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A Blast From The Past: Vince DiCola on Gran Tursimo 5 and His Career

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It should come as no surprise by now that most of us here at OSV are huge fans of Vince DiCola. From his work on Rocky IV and The Transformers (the animated film), to some of the recent YouTube postings he’s been involved with, he’s extremely talented and generous with his time. I conducted an interview with him while at Music4Games back in March 2008 after learning that he was involved with an arrangement of popular “Moon Over The Castle” theme from Gran Turismo 5: Prologue. It’s shocking to think that it was nearly 3 years ago that Prologue was released, huh?

In any case, this is one of my favorite interviews that I ever conducted. Vince DiCola is not only very detailed in his responses, but also very genuine and open about his career, the challenges he’s faced in the music business, and his hopes for the future. Interestly, the project he alludes to at the end of the interview is still in the works, and trust me when I tell you that it’s going to blow you all away when it’s finally out there. Hopefully we can provide a preview on that soon, but in the meantime, take a trip back with us to enjoy this Blast from the Past entry with Vince DiCola.

What are you waiting for? Hit the jump!

Jayson: When I first listened to the Gran Turismo 5 Prologue Original Soundtrack I was surprised to see your name in the credits for the arrangement of the Gran Turismo theme, “Moon Over the Castle.” As one who has enjoyed your work in the past, I would have liked to have seen your name pop up more frequently over the years, so go ahead and tell us what you’ve been up to since Rocky IV (1985) and The Transformers (1986).

DiCola: Please excuse my lengthy answer here as a lot has happened in my career since 1986! After completing my work on the original Transformers animated movie, I made a decision to step back from film and concentrate on some solo and original band projects…

In 1986 I was approached about the idea of doing a solo piano record. Vince DiCola / Piano Solos was released the following year and remains one of my personal favorites. (Information regarding the availability of this and other music of mine is listed below.) Shortly after that record was released, I was asked to contribute some tracks to a compilation entitled Artfully Beatles commemorating the 25th anniversary of that band. My good friend, fellow artist and co-producer Casey Young and I contributed 3 large-scale production pieces, and I did one solo piano performance for this collection. (Some years later I released my own CD devoted exclusively to Beatles material, this one called Artistically Beatles).

Around 1989 I got an opportunity to work with one of my favorite rock vocalists – Steve Walsh from the band KANSAS. Steve and I, along with my good friend and partner Doane Perry (drummer for JETHRO TULL), worked on 3 pieces of music together as DiCola, Walsh and Perry. Around the time we were preparing to write and record additional material with a view toward releasing a full-length CD, Steve was invited to rejoin his old band and has been with them ever since. I was grateful for the opportunity to work with Steve, and the 3 DWP pieces are available online (see below).

Shortly after that I devoted a lot of my time to a band called STORMING HEAVEN, which featured quite a bit of my music. Around the mid 1990s I delved into a band project that remains very close to my heart… THREAD. Our first self-titled CD was released online in 1997 and continues to generate sales and very positive critical reviews throughout the world. The band consisted of myself on keyboards, vocalist Ellis Hall (TOWER OF POWER) and drummer Doane Perry (JETHRO TULL).

In 1997 I was invited as a special guest to attend my first Transformers convention. I attended quite a few of these events in subsequent years and was given the opportunity to record and release some new music related to my original score. Lighting Their Darkest Hour is my complete instrumental score, Artistic Transformations is a solo piano rendering of some highlights from my score, and Protoform Sessions includes demos, out-takes and alternate versions.

In 2000 I released a solo compilation entitled In-VINCE-ible! – a retrospective of my career up to that time. The release of this CD coincided with one of only a few live presentations of my music that has ever taken place. That concert, billed as “Vince DiCola & Friends,” featured musicians and vocalists from various bands I had worked with in that area in my younger years. Later that same year I performed an abridged version of this concert for a charity event at the House of Blues in Hollywood, CA. This show featured several of my West Coast friends and associates, including singer Alex Ligertwood (SANTANA), singer Jason Scheff (CHICAGO), drummer Doane Perry (JETHRO TULL), bassist Lance Morrison (DON HENLEY), guitarist Doug Bossi (DAVID COVERDALE), violinist Scarlet Rivera (BOB DYLAN) and others.

