In Conversation with Client Liaison

Known for their patriotic fervour, irresistibly moveable tunes and piss-taking sensibilities, Client Liaison is a group that will need little introduction to a student readership. For a band that is so inseparably glued to their visual style, it feels particularly inelegant to conduct an interview over the phone. Monte Morgan, the group’s vocalist, is the sole voice on the other end of the line. It’s also telling of Client Liaison’s humility that they’d agree to an interview with a student publication at this stage of their career (Morgan also tells me he believes this to be the only interview the group has granted to the egregiously overlooked world of student media).

In line with the group’s temperament and their fans’ wildest dreams, I ask: will they be filming the video for ‘Canberra Won’t Be Calling Tonight’ aboard the Prime Minister’s private Boeing? “That’d be pretty special,” Morgan responds. “We’ve got a bit of a plan for Canberra up our sleeve. We haven’t filmed it yet but we always had a concept for the clip before the song – we wanted to actually vacate Canberra’s capital and hand it back to the Indigenous owners of the land.” It’s a reminder that, for all their glamour and gloss, Client Liaison move in more thoughtful territory than a quick reading of their iconography might suggest. Theirs is a patriotism that is joyful and optimistic, yet infused with introspection. In their breakthrough track (and its accompanying video), ‘End of the Earth’, they offered up a smorgasbord of Australiana; but the group managed to avoid the tedious sight of thoughtless patriotism with their self-awareness. They asked, “This dodgy disaster of a culture/ Is it what we stand for?’

‘Canberra Won’t Be Calling Tonight’, the opening track of Diplomatic Immunity, is wonderfully outlandish, even by the standards of Client Liaison. The track’s most eccentric feature – an interlude of Kim Carr questioning Scott Morrison over the secrecy of Operation Sovereign Borders, in which Morrison responds with the defence of Public Interest – throws a singularly delicious bone to fanatics of the synthesiser, disco and Australian politics. Including the Senate Proceedings was, Morgan says, “adding to the drama of the idea of having diplomatic immunity.” Morgan also reveals that Harvey Miller has the distinction of meeting Kim Il-Carr: “His daughter is our friend so there’s a bit of a connection there.”

Client Liaison have previously discussed the influence of various 80s plutocrats such as Kerry Packer and Alan Bond on their audio-visual project. I put it to Morgan that, while corporate excess and vice may have defined the social climate of that era, the current Australian ruling class contains its own equivalent symbols of commercial gluttony – Gina Rinehart is example I give. Why then, the focus on a bygone era? He tells me that the group didn’t set out to specifically ground their music in a particular era. Addressing contemporary greed, he reveals that they’ve written a song about Rinehart entitled ‘Minehart’. Morgan’s insistent that the group’s objects of inspiration flow across time: “We celebrate these Steve Cairns or Steven Bradbury or, you know, Alan Bond, Kerry Packer, but they’re all Australian icons to us. I guess people often associate us with the 80s because of our song and identity but that’s just the sound that we like. But there’s also an element of looking back to your childhood and reappropriating things that are in fashion or sound; things sound fresh when they’re given a nice gestation period.”

If Client Liaison were an upstarting act in 2035, I ask, what cultural artefacts would they be championing? “It would be a motif or something,” Morgan says. He analogises their resuscitation of bygone trends to the world of fashion: “Something can really stand out and seems really fresh and then it becomes stale because everyone wears it, so you know you want to keep moving through new ground and often you do it by looking at things that have been forgotten. What happened to Cargo pants, you know? We’ll probably be bringing the cargo pant back, something like that.” “Hopefully with that we don’t have too many dreadlocks and cargo pants,” one of the (hitherto silent) editors of this magazine responds. “You never know,” responds Morgan. “Right now I’m getting into the Byron Bay sound kind of Ben Harper vibe. Like, ‘what happened to that? That was my childhood; that was fun.’”

The cohesiveness of Diplomatic Immunity, and the length of time that went into its creation, are what Morgan regards as the album’s greatest sources of pride. He notes his distinct fondness for the second half of ‘Off White Limousine’, which intensely spirals into otherworldly realms of funk (“makes me dance; makes me cry”). However, it’s – inevitably – the group’s duet with Tina Arena, ‘A Foreign Affair’, which generates the most discussion. Morgan explains that the track wasn’t initially conceived as a duet – let alone with Tina Arena as his partner, despite the shout out to her 90s hit ‘Sorrento Moon (I Remember)’. Arena’s participation was just a matter of surprise and good fortune: “It was just a wish we put into the air. Our manager caught wind of it and she got her manager and she liked the song; and she [Tina Arena] came in, and smashed it out in one day.”

