Vince DiCola & Kenny Meriedeth Interview: Returning to Transformers
Vince DiCola gained quite a following in the 1980s for his soundtracks to movies such as The Transformers: The Movie, Staying Alive, and, of course, Rocky IV, not to mention a multitude of band and album projects. These projects in turn influenced generations of video game composers, spanning Chris Huelsbeck to Jake Kaufman to Dmitry Zhemkov. And now, DiCola is starting to make his own contributions to the video games industry, contributing to the Gran Turismo, Turrican, and Angry Birds series, between writing a nostalgic score for Saturday Morning RPG.
In the first part of this two-part interview, DiCola and his composing partner Kenny Meriedeth discuss their contributions to the video game industry. In addition to dissecting the Saturday Morning RPG soundtrack, they reflect on returning to the Transformers series with the help of their fans. They also give a sneak peak into their soundtrack for the newly-released Angry Birds: Transformers. Many thanks to Scarlet Moon’s Jayson Napolitano, who represents the artists, for organising and coordinating this interview.
Interview Subject: Vince DiCola, Kenny Meriedeth
Interviewer: Chris Greening, Dmitry Zhemkov
Editor: Chris Greening
Coordination: Jayson Napolitano
Chris: Vince DiCola and Kenny Meriedeth, many thanks for talking to us today. Both of you have a background in films and only recently started to contribute to the video game field. Were you a fan of video games before this?
Vince DiCola: Hi there. Thanks for wanting to interview us! Honestly, the last video game I actually played was probably Pac Man, so I wasn’t even aware of modern games until we started composing for them!
Kenny Meriedeth: Just as with Vince, I mostly stopped playing games back in the Super Mario Bros. era. I had a Nintendo and found it too addicting [laughs]. One obsession that keeps me awake at 3AM is enough!
Chris: Vince DiCola, the music of titles such as Transformers and Rocky IV has influenced many of the greatest artists in the industry, among them Chris Huelsbeck, Jake Kaufman, and Frank Klepacki. DiCola, were you aware that your music left a lasting impression on video game music and chiptune music?
Vince DiCola: I continue to be amazed and surprised when any videogame composer reaches out to me saying they were inspired by my music from Transformers: The Movie and Rocky IV. As to your last question… I had a friend explain to us what chiptune music is, and have to say it sounds interesting, although I haven’t been familiarized with it myself.
Chris: The pair of you recently wrote the music for Saturday Morning RPG. What led you to become involved in this project? How did you ensure the styles and samples of this soundtrack were fitting for a tribute to the 80s?
Vince DiCola: Josh Fairhurst from Mighty Rabbit Studios reached out to me on either my website or Facebook (I can’t remember which). As to ensuring the style of ‘80s music, Kenny and I picked music from our catalog that we felt would be good for the project. We then sent Josh MP3s and he picked out the music he wanted to license (and did a great job!).
Kenny Meriedeth: Anytime you utilize synths at the high and adventurous level that Vince does, there’s an automatic and natural connection to the ‘80s. Synths aren’t really utilized in the manner we use them in modern music, even most electronica. The ‘80s connection you hear is more a product of what you don’t really hear in music today, in my opinion, than anything nostalgic we deliberately tried to attempt.
Chris: Could you share your inspirations for the following tracks: Saved by the Bell, Battle Scene, No Risk No Glory, and Christmas Adventure.
Vince DiCola: Many of these tracks have connections to my early days. “Saved by the Bell” is probably the oldest piece in the Saturday Morning RPG collection, and I was inspired by keyboard player/composer/producer David Foster’s work on that one. In contrast, “Battle Scene” is from a movie score Kenny and I collaborated on nearly a decade ago and was mostly inspired by the work of film composer John Powell (the Bourne series, etc.). “No Risk No Glory” was originally written and submitted for Rocky IV and was inspired by some artists and bands from the ‘80s.
Kenny Meriedeth: Just to add, though, “No Risk, No Glory” was a new version of the original song we reworked from the ground up and tried to put a more modern spin on.
Vince DiCola: As for “Christmas Adventure” I assembled was for a concert in 1993 at the high school I attended (Lancaster Catholic High School), at which I appeared as a guest artist. I’ve re-arranged the medley a few times since then and this version is the most recent. As music technology processes I enjoy updating the medley using the latest software sound libraries! My ultimate goal with this piece has always been to record and perform it with a full orchestra someday. This track was released as a special digital single.
Chris: The Saturday Morning RPG soundtrack was recently released by Scarlet Moon Records. What was it like to see this soundtrack be celebrated with a physical and digital release?
Vince DiCola: This soundtrack was made possible by the head of Scarlet Moon Records, Jayson Napolitano. Kenny and I must give a big shout out to Jayson for heading up the effort (and coming up with the funds) to make this collection available. We really appreciate that Jayson decided to make this collection available in both digital download and CD formats. Many fans still prefer CDs so we knew the soundtrack would reach as many people as possible.
