On the thriving Melbourne inner-city scene of the mid-1990s, Powder Monkeys were the band to experience in the live arena. The band's hard-driving, seething, strung-out, incendiary blend of punk, high energy rock'n'roll and heavy metal came on like a cross between The Stooges (circa 1973), Motorhead (circa 1976), Rose Tattoo (circa 1978) and US hardcore heroes Black Flag (circa 1980).
Volatile singer/songwriter/bass player Tim Hemensley wrote primal, street-level songs like `Another Nite in Hell', `I Stand Bare', `Straight Until Morning' and `In the Doldrums' that were reflections of his life. Very few independent outfits of the day could hope to match Powder Monkeys' live firepower, but inevitably the band's records failed to capture the essence of that live experience. Nevertheless, the band's handful of worthwhile recordings were backed by the brazen blare of guitars, gruff vocals, a taut and blunt rhythm section and barely contained rock energy.
Hemensley and John Nolan laid plans for the formation of Powder Monkeys when they were members of Bored! Following Bored!'s 1990 European tour, both Hemensley and Nolan left the band. It took a few months for them to get Powder Monkeys off the ground. In the interim, Nolan played with Hoss, appearing on that band's 1992 album You Get Nothing. The original, five-piece Powder Monkeys line-up proved incompatible and Adyn Hibberd left at the start of 1992. Hibberd did play on the title track to Powder Monkeys' debut CD single `Yin Yang' (with `Another Nite in Hell' and `Atomic Resolution') which finally came out in February 1993 on the Dog Meat label.
Dog Meat also issued the band's debut album, Smashed on a Knee, in March 1994, almost two years after it had been recorded. Despite its uneven, rough-hewn quality, Smashed on a Knee possessed enough moments of sheer excitement and blazing energy to catapult the band to the forefront of the independent scene. Powder Monkeys consolidated their position with constant touring and support slots to the likes of the Deniz Tek Group and Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs. The band appeared on the bill of the 1995 Melbourne Big Day Out, then issued the CD EP `Straight Until Morning' (February 1995) which featured material recorded for a Triple J live broadcast. By that stage, the band was down to a streamlined three-piece of Hemensley, Nolan and Ray. Later in the year, the band headed back into the studio to record a new album with producer Chris Thompson.
As well as supporting American hardcore hero Henry Rollins in November 1995, Powder Monkeys supported the re-formed Radio Birdman in January 1996. The band then issued its powerful second album, Time Wounds All Heels (February), which produced the three-track CD single `The Supernova that Never Quits' (December 1995). The album was almost the definitive example of the band's skilful, diamond-hard blues thrash. The CD single also contained a studio rendition of Motorhead's `Built for Speed' which had long been a staple of the band's live set. During 1996, Hemensley and Ray found time to play gigs with Pete Wells Band, as well as to play on that band's 1996 album Go Ahead, Call the Cops. With the release of Time Wounds All Heels, there was talk of a US tour and a lucrative recording deal for Powder Monkeys with the influential American label (formerly Def American run by Rick Rubin, and home to the likes of Slayer, Black Crowes and the Jayhawks). Nothing eventuated, and Powder Monkeys spent the first six months of 1997 in hibernation. They re-emerged in August with the limited edition (400 copies), red vinyl 7-inch single `Get the Girl Straight'/`Wasn't Born Yesterday' on the Death Valley label.
Powder Monkeys spent most of 1998 on the road. They supported Swedish heavyweights The Hellacopters in Melbourne during October. The first new Power Monkeys album in almost three years came out in early 1999. It was the live set Blood Sweat & Beers, which only appeared as a 10-inch album in Spain on Safety Pin Records and as a CD on UK label Butcher’s Hook. The material had been culled from a live gig recorded in Melbourne during April 1998.
Included on the album was the band’s usual rave-up set of tracks like ‘Atomic Resolution’ and a cover of The Stooges’ ‘Cock in My Pocket’, live favourites like ‘Time Wounds All Heels’, ‘Straight Until Morning’ plus new songs like ‘Beast With Two Backs’ and ‘House Rules’. With the album out, Powder Monkeys embarked on an extensive European tour. Commencing in March 1999, the tour took in 50 concerts and spanned three months. By all accounts, one of the highlights was the Where the Action Is ’99 tour of Scandinavia with The Hellacopters, The Nomads and the Wayne Kramer Band.
While in Sweden, the band recorded a new studio album for the Swedish White Jazz label (home to The Hellacopters and The Nomads). They also recorded a mini-album in Spain called Talk Softly and Carry a Big Schtick, for Punch Records.