“We like to actualise the fantasy that we create…”
If there’s one thing you immediately notice about Client Liaison, it’s that they walk the walk as much as they talk the talk. A lot more than just a late 80’s revivalist act, the enigmatic, wildly stylish duo have struck gold with their new record Diplomatic Immunity, which just dropped over the weekend. A dense work which builds on the foundations of what they’ve created in the past, Diplomatic Immunity is populated by lush earworm melodies side by side with huge production and reverberated snares. The astounding effort is bound to break Client Liaison to an even bigger audience than they already have.
*Monte and Harvey show us around their costume department, a fantasy walk in wardrobe.
I had the privilege of being invited to Client Liaison’s top floor office on Collins Street in Melbourne to have a chat with them about the band, the new album, and their future as artists. Yes, Client Liaison have their own office – remember when I said they walk the walk? Well, that right there is the first piece of evidence. And there’s much more to come.
Ever since their first live performance, Client Liaison have championed their prominent aesthetic, elaborate outfits and detailed stage design. Since day one, their style has seemingly been very important to them – I asked them why that was, and what motivated them to pursue their look with such seriousness.
“It comes from a place of fun. When we put on a show, we want it to be fun. We like playing with wardrobe and staging, and we want it to have layered meaning, and different levels of entertainment.”
Client Liaison don’t shy away from their adoration of late 80’s pop stars, and they’ve even managed to wrangle a spectacular performance by Tina Arena on the new record Diplomatic Immunity. She features on the track ‘A Foreign Affair’, and I asked Monte how that came about.
“We were writing this song, and Harvey wrote the pre-chorus about being on the beach in Sorrento, and that was kind of a reference to Tina, and the sound was a reference to her as well. When we wrote the chorus it was out of my register, a bit too high. So we thought about having a duet, and Harvey was like ‘let’s get Tina on board.” The two look at one another as if they’re still amazed that this fantasy came to fruition, grins on their faces. “We never thought it would happen… But we reached out to her management and she liked the song and came in. Her willingness to involve herself was pretty special.”
* “The greater half of the album was finished in here…” – Monte and Harvey show us some of the office space where they mixed Diplomatic Immunity
The video for ‘Wild Life’, the second single from the new album, features the theme of Client Liaison as an investment company, who’re about to be audited by the ATO. As businessmen in the clip, they party in the office with snakes and parrots, play cards, drink neat scotch, talk to the media, run meetings and demand files be shredded when the ATO comes knocking. I asked them if this theme of Client Liaison as a business carries over into the rest of the record.
“It’s just that corporate mythology, broadly speaking. It’s diplomats, and Canberra, the diplomatic cocktail circuit, it all comes under that umbrella, that theme of the corporate world. The noble travelling businessman.”
As we sat in their fluorescently lit office surrounded by instruments, costumes, filing boxes, printers, partitions, desks and office chairs, I had to know what it was they actually did here on a day-to-day basis at Client Liaison HQ. After all, there aren’t a lot of bands with this local level of success who have their own workplace, let alone in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD. Monte told me a bit about how they use the space.
“This is our studio, it just happens to be an office too. It’s actually worked out really well for us, because we’ve got a few different spaces. We’ve got our wardrobe department, our manager is here, we have multiple spaces to record, and we rehearse here.” He seems nonchalant as he talks about it, as if a band with their own office that is as decked out as Client Liaison HQ is a standard thing. For Client Liaison, there’s no line between business and pleasure – just put it all on the company card.
Harvey joked that the band “fired thirty people, full time workers, booted them out, just to take the space.” He also tells me that he gets a bit of a kick out of living the corporate Client Liaison fantasy.
“I really get off on the days when we come in and we’ve got quite a lot of the team here.” His animation and gesticulation as he talks is so telling of the genuine thrill he seems to get from it. “It makes you feel a bit like the creative job is just like any other job. We have the graphic designer, the illustrator, our manager, someone helping us out with developing new forms of merchandise… Sometimes we can get ten people deep in the office, just pumping it out.” I mentioned that all of this ties in really well with the corporate themes of Diplomatic Immunity, and Monte adds with a smirk, “It’s a self fulfilling prophecy.”
Client Liaison has an undeniable connection to Australian culture, imagery and iconography. Whether it’s the giant Fosters can in their office doubling as a lamp in the waiting room, their apparent adoration of failed airline Ansett Australia, their love of Qantas omelettes, or even the addition of the ATO (albeit a far more fabulous version) in the new film clip for ‘Wild Life’ – when it comes to the imagery of Client Liaison, Australian imagery is not far behind. I asked the guys what draws them to Australian culture in such a big way.
“Australia is a pretty crazy, amazing place.” Monte says. “It’s where we’re from, so it kind of seems like second nature to just talk about where you live, and all the fun, crazy things, and moods and people. Our first song was about Australia, so that kind of set the tone.”
With Diplomatic Immunity dropping so soon, I asked Monte and Harvey to summarise the album in one sentence. Monte describes it as “a long lunch followed by cocktails.” Harvey described it like a “piping hot Qantas omelette,” which was naturally followed by him leading a discussion about airline food.
