Vince DiCola & Kenny Meriedeth Interview: Four Decades of Music

Vince DiCola gained quite a following in the 1980s for his soundtracks to movies such as The Transformers: The MovieStaying 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 second part of this two-part interview, DiCola and his composing partner Kenny Meriedeth discuss their background, collaboration, and contributions to the film industry. Along the way, DiCola reflects on a range of solo, band, and cover projects that are now available through his Bandcamp. The first part of the interview focused on their video game works, including Gran Turismo 4Saturday Morning RPG, and Angry Birds: Transformers. Many thanks to Scarlet Moon’s Jayson Napolitano, who represents the artists, for organising and coordinating this interview.

Interview Credits

Interview Subject: Vince DiCola, Kenny Meriedeth
Interviewer: Chris Greening, Dmitry Zhemkov
Editor: Chris Greening
Coordination: Jayson Napolitano

Interview Content

Chris: Vince DiCola, your first experiences in the industry were working on the Sylvester Stallone films Staying Alive and Rocky IV. Could you tell us the story of how you came to work on them?

Vince DiCola: When my wife and I moved out to California from Pennsylvania in 1981, my primary objective was to become a session keyboard player. Within a short time I came to realize that the session player scene in L.A. was a very tight-knit community and therefore quite difficult to break into. I also realized I would have to strengthen my sight-reading skills significantly if I ever hoped to make progress in this field. I played in bar bands for the first year and a half after moving to CA, and one night a guy approached me on a break and introduced himself as Frank Stallone, Sylvester Stallone’s brother. He said he liked my playing a lot and asked if I would be up for playing some of his original music with him. We went out to Frank’s car where he played me a few of his songs, and I really liked and could musically relate well to what I heard. We played together around town for a few months – Frank on acoustic guitar and me on keyboards – and eventually decided to add a drummer and bass player.


We were rehearsing in a small soundstage on the MGM lot (courtesy of Sly) when Sly and his entourage came over to check out the band. He complimented us on our sound and playing, which was nice to hear. On a break the two brothers huddled in a corner and were obviously in deep discussion about something. After the break Sly and his ‘team’ listened to us again for a short time and left. After the other guys in the band had left, Frank told me about the discussion he had with his brother. Sly had just signed on to write and direct the sequel to Saturday Night Fever Staying Alive (again starring John Travolta) – and he told Frank that any music Frank wanted to submit would be considered (with no guarantees of course – it would have to be approved by a committee just like any other material and Sly had to be very careful about the nepotism issue).

Long story short, Frank and I, along with co-writer Joe Espositio (a friend of Frank’s and a great singer/songwriter himself), ended up with seven songs in the film, including the hit song “Far From Over.” That was my introduction to writing music for film, and it was incredible luck to receive such an opportunity the first time out! Needless to say, that experience motivated me to continue in this field as opposed to trying to break into the extremely competitive session player scene. One of the great benefits of writing music for Staying Alive is that we got to play on all our material (and get paid very well to do so), so it was really like two great gigs in one.


Chris: Kenny Meriedeth, you met Vince DiCola in a different period in his career. Could you tell us your story to get there?

Kenny Meriedeth: My musical journey began immediately after seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan as a child. My grandmother said there was an old beat up guitar in the attic with three strings on it which I proceeded to drag all over the neighborhood for a few months until my pestering got my dad to buy me a cheap playable one at the local music store in Detroit where I grew up. That guitar, or what’s left of it, hangs proudly on the wall of my office at the studio. My uncle was a great jazz standards player who taught me a few things and between him and the Beatles albums my dad would bring home from the HiFi stereo and record store he worked at, I was on my way. I grew up equally involved in sports and music and, in my high school years, I would quite often finish a game, skip a shower, and play the after game dance with the bands I was in.


In my senior year I started sneaking in and playing in clubs in the Detroit area and after a while found myself in the company of many more experienced and really great working musicians. Detroit was a fantastic music environment and by the time I left my teens I was fortunate enough to have played in a few of the city’s top bands with the best singers and musicians including two with record deals, The Clue and The Automatix. It was with The Clue that I made my way to LA.

Once in LA, I did the typical assortment of playing club gigs, recording sessions, and eventually touring with more bands and artists that had record deals. It really is all about getting out there, meeting people and doing good work and eventually I met someone who was producing promos at NBC. We became friends and he asked me to create some custom music for a film trailer he was working on for Warner Bros. This led to me creating music for other promo producers at Warner Bros. as well as eventually for Disney, Buenna Vista, Telapictures, MTM, Sinclair Broadcasting, UPN and many others. It’s still the same recipe – if you do good work, your name gets circulated.


