One of Australia's Greatest Rock and Roll Albums Just Got Reissued
A Chat to John Nolan About the Powder Monkeys’ Classic Album “Time Wounds All Heels”.
There’s a moment at the end of the Powder Monkeys’ blistering “Insane Old Game”, from their second album Time Wounds All Heels, when vocalist and bassist Tim Hemensley mutters, “don’t tell me your shit doesn’t stink”. The parting shot perfectly sums up the magic of the Melbourne three piece; humour, honesty and cheekiness all backed by a blistering approach to loud rock.
In their 12-year career the Powder Monkeys packed a combination of sizzling Aussie pub rock and US hardcore punk and presented it in an intense live show that was comparable to the MC5, Motorhead or Black Flag at their best.
The band got their rock smarts from an early age, Hemensley as a teenager in Geelong band God, and guitarist John Nolan in Bored. With TJ Ray on drums they were an unstoppable force.
Whereas they’d only played a few gigs before recording their debut Smashed on a Knee, by their second album, 1995’s Wounds All Heels, they were at the peak of their game and had a confidence and direction which blew everybody that came before or after them off stage.
Sadly the band came to an end with the unfortunate death of Hemensley in 2003 but their legacy as one of Australia’s most powerful bands remains.
Originally released on the Dog Meat label Time Wounds All Heels has just been reissued and for the first time on vinyl. On the day of it’s reissue we had a chat to Nolan about the album and it’s recording
Noisey: You started the band in part to respect the great Australian hard rock tradition of bands such as Billy Thorpe, AC/DC and Rose Tattoo but there was a strong West Coast US punk and hardcore influence too.
John Nolan: We had pretty strong ideas about what we wanted to be. Originally we were looking for that massive Aussie twin guitar crunch but we had to cut our original guitarist loose. Tim and myself loved the great history of Australian hard rock from the '60's through to the early '80's but we’d grown up listening to pretty much US hardcore punk and had always tried to play with that edge. I think that's what made it hard for us to find a producer – they would have had to see us live to really understand what we were trying to do.
Your guitar lines always had a real punk sound.
It's what the songs needed and it was a real cathartic exercise for me. Just getting on stage and hammering the fuck out of my guitar. Instead of getting into fights and such you could take all of your frustrations out on the guitar. Turning a negative into a positive. I’d look at the audience and see that they were just blissing out on it.
Tim had a great sense of humour and way with words. "In the Doldrums” is about being down and unemployed. Were you working at all around then?
Tim's lyrics were what really separated us from the pack. His word play was so clever and his lyrics always seemed to be working on about two to three different levels. As far as work, I was the only one who had a job, working at a record store but got sacked before "Time Wounds All Heels". We survived by living off band money and our girlfriends were strippers. Also a bit of hustling never failed!
Funny, aggressive and very honest. Would this be an accurate description of Tim at the time?
At the time? More like, all the time! Tim could use his lyrics as fists. He was totally honest and some songs were like pages from his diary. He was never ever trying to sell you bullshit and he’d lay his most personal inner demons and failings out for all to hear.
The album was recorded with Chris Thompson who worked on the Birthday Party's Junkyard at ABC studios. The sound is massive. What do you remember about the session?
The whole record was pretty much done in seven days. There was heaps of laughter and fun with Chris as we had worked with him before recording Triple J "Live to Air" sessions. Tim and I loved the work he was apart of with Tony Cohen doing those great Birthday Party records. Tony Cohen was well out of our price range but as a engineer Chris was every bit as good as Tony. That's where we got that massive sound. I remember that recording with great fondness.
You’ve admitted that this was a time when your heroin habit was getting out of control. Was this starting to affect live shows or touring?
It never affected playing live or touring but I do remember a few times during the recording when I would have to wait until my dealer rocked up at the studio in the morning for me to pretty much 'get going' and stop feeling like total crap and start playing. It was the only real drag during that recording for me and the affect it had on the rest of the band.
Timmy Jack’s contribution “Ten Minds” has an almost pop feel to it.
T.J could really write a killer song. The only reason why more of his never made it to records or live was because, I remember trying to explain it to him. "Teeg...keep writing these killer tunes, but you must write them for Tim to sing to”. You’d have to see the band as a triangle with that one point being Tim as he was such a great front man and had a killer voice. After the record came out we re-worked one of T.J's songs and had it in the set for nearly a year. It was a killer rockin' song. As T.J found out the difference between singing in the shower and singing onstage was massive.
In the liner notes Dead Moon’s Fred Cole says that you were real and from the heart. “No pretence balls to the wall white knuckle mother fuckers on a rampage” You seemed like a ‘musicians’ band. But you had fans all over the pace too.
That was nice of Fred to say. We did their first Australian tour and became good friends. What you say is true. I've never understood it but I tell you, 20 years after you’ve recorded an album it's good to see it on eBay for $50 instead of ending up in the 50-cent bin, that's for sure.
"Time Wounds All Heels" is available now through Desperate Records.