Since that time, I’ve slowly been working my way back to the film and TV music genre. My composing partner Kenny Meriedeth and I worked on 2 small film projects, and highlights from one appear on a solo collection of mine entitled Falling Off a Clef (2004).

More recently, I’ve been involved with 2 original band projects:

– PITY THE RICH features myself on keyboards, Doane Perry on drums,
Paul ill on bass, Reeves Gabrels (DAVID BOWIE) on guitar and Vincent
Kendall on vocals.

– DPI is an instrumental trio featuring myself, Doane Perry and Paul ill.

Here’s availability information regarding a lot of the music mentioned above:

– VINCE DICOLA / “Piano Solos”:
(available at www.tdrsmusic.com and www.mindawn.com in digital download
format only)
– ” Artfully Beatles” and “Artistically Beatles”:
(available at www.mindawn.com in digital download format only)
– STORMING HEAVEN / “Life in Paradise”:
(available at www.mindawn.com in digital download format only; there may
be other online sources as well)
– THREAD / “Thread”:
(available at www.tdrsmusic.com in both CD and digital download formats;
also available at www.mindawn.com in digital download format only)
– PITY THE RICH / “Focus (Now’s the Time)”:
(available at www.tdrsmusic.com in digital download format only)
– DPI / “Found Objects”:
(available at www.tdrsmusic.com in both CD and digital download formats)
(available at www.tdrsmusic.com in both CD and digital download formats;
also available at www.mindawn.com in digital download format only)
– VINCE DICOLA / ”Falling Off a Clef”
(available at www.tdrsmusic.com in both CD and digital download formats;
also available at www.mindawn.com in digital download format only)
– “Artistic Transformations” and “Protoform Sessions”
(available at www.tdrsmusic.com in both CD and digital download formats;
also available at www.mindawn.com in digital download format only)
– DICOLA, WALSH & PERRY (3 songs only)
(available at www.mindawn.com in digital download format only)

I also continue to do session work as a keyboard player/arranger for various artists, including solo artists such as Rick Springfield, as well as groups like T-Square (the Japanese band that actually created the opportunity for me to work on Gran Turismo 5).

I’d like to take this opportunity to share some thoughts the use of vocal songs in film and TV. I’ve always had a strong affinity for creating music in a rock band setting where the opportunity exists to intersperse powerful and expressive instrumental passages with great vocal statements. I’ve been fortunate and blessed to work with some of the greatest rock singers in the business – Ellis Hall from TOWER OF POWER & THREAD, Bobby Kimball from TOTO, Alex Ligertwood from SANTANA, Jason Scheff from CHICAGO, Glenn Hughes and Joe Lynn Turner from DEEP PURPLE, just to name a few. I feel that directors and producers in film and TV often miss out on some great opportunities where vocal songs are concerned. Much too frequently, a vocal song is placed into a movie or TV show for the obvious express purpose of selling records. Though I can understand the need to be commercial and sell product, the instances where I can honestly say a vocal song is ‘just right’ in a film or TV show are unfortunately few and far between. I would really welcome some opportunities to affect some change in this area.

Jayson: To my knowledge, this is the first game score that you’ve worked on. How did you get involved with Gran Turismo 5 Prologue? “Moon Over the Castle” is one of the most recognizable themes in the game, so once you were on board, how was it determined that you’d be arranging this theme? Do you know if it’s used in-game?

DiCola: Good question. I have a confession to make here… I worked on a few different versions of “Moon Over the Castle” and I’m not aware of exactly which version actually ended up in Gran Turismo 5 Prologue.

Several years ago I got a call from my friend and fellow musician Doug Bossi. Doug is a great guitar player and had previously worked on some projects with T-Square, and he told me they were looking to incorporate some more aggressive rock elements into some of their material. Doug also told me T-Square was looking to feature keyboards a bit more prominently in some of their new music, and Doug asked if I would be interested in being involved. After getting together with Doug to listen to some demos of this new T-Square material and discuss an approach, I eagerly agreed to participate.