Chris: As a duo, you have been collaborating together for more than a decade. How did the two of you meet and initiate this collaboration?

Kenny Meriedeth: While in Los Angeles, I had been introduced to Vince through a mutual friend and musician we had both played with at different times. I asked if Vince wanted to work on a heavier synth involved project with me for the show ER and we found we had a great time and compatible way of working together. We’ve never really delegated what it is each of us do on a project, but it’s a pretty natural process of how we get things done and neither of us has a problem in taking as much time as it takes to make it right.

Vince DiCola: As Kenny said, a mutual friend introduced us. Also, Kenny’s wife Jerrie happens to be an excellent hair stylist and my family and I made use of her services on a somewhat regular basis! Whenever I went to their house Kenny and I would spend time talking about the music business and whatever each of us happened to be working on at that time. One day Kenny mentioned that he was working on a particular project that just may be a good opportunity for us to work together. The end result of that project was very gratifying to both of us so we agreed to be on the lookout for other opportunities on which to collaborate. Since that time we’ve worked together on a number of projects and quickly realized the value and advantages of doing so.

Chris: What are the benefits of working together and how do you split your responsibilities?

Vince DiCola: Prior to starting to work with Kenny I had been working by myself in my own studio on music-related opportunities that came to me. While it was fun and rewarding to wear so many ‘hats’ at one time – artist, composer, player, arranger, producer, engineer, computer editor, and sound designer – it wasn’t too long before I grew frustrated trying to handle all these tasks by myself. There have been many times when I’ve enjoyed the process of getting together with other like-minded musicians, songwriters. composers, etc., and that’s always been my preference when it comes to the creative process.

Kenny plays guitar and I play keyboards so that’s a big plus. We have similar tastes in music – not only in music for picture but also in contemporary artists, songwriters and bands. We pretty much share all the responsibilities on those projects we work on together, with the exception of Kenny being ‘the guitar guy’ and me being ‘the keyboard guy.’ Even then, we make suggestions to each other about all the parts that are laid down. Overall it’s been a great and enjoyable process for both of us.

Kenny Meriedeth: Just to add, I think Vince and I each bring a different aesthetic to the table that influences each other to a place or perspective that we each wouldn’t necessarily get to on our own devices. That’s probably the biggest byproduct of our collaboration. I can’t ever recall an incident where we’ve ever stepped on each others toes and I think we have a certain respect or faith that we’re gonna climb out of the rabbit hole together with something we’re proud of.


Chris: In addition, you’ve released several original albums through your solo and band projects. Could you tell us more about Piano Solos, In-VINCE-ible!, and Artistically Beatles?

Vince DiCola: I was signed to a label called Artful Balance Records in 1986 and one of the main people involved with the label was a good friend of mine named Roger Voudouris (Roger had a big hit in the late ‘70s called “Get Used To It” as a solo artist). I was one of the first artists signed to Artful Balance and Roger suggested I do a solo piano record based mostly in improvisation, with a few composed ‘sketches’ mixed in on which I would improvise on the spot. The album sold a respectable amount of copies worldwide and I’m so happy I had an opportunity to do such a project.

I also participated in an Artful Balance collection called Artfully Beatles honoring the Beatles’ 25th anniversary, to which I contributed four tracks – three with co-artist Casey Young and one I performed as a solo piano piece. That in turn led to another Beatles collection a few years later called Artistically Beatles, which I recorded and arranged myself in my own studio. I’ve been a major fan of the Beatles ever since I first started listening to music, so it was rewarding to have these opportunities to put my own ‘spin’ on some of their fantastic material.

In-VINCE-ible was released as a collection of highlights from my career up to 2001 and was intended to coincide with a live performance I did in my hometown of Lancaster, PA that year. I assembled a band made up of old friends and associates from the days when I played in cover bands back in Lancaster in the mid-to-late ‘70s. I called the concert A Night of Music with Vince DiCola & Friends and we all had a blast playing music from my career, the concert was very well received, and the CD sold out within weeks. These albums are on sale again through my Bandcamp.

In terms of band projects, Thread is probably the closest to where my musical interests lie, although each band project I’ve been involved with has been a great and unique creative experience for me. DPI and Pity the Rich were great in that improvisation played a major role in both. The Storming Heaven material will always be special to me. I only wish we had more opportunities to perform live, but that comment applies to all these band projects.


Chris: The pair of you have also worked on several films together, notably Sci-Fighter and Crooked, the former of which is commemorated on the album Falling Off the Cliff. What should listeners expect from these projects? DiCola, how did you approach these films compared to your classic works?

