Wilkes-Barre nu metal band Lifer celebrates 20th anniversary of debut album in Berwick on July 31
In the late 1990s and into the early 2000s, a new musical genre broadly labeled as “nu metal” gave rise to a variety of heavier rock and metal bands that sold millions of CDs, from Slipknot, Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Godsmack to Linkin Park, System of a Down, Disturbed, and Staind.
Many of those artists are still making music today, and while not all of them embraced the label, it’s clear that this ever-changing style influenced by hip-hop, grunge, industrial, and other genres introduced heavier music to new audiences and helped popularize it across mainstream airwaves.
Locally, a group called Strangers with Candy formed in 1999 and quickly made a name for themselves in Northeastern Pennsylvania with their “No Need” EP. Vocalist Nick Coyle, guitarist Aaron Fink, bassist Mark Klepaski, drummer Chris Lightcap, and DJ Tony Kruszka entered MTV’s “Ultimate Cover Band Contest” in 2000 and won with covers of Rage Against the Machine’s “Guerrilla Radio” and Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie,” both examples of this contemporary sound, as well as House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and A-ha’s “Take on Me,” becoming famous across the country and helping them sign to a major label.
“Our lives changed overnight,” Coyle said in the band’s old bio. “Our email boxes started blowing up, and people from all over the States were writing us and saying, ‘We saw you on MTV and we love you.’ It was kind of funny; a lot of young girls were in love with us for playing 45 seconds of another band’s song. We were just like, ‘What are you talking about?'”
“That was a huge stepping stone for me, like I couldn’t have predicted. Locally, we had a nice following around Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and we actually played the Jersey Shore quite a bit. And we were playing a club in New Jersey and some MTV scouts were at the show,” Fink recalled in Episode 3 of the NEPA Scene Podcast.
“Kids these days don’t really know the power of MTV like it used to be, and that was even at the end of it. For bands in the ’80s and ’90s, if your video was on MTV once, you could tour the country and sell out venues.”
After changing their name to Lifer, Universal Music/Republic Records released their self-titled album in 2001 that featured the singles “Boring,” “Not Like You,” and “Breathless.” Recorded with Alex Lifeson of Rush, this ended up being their only record, though they also contributed to the RIAA gold-certified soundtrack for “The Scorpion King” and “Take a Bite Outta Rhyme: A Rock Tribute to Rap.”
Like nu metal itself, the band did not last very long. Fink and Klepaski left Lifer to join Breaking Benjamin, who blew up soon after, becoming a multi-platinum sensation starting with the hit single “Polyamorous” in 2002. Derek Spencer and Ian Wiseman came in to replace them, and Lifer independently recorded an EP before changing their name to myDownfall and breaking up in 2003.
Coyle then formed The Drama Club, Stardog Champion with Fink, a solo project called Electracoustica, and indie/alternative rock band Death Valley Dreams before joining national act Cold in 2017. Fink moved on as a solo artist and is now on his fourth album as a singer/songwriter, playing live as the frontman of Aaron Fink & the Fury as well as the guitarist of local rock band Gentleman East and, more recently, hard rock band Earshot.
The original lineup of Lifer only reunited once in 2010, playing a full-band acoustic show for a benefit in Berwick, though Kruszka filled in for Lightcap on drums.
But on Aug. 24, 2018, just over eight years later, Coyle, Fink, and Kruszka (once again on drums) – joined by Mike Morgan of The Drama Club and Pan.a.ce.a on bass – played a half acoustic, half electric reunion show that quickly sold out Bart & Urby’s in Wilkes-Barre, prompting the group to book bigger concerts at the Scranton Iron Furnaces, the Sunbury Social Club, and Stage West in Scranton.
In their first interview since reforming, Coyle and Fink said in Episode 76 of the NEPA Scene Podcast that they are open to recording new material after all these years. On March 31, 2020, Lifer premiered their first new song in 18 years, “The Start of Something Else,” on NEPA Scene, and followed it up with more singles like recently received a music video that “explores the polarizing, and often harrowing, nature of social media.” All of them will be included on a five-song EP later this year, proving that this once short-lived project has much more life left in it.
People are still nostalgic for those old songs, though, and nu metal continues to influence bands to this day (though Lifer considers themselves “hard rock” now as their sound evolves), so following their packed concert at the River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains on June 18, the band announced a special 20-year anniversary show at Hog’s Hollow Saloon (1459 State Route 93, Berwick) on Saturday, July 31 with Scranton alternative rockers University Drive.
“Who’s ready?! It’s been 20 years since the release of our self-titled album (holy shit!), so we decided to do an anniversary party show at Hog’s Hollow Saloon (outside) in Berwick. … We’ll be playing the album in its entirety, in order,” Coyle shared on social media, along with old videos of the band in the studio.
“It’s hard to believe this was 20 years ago. What an amazing experience to work with and get to know the legend, Alex Lifeson, of Rush! Come and celebrate with us next week!”
Doors open at 6 p.m., and the show begins at 7 p.m. Tickets, which are $12 in advance or $15 at the door, are on sale now at liferband.com.
See NEPA Scene’s review and photos of Lifer’s 2018 reunion show here, photos from their 2019 set 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:
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.