Masahiro Andoh and the rest of the T-Square folks have been an absolute pleasure to work with, and they have always given Doug and myself a lot of creative freedom in arranging their material. The last time Doug and I worked with the group, we were presented with 2 pieces, “Moon Over the Castle” being one of them.

Jayson: Describe your experience working on this “Moon Over the Castle” arrangement. Guitarist Doug Bossi, who I believe you’ve worked with in the past, was also credited on the piece. What were your respective contributions and how was it tackling this established theme with a lot of history behind it?

DiCola: Doug and I have always worked well together, and our method has been to divide up our musical ‘chores’ relative to what we both feel we can bring to a particular piece. It was determined that I would take the reins for “Moon Over the Castle” and Doug would be the principal arranger for the other piece (a vocal song called “Truth”). Doug and I both have home studios, and the method that has worked best for us so far is to come up with some arrangement ideas individually for the pieces we’ve each been ‘assigned,’ and then get together to share some feedback and create some reference demo tracks to send to T-Square.

Although guitar has always played a major role in T-Square productions (Andoh is a fantastic guitar player himself), “Moon Over the Castle” suggested a good bit of keyboards and orchestration to me from the very beginning. As happens quite frequently with Andoh and T-Square, “Moon Over the Castle” is actually an updated version of a piece they’ve done before (a few times, if my recollection is correct). This often presents a tougher challenge than coming up with an arrangement for a brand new piece. I recall that Doug and I took a rock approach the last time we worked on this particular piece for T-Square, but not quite as heavy as we ended up for this updated version. Andoh was very clear from the beginning that he wanted this new arrangement/production to be more aggressive – and progressive – than any previous version. That sounded great to me and I was eager to start digging in.

For this piece, Doug and I also decided to enlist the services of a good friend and associate of Doug’s named Keith Horn. Keith did a lot of the orchestration for this new version of “Moon…” and he was great to work with. The thing I love about working with people like Doug, Andoh, Keith, etc., is that there’s a great mutual respect without any huge egos getting in the way. It’s always about bringing our best collective effort to the music in order to make it the very best it can be.

Once Andoh signed off on the arrangement, Doug and Keith and I went to work separately in our respective studios. I cut most of the keyboard parts in my studio, Doug did a major portion of his guitars at his studio, and Keith used bits and pieces from his various orchestral sample libraries to orchestrate the piece at his place. Keith and I got together once or twice to finalize the orchestration, and at some point we went into another studio to add drums (Rodger Carter) and bass (Lance Morrison). I believe Doug and Andoh recorded some additional guitars at Firehouse Studios in Pasadena, and then we mixed everything there as well. Clark Germain did a great job of engineering the mix (a challenge with all the tracks we stacked on!). A good time was had by all.

Jayson: I would say that the arrangement of “Moon Over the Castle” sounds distinctly DiCola. How have you developed this signature sound? As an early adopter of synthesizers and sequencing, what do you make of today’s technology? What instruments and tools are currently your favorites in the studio, and more specifically, what was used to create this track?

DiCola: Wow… You hit me with a lot of questions at once here! Let’s go down the list:

“Signature sound”:
I grew up listening to and being greatly inspired by some of the great progressive rock bands of the 1970s – specifically, ELP (Emerson, Lake and Palmer) and YES. For those of your readers who may be too young to know or remember, Keith Emerson of ELP is well known for bringing keyboards to the forefront in rock and roll music. Others may have done so to a limited degree before Keith came along, but he really ‘turned up the spotlight’ so to speak. Keith has always had a unique way of incorporating classical and even some jazz elements into rock music, and as a result, he quickly developed his own ‘signature sound’ shortly after coming onto the scene.