Kenny Meriedeth: There’s like 300 action/fight scenes in these movies so there was an immense amount of material to compose in little time and not much budget.

Vince DiCola: I hope listeners come away with a sense that there are certain elements in the music that will be familiar to them as fans of my earlier work, but also that there are new elements they haven’t heard in any of my past material. Most notably, modern music technology offers us the ability to contribute more authentic-sounding orchestral and electronic elements without sacrificing any of the ‘punch’ and energy that’s been present in a lot of the music I composed decades ago. (One thing Kenny and I agreed on from the beginning is that, on the music we compose together that features rock elements, we must make sure those elements remain very much in the forefront of the production in order to keep the energy up.)


Chris: Could you elaborate on how you’ve kept your old-time fans happy with works like this?

Vince DiCola: Kenny and I have had to keep in mind that I had a very loyal fan base prior to our collaboration. This doesn’t mean the “DiCola sound” must be present in everything we do; we just want to be careful not to alienate anybody who’s familiar with and a fan of my earlier work. Honestly, the best thing that could happen for us is to land a project where dramatic music is called for, because I think that’s an area where Kenny and I can really come into our own as composing partners. As just one example, while we’ve always been fans of great action music, we also love composers like Thomas Newman who happen to be very unique and special when it comes to dramatic material as well. Capturing that kind of emotion is in many ways more difficult but also more rewarding compared to that of action music.

Kenny Meriedeth: I don’t know that we ever set any formal expectation based on the listeners’ point of view, or with the exception of the Transformers-related projects, a deliberate tie in to previous works by Vince. Every project is always a balance between collecting and deciphering all the adjectives of what the director and/or producer is looking for, what we think fits the tone of the film or project and what we’d like to do for ourselves to push our own envelopes. It’s a very collaborative process not just between the two of us. Reading what a producer or director wants, mostly someone that doesn’t have any musical expertise, is sometimes the most key aspect of a project. That’s something I may have the upper hand on between us with the thousands of commercials and promos I’ve done. That and to not take anything personal when they want something different than what you just slaved over (laughs).


Chris: Finally, it’d be interesting to hear what you rank as favourites among your soundtrack works. Is it fan favourites such as Staying Alive’s “Far From Over”, Rocky IV’s “Training Montage”, and Transformers’ “Legacy”? Or something entirely different?

Vince DiCola: Among my existing movie scores I would have to say “Training Montage” is my personal favorite, followed closely by “War” (also from my score to Rocky IV). That’s not to say I’m not extremely proud of “Legacy” and my Transformers score and related material.

That said, the music I hold closest to my heart has not been completed and released yet. It’s a 55-minute progressive rock opus and because it’s such a huge undertaking I honestly can’t say when it will be finished. My goal is to have a large orchestra playing on this suite, and I’m even considering trying to find a producer who could help me realize my vision of forming a multi-media show around the music (sort of like a Cirque Du Soleil show on steroids!). I’m just hoping to complete this project sometime before I die!


Chris: Many thanks for your time today, Vince DiCola and Kenny Meriedeth. Is there anything else you would like to say about your recent or upcoming works, including anything I may have missed?

Vince DiCola: Some of our latest works include the full soundtrack to Angry Birds: Transformers, as well as contributions to the game Starr Mazer and rock opera NUREN. I am also very excited about a project we’re working on currently. Unfortunately we have yet to be given the green light to talk about it, but what we can say is that both projects have provided us with the opportunity to take a trip back in time!


Chris: Do you have any message for fans around the world?

Kenny Meriedeth: Thanks for this opportunity. Vince and I both do projects without each other so obviously it’s not a question of reliance, we just come up with what we think is great stuff together. I don’t think there’s been anything we’ve worked on together that we didn’t like the final result.

Vince DiCola: The message I would give to fans is that they can expect to hear more great music from DiCola/Meriedeth soon! Thanks for the great questions and for giving us this opportunity to spread the word about our collaborative efforts.

Posted on June 19, 2015 by Chris Greening. Last modified on June 24, 2015.

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About the Author

I've contributed to websites related to game audio since 2002. In this time, I've reviewed over a thousand albums and interviewed hundreds of musicians across the world. As the founder and webmaster of VGMO -Video Game Music Online-, I hope to create a cutting-edge, journalistic resource for all those soundtrack enthusiasts out there. In the process, I would love to further cultivate my passion for music, writing, and generally building things. Please enjoy the site and don't hesitate to say hello!

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