Client Liaison are a beautiful collision of auscore and the absurd

Harvey Miller AO talks his love of Tina Arena and Canberra breakfasts

The first time I see Client Liaison live, I’m soaked.

My festival companion has fumbled with her contraband plastic flask and sent a deluge of off-brand whiskey down my back. It’s sticky in the height of midsummer sun, and I feel the fabric crumpling into patchy pleats. But before I can react (or wonder whether it’s fair game to lick the remnants of off-brand whiskey from my fingers), a series of electronic notes thumps out from the stage and dissipates into the Domain’s unseen corners and unfilled silences.

Two throbbing drum beats later, I’m entranced by the synthy siren. I’m commanded to attention by four men in pristine pastel pantsuits and momentarily, I forget about my wet back, and the light sprinkle that has just started, and my thumb, sticky from a solution of saliva and alcohol.

* * *

When I speak to Harvey Miller AO, the difference between the staged and the tangible is instantly discernible. Client Liaison is an act that has become notorious for their theatrics, borrowing from a pastiche of 80s Wall Street symbols and classic Australiana icons in a manner that can only be described as ‘niche’. But for now, those theatrics are gone.

When he’s not sauntering across the stage with his partner-in-crime Monte Morgan — all leg twirls and hip gyrations — Harvey sounds almost placated and talks about his work with the finesse of a diplomat. And rightly so, after the slickly produced Diplomatic Immunity — a conceptual affair that sees Client Liaison take on the role of hedonistic political jetsetters with white limousines and maxed out company cards, like technicolour Patrick Batemans.

“It’s more the theatre of politics than it is any political ideology or cause,” Harvey says of their musical personas. “We find Australian politics particularly amusing because it’s a different gear to that of international politics. There’s something we find much more charming about someone like Craig Thompson abusing the Diner’s Club Card than Donald Trump in a diplomatic row with China.”

This reference flies over my head. The only two places I have ever encountered Diner’s Club are in small print under the words “CARDS ACCEPTED”, stuck on the side of a petrol station bowser, and in logo form, rendered in stylised 3D and projected on a huge stage backdrop behind Client Liaison.

But nevertheless, Harvey’s appreciation for small-time governmental scandals like Thompson’s is clear. When I ask him where this fixation on the trite and kitschy elements of Australiana stems from, he’s quick to deny any interpretations of his aesthetic as ‘ironic’.

“Our goal is to transcend the irony,” he asserts, “and return a seriousness to these themes and subjects. One element of humour that we do proudly admit to, however, is absurdity. We love absurdity, and if it makes you laugh then so be it.”

When I think of this word — absurdity — I can’t think of a better act to apply it to than Client Liaison. This is a band that samples Question Time in their tracks, and rides down city streets in slow-motion with torsos extending out of limousine sunroofs, and performs with oversized water coolers and office plants on stage. But it works, and Harvey attributes this to the shifting outlook of audiences who increasingly expect not just music, but a performance.

I ask him whether he has any surprises planned for his own performances on Client Liaison’s upcoming national tour. “Not entirely…” he responds, before quickly backtracking. “Actually, no — this is the point where I’m meant to sell the show. We’re definitely focussing on being more theatrical with choreography, stage presence, production… everything”.

I smile at his momentary gaffe. Harvey is humble and soft-spoken, and it’s these moments that only further the divide between man and political performer. At times, I find myself wondering how he reconciles these two identities. The man warns me against the romanticisation of song-writing, dismissing the image of musicians in “log cabins with guitars and lutes to forge this sacred body of work”, but in the same breath, the political performer recommends to me breakfast at Parliament House.

“We’ll have a scramble in there. Eggs on toast,” he says, with the culinary knowledge only a parliamentary connoisseur could possess. He explains his familiarity with the inner workings of the most important house in Australia with a simple gesture — “we have a few mates in parliament”.

* * *

Upon re-listening to the opening track of ‘Diplomatic Immunity’, I’m unsure how much of the album is rooted in Client Liaison’s lived reality, and how much is a flight of fancy into the farce of politics.

“Put the telephone on ice,” Monte instructs us in the song. “Canberra won’t be calling tonight.”

But for all of Harvey and Monte’s hyperbolic discourse surrounding Canberran breakfasts and foreign assignments, perhaps underlying both their public identities is a genuine appreciation for their craft. This is never more evident than in the passion patriotism with which Harvey describes their brief stint working with Tina Arena on A Foreign Affair.

“There’s something to be said about her willingness to collaborate with young contemporary Australian artists. It’s a testament to her character,” he gushes. “She read over the lyrics and just banged it out, first take — and came up with some great harmonies which we added. She’s a national treasure.

“She’s my Beyoncé.”

Client Liaison’s Australian tour begins this week, stopping at the Enmore on 31 March and in Canberra on 7 April.