fan Reactions
Crowe: I’ve met people who’ve tattooed the Stillwater logo and talked to me about the intricacies of the songs and the members. People also ask me what I think Stillwater would be doing today. The answer is simple: Bebe went solo, Russell Hammond joined a bigger band (as Joe Walsh did in joining the Eagles). Larry Fellows teaches bass to high school students … and a version of Stillwater still tours the Midwest, but the only original member is Silent Ed.
Marya E. Gates (Almost Famous fan): I love the whole mythology that Crowe wrote for [Stillwater] and that you can feel it in the movie even though it’s not shown. Because he did that work, they feel like a real band touring their third album on the brink of breaking out.
Schaech: For many years, people would really be mad at me for what Jimmy did to Faye [who was played by Liv Tyler]. One kid came up to me and kicked me in the shin. I was like, “What’s going on?” He was like, “How could you do that to Faye?”
Scott: I remember my friend’s 13-year-old daughter wanted me to be at her birthday party because all her friends loved [That Thing You Do!].
Schaech: I live in Nashville, Tennessee, now and pretty much everywhere I went ever since that movie, I would bump into people from the music world, and they’d be like, “Oh my God, that’s my band.” Stephen Stills said that to me. He goes, “Oh my God, that was Buffalo Springfield. You guys were Buffalo Springfield.” And Jay DeMarcus from Rascal Flatts [goes], “I’m Jimmy. Or I’m Lenny. We had a Jimmy on our band.” So I think there’s a lot of people that dream of wanting to get lightning in a bottle, take their garage band and have success.
Haines: I’m not sure if this counts as a fan encounter, but I loved having Brie [Larson] sing my song [“Black Sheep”].
Mo Wilson (Scott Pilgrim/Sex Bob-omb fan): I think Beck’s songwriting is immensely influential in indie rock, with lots of bands trying to emulate him. Since he was behind the music, it really felt like an exciting new garage-rock band with a lot of spark! It didn’t feel market-tested to death by a bunch of executives, or too clean. The songs weren’t super flashy even though they were fun, so you could imagine how the band could be overlooked in the Toronto scene.
Kaplan (Josie and the Pussycats): The moment when we realized how far later on that people had sort of taken to the music [of Josie] was when [indie-pop band] Charly Bliss dressed up as Josie the Pussycats and perform the entire album at Shea Stadium [in Queens] at a Halloween show.
Elfont (Josie and the Pussycats): Maybe it was Super Yaki who made their own Josie T-shirt, but I think they made a “Du Jour means family” Christmas ornament that they’re selling now.
Vidal: She’s actually a famous singer, and I feel so bad because I don’t remember her name, but she tweeted something about me. My niece sent it to me, and she was like “Oh my gosh, do you know who this is?” [The singer] tweeted [a photo of me as Maddie in Pink Slip]: “I wanted to marry her when I was younger.”
Cat Cardenas (Freaky Friday/Pink Slip fan): Pink Slip just embodied this pop-punk, antiestablishment, too-cool-to-care attitude that I desperately wanted to have when I grew up. I was so drawn in by the idea that they were a glimpse of what my teenage years would be like (they were not). I would play the guitar in a band with friends, dye my hair, and write angry or fun songs about falling in and out of love. That’s when I was constantly listening to the radio and figuring out what I even liked, and being Latina, I immediately clocked that Christina Vidal was also Latina and one of the lead singers. I honestly don’t know if I could name any real female pop-punk bands from that time with a Latina band member.
Schaech: The light that that whole experience gave us … lives were changed because of “That Thing You Do!” And that’s what I’ve seen over the years is it just changes lives. Like so many people, it gave them an opportunity to believe that they can get that one hit or keep trying.
Trace William Cowen (That Thing You Do!/The Wonders fan) The movie became a sort-of shorthand between me and my more musically inclined friends. I’ve often broken out into my own version of the “I quit” scene at the first sight of any perceived difficulty. It’s also a movie that’s grown with me. As a kid, I related to it in a more surface-level way, but was heartbroken that the band itself didn’t last beyond being a one-hit wonder.
Levine: I am still blown away with how [“Through the Trees”] still has a life through [Jennifer’s Body], the way people reacted to it the way they did and some of the messages I received after it came out and over the years. What it meant to people was a huge surprise to me, and for everybody. I remember getting messages from people about their husbands, brothers, or sisters serving in the military and how this song got them through the tough moments. [Low Shoulder] really connected with people, even though the band itself is often terrible.
These interviews have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Ilana Kaplan is a music and culture writer/editor who lives in Brooklyn. She has written for The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, NPR, and more.