Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine Share Two New Songs “Back to Oz” and “Fictional California” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine Share Two New Songs “Back to Oz” and “Fictional California”

A Beginner’s Mind Due Out September 24 via Asthmatic Kitty, Watch the Video for “Back to Oz”

Aug 10, 2021
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Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine are releasing a new collaborative album together, A Beginner’s Mind, on September 24 via Asthmatic Kitty and now they have shared two new songs from it, “Back to Oz” (shared via a video) and “Fictional California.” The album is inspired by different films, with “Back to Oz” taking inspiration from 1985’s Return to Oz and “Fictional California” being inspired by 2004’s direct-to-video cheerleading comedy sequel Bring It On Again. Alex Horan directed the “Back to Oz” video, which was animated by Clara Murray. Watch it below, followed by the audio for “Fictional California.”

Stevens is based in New York, De Augustine lives in Thousand Oaks, CA. Both artists are already on Asthmatic Kitty and the album came together during a month long songwriting retreat between the two of them in a friend’s Upstate New York cabin. At the end of each day they’d watch a movie to unwind and the movies started to inform their songwriting, so much so that the songs on A Beginner’s Mind are each loosely based on a film.

De Augustine had this to say about “Back to Oz” in a press release: “This was a song that I had written mostly at home in California. We finished its lyrics after watching Return to Oz. The words 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 frozen in 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 truly are.”

Stevens adds: “Angelo is mostly known for his intimate home recordings; his music is quiet and confessional. So for ‘Back to Oz’ we decided to go for something flashier. The song has a fun guitar groove, so we gave it some bass and drums, and Angelo even recorded his first electric guitar solo. It’s a sad song—being mostly about disillusionment—but it has a great party vibe too.”

Horan had this to say about directing the “Back to Oz” video: “We love the dreamlike quality of ‘Back to Oz’ and how the chorus transports the listener to another world. We wanted to evoke those same feelings through the visuals.”

Animated Murray adds: “I love to make anything and everything come alive—the clouds, a fork—everything has a soul and can become a living, breathing thing. So the idea of creating a whole world engrossed me.”

When the album was announced, Stevens and De Augustine shared two songs from it, “Reach Out” and “Olympus.” The former was shared via a VHS-shot video featuring their dogs Joku and Charlie and was one of our Songs of the Week.

A previous press release described the album in more detail: “The resulting album is 14 songs (loosely) based on (mostly) popular films—highbrow, lowbrow and everything in between. They wrote in tandem—one person writing a verse, the other a chorus, churning out chord progressions and lyrics willy-nilly, often finishing each other’s sentences in the process. Rigorous editing and rewriting ensued. The results are less a ‘cinematic exegesis’ and more a “rambling philosophical inquiry” that allows the songs to free-associate at will. Plot-points, scene summaries, and leading characters are often displaced by esoteric interpolations that ask the bigger question: what does it mean to be human in a broken world?

“Stevens and De Augustine wrote everything with a deliberate sense of shoshin—the Zen Buddhist concept for which the record is named and an idea that empowered the pair to look for and write about unlikely inspiration without preconceived notions of what a film had to say (The I-Ching and Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies also served as incentives along the way). The movies became rhetorical prompts, with the songwriters letting their distinct reactions and creative instincts govern their process. The underlying objective was empathy and openness, absent of judgment: to observe with the eyes of a child.”

For the project’s artwork they commissioned Ghanaian artist Daniel Anum Jasper. In his home country in the late ’80s films were often viewed via mobile cinema screenings out of the back of pickup trucks and were advertised via newly illustrated movie posters, with the artists often given not much information about each film. Jasper was one such artist and was asked to work in this style again. His artwork appears on the cover of both the album and three 7-inches singles from the album.

Earlier this year Stevens released the five-volume album Convocations. De Augustine’s most recent album was 2019’s Tomb.

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