Tragic events thrust us into a roller-coaster of emotions that initially keep us feeling lost, confused, or angry. This change, however, is a beautiful gift that offers insight to those open to change.
How we deal with life’s hurdles determines whether we are destined to repeat the same lesson, or whether we use the experience to move to a deeper understanding of our human condition. In accepting change, we effectively step outside ourselves to reflect on our transformation; a self-awareness that allows us to be free to make decisions about whom we are.
Matt Mooney, who has adopted the persona of Royal Holland, touches on such existential themes in his three part music opus titled Unfolded Trilogy. The three EPs collectively create a profound music experience that carefully weaves story in groupings of songs encapsulated within three key mental states.
The story arc is thoughtful, engaging and well-presented, offering us an emotionally raw tale with subtlety and eloquence. The tracks progress as moods, echoing the main character’s emotional journey where the peaks and valleys of this life-examined crystallize while moving from song to song and from EP to EP. In all, Unfolded Trilogy holds its own as it sits alongside other concept albums and rock operas, remaining entertaining and focused throughout its entirety.
Citizen LA: Tell me about your introduction to music?
Matt: There was a widow, in the small farm town where I grew up, who taught me how to write music. I would sit in a little room with a banged-up upright piano writing songs for hours. One was based on the video game Frogger. At one point, I played these heartfelt songs for the widow, who said “you know… these aren’t very good.” [laughs]
Citizen LA: So did you finish that a version of the “Frogger” game?
Matt: No. But maybe I should.
Citizen LA: C’mon Matt. The world is waiting!
Citizen LA: You were recently in the band “Koala Fires.” What led you to this solo journey and to your “Unfolded Trilogy” albums?
Matt: From a songwriting standpoint I was moving past the indie rock thing. So I stopped the project. Following that, I played at singer/songwriter nights testing out some Americana influenced songs. Then I began experimenting with Brian Olive, figuring out what the Royal Holland sound was going to be.
Citizen LA: On that note, we come to volume one of the Unfolded Trilogy, titled “The Maze”. Gimme a quick on the story behind it.
Matt: It’s centered on the questions that are evoked after a severely tragic event in your life. There is a specific event in the persona of Royal Holland that these EPs are an introduction to, which I’ll be flushing out later in a concept album. “The Maze” is focused around that feeling of being lost… as if you’re creating a maze for yourself that is difficult to get out of, but if you were to step back from it, you’d see that it doesn’t actually exist.
Citizen LA: And the second part of the trilogy is called “Flamingo”?
Matt: Yes. So you’ve gone through this struggle, and then you reevaluate EVERYTHING. The title track of Flamingo is a comparison and contrast between the kitschy fake plastic yard ornament flamingo and the idea of seeing one flying over-head; a true representation of the grand animal. The song relates our lives to the things that we put into the world, which are often a facsimile of our true greatness. “Flamingo” taps into that more epic version of ourselves; the one where we don’t have self-imposed inhibitions.
Citizen LA: And the third and final act is called “Program.” A little bit about that.
Matt: I heard a biologist talking about evolution, in a podcast, who mentioned that the “program” is bound to the body in which it sits. The idea being that we are stuck within a certain limitation of our physical selves as we travel through this world. Somehow living within that restriction, there’s a great freedom in knowing that you may “not know.”
Citizen LA: Life, just as your trilogy, has a beginning and an end. But there’s this duality where though your trilogy is meant to be listened to sequentially, it’s dealing with things that are cyclical.
Matt: Correct. I’ve always been a very interested in the philosophy of Eternal Return. Milan Kundera talks about it a lot in the Unbearable Likeness of Being. The concept is, basically, if you don’t repeat your life, or certain things in your life, then it never becomes hefty enough to be meaningful. That’s kinda what gives your life substance. I also will say that I wouldn’t mind if people finished volume three, and listen to volume one just in that cyclical pattern, either.
Citizen LA: Apparently, when you actually admit that you know nothing, then you’re finally on the path to understanding everything, which is all about knowing nothing, and that is the perfect place to be.
