Feature by Mariam Arcilla
Published in VAULT: Australasian Art & Culture, Issue 25, 2019
A shared nostalgia for the absurdity of Australian current affairs and pop vernacular jolted vocalist Monte Morgan and keyboardist/producer Harvey Miller together to form the electro-pop duo Client Liaison. The Melburnians, who met in high school, swanned into the music scene in 2012, penning boppy songs about corporate hustle, kitsch trends and leisurely pursuits. They’ve collaborated with Tina Arena and John Farnham and will support Kylie Minogue’s 2019 tour, in between running their fashion line and hatching other experiential ideas. VAULT spoke to them ahead of a big year.
Client Liaison could be described as the definition of dilettantish: you’re a band, fashion label, festival curators, limousine service, and ambassadors of Australiana culture. What’s your game plan?
Harvey Miller: Our goal is to tell stories and give experiences, and the fun part is finding creative ways to do so. We convey a sense of sophistication blended with Sir Les Patterson style larrikinism, so the phrase ‘client liaison’ can feel like jargon, but it also evokes a corporate mythology that we happily explore. After writing our song, Off White Limousine, we continued the narrative by buying a real limo for fans to experience. We often joke that we should start selling financial products, like home loans, but we need to be careful sometimes, because our half-baked ideas could turn into reality. We put everything into our art, so our dreams are often bigger than life, which is a good thing, I think?
Certainly. I’ve seen your live shows, and everything—musicality, costumes, dance moves, set design—has this ‘dream big’ bodaciousness. What feeds your showmanship?
Monte Morgan: I was doing theatre at high school and became influenced by Prince. He was infinitely varied and prolific—he showed me that music was more than just sound. Many people hide behind their instruments and ignore the numerous facets a stage has to offer. An electric energy should happen between performer and audience; it asks to be harnessed and caressed. So, we want these shows to translate our music into cathartic, tangible moments that audiences will never forget.
Your 2012 debut music video ‘End of the Earth’ was something of an Aussie loveletter of koalas, rainstorms, Vegemite, and canned beer, spliced with clips of iconic larrikins Shane Warne and Julian Assange. This didn’t seem like an average pop single. You joked in an interview that “music died in 1992”, and that Client Liaison is an antithesis to the “cultural cringe” of modern times. Can you speak to this motivation?
MM: When we released ‘End of the Earth’, none of our peers were talking about Australia in their work—but to us, it seemed like the most obvious place to start. We’re forever searching for another level of meaning. We don’t want to just write love songs about young romance.
HM: Our music references trailblazers like Barry Humphries and Steve Irwin because we believe they generate cultural capital. As for the ‘music died’ statement: that was us just trying to be provocative. The undertone here is that we lament the absence of 70s and 80s glitz and glam, where showmanship meant more than simply smashing instruments on stage. Then again, imagine if the 80’s never ended and just kept going? We’d all be excruciatingly exhausted!
Harvey, I heard you skipped your final year at the Victorian College of the Arts to tour with Flight Facilities?
HM: Is ‘skipped’ a more polite way of saying dropped out? I often joke that the only proper way to finish a Fine Arts degree is to drop out. It wasn’t a difficult decision to leave uni to travel the world and play with one of my favourite artists.
But art school was not a total write-off. Your penchant for creating nuanced, translative work seemed to come from your tutor’s advice: “if you know what you’re talking about exactly, don’t make an artwork—write an essay.”
HM: My tutor’s comment stuck with me, and as you can imagine, this advice applies to all modes of creative expression. Sometimes, an idea begins as a video clip rather than a song. Picking the medium that clearly communicates your feeling or idea is always the best starting point, and sometimes we all need reminding of this.
MM: The inspirations are endless, and at times, completely absurd. Our recent song was inspired by the 90’s animation Space Jam, while another song, Pretty Lovers, is about creating a breakfast party at night. We also enjoy collecting vintage clothing and Australiana bric-à-brac, so we’ve been making clothes and set designs for a few years.
Unsurprisingly, you expanded into fashion, launching your capsule range ‘Client Liaison Deluxe Line’ to stellar acclaim at Fashion Week (2016). Your clothes seem multi-occasional in that you could go from runway to pub to stakeholder meeting. What would you like the wearer to feel as they inhabit a dolphin-patched pullover or jumpsuit adorned with eskies and platypuses?
MM: Because we’re from Melbourne—where you dress for every season every day—our clothes don’t adhere to particular seasons. So, we believe that what you wear is your self-belief, your mojo. I hope people can put on our clothes and feel invincible. Moreover, I want them to feel the groove within.
Speaking of clothes, Kirsty Barros styles your set costumes and music videos. How did you brew up these designs together?
MM: Our ideas mostly stem from aspirational conversations, and finding clothes and images from op-shops, coffee table books, and Prince forums. We flesh out colours and motifs that resonate with us, and dream them up into fun and ridiculous scopes—like our philosophical concept A Day At The Pokies. Kirsty made our first capsule range a reality with her eclectic ideas.
HM: Kirsty has a real knack for naming our outfits things like Outback Gigolo and Rhinestone Australiana.
MM: Also, Sophie Gil co-designed our recent range Champagne Affection, and not only have we learnt so much from her fashion know-how, but she also brought our world to life in a fun and timeless way.
You recently toured your Aussie-flavoured festival Expo Liaison, a collision of local music, fashion, and leisurely hobbies. What propelled this?
MM: For us, there’s something magical about creating a multi-sensory world with its own philosophy and narrative. At its core, music is an experience, and we wanted to curate that experience beyond the confines of one venue. We created a wonderland for Expo Liaison, and all the hard work was worth it once we saw people diving into the day, sinking Fosters, buying our clothes, and enjoying the wood-chop sessions and ice sculpture displays. It was also incredible to headline the tour with my childhood hero John Farnham. We learnt a lot from his swagger, mic technique, and extremely pleasant demeanour. He holds so much contagious awe and power onstage —we’ve never heard a crowd cheer so furiously.
Do you encounter much crossover between fans who dig your music, attend your live gigs, and consume your fashionwear?
MM: We’re lucky to have extra-curricular activities within our music practice, so we like the idea of someone in Europe wearing a T-shirt with our faces on the front, without any knowledge of who we are. We also had a great time picking people up around Australia in our Off White Limousine car during our Diplomatic Immunity tour. We like that people can enjoy Client Liaison on multiple levels or for just one aspect alone. In the end, our work has a spirit of fun, and that’s definitely reflected in our audience.
What’s next—or rather, what’s on the sunkissed horizon—for the Client Liaison empire?
MM: I want to expand our website into a multiverse of experiences, although I’m not sure if people would actually visit it?
HM: What about financial products?
MM: Actually, financial products is a much better idea.