“The Qantas omelette is great, it’s like a hundred degrees when it comes out. Best omelette going around. One thing some airlines have started doing is they’ve moved from the traditional compartment presentation of the food, and it’s now in like a disposable cardboard box. It’s a real shame because it’s such a beautiful tradition of the compartments and cutlery. We’ve actually got an illustration of it in the album booklet.” He flicks through a bound printout of the album’s incredibly detailed and rather beautiful booklet as he speaks, opening up to the compartmentalised airline food image in question. “That’s something I think we should lobby – to bring back proper cutlery, and the little compartments. And the bread rolls! If all else fails on the flight and you don’t like your plane food, you can always take refuge in the bread roll. “
It’s lucky that Client Liaison have such a passion for airline food, because they’ve been on a few planes over the last couple of years. They’ve quickly gone from playing local shows in Melbourne to huge festival slots like Splendour in the Grass, and embarked on international tours. As they continue to rise in fame and popularity, I asked Monte if they feel like their growing status has changed them at all.
“The best thing about is its enabled us to expand our team, do bigger shows, have bigger stages, have more wardrobe. It’s just more fun.” For Client Liaison, everything seems to come back to that – fun. In fact, if I were to sum up Diplomatic Immunity in just one word, that word would surely be it. Harvey adds that their popularity is a bit of an illusion.
“Within the vicinity of inner city Melbourne, we’re a share household name, but that’s about as far as it goes. So yeah, we remain humbled.”
Moving forward however, the band does plan on tackling the overseas marketplace. Their Instagram tagline says that they’re ‘international in flavour,’ and the title of the new record Diplomatic Immunity lends itself to travel by design.
“We’d like to think we can fly the Australian flag overseas. We’ve toured in the states and Europe a bit, and we want to tour there more, release stuff there. It’s the next step for us I think.”
The theme and style of Client Liaison is dominated by such a particular sense of aesthetic, with such a specific sound and imagery associated to them. I asked Harvey if they plan on building on the foundations they’ve created over time, or if they think they would shift drastically tonally and stylistically at any point in the near future.
“There are so many facets. It’s an era of time. I would like to do maybe…” You can see the gears of his mind whirring, and his eyes light up with excitment as he begins to list off some of his concepts. “Client Liaison goes through a gardening stage. That could be a whole album too. With cane hats and terracotta tones. There are a lot of directions we could go. I like the idea of us living in Paris, but it’s through that stereotypical lens; the hot air balloon, the French stick, the French Riviera. It’s like, Client Liaison gone AWOL. There are so many things we want to do.”
*Monte and Harvey show us the door they got made for the ‘Wild Life’ video.
In yet another example of Client Liaison walking the walk, I found out that they have their own personal tailor in Thailand, and have recently brought a professional stylist into their mix.
“We were in there every day, nine to five at the tailors for ten days straight.”
As it turns out, they actually share a tailor with a very famous political figure. Or at least, an associate of one, as Harvey informed me.
“There was a photo on the wall at the tailors of this guy, standing next to John Howard. I was getting measured up, and english was the tailors second language, and I was like ‘oh, John Howard!’ And the tailor tells me he gets his suits made here. So I tell all my mates that we were at this tailor where John Howard gets his suits made, it’s awesome. Then we come back, and realise that it was actually John Howard’s bodyguard in the photo that got his suits made there, not John Howard.” He chuckles, entirely miffed. “The fact that his bodyguard warrants a photo on the wall…”
The booklet artwork for Diplomatic Immunity is nothing short of incredible, with vivid illustrations accompanying the lyrics. The band are trying to work out a way to get this breathtaking imagery in the hands of a generation who consume most of their music online, perhaps in the form of a “brief animation.” Harvey told us about the pleasure that he gets from flicking through the album booklet, which he had been doing for a large stretch of our interview.
“I think there’s a real joy in seeing the artwork from this perspective. Just looking at this puts me in that mind frame of when you were a kid, and you’d just look at illustrations in a picture book. It’s very rich. We want to communicate the joy of the story through the booklet.”
Diplomatic Immunity features a profoundly sexy, absolute banger of a track called ‘Off White Limousine’, which centres on the group owning, you guessed it, an off-white limousine. I simply had to know if this was part of the Client Liaison fantasy, or part of the Client Liaison reality – do they actually own an off-white limousine?
“As of today, yeah! It’s on its way from Canberra. It’s actually arctic white, but we’re going to get it vinyl wrapped to off-white. I’m expecting the call any moment to put through the payment. It looks beautiful, vintage car, in good nick.”
Harvey went on to explain to me some of the business ventures the band is planning on undertaking with their shiny new off-white asset.
“We’re going to start a limousine company. We’ll do formals, weddings, and all that sort of stuff. I think people will really like it. But one thing we are struggling with it’s where to park it.”
Monte adds that they try to “actualise the fantasy.” I can’t think of a better way to actualise the Client Liaison fantasy than by having their own office, their own tailor, their own stylist and their very own off-white limousine. In amongst all of this, the local style icons have decided to start their own fashion label, though they were unable to show me any of the stock at the time, because it’s “top secret.” Though I don’t doubt it will be remarkably fabulous, as all of their outfits tend to be.
*”We’ll call the elevator for you…” Monte and Harvey send us home from their top floor Collins Street office.
Diplomatic Immunity is out now via Remote Control/Dot Dash
Check out some highlights from our interview, and our tour around Client Liaison HQ below.