I want to say here that I am always deeply appreciative when I hear someone say that I have a sound that’s distinctive, unique and/or recognizable. I can’t honestly say what makes this so. It’s not as if I ever sat down and conscientiously decided to develop my own ‘sound’ (I’m not sure any artist really does). So many great keyboard players and composers have influenced me over the years, and just like other musicians, I started out learning some material by these great artists. Because they had made such a powerful impression on me, I’m sure I even tried to imitate them to a certain degree at times. When I first started writing music, I’m sure all my influences came through in a rather obvious manner. I think the turn my career took not long after my wife and I moved from PA to CA played a big role in helping me develop what some may consider to be a unique and/or ‘signature’ sound and style…

One of the first major opportunities I was presented with in the LA music scene was co-writing some songs for the movie “Staying Alive” (1983), the “Saturday Night Fever” sequel written and directed by Sylvester Stallone and starring John Travolta. I co-wrote several songs for that movie, but the one I always point to as the most pivotal is “Far From Over,” which actually became sort of the theme song for the movie. The circumstances on that particular project were such that we were forced to work rather quickly, so we didn’t have a lot of time to second-guess what we were doing. Without even being aware this was happening, I think it was only natural that all my previous influences came into play, but in a way that required my musical contributions to stand apart from those influences. Had our material sounded too reminiscent of another familiar band or artist, I don’t think the powers-that-be on “Staying Alive” would have been nearly as enthusiastic. In other words, the nature of the project dictated that our music be special.

Once I realized I could actually write music that had a somewhat distinctive sound, and that this music could bring me a level of success I had not previously anticipated, this encouraged me to continue exploring ways to ‘make my mark,’ just as those who inspired me did in their formative years.

Today’s music technology:
On the plus side, some of the current technology is absolutely mind-boggling in what it allows music creators to do. Even 10 years ago, I think very few people could’ve predicted and imagined some of the tools we have at our disposal today – unbelievably realistic emulations of grand pianos, Hammond organs, symphony orchestras, choirs, etc. There’s so much great software available that continues to inspire all of us to become better composers, players, etc.

On the minus side, when these tools stop working for one reason or another, the creative flow can shut down instantly, and sometimes for uncomfortably long stretches of time when tech support isn’t readily available or able to help identify and repair the problem in a timely fashion. I used to sequence using a Roland MC-500, and that piece of gear worked like a charm each and every time I used it. I actually still have it sitting right near all my computer gear in my studio as a reminder of how valuable it was to my creative process in its ease of use and reliability. Sure, today’s technology can do far more, but when it breaks down, it’s been my experience anyway that the consequences can be far more critical. I can’t begin to count the number of times over the past several years that my collaborators and I have been stopped in our tracks (pun intended!) as a result of a piece of computer gear going down. But when everything plays nice together, it’s amazing what can be accomplished with today’s technology.

Favorite tools:
Mac G5 computer, ProTools (as reliable as my old MC-500 / knock on wood!), Ivory for most of my grand piano needs (though I still can’t stand the latency issue with percussive keyboards of any nature), Stylus, Atmosphere (can’t wait for Omnishpere!), Digidesign’s Xpand!, Hybrid and Velvet, East West’s Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Choirs (though I continue to have problems with some of the Native Instruments interfaces and will probably port everything over to Digidesign’s Structure at some point), and NI’s B4 for my organ needs.

Tools used for “Moon Over the Castle”:
Pretty much all the above, though Keith Horn made great use of the Vienna and other orchestral libraries for this piece. (We also used a real B3 that belongs to my good friend Derek Hilland from Rick Springfield’s band).

Jayson: It may be too early to say, but given that Prologue is somewhat of a preview version of the final Gran Turismo 5, do you know at this point if your arrangement will make its way into either the final version of the game or onto the final Gran Turismo 5 Original Soundtrack?

DiCola: Finally I can offer you a short answer… I have no idea!

Jayson: Again, as your first project in the gaming industry, can we expect to hear your music in more games in the future? What are your thoughts on music in games? Are there any game scores in particular that sparked your interest in scoring games?

DiCola: I need to make another confession… The last time I actually played a computer game myself for any length of time was a LONG time ago! (To give you an idea of just how far in the past it was, let’s just say that little guy who went around the screen gobbling up the dots was popular at the time!)

