Client Liaison are two very consummate Melbourne musicians dedicated to reimagining the pop of George Michael and INXS. As overwhelming as their Alan Bond, Australia II aesthetic is, they’re very, very serious about the music they make. ZOE KILBOURN talks to Monte Morgan (vocalist, mullet) and Harvey Miller (producer) before they bring their national EP tour to The Bakery on Saturday, September 6.
It’s easy at first glance to mistake Client Liaison for parodists. Their sound, for one, can seem faux-innocent in the light of the last twenty years – there’s a seductiveness, a sound quality that shouldn’t translate to 2014. Then, of course, there’s the American Psycho spirit of their corporate name and image, their professed interests in alpine sports and diplomacy, listing Ansett Australia as one of their key influences on Facebook. But their sound, if postironic, is deadly serious.
“For us, it’s kind of second nature, because we’re just making groovy pop music,” says Monte. “We don’t think about it as making a certain sound from a certain era. They’re the instruments we use. We like early digital synthesizers. It’s more about trying to write the best pop song.
“It’s not that calculated. That’s just the era that informs our music, just like you’d have the rock person who’s been informed by the ‘60s, ‘70s. Just because there’s less people making music that’s informed by that era, that question usually comes up. It’s sort of a given. We don’t think about it too much. That’s the era we’re born from, and we happily like the style and sentiments of that time.”
Throughout our chat, Monte reiterates that it’s misleading to say that they’re about the ‘80s. “I think the main thing we’d like to stress is having an outlook on music from the framework of a decade is inaccurate,” he says. “It’s like, from 1989 to 1990 everyone took off their leather jackets and started putting on their cardigans with holes and turned to grunge music. We like to look at it from ’85 to ’95, that’s a better lens for us to focus on.”
The years ’85 – ’95, then – what is it about the Gen X, Yuppie, George Michael period that attracts Harvey and Monte?
“The sensibility. The sonics of the sounds,” says Monte. “The ability to have a theatrical nature to performance with the seriousness – being able to perform wildly with a seriousness. When you look at Prince wearing outrageous outfits on stage, you’ll see he does it with conviction. And because he does it with conviction, there’s a seriousness to it. Sophisticated sound with a sophisticated performance – it’s not like bedroom hip hop or dirty rock n roll, and it’s all just loose. It’s a piece of theatre – it’s colourful, it’s a well-arranged kind of sound.”
It is. The tracks from the upcoming EP – from 2012 Great Southern Land-esque Australiballad End Of The Earth to latest Triple J hit, Queen – are so immersively, thoroughly, subtly new jack swing in production, there’s no way you could mistake it for parody. A thousand pads, synths, vocal samples, whispered hooks, horn and guitar lines prove Client Liaison’s meticulousness and serious talent.
Monte explains. “After we’ve finished with our tracks, we like to add all these Hollywood atmospheric sounds laced throughout them. That’s another part of the process. We like that high fidelity production values which we feel were at their peak in the late ‘80s.”
Harvey pipes up: “I guess Monte doesn’t avoid the cheesy samples, the film score sounds. There’s no, ‘Oh, amazing vintage analogue synths’ kind of obsession with analog and old-school gear. Monte’s palette is so diverse, and he’ll take from the cheesiest. We put a lot of time and effort into the Client Liaison aesthetic, and sometimes people fail to make the distinction between that and the sonics.”
There’s a recurring lyrical femininity, even if it is in the second person – prominent lyrics include ‘When you were queen’ and, in That’s Desire, the identification of the wealthy female love-object as ‘She’s everything that you want to be.’ Is it conscious, or part-and-parcel with the kind of music Client Liaison make?
“I’m definitely interested in cross-gender relationships – androgyny itself and the effeminate male, crossing the boundaries of sex, things like that,” says Monte. “It’s hard to say what’s conscious, lyrically.
“You want to inject yourself into that narrative. And we do – we want to inject ourselves into that narrative of that time.”
It’s clear these guys have a fierce love of Australia, as well as a solid appreciation of its shortcomings and cringiest aspects. The End Of The Earth video is a hard-edged nostalgia trip – John Howard jogging, cane toads, XXXX feature prominently. With lyrics like ‘Bless this asbestos island’ and ‘skin-cancer sun-kissed shores’, the track romanticises and skewers the country in one broad stroke.
“There’s undertones of satire there, but then, that’s all contained within the video clip,” says Monte. “If people watch the video clip they might find something satirical and that might humour them. But you’ve got to then realise that when people are in the club listening to End Of The Earth, no one’s humouring them at all. They’re all dancing, they’re listening to the melody. It’s important to understand how our music functions.”
They’ve rejigged their stage show for the national tour, complete with set changes – “Wait, you’re from Perth? We might bring a few props and stage elements, but sadly not as many as Sydney or Melbourne” – and enthusiastic.
“Oh, we love Perth! We’re buying up some land, doing some prospecting – mining is one of our many hobbies. Wasn’t it Lang Hancock who wanted to secede? We wrote a song about Gina Rinehart – one of the lines is ‘Carving up the Pilbara/Lazy laws will feed the poor.’ Actually, can we keep that one off the record? That might offend people.”
As for the current state of Australia? “We feel we’d like to reinvigorate a sense of national identity, we’d like to highlight the differences between nationalism and patriotism. We’d like to encourage people to be more patriotic. But we don’t have a doctorate in sociology, and we don’t pretend to have all they answers.”
NATIONAL EP TOUR
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 6 @ THE BAKERY