Why the Wonders Are Reuniting 24 Years After 'That Thing You Do!' - Rolling Stone
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Why the Wonders Are Reuniting 24 Years After ‘That Thing You Do!’

Fictional one-hit-wonder band talks reuniting for COVID-19 relief, paying tribute to the late Adam Schlesinger

The tragic news that songwriter-producer Adam Schlesinger died of COVID-19 complications at the age of 52 caused an outpouring of grief and a renewed appreciation for his vast body of work.

And although many fans remembered the music he made with his band Fountains of Wayne or his songs for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, just as many wanted to celebrate the title track he wrote to the 1996 classic film That Thing You Do! It was enough to reunite the Wonders, the fictional band at the center of the film, who haven’t been together in the 24 years since its release.

On Friday, the Wonders will Zoom together and watch That Thing You Do! from their respected homes in quarantine. But before that, Rolling Stone hosted their own Zoom session with the band, discussing their reunion, memories of the movie and Schlesinger’s songwriting genius. 

Johnathon Schaech starred as Jimmy Mattingly, the frontman of the Wonders. Drummer Guy Patterson was portrayed by Tom Everett Scott, while Steve Zahn appeared as Lenny Haise, the goofy guitarist. Ethan Embry starred as the Marines-obsessed bass player, who was cast as “T.B. player.” Embry gave himself a name, anyway: “His name was Tobias,” he says, “because you got to have something to hold onto.”

“We were pretty tight right off the bat,” Zahn remembers. “We had to be. The cool thing about this was we rehearsed as a band; we didn’t rehearse as a cast. We didn’t do scene work. All I remember is us in a studio together playing these songs over and over and over again. They wanted it to be really authentic so that they wanted us all to be really spot on.”

The fact that it’s impossible to get tired of hearing “That Thing You Do!” attributes to Schlesinger’s genius. “He had to make a song that sounded like it was a hit song from the Sixties,” Scott says. “It had to have the words ‘that thing you do,’ because that came first. I remember them saying 300 songs had been submitted. But that was the one.”

That Thing You Do! also marked the directorial debut of Tom Hanks, who also starred as Mr. White, the band’s very own Brian Epstein. “I’d see him interact with fans,” Scott recalls. “If somebody wanted him to list all the versions of shrimp that he could cook from Forrest Gump, he’d do it. He’d play along. He understands that we have a noble profession where fans enjoy what we do, and you got to give back to them. But then in the technical side of it, he also showed us how to make a film. He was incredibly generous and kind to us.”

More than two decades after the film’s release, the Wonders are still recognized on the street. “Me and Zahn were down in Louisiana for the Super Bowl one year,” Schaech says, “And we were with Rascal Flatts and Journey, and we were all walking across the street. And this guy stopped this car in the middle of the street, got out and looked at me and goes, ‘You’re the Wonders!'”

That Thing You Do

Photo by 20th Century Fox/Clinica Estetico/Kobal/Shutterstock

20th Century Fox/Clinica Estetico/Kobal/Shutterstock

The reunion will be livestreamed from the band’s new YouTube channel at 7 p.m. ET. They’ll be joined by cast members Liv Tyler and Giovanni Ribisi, with a possible cameo by Hanks. A button to donate to MusiCares’ COVID-19 Relief Fund will also be featured, supporting musicians affected by the pandemic. Proceeds will be made in Schlesinger’s name. “We’re gonna try to bring as much attention to that as we can,” Embry says. “It’s our way to honor Adam.”

“Right now, where everything is so uncertain, there’s this wide range of options of how this could play out,” Scott adds. “And people are starting to really get upset about that. I think this movie offers a respite. It’s a change of pace. It’s something familiar.”

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