My first major exposure to how far game music has advanced occurred when I attended a VIDEO GAMES LIVE show at the Hollywood Bowl a few years ago. It was a bit of a shock to me to see how popular the whole computer game thing had become. Many people have written to me expressing a great deal of surprise that I haven’t been more of a ‘presence’ in this field, especially considering my work on the original animated Transformers movie and other projects with which I’ve been involved over the years. Having now become better aware of some of the things that are happening in the game music field, I can certainly envision my musical ‘style’ being appropriate. So yes, I look forward to more opportunities in this field in the future.

Not being an avid computer game player myself, I can’t really comment on any specific scores and/or composers. Some of the music I heard at the Video Games Live show sounded quite impressive and powerful, but honestly I can’t recall any specific titles. One cannot help but be encouraged by the great opportunities presented to composers in music for games today.

Jayson: Given the distinct differences in how music is applied to games vs. film, what do you feel your approach would be?

DiCola: You know, this brings to mind my very first exclusive scoring gig… ROCKY IV (1985). I had never scored a movie before that, and I remember a few people saying to me at the time, “Now Vince, just remember, scoring movies is very different from writing songs.” That’s true to a certain degree, but now, after having worked on so many varied musical projects throughout my career to date – both vocal and instrumental in nature – I’ve come to realize that the difference in the music for all these projects is not as vast as some may assume. My approach has always been the same… figure out what’s needed for whatever project I happen to be working on at any given time and do the best I can to serve that project’s needs. That’s the approach I took when T-Square invited me to participate on the arrangement for “Moon Over the Castle”, and that’s the approach I would take if invited to score a computer game.

I continue to hear elements from a lot of the great symphonic and progressive rock music to which I was exposed in my younger years being incorporated into today’s film, TV, trailer and game music. It’s well known that more than a few of today’s film and TV composers started out in rock to one degree or another. Trevor Rabin, Hans Zimmer, Mark Mancina, James Newton Howard, Snuffy Walden and others continue to incorporate elements from the earlier ‘art rock’ periods of their careers into the film and TV work they do today. Of course technology has vastly improved over the years, and folks are constantly coming up with new and exciting ways of combining audio and visual elements so there are more opportunities than ever before for music to play a major role in all kinds of entertainment. Take the massive Cirque Du Soleil productions for instance – shows which obviously remain popular even years after their debuts. What a great platform for combining fantastic visuals, acrobatics, dance, performance art and music! Of course everyone is aware of how important a role music plays in these shows, yet the music on its own incorporates many elements from genres that have been around for decades. I’m not trying to imply that the CDS music sounds dated or uninteresting, but it’s not as if it’s substantially different from a lot of the music many of us grew up listening to and being inspired by. It’s the way the music supports what’s going on onstage that makes the whole ‘package’ look and sound so incredibly unique and effective. Not that I’ve done enough yet to be an expert on the subject, but I believe it’s the same with game music. At the Video Games Live show at the Bowl, nothing jumped out at me as sounding vastly different from the film music genre. It’s all about supporting picture and having the music contribute another element of excitement and emotion.

Jayson: You re currently signed with Travis Dickerson Recording Studio (http://www.tdrsmusic.com) where you’ve released a number of original works both solo and as part of a band. Tell us about the label, which interestingly also features music releases by actor Viggo Mortensen. Can we expect to see some of your releases on iTunes in the future?

DiCola: There’s a handful of people I’ve met in the music business out here in Los Angeles who continue to inspire and support me in my music career, and Travis Dickerson is on that very short list. Travis and I have a non-exclusive arrangement whereby I’m not actually signed to his label, but this extremely talented engineer/producer/musician has done (and continues to do) so much in support of my music career. As a result, we’ve developed a very close working relationship and a great friendship. I’ve had some of my most enjoyably musical experiences working with Travis in his studio, and I think I’m speaking for all those who are fortunate enough to work with him. Yes, Viggo Mortensen has worked with Travis, as has guitarist Buckethead and others. Among other things, Travis is great at creating a fun and productive work atmosphere, and he’s well versed in so many different styles of music that he’s never afraid to try something new. As you can probably tell, I think the world of this guy and his immense talent!

