Jeffrey Thunders rolled up his sleeve to show the tattoos on his upper arm, pointing out all the landmarks in New Haven he had inked there.
“Here’s City Hall, Woolsey Hall, the lighthouse, the old New Haven Savings bank on the corner of Church and Elm, and a dead elm tree,” he said with a laugh.
I also spotted a number nine. I asked if that was for Cafe Nine, where we were sitting.
“No, but it did get me a job here years ago,” he said, laughing again. “It’s my old hockey number, and it’s my good luck charm. It’s always been good luck to me.”
Some might say Thunders lives a charmed life. For over 20 years, he has played the punk music he has loved since he was a teenager growing up in the suburbs in the city that he has permanently etched into his skin and his heart.
Transplanted to Norwich almost three years ago, Thunders returns this Saturday once again to Three Sheets on Elm Street with his band The Black Noise Scam, which got back together in 2016 and are currently enjoying a rejuvenated run while he also enjoys a regular schedule with his two other bands, The Lost Riots and The Ratz.
The Black Noise Scam currently includes Thunders on vocals along with Warren and Phil (also of Sperm Donor) on bass and guitar respectively. Drummer Chris Beaudette is “our local rock star because he plays all over the world,” Thunders said. The band started in 2006 and played together until around 2012. The original lineup consisted of Thunders, Dan Nugent, Ryan Taylor, and Liam, who passed away from cancer and was replaced by Warren. Beaudette took over for Taylor in 2010 and Phil took over for Nugent in 2012.
“We started the same year as the band Cry Havoc, and they were having their 10-year anniversary show in 2016, so they asked if we could play that show with them,” said Thunders. “I asked everyone and they said, ‘let’s do it.’ Then we played a reunion weekend at the end of 2017 and we all had fun, so we talked about it and it was a matter of just booking dates. Right now we have the show Saturday at Three Sheets, and the plan going forward is maybe play four or five shows a year because we all have a good time and we just want to be stupid and play loud fast music like we did when we were in our mid-twenties.”
Thunders laughed at himself, which he does often. But he’s serious about the punk music scene and the friends he has in it. Thunders is seemingly never not talking about punk music — not just his own bands, but his friends’ bands as well. He can be found at any given time on his phone or talking to someone in person to book a show, playing a video clip of a new song, or sending a link to a friend’s band page. Almost daily he posts on social media links and recommendations of bands and music with the quote “keep the PMA,” the PMA being “positive mental attitude.”
“Everybody is so miserable these days,” he said. “You got to stay positive.” He credits punk music for helping him with that.
“I’ve always been into music,” he said. “I got an acoustic guitar when I was fifteen, and then when I was sixteen I was handed a bass and told to be in a band. That was my first band, a punk band.” Thunders grew up in East Haven, Branford, and North Branford, graduating from that town’s high school. He moved to New Haven in 2004, having played in bars there since he was 21 and in other locations before that.
“I think I’ve played at Cafe Nine more than anywhere else,” he said. (It’s also where he will have his birthday party show on Mar. 24 of this year, playing with The Lost Riots.) He was in the local bands Fatale and The Whores in the early 2000s. The Black Noise Scam played what Thunders thought would be its final show at the old Rudy’s (currently Three Sheets). The Rock Lottery band that he was in the first year of that event played the first show at the new Rudy’s on Chapel Street.
“Getting into punk is like turning to the dark side. It’s very difficult to get out. You’re stuck there,” he said with a laugh, but then got serious again. “But for me it’s a fantastic way to go. There’s nothing wrong with it whatsoever. I’m in it for life”. He credits the Black Flag record The First Four Years — “It completely turned my life upside down as a teenager” — as helping get him into punk music. He also credits the accessibility of scene itself.
“I think just the sense of unity of the punk scene and that fact that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you are or how you dress or any of that stuff. You’re accepted — no matter what, you’re accepted,” he said.
“People that I grew up with are still coming out to shows,” he continued. “Even people older than me who were here before I came into the scene are still coming out. And kids in their 20s are coming out too. For example, Agent Orange plays at Cafe Nine every year, and you could have a 55-year-old dude standing next to a 25-year-old kid.”
He also talked about many of the new bands that have come into the scene in the past year. “In CT there are lots of young bands bringing people out, bands like Easy Killer and The Benedicks, and in New Haven it’s bands like Ryxno, Honch, and King Bongo. They got a garage element to them, and those bands, it seems like kids in their 20s are going nuts about those bands, which is great because they are great bands and it gets younger kids, in their early 20s, into live music and out to shows, which can be difficult in some areas right now.”
Thunders believes that the younger bands are “incredible at social media,” though they may not be getting the older fans at their shows as much as the older bands are because the older fans aren’t as connected to social media as the younger bands are.
“Those kids in their 20s grew up with the internet and their phones in their hands and they know what to do and how to get their friends out there, which is great,” Thunders said. “I wish everyone could see them because they are frigging great. Right now the CT scene is phenomenal. I try to promote it as much as I can. I support my friends. For me it’s just something I like to do.”
Thunders also books bands and puts out CDs through Die Hipster records. “Nationwide, and I’m not being biased here, the CT punk scene is one of the best in the country. I have bands contacting me through Die Hipster, and they’re, ‘hey, we’re on tour can we come through?’ People want to come here, to New Haven as well as Cherry Street in Wallingford and 33 Golden and The Telegraph in New London.”
Thunders is working on new material with all three bands currently and will be adding new songs into the set this Saturday with The Black Noise Scam that will eventually go on a new album. The Ratz have a split single coming out with Damn Broads this year. All three bands will be playing gigs, though Thunders also became a father this past year, which he says has changed “every other aspect of my life” but not his dedication to his music. He credits his wife Emily for being “incredible” and “super supportive.” She was in a band for 10 years herself (the local band Caveman Go).
Not living in New Haven now has not changed his love for or dedication to it and its music scene.
“I’m New Haven through and through,” he said. “As much as I’ve grown accustomed to living on the other side of the river, I’ll always be a New Haven boy. Without a doubt. It’s everything. It’s home. I cross the Q bridge and I see the buildings and I get this warm fuzzy feeling in my heart…. I will probably live the rest of my life in Norwich, but I will always call New Haven home. Always. There’s something special here, and a lot of people talk crap about it because they don’t realize how great this city actually is. I think you have to leave the city in order to really appreciate everything that’s here.”
“Not just the pizza” he added with a laugh. “But the pizza is phenomenal here too.”
We ended our interview so Thunders could go get some of that pizza, before practicing the music he loves, with his beloved friends, in his beloved city.
The Black Noise Scam plays this Saturday, Jan. 27, at Three Sheets, 372 Elm St., with Savage World and Baby Sandwiches. Find event information here. Thunders’s Birthday Bash, featuring The Lost Riots, The Hymans, Honch, and The Jukebox Romantics is scheduled for Mar. 24 at Cafe Nine, 250 State St. Find event information here.