Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine have released two more songs, “Back to Oz” and “Fictional California,” from their upcoming collaborative album, A Beginner’s Mind, out September 24th via Asthmatic Kitty.
The entire album features songs that were roughly inspired by the movies Stevens and Augustine watched while working on music at a friend’s cabin in upstate New York. “Back to Oz,” for instance, draws inspiration not from The Wizard of Oz, but the 1985 dark fantasy follow-up, Return to Oz; meanwhile, “Fictional California” takes its inspiration from a somewhat unlikely source — the 2004 direct-to-video cheerleading comedy, Bring It On Again.
“These films are all over the map,” Augustine tells Rolling Stone via email. “There are critically lauded movies, next to Hollywood blockbusters, next to features that went straight to VHS. We included variety in our selections of narrative content and film genre to form a wide landscape. Some of these films were new recommendations that Sufjan and I would give to each other, and some of them were just movies that we loved as kids… The project allowed me to discover, as a writer, I could inhabit different internal realities of characters and their fictional worlds, while also maintaining a sense of self and the inspiration needed for the work to be real. Something that we focused on was to not limit ourselves to judgment and preconceived ideas, but to conjure a mantra of openness and possibility.”
Augustine says he had already written most of “Back to Oz” at home in California, but he and Stevens finished the lyrics after watching Return to Oz. The track also arrives with an animated music video, directed by Alex Horan and animated by Clara Murray, which is packed with references to Dorothy and Oz, but is also strange, psychedelic, and eerie.
“[Return to Oz] defies the rules of what a children’s movie is allowed to be,” Augustine says. “The song’s lyrics reference an erosion of a central character’s internal reality. A loss of innocence is the impetus for a journey to find inner truth. In the film, Dorothy returns to the world of Oz to find its landscape in ruins and its citizens turned to stone. Only she can find the ruby slippers and return peace to Oz. Only we can save ourselves, but we first have to remember who we are.”
As for “Fictional California” and Bring It On Again, Augustine says it was Stevens that recommended that movie, and he adds that, while they watched it, they both took copious notes and flipped through glossaries of cheerleading terms. But for the song, Augustine zeroed in on something that felt particularly surreal about the movie.
“I thought it was interesting and funny that the setting of the movie is a fictional California State College because the lead character’s name is ‘Whittier,’ which is the name of an actual city in Southern California,” he says. “I live in California myself and interacting with people here can feel like a fantasy movie where everyone has their own character and role they feel expected to play. California might as well be a fictional place.”
“Back to Oz” and “Fictional California” follow previously released A Beginner’s Mind tracks, “Olympus” and “Reach Out.”