Matt: It’s counterintuitive, for sure, like understanding the confines of our current condition. There might be a way to know some of these things, but it might not be how you expect it.
Citizen LA: This statement that “restriction can be very freeing” brings up the idea of lucid dreaming. You’re completely frozen, yet at the same time there is the ability to control your dreams, if you really practice it.
Matt: I love lucid dreaming, and often times find myself trying to get back into a dream that I was having. I also really enjoy the complete absurdity of one thing being a completely different thing in dreams.
Citizen LA: As in symbolism?
Matt: We use dreams as a metaphor in our lives, and I really do feel like my career in music has been something that I’ve aspired to. Talking about control, or controlling your destiny within a dream world, or within the real one, sounds daunting, but once you get some repetitions under your belt, and you build that momentum, it can be very liberating, especially once you realize that your “idea”, of what your aspiring to, is the most important thing… not everyone else’s idea of it.
Citizen LA: Speaking of absurdity, let me tell you about a dream I had last week… at one point, I was about to interview and shoot Mark Wahlberg, except Mr. Wahlberg had gone through a sex-change and he was now a girl. But as I was preparing the room, somebody’s kid comes on-set and SMASHES my camera. Try and figure out what that dream means.
Matt: Well, let’s see… do you like kids??
Citizen LA: At THAT moment, not really. I guess, that’s a dream that I would have loved to control a little better.
Citizen LA: Let’s get into storytelling a little bit. I’m sure you’re familiar with the ever ongoing “nurture vs. nature” debate. Does the outer or inner experience drive you more?
Matt: I’d say the inner experience drives me the most, and the outer experience gets colored by that. We were talking about dreams and symbolism, I feel like I use that in my storytelling a great deal. We have this psychic continuity that we’re projecting onto events as they happen, and perceiving that back in a feedback loop. I enjoy tapping in to those things.
Citizen LA: That kinda leads into the chicken and the egg thing… so does the song follow the instrument or does the instrument follow the song?
Matt: That’s a tough one…. The vehicle with which the song is expressed is important to me, but the song is usually there first. It’s definitely great to experiment and be able to work with people like Brian who give me the room and creativity to do that sort of thing.
Citizen LA: Ok. If Matt could no longer play an instrument, what would be your next art form choice?
Matt: My next art form… if I could no longer play an instrument… I want this to be a good one… um… I think I would paint… houses.
[A PREGNANT PAUSE]
Citizen LA: Wait a minute! Wait a minute!!!
Citizen LA: Hold on!! Now I have to reevaluate painting in general, because you’re right, who’s to say that painting a house ISN’T an art form.
Citizen LA: Hmm… I have to let that one slide.
Matt: I love that manual, visceral “getting in there” and making something that does require a lot of craft. I correlate that to the music that I make.
Citizen LA: While listening to your trilogy, a triptych came to mind. So I was wondering if painting was on your list… but now, of course, I fully understand that it’s actually painting houses… which then means that there would be three houses!
Matt: That’s exactly what I was going to say! [laughter] I would look at them and I say “I painted three houses. And I did it in a meaningful way. And it’s beautiful to me because a lot of me is in it.”
Citizen LA: Good answer! [laughter] Getting back to your solo path… so what’s next?
Matt: We just got back from a west coast tour, supporting the release of the Unfolded Trilogy. Next, we’ll do some more touring regionally, a little broader in June. Then back into the studio with Brian to record this live album to give people another representation of the music, which is really important to me. After that, there’s that concept album that I’m writing, which really fleshes out the entire persona and the tragic event that happened in Royal Holland’s life… the event that has spurred this creation on. I can’t wait to start working on it.
Matt Mooney as has granted us access as both observer and participant into the inner workings of the Royal Holland persona. Unfolded Trilogy is a well thought-out three dimensional study that delivers insightful narrative and meticulously crafted music. And as with any story, the ability to connect with an audience, carry the listener willingly into a tragic experience and emerge wholly entertained… is the mark of success.