I believe some of my film music already appears on iTunes, but yes, I hope to get some other music of mine on there as well at some point.

Jayson: I have to ask a question regarding the many Transformers-based video games that have been released over the years. Was there ever any interest from game developers to have you compose new music for any of these titles? It would have seemed to be the perfect choice for the games.

DiCola: At a Transformers convention years ago a gentleman who claimed to be developing a Transformers-based video game at the time approached me. Nothing ever came of that, however. I would certainly welcome an opportunity to contribute music to any project related to Transformers, considering my history with the franchise.

Jayson: Similarly, were you ever considered for the latest Transformers (2007) film?

DiCola: With the help of my long-time friend and manager Robin Garb, my composing partner Kenny Meriedeth and I did submit some material for the 2007 live-action film. We were aware from the beginning that director Michael Bay was specifically looking to distance the new movie from the original animated version as much as possible. As much as I’d like to believe our package at least made it into Bay’s hands based on my history with the Transformers franchise, I have a strong suspicion we were ruled out before he even listened to any of the music we submitted (if he ever even listened at all!). That having been said, many are certainly aware by now that yet another sequel is in the works, and let’s just say I can be persistent!

Jayson: To delve back in time for a moment, how did you come to be involved with scoring Rocky IV and the original Transformers film?

DiCola: I mentioned my work on the movie Staying Alive earlier. That movie was written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, and I had been working with his brother Frank for some time when the Staying Alive opportunity came about. As everyone knows, getting ahead in the music business (as with any other business) relies heavily on personal relationships, and I was very fortunate to have had these particular relationships in place when the opportunity for Rocky IV came along. (My manager Robin Garb was also the music supervisor for both Staying Alive and Rocky IV, so that certainly didn’t hurt).

The producers of Transformers: The Movie approached me specifically based on my work on Rocky IV. They felt my compositional style would work nicely for their movie, so they gave me a synopsis and requested a demo. It’s amusingly ironic to me even today that the demo I created for this project (with help from some friends and associates) played a critical role in landing me the gig, yet none of the music from the demo actually ended up in the movie!

Jayson: Was there a significant change in the movie industry that you noticed after working on those films?

DiCola: Absolutely. With the advent of all the new technology that was coming out at a seemingly accelerated pace, the scoring field quickly expanded. Now more than ever, with all the fantastic hardware and software available, a quality score can be developed and recorded using technology that’s much more cost-effective compared to the ‘old days.’

Stylistically, the major change I’ve noticed over the years – and a change I’m personally not too crazy about, I must admit – is the somewhat diminished role melody seems to play in current film and TV music. At the risk of sounding like an ‘old fogey’ here, I miss that. I was fortunate in getting into the film business while the melodic element of a score was still heavily encouraged, and of course it didn’t hurt that the projects I worked on each had a history where melody played a big role in the music.

Jayson: What can we expect from Vince DiCola in 2008? Are there any other projects in the works that you’re able to speak about at this time?

DiCola: The project I’m currently working on (no name yet) is undoubtedly my most ambitious and demanding to date. The music is probably best categorized as progressive rock and we expect to end up with enough material for a double CD. At the moment only Doane Perry and myself are involved, though it’s quite possible some personnel will be added as this project develops. I am really excited about the music I’ve written for this project, as it incorporates elements from some of my best film work interspersed with some melodic and powerful vocal statements. We’re currently aiming for a release in early 2009, as a LOT of work still remains to be done on this material. We don’t have the luxury of concentrating on this exclusively right now – we have to fit it in amongst our many other personal and professional obligations. Once we’re able to make this music available, we’re hoping that fans will feel it’s been well worth the wait!

I’d like to end here by expressing my gratitude to all the fans that have stuck with me throughout the years. There’s more great music to come and I look forward to sharing it with all of you!

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