SONG PREMIERE: Wilkes-Barre nu metal band Lifer debuts first new song in 18 years, ‘The Start of Something Else’
When Lifer broke up like so many other nu metal bands in the early 2000s, the chances that the Wilkes-Barre group would ever record together again were slim, especially after its members moved on to other projects like Breaking Benjamin, The Drama Club, and later Cold.
Their dedicated fan base in Northeastern Pennsylvania, however, never forgot the songs on their original “No Need” EP under the moniker Strangers with Candy in 2000 or their self-titled debut as Lifer in 2001; a series of local reunion concerts in 2018 and 2019 went over well and proved that there was still a demand for more heavy music from these much more experienced musicians decades later.
But what would Lifer, born of youthful passion, anger, and ambition in a pre-9/11 world, sound like in 2020?
“The Start of Something Else” answers that question, a single premiering today on NEPA Scene with a special visualizer as it’s released on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, YouTube, and other streaming platforms 18 years after their last EP and 20 years since MTV introduced them to a national audience.
Not even Berwick vocalist Nick Coyle believes it’s happening: “It’s kind of surreal, actually.”
“We did a few reunion-type shows and we just had a lot of fun doing it. It felt good, so we decided to keep it rolling,” he continued, referring to shows that featured guitarist Aaron Fink, DJ Tony Kruszka (now on drums), and the addition of The Drama Club’s Mike Morgan on bass.
“Aaron and I have always had a great songwriting relationship. We push each other to do things we wouldn’t normally do when we write alone, but I think the best part of it is when we all get together and work it out as a band. Aaron, Tony, and Mike are a super talented and tight band. It just has a certain vibe when we play. Everyone really brings it.”
They began working on this song about a year ago, but Coyle became much busier as the guitarist of Cold as they released a new album, “The Things We Can’t Stop,” and embarked on a national tour.
“We just kind of hit pause for a second. After I got off tour and after the holidays, we decided to get together and properly record it. We did it at Aaron’s home studio, which is pretty rad. He just put in a control room and everything. Then I mixed it at my home studio.”
It was mastered by Andy VanDette, an award-winning engineer who has worked on top-selling albums for artists like the Beastie Boys, David Bowie, Rush, Whitney Houston, Kid Rock, and Skillet, among others. The title can be taken literally as the start of something new for Lifer, but it wasn’t just about that for Coyle.
“It’s actually about going through different phases in life, turning the page. Yeah, it definitely applies to the band, but it wasn’t intentional – maybe subconsciously, I guess,” he admitted with a laugh.
“We have another two done, mixed and mastered, and a bunch of others that we just have to work out a little. We’ll be putting those out over the next month or two. Maybe a full album sometime this year. Not sure when we’re going to even be able to get together next because of this whole virus thing. It’s crazy.”
It seems like a lifetime ago since their days as Strangers with Candy, a young band who entered MTV’s “Ultimate Cover Band Contest” in 2000 and won with covers of “Guerrilla Radio,” “Jump Around,” “Take on Me,” and “Nookie.” In an era when nu metal albums were selling millions of copies, the group changed their name to Lifer and signed with Universal Music/Republic Records to release their one and only full-length album, recorded by Alex Lifeson of Rush. They supported it by touring with Cold and Dope and even contributed a track to the RIAA-certified gold soundtrack for “The Scorpion King,” but the label didn’t push their debut record since it didn’t produce an immediate hit with the singles “Boring,” “Not Like You,” and “Breathless.”
Once Sept. 11 happened, any momentum they built up dissipated while internal conflict in the band escalated. Fink and bassist Mark Klepaski left to join Breaking Benjamin and Lifer released one more EP with a different lineup before they changed their name to myDownfall and broke up in 2003.
Revisiting his first big band all these years later, Coyle didn’t feel like they necessarily needed to “update” their sound or make the new songs feel like they came out during a time when bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, Disturbed, Godsmack, Staind, Slipknot, Linkin Park, Papa Roach, and more were at the top of their game, though this single could fit very well in that timeframe.
“I don’t think we really said it had to be like this or had to be like that. We just sort of let it flow and whatever came out [came out],” he explained.
“Just getting older, yes, my approach is different. I’m not as angry now. For me, I just like good songs – songs you can bob your head and sing along to. It doesn’t have to be heavy just to be heavy.”
Coyle has also been busy with Cold since joining the gold-selling alternative rock band in 2017, co-writing songs with vocalist Scooter Ward for the band’s first album in eight years, “The Things We Can’t Stop.” Coyle also co-produced and mixed the album, which was released on Sept. 13, 2019 and was well-received by fans before they hit the road on the Broken Human Tour with Italian metal band Awake for Days and Scranton alt rockers University Drive.
Cold was rehearsing for the tour and shooting a music video for the song “Without You” in Wilkes-Barre when they received a unique opportunity.
“While we were rehearsing in Benton, my old friend Ben Burnley asked if we would come up and play ‘Just Got Wicked’ at Breaking Benjamin’s hometown show at Montage [Mountain in Scranton]. I hit him up just to ask for tickets since we were all in town and he hit me back on the day of the show and said, ‘Do you guys wanna come up and play a song tonight?’ We were like… shit. Hell yes!” he recalled with a laugh.
“Doing that led to him asking Scooter to sing on a song he had for his new record, ‘Far Away.’ We tracked Scooter’s vocals at the house we were rehearsing at. The song and video came out a few months ago and it’s doing great at radio. It’s like No. 2 or 3 in the country right now!”
The Broken Human Tour, which stopped in Scranton in September, was Cold’s first tour in over eight years and went so well that they were planning to hit the road again with “A Different Kind of Tour – An Intimate Evening with Cold” in the spring.
“It was awesome! I would say the best part was just talking with everyone that came out, hearing how the music has impacted their lives. It was pretty powerful stuff, man,” Coyle emphasized.
“We were supposed to start rehearsing for our new tour in mid-March but everything shut down because of the coronavirus and the tour was postponed.”
The quarantine hasn’t been all bad, though – it has given Lifer time to release “The Start of Something Else” on the same day that Cold debuted a new video for the song “Quiet Now,” and now Coyle can work on “some new solo stuff over the next month or two.”
“I think because of how busy I am now everything just needs to be more focused – make plans and set goals and just work on them,” he said of his recent prolific output.
“As soon as possible, Cold will be doing the tour that was just postponed, plus hopefully more to finish out the year. The touring music business is at a complete standstill now. Everything is kind of wait and see. In Lifer, we have a few shows scheduled in June, but again everyone is just waiting to see what happens over the next month. Stay safe!”
See NEPA Scene’s review and photos of Lifer’s 2018 reunion show here, photos from their 2019 concert at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre here, and watch Episode 76 of the NEPA Scene Podcast, where Coyle and Fink discuss their formation and early connections to Breaking Benjamin, the burgeoning local music scene at the time, their big break on MTV, Lifer’s breakup and later reformation as Stardog Champion, revisiting Lifer’s music all these years later, and more, below:
Photos by Rich Howells/NEPA Scene
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.