Chris: What did you think of the bonus arrangements from legendary chiptune musicians C-jeff, Stemage, and Virt, incidentally long-term fans of yours?
Vince DiCola: The guest artists were all chosen by Jayson, and he made excellent choices! It was interesting and gratifying to hear our music completely rearranged in the style each artist/composer chose for the particular piece that was suggested. Once again, great work, guys!
Kenny Meriedeth: I concur. I thought the guest artists were a great selection by Jayson and all did fantastic work!
Chris: DiCola, you actually entered the video games industry a decade ago as a result of your collaboration with T-Square. Could you share the story of how you came to work with Masahiro Andoh and Doug Bossi? What was it like to record and arrange Truth 21century, Gran Turismo 4, and Gran Turismo 5: Prologue with them?
Vince DiCola: Doug Bossi has been a longtime friend and associate and he had worked with T-Square a few times prior to the time I started working with them. In fact it was Doug who graciously suggested my involvement to the guys in T-Square as a collaborator with him on the arrangement work Doug had been doing for them. The Gran Turismo connection happened as a result of this, and I ended up working as an arranger and performer on two of the series’ soundtracks, including an adaptation of the main theme. We love working with Andoh-san and the rest of the T-Square guys because they place their trust in us and welcome and respect our playing and arranging ideas.
Chris: One of your most iconic works is the score for The Transformers: The Movie. With Age of Extinction just released, it seems topical to ask: the movies and scores for Michael Bay’s Transformers have made millions, but have not always received a positive reception from fans of the animated movie. What are your own thoughts on the movies and their music? Are you both continuing to pitch for them?
Vince DiCola: We’ve pitched music for all the live-action movies. But honestly, we haven’t held out much hope that Michael Bay would be interested, mostly due to two factors we’ve been up against from the very beginning… a) Bay was very adamant in some of his initial interviews that he wanted the live-action films to be completely separate entities from the animated series and movie, and… b) at the time the first movie was made, Bay already had a good working relationship with Steve Jablonsky as a result of using him to score his film Islands.
Kenny Meriedeth: As in any business, relationships are the key. We have no relationship with Bay or the Transformers franchise and wouldn’t expect him to have selected a composer in any other way. The films are hugely successful so not much I could critique on their actions and vision.
Vince DiCola: As for me, for reasons that really aren’t important, I haven’t been a big fan of the live-action movies to date (and this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I was never offered an opportunity to be involved with the music, by the way!). Regarding Jablonky’s scores, I have no doubt he delivered exactly what Michael Bay envisioned for these films. I would have taken a different approach with the music, but truthfully I’m not sure Michael Bay would even have considered my ideas! That said, I do respect his loyalty to Steve Jablonsky and I’m certain he’s been very happy with the music Jablonsky has been coming up with.
Chris: Thankfully, you’ve been given opportunities to revisit Transformers in other ways. You were both guest artists on the Turrican Soundtrack Anthology. How did you approach the Transformers medley on this project? DiCola, what was it like to revisit this project once more?
Vince DiCola: We approached the medley with a view toward infusing the music with certain elements that fans of my original score would recognize, but also more contemporary elements with which current music technology provides us. In other words, we took the approach of how we would arrange the music if we were handed such an opportunity today. That was the thing that really excited me about revisiting this material I had written so long ago!
Kenny Meriedeth: I also don’t think we’ve taken on anything together with as much detail and pushing of our envelopes production and arranging wise. Since we didn’t really need to focus on coming up with the melodies and themes it was a chance to focus entirely on the greatest way to present those compositions in modern day terms. Very hard detailed work but an incredibly satisfying result.
Chris: It has also been announced that you’re working on Angry Birds: Transformers, which was released this week at least in my region (New Zealand). Can you tell us the story of how you became involved in this soundtrack? What can we expect from the soundtrack?
Vince DiCola: Rovio contacted Kenny and myself via my Facebook artist page to inform us about the game and ask if we were interested in scoring it. Their interest stemmed from the fact that quite a few members of their team are fans of my original The Transformers: The Movie score and felt that music in that style would be perfect for the game. Kenny and I are very excited about how the music is sounding.
Fans can expect to hear some exciting new music featuring a lot of the elements that were present in my original score but with a few new twists… Kenny’s guitar work raises the level of intensity, and some of the new music-making technology is helping us not only to get back to the sounds and feel of the era but in many cases offer a fresh new take.
Kenny Meriedeth: This one is definitely more deliberately aimed at the original ‘80s Transformers era. There will be a soundtrack CD release also.
Posted on October 4, 2014 by Chris Greening. Last modified on October 4, 2014.