Maybe more so than any other feeling, the visuals and music of Client Liaison evoke an acute sense of nostalgia, and their tributes to a period that saw a renewal in our sense of national identity inspire an optimistic innocence. Beyond the group’s absurd flirtations with plutocracy though, lies a grimmer reality – after all, many identify the financial and moral excess characteristic of the 1980s as the starting point for the void of economic misery into which so much of the Western world seems to be staring for the foreseeable future. Morgan agrees that there’s a sort of ironic obscenity to their popularity in light of this – but for him, of course, toying with the past is about something much more innocuous: “When I grew up the idea of office culture was so uncool that we’re trying to make the idea of the corporate travelling man fit. But you know, there’s elements as well that we also like to ground it with – something like Big Kev.”

Morgan believes Client Liaison’s music is an outlet for escapism: “It’s really about fun; it’s about dancing and about a good time and letting go, and expressing yourself, being wild. We hope not to alienate to anyone and hopefully people can see that there’s layered elements to what we’re doing – we’re not just celebrating riches like a lot of hip hop does, like, ‘I’m rich, look at me’, kind of vibe.” On excess, he continues: “It’s Trump era now, it might seem wrong – ‘oh no you’re celebrating excess’ – but I think escapism in whatever form is highly potent you know.” The gruesome spectacle of Trump’s bragging about sexual assault shed a dark light on sexual misconduct in the masculinised world of high finance (not that the inexorably awful consequences of masculinised power weren’t already obvious to anyone with half an eye open), and I’m unable to resist pressing him on this point. Corporate male imagery has featured prominently in Client Liaison’s work, and I ask whether this imagery has lost some of its fun now that the most powerful man in the world is – as I put it – a corporate pussy grabber. “We don’t celebrate Trump,” Morgan responds.

A brash demeanour and sunny dance music might be the first things evoked by Client Liaison’s name. However, moments of Diplomatic Immunity see the group take a more low-key approach to things. ‘Home’ evokes the wistful sounds of the Pet Shop Boys – a likeness I’m not the first to observe – and I ask if, in the future, they’d be willing to venture into less balmy territory? “Like a down to earth, homely vibe?” Morgan asks, and I answer positively. “Yeah, everything’s open,” Morgan tells me. He recalls that, when Client Liaison started out, comparisons were immediately drawn with the Pet Shop Boys, whose music Morgan wasn’t familiar with. He notes his recent conversion to the gloomy British duo: “They sort of seem like a reflection of us. Two guys in a kind of art school context; I’d like to call it art-school-electro which I can relate to”. That Morgan sees a similarity between the two groups is logical, yet curious. While both share an obvious penchant for extravagance, the Pet Shop Boys’ sombre subversions of masculinity are a far cry from the lad-friendly antics of Client Liaison (although maybe I’ve overstated the difference: Client Liaison recently performed at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Party, thereby ploughing into the Pet Shop Boy’s core demographic).

To finish things off, I ask about the group’s evolving success. They started playing gigs in warehouses and their new tour is their largest and most theatrically ambitious – how does this, I ask, change their relationship with the audience? “A lot of it is dependent on the venue size and stage,” Morgan tells me. “This upcoming tour is a lot of theatres so we want, you know, a packed house but we still want a sense of intimacy. Different audiences bring different vibes as well. But we always try and outdo ourselves: take the theatrics to the next level; take the interaction between the band, the visuals and everything. But we like the idea of coming maybe next year or the year after do an intimate cog show, doing it like 5 or 6 tiny shows in every city because there’s always something special about that.” While Client Liaison’s growing success means there’s less opportunities for an intimate relationship with the audience, Morgan tells me there’s still occasions when the group is able to recapture a more personal feeling with their fans. “We still get that [feeling] when we go overseas or when we play country towns so we still have a varied style of performance.”

Client Liaison are currently embarking on their A Foreign Affair World Tour. They are playing in Melbourne at The Forum on the 30th and 31st of August. Diplomatic Immunity is now available here.

Tags : Client LiaisonHarvey MillerinterviewKim CarrMonte MorganMusicTina Arena
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